Neighborhood Watch

Highlands, Denver, CO

National Geographic Traveler

April 2004

By Steve Knopper

Even in its darkest days, when gangs and crack drove sightseers away during the early '90s, nobody expected the Highlands area to slip away for good. Its solid 19th-century Victorian homes, proximity to downtown, and foundation of immigrant families made a comeback inevitable. When a cuddly coffee shop and a down-to-earth deli took root almost a decade ago, the turnaround began, fueled by the renaissance of nearby Lower Downtown (LoDo).

Julia Blackbird's New Mexican Cafe (3617 W. 32nd Ave.) Never mind the strawberry lemonade arriving in fluorescent pink cups. Julia's is worthy of discerning, Latino-populated northwest Denver. The fet-cheese-and-pinto-bean-covered enchiladas are spicy.

Common Grounds (3484 W. 32nd Ave.) Brewman-turned-Mayor John Hickenlooper is one of the many local businesspeople who hold meetings at this homey coffee shop. Show up early for the foil-wrapped breakfast burritos, then commandeer a spot near the piano.

Bang! (3472 W. 32nd Ave.) Don't make the tourist mistake of walking through the front door; the way in is a narrow alley just wast of the pastel-colored facade. Weird layouts aside, the restaurant's anchor is high-end comfort food, such as meatloaf and gingerbread.

Frolik on 32nd (3715 W. 32nd Ave.) Opened by two friends named Jennifer in a 19th-century Victorian house, this two-year-old women's-clothing boutique carries trendy new brands, from $40 Manitoba polar bear T-shirts to Tessuto dresses and Cosabella lingerie.

Babareeba! (3629 W. 32nd Ave.) Although it doubled in size when it moved to its present location, the vintage dresses-purses-and-jewelry store retains its tiny ambience. Among the washed-out jeans and clasic knit hats are zebra-print blouses and leopard-print caps.

Highland's Garden Cafe (3927 W. 32nd Ave.) The most high-end restaurant on the 32nd Avenue corridor, the cafe serves pan-seared halibut, vegetarian five-cheese lasagna, and grilled quail inside a beautiful, roomy old house and adjoining, tree-lined patio.

Denver Bread Company (3200 Irving St.) This brick-walled Highlands fixture contains no comfy couches for customers to enjoy their fragrant homemade loaves. So grab the sourdough, sfilitino, rye, focaccia, and Swedish peasant breads to go.

Mead Street Station (3625 W. 32nd Ave.) Once a biker bar, Mead Street is a dark, loud, smoky neighborhood joint that just happens to have great food -- try the portabella mushroom wraps and the vegetarian chili.

Location: The Highlands neighborhood is in northwest Denver, about a mile and a half from LoDo. The heart of the neighborhood is the intersection of W. 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard.