Friday, June 1, 2012


I've been looking forward to a meal at Rioja for months now. The Larimer Square restaurant consistently wins "Best of" awards in a zillion categories, including being ranked #19 on 5280's 25 Best Restaurants of 2011 list. Besides being a hit on Foodspotting and Yelp, one of Rioja's sister restaurants, Euclid Hall, was the scene of an outstanding dinner we enjoyed last fall.

We made plans to meet up with a friend for 11 am reservations on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Reservations were no problem, and I was surprised when I arrived to find that the restaurant was less than half occupied. We were quickly seated in their elongated dining room at a white tablecloth-covered setting.

Rioja brands itself as a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, although its brunch menu felt very New American.

I started off the morning with a latte, served in a unique mug.


While we waited, a server came to our table with a bread basket filled with orange fennel rolls, goat cheese biscuits, and lavender sourdough. I can't recall anywhere else in Denver I've had bread served like that at brunch before. I tried each of the baked offerings, with the goat cheese biscuits being my favorite.

After hearing glowing recommendations of the doughnuts, we chose to split a plate of "Eric's House Made Doughnuts" ($6) between the three of us.

Eric's House Made Doughnuts

The doughnuts were generously filled with tangy and delicious lemon curd mascarpone. On the side was a blueberry compote that I also enjoyed. The freshly made doughnuts were light and airy, and certainly lived up to the hype.

My husband and I opted to split the "Rioja Benedict" ($10.5). They were kind enough to serve us separate plates, so the picture below shows a half portion only.

Rioja Benedict (Half Serving)

The benedict consisted of a goat cheese biscuit, spinach, tomato and bacon, topped with the requisite poached egg and "Parmesan sauce." I'm not sure why Rioja opted for a Parmesan sauce instead of regular Hollandaise, but I really couldn't taste the difference.

A strip of crispy bacon was used in place of ham, which I absolutely loved. The spinach and the juicy tomato slice balanced out the richness of the biscuit, bacon, egg, and sauce very nicely. The goat cheese biscuit, while tasty, was the same biscuit I had been served out of the bread basket.

I really enjoyed the dish but Mr. Oyster was more lukewarm about it. He preferred the various permutations of eggs benedict offered at Snooze.

Our friend ordered the Raspberry Brioche French Toast ($11) and shared one of her squares with us.

Raspberry Brioche French Toast

The menu made this dish sound delicious. The French Toast was layered with raspberry mascarpone, encased in cornflake crust, and served with Chambord couli.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed in the execution. The raspberry mascarpone tasted too much like yogurt, and it made the bread a little soggy. While I enjoyed the crunchy texture created by the corn flakes, I wish the cereal had been applied more sparingly. The bland corn flake flavor dominated the taste of each bite. The high points of the dish were definitely the fresh raspberries and the sweet, fruity Chambord coulis.

Brunch at Rioja was tasty but not quite what I expected after the rave reviews. We all agreed that the doughnuts were our favorite item at the meal. Personally, I prefer Duo for brunch, and my husband prefers Snooze, so I have a feeling our next visit to Rioja will be for dinner instead.

Casual Dining

(7 of 10)

Pros: Good service, excellent doughnuts
Cons:  Some dishes better than others


Rioja on Urbanspoon


  1. you know what I hate? I feel like eating brunch at a "hot" restaurant can fail so easily! I always go back for dinner JIc