Azucar Bakery
Claire Duncombe

Azucar Bakery doesn't just build beautiful decorative cakes for special events, it's also possibly the only Peruvian cafe in town, featuring lovely, flaky orejitas ("little ears"), sweet alfajores (shortbread rounds glued together with dulce de leche) and sponge-cake rolls called pionono filled with mocha crème or dulce de leche. Grab a cafe table at the pink-fronted store for a quick coffee and sweet treat or take home a box of your favorites. But great baked goods aren't the only reason Azucar is the best; owner Marjorie Silva's exceptional customer service has also garnered attention. Silva made national news by sticking to her principles while attempting to satisfy a difficult (to say the least) customer. For maintaining her cool while offering a solution to an obvious troublemaker looking for an easy target, Silva has earned the respect of civil-rights advocates, Denver's gay community and sugar lovers everywhere.

Readers' choice: Church of Cupcakes

Glazed & Confuzed

We started following doughnut-makers Josh Schwab and Ben Hafdahl long before they opened this hip storefront on Leetsdale last year, with green counters and music so loud that the place could be mistaken for a bar. While we were intrigued from the start by the novel combinations and high-quality ingredients of the doughnuts they sold around town, consistency remained an issue — but they've fixed that in their new place. Now we can't imagine a better way to start the day than with a box of doughnuts from Glazed & Confuzed. Most are of the raised variety, and they're good enough to convert even the most ardent cake-doughnut fans. Don't miss the Grilly D, which is frosted, grilled, then frosted again for a toasted-marshmallow-like finish; the Samoa, a tribute to the Girl Scout cookie, with caramel, toasted coconut and a chocolate drizzle; and the deceptively simple plain glazed, with a decadent vanilla-infused brown-butter glaze. This much deliciousness can be pricey, but it's worth the splurge.

Readers' choice: Voodoo Doughnut

The Post Brewing Co.
Courtesy of The Post Brewing Co.

With pie this good, you'd think it was Thanksgiving. Lucky for us, pastry chef John Hinman bakes holiday-worthy temptations all year long — and he does so not at a bakery, but at a brewpub. The selection changes daily, but with options ranging from Key lime to chocolate cream, you're sure to find something tempting, even after all that fried chicken and beer. Pecan pie is studded with nuts so that the filling is more than the sweetened brown goop that's often passed off as the real thing. And cherry is in a class by itself, with two kinds of cherries and a crust loaded with European-style butter. In addition to these pies, some of which are sold in six-inch minis and others by the slice, Hinman also bakes knockout whoopie pies in several flavors.

Work & Class
Linnea Covington

If you're gluten-free, the question at the ever-popular Work & Class isn't "What can I eat?" but "What can't I eat?" All but a handful of dishes are made without gluten, so you can snack your way around the menu footloose and fancy free, enjoying the best this talented kitchen has to offer. With every bowl of guajillo-laced lamb posole, every handmade tortilla piled with citrusy cochinita pibil, every skillet of hot bread pudding soaked with so much chocolate it could pass for a molten chocolate cake, you'll see why chef-owner Dana Rodriguez earned a James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southwest.

Readers' choice: WaterCourse Foods

Quiero Arepas

There's nothing worse than friends who talk nonstop about their awesome gluten-free diet. But take one bite of Quiero Arepas's corn-based all-natural goodness, and you're likely to start annoying your friends, too. An arepa, made from white cornmeal, water and salt, is the daily bread of Venezuela, and it's naturally free of gluten. Once grilled, these particular arepas are stuffed with a protein — perfectly cooked carne asada, chicken salad, smoked salmon or beans — then filled to the brim with various combinations of plantains, avocado, cheese and sauce. The truck treks all over town year-round; visit the website for a current schedule.

Mercantile Dining & Provision
Danielle Lirette

Thanks to his work at Fruition and the love heaped on him by local and national press, Alex Seidel was already a household name — at least among food-lovers — when Mercantile Dining & Provision opened in Union Station last September. Lonne Cunningham, his pastry chef, was not. But that's about to change, as more and more people are exposed to Cunningham's work. With a pedigree that includes stages at Gramercy Tavern and Le Bernardin in New York and a pastry mindset influenced by years as a cook, he plays with flavors like a veteran, finishing crème caramel with pistachio cakes, candied kumquats and pistachio dust, for example, or adding a hint of cardamom to a chocolate pot de crème. Cunningham's plated desserts are only available at dinner, but you don't have to wait until then to indulge: Mercantile's market is open all day, so there's always a good time to stop in for a chocolate croissant or an Oreo-like LCO cookie.

High Point Creamery
Lori Midson

For years, ice cream has been the domain of kids, with their birthday parties and messy sundae bars. Now High Point Creamery seems intent on taking back frozen desserts, one cone at a time. From the confines of this mod ice cream shop, which opened in Hilltop last summer, you can savor flavors that appeal to adults, with names that sound more like truffles than ice creams: basil with blackberry swirl, dark-chocolate orange with marshmallows, mint with chocolate bark. Even cookie-based flavors one-up the standard, blending shortbread with an aromatic, Earl Grey-flavored base. Prices run high, but with ice cream this good, just grin — er, lick — and bear it.

Readers' choice: Little Man Ice Cream

Vinh Xuong Bakery
Linnea Covington

Nothing jump-starts productivity quicker than the combination of coffee and condensed milk. For those in search of the perfect iced coffee, all roads lead to Vinh Xuong Bakery in the Alameda Square Shopping Center. Owner Duc Huynh makes sure that everyone on his staff knows his recipe for the perfect caffeine concoction; Vinh Xuong slow-brews Novo coffee before mixing it with sweet milk. Even though Federal Boulevard is lined with great Vietnamese restaurants offering similar treats, Vinh Xuong is king of the road when it comes to iced coffee.

Bar Max

The atmosphere at Cafe Max is relaxing and calm — a stark contrast to the stretch of East Colfax just outside the coffee shop, which sits across from East High School. Co-owners Maxwell Hopewell-Arizmendi and Yukihiko Koyama envisioned Cafe Max as a European-style coffee shop where you could order a cappuccino and a friend could get a glass of wine, and you could sit over both for hours, talking, in low (but not dim) light. The evolving food menu reflects a European sensibility as well; the refinement is obvious but never overt. Since this is Denver, though, when you order a latte, you have your choice of not just cow's milk, but also goat, almond or soy. Cafe Max can feel both exotic and welcoming at the same time; why not stop by and sip into something comfortable?

 
Photo by Johnny Molfetta
 

Microfoam meets the crema of a perfectly pulled espresso shot to form tight striations in the shape of a rosetta: Welcome to cortado heaven. Presented with a smile by the coffee gurus at Aviano, these little four-ounce servings of productivity keep you buzzing and the place packed at just about every hour. That's because Aviano is a great place to work or study, with abundant seating at both small, personal tables and a large community table. The owners had to move a year or so ago, and given the quality of their coffee, it's no surprise that they totally nailed the remodel, too, right down to the big garage door that opens up to the patio on nice days.

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