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Royal Hilltop

When I reviewed Royal Hilltop in April 2003, it was barely six months old -- a non-smoking, British-themed pub crammed in among the multiplexes and taquerías of southeast Aurora, a joint that catered to the neighbors of a neighborhood sorely lacking in neighborhood bars. I complimented owners James and Tina Pachorek on having found the one commercial strip left in America that didn't already have a faux-British pub and then putting a pretty good one in, one with proper twenty-ounce pints, real Scotch bangers, shepherd's pie and a fine fish fry.

After finding an even better fish fry at the British Bulldog (see review), I returned to Royal Hilltop to see how it had stood up over the past few years. And after a couple of those pints and another fish fry, I'm happy to say that I still like it. Granted, I don't like it as much as I do the Bulldog, but that's largely because of the Bulldog menu's unusual geographic focus and that saloon's own geography, in a building that comes with more than a hundred years of history -- while the Royal Hilltop, to date, has accumulated only four. But the batter-jacketed cod here is still what it ought to be: crisp and greasy and redolent of childhood and Catholicism. The chips are fresh-cut, excellent with a couple shakes of malt vinegar. And the Murphy's stout off the tap is thick and black and creamy. Most important, the Hilltop was packed last Thursday night -- every table full and standing room only at the bar. It was loud and warm and close, the crowd a mix of weekend drinkers getting an early start and families having a night out, the vibe friendly and welcoming. Four years ago, the Pachoreks set out to create a bar for the neighborhood. Today, it's clear they've succeeded.

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