The Lodo area of Denver seems to be getting busier/more populated. It may not be as “cool” as the Rino district, but there are still some great spots. When we were ready to walk a little bit away from the immediate Union Station area, we found Larimer Street: one block of cute restaurants and stores, just off the water.

The food at Rioja was fancier than we expected (just look at Albert’s cheese plate), but we all enjoyed it. So do a lot of people, apparently – they won some James Beard awards several years ago.

Speaking of winning…they won me over with the bread. There were three types (one had rosemary and cheese, another lavender sourdough, and a third kalmata olives) – all delicious. And the large pink flaked salt on top of the butter was a lovely touch.

I went the route of two small dishes (soup and half portion pasta) for my meal. I thought the white gazpacho was very good, especially with the crab and chervil. Chervil is a very seasonal herb that I don’t take enough advantage of when it’s in season. By the end of the serving, though, I started to find the soup just a bit too sweet. The tortelloni, on the other hand, was perfect. Artichoke was served up in three different forms (puréed with goat cheese as the pasta filling, steamed in the brodo, and crispy on top) and the brodo was super light and only hinted at truffle. The wide shard of cheese was also restrained and put to use wisely.

My mom raved about her panzanella (which looked extra rustic, in a good way), and my dad said his eggs benedict were in an entire different category than the ones he had the previous morning. All in all? Great spot for brunch, but I’d imagine it an even better spot for a glass of wine and some pasta.