Thanks for cracking the cover on the Indy's 52 Fridays. This is our guide to a hypothetical date night or solo journey of food exploration. The concept: Say you were to budget one meal out per week for the next year, with the goal of eating across the culinary spectrum. Where should you go?
What this list really amounts to is evidence of the Springs' wide-ranging dining potential. After all, it only indexes a fraction of local eateries. If you're new to town, also check out our picks from last year, which we've listed in back. (Note: We're not advising you to take up an even more hedonistic schedule of 100-plus Fridays ... unless you're gonna do it.)
As always, if you're partial to a dining locale we haven't covered, or if you know of any deserving newbies, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your tour.
Eclectic, worth the price
The food at Blue Vervain is almost magically good, but you'd better head there soon unless you're planning a trip to Hot Springs, S.D., in the near future. (The owners plan to close in mid-April, then return to the town where they already own a spa.) Start with the soup of the day, or maybe share a plate of sliced tenderloin with wasabi sauce. As for entres: The sea bass with citrus chimichurri? Thai noodle plate? Lasater Grasslands filet mignon?
Culpepper's Louisiana Kitchen
8810 N. Union Blvd.
Cajun/Creole, moderately priced
Relive your party jaunts to New Orleans inside this North End destination. Think from-scratch blackened catfish, crawfish etouffe and jambalaya, as well as slow-cooked gumbo, Cajun red beans and rice and, of course, po-boys. Louisiana hot sauces and Abita beer liven up daily service, and there are periodic crawfish boils and Sunday jazz brunches. And no re-creation of your French Quarter exploits is complete without a face full of beignets.
36 E. Bijou St.
Located in the booming Falafel District East Bijou Street, where this no-frills restaurant is just one of three similarly themed eateries the Persian Grill stands out for two reasons: its late hours and its killer gyro. On a late weekend night in downtown Colorado Springs, there's nothing as satisfying as seeing the light on inside this place.
3016 S. Academy Blvd.
We don't know of too many places to get real jerk chicken around town, but Jamaican Flavor stands out for more than just being unique. The atmosphere is warm and the food is hot but balanced, too, so you can taste the allspice, coconut milk, garlic and whatever else has infused your meal. If the scents and sights leave you at all tentative, start with something simple, like a gently spiced beef patty; you'll probably move onto oxtail and ackee in no time.
5047 N. Academy Blvd.
Indian, moderately priced
It's always a tight battle for the Independent's Best Of Colorado Springs award in the Indian food category, and in 2007, Mirch Masala came out on top. Some would argue that the copious lunch buffet choices (all for $7.95) give it the edge; others might nod to the tender and juicy tandoori chicken. Regardless, Mirch Masala's taken its Union Square Plaza location and turned it into a cradle of warmth and spice.
This little tucked-away Mexican place seems like a well-kept secret except for the fact that people who work in the downtown area have kept it busy since 1962. The recipes came from original co-owner Paula Vallejo, who ventured to Colorado from Mexico in the '20s. The hot chips and salsa get you started, and there's the usual selection of straightforward enchiladas, tamales, chiles rellenos and home-cooked beans. Don't expect any fancy, overpriced creations. That's not Vallejo's.
Jack Quinn's Irish Alehouse & Pub
21 S. Tejon St.
Irish, moderately priced
"Quinn's," as its regulars call it, has become a staple of downtown Colorado Springs albeit, mostly, because of its nightlife. Still, as far as authentic Irish eating goes in town, Quinn's is as good as it gets. The ale house fish & chips will satisfy if you're feeling pretty vanilla with your old-country fare, but we recommend the shepherd's pie that sucker'll fill you up, laddie.
Yummy Korean BBQ
4703 N. Academy Blvd.
The name says it all. Well, maybe not everything. This 2-year-old traditional operation also offers an array of soups, fried rice dishes and noodle plates, among other delicacies. If you're looking for an authentic Korean dining experience, order the bulgogi (tender, marinated beef) or galbi (beef short ribs) that come flanked by an abundance of side dishes.
Sakura Sushi and Grill
3117 W. Colorado Ave.
Japanese/sushi, moderately priced
The specials here always catch your eye. Sushi rolls as big as your palm stuffed with tempura shrimp, soft-shell crab, tuna, yellowtail, avocado, salmon, special sauces, cream cheese, and eel. It sounds good for a reason. But in this world of monster sushi, it may be Sakura's simple rolls that set it apart. Take the negihama nothing but green onions and yellowtail, it hits the spot. Feeling cheap? Check out the lunch specials or ask about the nigiri sushi happy hour.
2417 W. Colorado Ave.
117 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
1420 Kelly Johnson Blvd.
French caf/bakery, inexpensive
Nothing makes a meal complete like a fresh hunk of crusty bread. At La Baguette, bread is an art form that fills the caf each morning with a wondrous, yeasty aroma. In a lesser establishment, bread this good could easily steal the spotlight, but folks here balance its tastiness with perfectly browned French onion soup, croissant and baguette sandwiches, an assortment of breakfast pastries, a simple cheese fondue, and fresh fruit and cheese plates.
The Briarhurst Manor
404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Eclectic, worth the price
Depending how atmosphere ranks on your list of priorities, the Briarhurst could become a favorite from the moment you walk in this 19th-century estate holds nine separate dining rooms. The food is rich: Consider starting with the Maine lobster bisque or a "slate" of artisan cheeses, and moving on to a small dinner plate of escargot or lamb chops. But if you're craving a large plate with all the fixings, Briarhurst delicacies range from beef Wellington to grilled elk and Maroon Bells trout.
Bambino's Italian Eatery and Sports Bar
2849 E. Platte Ave.
When it's bubbly cheese or bust, hit Bambino's. This comfy upstairs locale features a weekday buffet (complete with dessert pizzas) that attracts diners from all over the city, but it's worth a visit for the la carte selections, too. If you're choosing pizza, the toppings ranging from chicken to sausage to jalapeo to fried eggplant will bend the firm but chewy crust so it touches down perfectly on your tongue. And the staff will make you feel like a regular, even if it's your first time.
215 Fontaine Blvd., Widefield
German, moderately priced
The area has a handful of long-established German restaurants, but Kreutzer Inn isn't usually the first that comes to mind. Too bad, because it's been a consistently successful presence for almost two decades, just east of the well-traveled intersection of Fontaine and U.S. 85 in Widefield. You can get the usual German dishes here, and you probably won't spend as much money as at some other haus.
Just off Academy Boulevard in the same north-end strip mall as Freaky's Tattoo and Body Piercings, Friendly's Sub Shop serves a whopping 45 different types of subs. What do you want? Toasted? Grilled? Just a plain old-fashioned soft roll? You'll find it and more (salads, soups and deep-fried yummies) at this hidden independent gem.
Dale Street Caf
115 E. Dale St.
Caf, moderately priced
Looking for a downtown restaurant but not the downtown scene (or parking issues)? Try Dale Street Caf. With a wide variety of soups, salads, pasta and meat, poultry and fish entres, Dale Street is welcoming to all palates. And the historic Victorian home that is the caf provides the perfect amount of romance at night.
6980 Lake St., Green Mountain Falls
This homestyle caf has been a landmark in Green Mountain Falls for decades. On weekend mornings you can expect to wait in line, but you won't regret it. They've got giant pancakes, French toast, omelettes and home fries along with sandwiches and other lunch options. They're best known for their thick, home-baked cinnamon-raisin toast, so be sure to order a side or better yet, a loaf to go.
34 Ramona Ave.
German, moderately priced
When we brought them to Edelweiss, my in-laws had German food for the first time since living in Egelsbach in the 1980s. The reunion was hugely successful. Warmed by the schnitzel and rouladin, and thrilled by the wait staff's authentic
German accents, they happily reminisced all night long. Next time, hopefully they'll visit during the spring or summer, so they can enjoy the spacious patio that adds Colorado sunshine to the mix.
120 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd.
Don't like Chinese food? Don't let that keep you from going to Chopsticks. You won't find any goopy sauces or canned mushrooms at this upscale establishment. Chopsticks is different, from its minimalist dining room, to its attentive, sharply dressed wait staff, to the care and delicate spices put into each dish. You can't go wrong on this menu, but if you happen to be a fan of sesame chicken, this is simply the best in town.
Asian mix, inexpensive
Dishing up Chinese, Korean and Thai specialties, Tao's overwhelms with an extensive and diverse menu, rich with sweet, savory and spicy plates. Opened by former Little Bangkok owners, the far-north dining spot does beautiful things to fresh vegetables with Thai brown sauce, and equally marvelous things to pork, beef, seafood and chicken offerings over rice and noodles.
El Taco Rey
330 E. Colorado Ave.,
"El Taco Rey" translates to "The Taco King," and yes, this spot deserves a crown. We recommend the avocado pork burrito, and suggest you order it "deluxe" which means it comes smothered in green chile. New schedules now have this popular spot open until 8 p.m. on Fridays, but otherwise, it's pretty much a lunch place. And we'll warn you: When the weather's nice out, it gets packed during lunch hour. We know from experience.
3119 W. Colorado Ave.
Best intentions may lead you toward Safeway, but a glimpse of Saigon Grill, which shares part of the same West Colorado plaza, can change your plans in a hurry. It's a great place to be introduced to the wide variety of yummy Vietnamese foods. Or you could just stick to the popular noodle bowls, with lots of rice noodles, seasoned meat, fresh veggies, and a lightly sweet sauce.
1455 Cipriani Loop, Monument
Named after the owner's son, this Mexican restaurant is a locally owned, recent addition to the Monument area. If you don't already have a few Mexican plate favorites, try the carnitas, the chips with guacamole and a margarita (or two). No matter what you order, the large portions, served by super-friendly staff, will fill you up and make your stomach smile.
New Mexican, moderately priced
Look good? Feel good? Want to stay on your game, even as you satisfy a Santa Fe-style craving? It's El Tesoro for you. This "treasure," tucked into an early 20th-century adobe building downtown, keeps the lights low and the flavors clean, and actually goes the linen-napkin route without being too dressy. Plus, it's a gallery, so there's always local artwork to ogle. Open for lunch and dinner.
Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama
444 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs
685-5104 or 685-5572
Dinner theater, worth the price
What could be better after a day on Pikes Peak than a little drama with your dinner? Perched above Manitou Springs, the Iron Springs Chateau offers family-style dinners (think fried chicken and barbecued beef) followed by participatory melodrama. Call ahead for reservations and to find when shows are scheduled.
Front Range Barbeque
2330 W. Colorado Ave.
4935 Templeton Gap Road
Barbecue, moderately priced
If you're looking for the full-on, authentic barbecue experience, you really can't beat Front Range Barbeque's west-side location on a warm summer's night: delicious pulled pork, live music on the outside patio, regular drink specials and, best of all, friendly patrons. For a party unlike any other in town, see Grass It Up play bluegrass here on Wednesday nights. If you live out east and your mouth's watering for Front Range's barbeque stylings, hit up the Templeton Gap Road spot for an easy in-and-out experience.
39810 E. Hwy. 94, Rush
You won't find many choices in eastern El Paso County, but who cares about options when you have the Rush Caf? It's your basic country diner, where you can have breakfast (homemade doughnuts or sweet rolls are outrageous), lunch or dinner, with all-you-can-eat specials on some nights. Doesn't matter what you order, it'll be good. And homemade pies for dessert if you like them well enough, or you don't have room, you can always take a whole one home.
8844 N. Union Blvd.
If the only kind of falafel you've had is the frozen/re-heated kind, you must make a trip to Greek Grill. Its falafel is homemade and so delicious it'll be hard to go back to the usual. Not into falafel? They also have lots of the old stand-bys gyros, hummus, pita, Greek salad. And don't forget to save room for a slice of baklava.
935A Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs
Polish/European, moderately priced
What's the difference between a regular burger and a euro-burger? Go to the European Cafe to find out (hint: the secret is in the meat). Not a burger person? Try some of the other specialities at this unique Manitou eatery. Favorites include pork cutlets, bratwurst, homemade soup and the house speciality, Hungarian goulash.
Asian Garden Restaurant & Bar
1747 S. Eighth St.
Nepalese/Indian/Tibetan, moderately priced
Hosts Raj Adhikari and Muku Bhandari welcome visitors to their west-side eatery with a friendliness that redefines the word "hospitality." They're quick to share information not only about the menu, but also about the customs, people, food and mountains of their homeland Nepal. Whether you come for the lunch buffet or dinner entres, you're sure to find something tasty among the many Nepalese, Indian and Tibetan choices. And, if you're lucky, you may come away with a little cultural education as well.
Wines of Colorado
8045 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Cascade
American, moderately priced
Yes, you may be just minutes from home, with all that food that you should eat, but there's no shame in stopping at Wines of Colorado. After all, do you have mouth-watering buffalo chili at home? Or a nice gentleman pouring you samples of wine from 50-plus local wineries? How about a lovely creek to keep you company as you eat, drink and relax? If you've answered yes to all three questions, we'd like to reserve a table for eight ...
2930 N. Elizabeth St., Pueblo
Italian, worth the price
In the Steel City, you're never far from excellent Mexican or Italian places. Rosario's, just a few blocks west of Interstate 25 and the 29th Street exit, fits that mold. You can OD on garlic here without even knowing it, starting by smashing cloves up in olive oil and dipping your bread into the mix. Lots of the usual pasta offerings, plus veal and other specialties, make for a complete Italian experience.
Hot dogs, inexpensive
The perfect pit stop for the ultimate Chicago dog. The tiny hut that is Margo's Vienna Station on Colorado Avenue does the Windy City right. Just make sure you order your all-beef dog loaded with everything traditional: mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato, peppers, cucumbers and a dash of celery salt. Take a deep breath and a big bite, and you'll believe you're standing at a pushcart outside Wrigley Field.
28 E. Bijou St.
Nepalese/Tibetan/Indian, moderately priced
Naan stuffed with onion and cilantro. Green peas with homemade cheese in curry. Chicken in fresh ginger, garlic and herbs, baked in a Tandoori oven. Onion kulcha, matter paneer and chicken kawab, respectively, speak to what makes Everest Nepal great: Its Nepalese and Tibetan influences spike more typical Indian dishes, making this a place a must-try. Plus, its staff is super-gracious, and the place serves up a $6.95 lunch buffet that'll blow your mind.
146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd.
American, worth the price
When you want to spoil yourself or family and friends, one way to do it is with a meal at
Walter's Bistro. When he opened the restaurant that bears his name, owner Walter Iser envisioned a dining experience that would include not only the best quality foods available, but those that support local and sustainable food sources. The result is a menu of American gourmet cuisine beautifully prepared and presented in an elegant
atmosphere. You won't be disappointed.
Mollica's Italian Market & Deli
985A Garden of the Gods Road
A family business opened just over 20 years ago, Mollica's is a classic Italian restaurant with a fully stocked deli inside. There's lots of tradition here, including dinner entres of lasagna, ravioli, tortellini and manicotti. Finish off your meal with one of the best cannolis in town. Too full? That's OK, ask for the mini. It's two bites of heaven.
French, worth the price
Most folks wouldn't drive this far to a French restaurant, until they come to this older home. The ambience is classy and the food better than that. Each night's offerings are written on a huge chalkboard, and choices are abundant with various preparations of beef, chicken, fowl and fish. Talk to others at adjacent tables, and you're likely to find people from the Springs or Pueblo who been driving here for 10 to 20 years. That's the best kind of promotion.
The Melting Pot
30-A E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Fondue, worth the price
Though we love the Springs' local fondue eatery, the Mona Lisa, we don't feel too much chain-shame at The Melting Pot. It's one of 129 restaurants in 35 states, yet it offers a friendly and elegant dining experience. With a fun range of cheese, meat and chocolate choices for dipping, they not only serve you a meal they create an evening that's an entertaining social event.
404 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs
Colorado cuisine, worth the price
It's hard to imagine a more ideal spot for a romantic dinner than the Craftwood, built in 1912 and turned into a restaurant in 1940. Since an extensive remodel in the late 1980s, it's thrived on Colorado cuisine from trout and caribou to duck, elk, bison and wild boar. The menu is an adventure, with detailed
descriptions that start with appetizers such as sauted loin of ostrich or braised elk tamales. When you think you're done, one unique dessert cannot be passed up: jalapeo white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. And the wine list nearly 30 Napa Valley cabernets, then on from there.
Old Heidelberg Pastry Shop
1109 S. Tejon St.
3609 Austin Bluffs Blvd.
Whether you're craving light, flaky pastries or some German comfort food, Old Heidelberg's a good destination. At breakfast, the north store offers a range of egg dishes while the main store south of downtown has lighter fare. At lunch, pick from a range of sandwiches, salads and hot German entres. Any time: Try the French apple, a puff creation, or go for a mouth-watering piece of strudel. European tortes come by the slice, or you can buy a whole cake.
19263 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, Woodland Park
Continental, worth the price
Swiss Chalet's been here since 1962 with "fine continental classical cuisine" for lunch or dinner. There are Swiss-inspired sandwiches along with bratwurst or schnitzel for lunch, as well as fish or even linguini bolognese. Dinner can be downright fancy, starting with arguably the region's best escargot, followed by such choices as Swiss fondue, sea scallops St. Jacquez or broiled double lamb chops. The wine list ranges all the way to Silver Oak. And how about souffls made to order for dessert?
Gourmet, worth the price
This is the pinnacle of dining out in the Springs. Recently the recipient of five AAA diamonds a rank unparalleled in Colorado and given to fewer than 50 of 60,000 AAA-rated destinations The Broadmoor's Penrose Room dazzles with several prix fixe dining options and creative chef's tables. Enjoy haute cuisine with a contemporary French flair, a formidable wine menu, panoramic views of our city and mountains as well as spectacular service. Dine like a king or queen.
Slayton's Barbecue, Wings & Spirits
806 Village Center Drive
Barbecue, moderately priced
The Penrose Room was nice, but now it's time to return to messy, sticky, tasty reality. In the Rockrimmon neighborhood, Slayton's follows the Kansas City-style barbecue method, meaning that you can expect everything the restaurant offered to be hickory smoked. Staffers recommend the pulled pork and chicken, but patrons rave about this spot's surprisingly tasty side dishes, the onion rings in particular.
602 N. Tejon St.
1721 S. Eighth St.
If you haven't yet discovered Panino's, you're in for a taste-bud treat. Though it offers a menu complete with pizza, pasta and salads, the dining room is packed on a regular basis by fans of its signature sandwich, the panino. It's a tasty concoction of fillings including meats, veggies, cheese and sauces wrapped in a crispy, toasted pizza-like crust. With 40 different varieties plus a build-your-own option, the possibilities are endless.
975 N. Academy Blvd.
Japanese/sushi, moderately priced
One of the many lovable things about a Tomo meal: When you order a lot of sushi, it's served on a torso-sized wooden boat, not a plate. Then there are the highly creative, contemporary sushi rolls, delicately prepared by a friendly crew of more-than-competent sushi chefs. Alongside traditional rolls, teriyaki dishes, yakitori and an array of delicious appetizers, soups and salads, the sushi's even more enjoyably consumed with specialty sakes or a Japanese beer. Must haves: the Andy roll, Volcano roll and Tijuana Ninja roll.
75 S. Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake
Italian, moderately priced
Both Paravicini's locations are known for a charming, welcoming atmosphere and generous helpings of fresh, belly-warming Italian food. Either is a great place to gather with family for fettuccine and spaghetti, or to bring a date and try out one the chef's original veal dishes and wine.
MacKenzie's Chop House
128 S. Tejon St.
Steakhouse, worth the price
With its exposed stone foundation, extensive drink list and black-and-white local photo dcor, it's tough not to get wrapped up in the atmosphere of MacKenzie's. And then you taste the Baseball Cut New York, a steak marinated in herbs and garlic oil and topped with a fantastic onion-garlic sauce, and you get wrapped up in taste sensations. MacKenzie's also offers an extensive wine and cocktail list and some fantastic rotating entre specials.
6552 S. Academy Blvd.
Japanese/sushi, moderately priced
Purists might argue about how many generations a chef's family has been making sushi, but for most of us, the main test is whether it tastes good. Sushi Ai serves up a yummy combination of newer sushi dishes and traditional creations. Try the Unagi Dragon, a delightful fusion of avocado, eel and shrimp, or the Smoky Roll, with smoked salmon, seared tuna, crab and shrimp.
Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.
2 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
American, moderately priced
When the kitchen staff is on, Phantom Canyon's one of the best restaurants in town, its wide menu range full of creative winners. The consistent superstars here, though, are the in-house brewed beers (the IPA, Queen's Blonde and Hefeweizen all shine) and the upstairs billiards room. Phantom's more than a dinner spot it's a one-stop night out on the town.
Borriello Brothers Thin Crust Pizza
4750 Barnes Road
Picking a favorite item at Borriello Brothers is like picking a favorite child impossible when your choices include hot and cheesy eggplant Parmesan subs, drippy buttery garlic twists and, of course, pizza. You can never go wrong with their pizza. Try the super thin crust for a rare, straight-from-New-York-City treat. (The thinner the crust, the more you can eat!)
Dragon Gate Chinese Restaurant
323 N. Union Blvd.
7607 N. Union Blvd.
Most Chinese restaurants are alike in terms of menu offerings, but separated by food execution, service and, often, speed. Dragon Gate is quick with pickup orders and deliveries and friendly in-house, but most importantly, it is gifted in the kitchen. Start any meal with crab rangoons (fried wontons of cream cheese, crab and spices dipped in sweet sauce) and then go for your favorite stirfry. You won't be disappointed.
208 N. Union Blvd.
Cuban, moderately priced
Taste authentic Cuban food prepared with many naturally raised ingredients alongside a traditional mojito in this transporting, comfortable eatery. Try oxtail stew, as well as brilliantly flavored chicken, pork, beef and seafood plates or yucca fries and delicacies like guava-filled pastries, flan or trs leches cake. Drop in weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a $6.99 to $9.99 lunch plate with entre and choice of two sides. Dinner plates run from $12 to $25. Beware generous portions: Doggie bags are commonly seen with departing guests.
118 E. Kiowa St.
This little downtown eatery offers a surprisingly large menu with ample choices for both veggie lovers and carnivores. They've got your Mediterranean classics, including fresh and tasty spanakopita, moussaka, dolmas, falafel, kabobs and award-winning gyros. But that's not all check out starters like salads-by-the-pound and thick, chewy pitas for scooping up hummus and tabouli. For the finale, don't miss the baklava in a light lemon-honey syrup, or the rich and chocolaty "fugdy wudgy" cake.