Best Of 2012: IndyPick • Bourbon Infusion
Chef Victor Matthews makes five different Mint Julep versions, differing in the deployment of agave, honey, simple syrup and/or molasses. To create the best one I've ever had, by a long shot, he puréed mint with organic raw agave in a small food processor. A little soda splash, some Maker's 46 (chosen from among his selection of nearly 50 bourbons) and ... heaven. My recommendation: Ascend Ute Pass for customized bourbon tasting flights ahead of Denver's much-hyped Southern Hospitality opening, for which Matthews plays a consulting role and compiled a beefy bourbon book. Follow your neat pours with a sweet Mint Julep ... then call a cab. — Matthew Schniper
Currently open for winter hours only, Thursday through Saturday, the Bear is the culinary playground of chef Victor Matthews and his Paragon Culinary School students. Catch expansive chef tables, but also à la carte comfort food and special events.
Chef and proprietor Victor Matthews offers a dining experience that few in town can replicate. Perhaps the most memorable option is the Chef's Table Tasting Menu, where the chef or one of his star Paragon Culinary School pupils comes out and customizes a full-course meal for the table.
Somewhat of a gourmet Mexican joint, worth the up-charge, Carlos Miguel's opened its third Springs location in Briargate in mid 2011, adding to its holdings in Woodland Park and on Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard. Great margaritas, ceviche and entrées like the pollo en mole.
Bites 2013: Thai Crêpe
Puritan Frenchies need not order me. I'm an international spin with global appeal. Inside my fold, juicy steak hunks meet pear slices, cilantro and peanut crumbles while a rich peanut sauce coats all for starchy bliss. ($7.99 on wheat crêpe or $8.49 for gluten-free buckwheat or garbanzo batter)
Bites 2013: North Dakota Bison
Two options here, paleo-migos: the burger or the strip loin. The burger starts with the regular fixings on a brioche bun, to which you can add everything from green chilies to a fried egg or blue crab meat. The Maple Shellacked Plains Bison sees a sear with shallots and peppercorns, then a slathering of maple syrup and Stranahan's Whiskey demiglace. ($13 burger, $1 to $4 for extras/$39 strip loin)
Bites 2013: Maine Lobster Bisque
In today's economy especially, it's amazing to ponder that back in colonial days, lobsters were fed to prisoners. But chances are quite great (certain, really) that those naughty boys never had it this good. Walter's bisque starts with the finest pinchers, whose shells give up the ghost for a rich stock flavor incorporated beautifully into a velvety, creamy body that begs for your French dinner roll's dip. Trust us, you'll want the bowl. ($7.50/cup, $10/bowl)
Best Of 2011: Neighborhood Restaurant: South
Walter's Bistro has been around since May 1999. During that time, it's served up thousands of delectable meals, appetizers, drinks and desserts. Specializing in American cuisine with a European flair, the restaurant is frequented by regulars looking for consistent, high-quality dining, and foodies out for something a little different. Using sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, Walter's menu varies with the seasons, so it never gets stale. Make sure you try the lobster bisque — can you say, "to die for"? — Bret Wright
A renowned Sunday brunch and unbeatable city skyline view. No lunch service, but a special three-course Sunset Dinner menu available from 4:30 to 6 ($17.95 to $19.95). The prime rib and filet mignon are best-sellers, but nobody will steer you away from the Australian lobster tail.
Happy hour: Monday-Friday, 4-8 p.m.
The goods: $2 off wells and house margaritas, $2.50 domestics, $3.50 imports, $3.95 house wine
Best of 2011: Upscale Bar
Any place that can create something called the "Saffron Blaze" deserves a look. And after seeing the drink's ingredients, Summit deserves more than that: We're talking saffron spice steeped in Royal Tokaji, with Grand Marnier and Absolut Apeach. Throw in fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice, and you find yourself on the fast train to Tasty Town. And if a few of those lead to the need for a little grub, chef Bertrand Bouquin does "American Brasserie" like nobody else, in a space like nobody else's, filled with leather, glass, wood and metal accents, not to mention a gigantic, metallic revolving wine turret behind the bar. — Bryce Crawford
Happy hour: Daily, 3-6 p.m.
The goods: $3 wells, $2 Coors Light drafts, $4 house wines, $1 off any call drink, and half price appetizers
Best Of 2012: Neighborhood Restaurant: North
Best Of 2012: Mexican
Specialized menus at restaurants are becoming more and more common these days. At Salsa Brava, you'll not only find a gluten-free menu, but also a Paleo menu, devoted to dishes consisting solely, or almost solely, of meats and vegetables. It's part of how keeping a "fresh-from-scratch kitchen" allows the staff to meet its customers' changing dietetic needs. Of course, the menu many of us may want to seize at the two north end locales is the happy hour one, with $3 tapas, reduced-price appetizers, and $3 to $3.50 wines, beers, wells and margaritas. Olé! — Kirsten Akens
Also with a Highlands Ranch location, Salsa Brava is the Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group's Tex-Mex face, more upscale than most with great service. Also: good weekday happy hour deals, $5 margarita Mondays (4 p.m. to close), a gluten-free menu, excellent house salsas and much more.
Source: Purple Mountain Coffee
Get the: Spicy sipping chocolate
Rico's features a rotating selection of 20 wines by the glass. Look for an assortment of varietals including organic, vegan and sustainably harvested wines.
Rico's serves Purple Mountain Coffee products brewed in fancy Chemex carafes. You can also order sipping chocolates, alcohol and eats from Poor Richard's next door.
Serving dinner only with a tremendous view over the city, this is a sister restaurant to Woodland Park's Swiss Chalet. Its "pride and joy" are the pepper steaks: filet cuts with mango chutney, flambéed in brandy ($34.95 to $49.95). All else is equally haute, from Colorado lamb to Maine lobster.
Sister restaurant to Woodland Park's Swiss Chalet, the Pepper Tree is a perennial contender in our Best Of poll's Fine Dining category. Open for dinner only and boasting a great view of the city skyline, it offers lavish seafood entrées, rich steak courses prepared or finished tableside, and classic flavors like Colorado rack of lamb with a mint rosemary demi-glace. Call this our favorite tree to climb.
Best Of 2009: Fine Dining
The Penrose Room is the Springs' pinnacle dining spot. It's one of only 15 eateries in the nation to hold both AAA's Five Diamond rating and Forbes Travel Guide's Five Star rating. The food is stunning, and the service truly impeccable. Three-course tasting menus run $72 a head; four courses, $78; and the full chef's tasting menu paired with wine tops out at $158 per person. Good news: You may eat à la carte and spend as little as $30 on a bottle of wine to savor the surprisingly comfortable atmosphere.
Chef Scott Miller oversees this fine eatery located at the upscale Inn at Palmer Divide; the views are excellent and the seasonal menus are billed as classical European with a nouveau flair. Translation: bison and venison sausage cassoulet, Colorado lamb braised with Bristol beer, sea scallops with vanilla proscuitto sauce and so on. Catch a $26 Sunday brunch that includes a large spread and bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys