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.

The Bardo Coffee House
Courtesy The Bardo Coffeehouse on South Broadway Facebook

Just past the hustle and bustle of the usual hangs in Baker is the quaint, quiet Bardo Coffee House. It’s painted yellow, a color louder than the space itself, because people come here to get coffee — and then get down to work. You won’t be distracted by any unmet needs, because Bardo has just the right amount of everything: right hours (early to super-late), right selection of drinks, right selection of eats, right number of tables, chairs and couches, cushions with the right level of cush. The hours will fly by as you focus on your project, fueled by a caffeine buzz.

Breakfast King
Mark Antonation

This famous breakfast institution is packing four decades of history, and some of the women who proudly wear the spot's white-and-orange uniforms have been here almost that long. These are no-nonsense ladies who keep things even when the place is packed (which it usually is), fighting with the kitchen to make sure your toast is exactly the shade of brown you want, pouring cup after endless cup of coffee. Act curt or weird, and your service will be a fly-by "Hon." But if you become a regular, these wonder women will learn your name and make you feel right at home while they deliver hot java with a side of hot gossip — no sugar needed.

Port Side

Even though Denver is awash in coffee shops, a visit to this Huckleberry Roasters can be a stirring experience. The small cafe — the second Roasters location — opened last year in the front of a reclaimed shipping-container building on Larimer Street. The simple, modern interior and preponderance of open MacBooks might give the impression that it's a place for worker bees, but watch both the baristas and the guests for a few minutes, and you'll realize that this is a community spot where nearly everyone knows each other. Owners Koan Goedman and Mark Mann know how to focus on that community; after all, they met at a cafe. And the coffee is good without being pretentious — or at least not too much so, since it's hard to order a pour-over without some pretension.

Readers' choice: Huckleberry Roasters

Best Of Denver®

Best Of