Favorite

Belly up 

Bite off a chunk of the Colorado Springs restaurant scene

Even if you're a Cooks Illustrated-reading, Good Eats-watching, Splendid Table-listening, home-cooking ninja, there still comes a time when you'd rather let somebody else pound the pork cutlet while you peruse the pinot noirs. Sure, it's a lovely moment when you can finally toss those homemade tortillas into that African fair-trade basket, but sometimes some grease delivered table-side and removed in just the same way needs to be what's for dinner.

So, in that spirit, here are some regional standouts, organized by cuisine. This list isn't the beginning and the end of our dining scene, but it is a beginning. We've also included some quick hits from last year's Best Of readers poll. (A full list of winners starts here.)

From here, just like with the dinner you're not at home cooking, it's up to you.

Barbecue/Southern

For culture, cuts of meat and cold ones, it's pretty hard to beat Front Range Barbeque (2330 W. Colorado Ave., frbbq.com), which pairs its burgers and impressive beer list with frequent music and art shows, all from an eclectic old house on the west side. Owner Brian Fortinberry hails from Alabama, which informs a style of 'cue where his meat sees a dry rub and then arrives naked or sauced with a variety of vinegar-forward standards.

Bird Dog BBQ (multiple locations, birddogbbq.com) has steadily expanded its Oklahoma-style barbecue across the region since opening its first store in 2004. Meats are smoked over oak, then ordered counter-side (in a heavenly smelling dining room) and sauced at the table. You can also view most of the food through glass, Subway-style, before you order.

Colorado Smokehouse (6679 Camden Blvd., Fountain, coloradosmokehouse.net) puts out a crave-worthy product from its little spot — mixing styles from across the U.S. with mesquite and apple wood — though getting there requires a short drive south on the interstate. Firehouse BBQ and Sports Bar (6995 Lexington Drive, 447-8829) does the low-and-slow dance on the north side, smoking meat over hickory for as long as 13 hours in an open pit outside. And the similarly named, but unrelated, Firehouse on the Run (12480 Black Forest Road, firehouseontherun.com) does its Texas-style brisket, pulled pork and sausage from the Black Forest area.

MA's Sammich Stop BBQ and Catering (6453 Omaha Blvd., masammichstop.com) is the province of chef Timothy Archer, a self-anointed "culinary genius and the mastermind behind all of the delicious blends of food and spices that makes MA's Sammich Stop the best BBQ in all of Colorado." Probably begging to differ, Broken Bones BBQ (481 Hwy. 105, Suite G, Monument, brokenbonesbbq.com) and The Smokin' Q (11027 U.S. Hwy. 24, Divide, 687-5800) both offer compelling reasons to seek thy burnt-end bliss. The former offers gluten-free barbecue sauces in adorable jars and options like an applewood-smoked chicken sandwich, while the latter specializes in smoked rainbow trout along with all the usual goodness.

Then, we've got a varied assortment of chain restaurants — Famous Dave's, Dickey's Barbecue Pit, L&L Hawaiian Barbeque and, likely most notably, Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q — but you're probably better off at a stop like Bourbon Brothers Southern Kitchen (13021 Bass Pro Drive, bourbonbrotherssouthernkitchen.com). A local creation, it has national aspirations and just merged its parent company with a Denver barbecue restaurant. Find a huge selection of around 120 different bourbons to go with hushpuppies, gumbo and "Uncle Dub's Meatloaf."

A more mom-and-pop option is Mayo's O'Taste & See (3219 S. Academy Blvd., 390-6848), a mix of Korean, Southeast Asian, barbecue and soul food that results from the proprietors' time spent traveling the world in the military. Do the fried pork chop, with spicy blond gravy. — BC

Burgers

Drifter's Hamburgers (4455 Mark Dabling Blvd., 1485 Jamboree Drive, driftershamburgers.com) pops up on a lot of favorites lists because of its local meat sourcing, similarity to In-N-Out Burger, and saucy-and-addictive "Wild Style" spin on drive-thru classics. Chef Bobby Couch at The Green Line Grill (230½ Pueblo Ave., greenlinegrill.com) also keeps it simple, dishing one or two rotating variations of his Oklahoma onion burger along with killer house fries and chili-slaw Coneys, and may add a rooftop patio to cater to those who love a little air with their beef. Local fast-food spot Short Stop (485 N. Circle Drive, 444-8428) also deserves kudos for its decades-long devotion to the chuck.

On the west side, Cy's Drive-In (1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008) is the venerable throwback that Sonic pretends to be. Hit it for no other reason than to sit in your car and gaze at red picnic tables underneath the classic sign pitching "curb service since 1953."

Those looking for something a little less traditional should smash some Crave Real Burgers (7465 N. Academy Blvd., craverealburgers.com). An offshoot from Castle Rock, Crave specializes in just about anything except ketchup and mustard: The Nutty Professor features peanut butter, jalapeños and bacon, while the Sin City combines fried white cheddar with bourbon onions and avocado. The two-handers can be a little hard to eat, but nobody said earning that atherosclerosis diagnosis would be easy.

Like Smashburger (multiple locations, smashburger.com) — a Denver-based national chain that squeezes an impressive amount of flavor into its offerings — Larkburger (1904 Southgate Road, larkburger.com) is a multi-location Colorado invention that deserves a visit. With its origins in chef Thomas Salamunovich's Vail restaurant Larkspur (not to be confused with the town), the burger spot promises house dressings, additive- and preservative-free meat, and biodegradable containers. Oh, and the restaurants are 100 percent powered by wind.

Elsewhere, Kevin and Suzette Megyeri, owners of the Skirted Heifer (204 N. Tejon St., 635-3276), earned the enmity of many when they chose not to renew the lease of a longtime beloved French restaurant in a building they owned, in order to start their own burger joint. Luckily, this resulted in patties made with Colorado-raised, grass-finished beef and paired with house-made toppings on local bread. Down the street, Bingo Burger (132 N. Tejon St., bingoburger.com) is promising to take a thickly stacked concept perfected in Pueblo (think embedded green chilies in meat topped with vegetables and a fried egg) to Springs streets, sometime this spring.

Now, let's pause for a moment just to say rest in peace to the iconic giant hamburger of Conway's Red Top, which closed its last location in 2012. It wasn't that good, but it was our not-that-good, and for a very long time, too.

All that said, there's a grip of corporate grease available, if that's your thing, from Red Robin to Five Guys Burgers & Fries to Jake's Wayback Burgers and any other damn chain you can think of. — BC

Café

Exactly what distinguishes a café from a diner or even a fine-dining spot completely depends on the individual business. Often, it's simply a place for a decent sandwich, or soup, or crêpe. Sometimes, it's more.

Big excitement has surrounded the relocations of two Manitou Springs outfits: Adam's Mountain Café (934 Manitou Ave., #102, adamsmountain.com) should be out of that flood-beaten location and into the former Manitou Steak and Pancake House at 26 Manitou Ave., around early May, with expanded offerings on its beloved staple menu. And Coquette's Bistro & Bakery (321 N. Tejon St., coquettesbistroandbakery.com) just moved downtown, adding a full bar, expanded gluten-free menu and retail market.

While downtown: P.B. & Jellies New York Deli (106 E. Kiowa St., pbandjellies.com) handles your need for a PB&J made with Pad Thai peanut butter; Smiley's Bakery and Café (323 N. Tejon St., 328-9447) is well regarded for both breakfast and pie; and Wooglin's Deli & Café (823 N. Tejon St., wooglinsdeli.com) isn't just for Colorado College students, handling your Reuben needs quite well.

Paris Crepe (218 N. Tejon St., 444-0110) does lovely French standards and fun international twists, with great gluten-free options and divine desserts. Rico's Café and Wine Bar (322 N. Tejon St., poorrichardsdowntown.com) tackles everything from java and vino to pastries and fine chocolates as part of the lively Richard Skorman megaplex.

Dale Street Café (115 E. Dale St., mydalestreetcafe.com) falls more on the fine-dining side, with homemade pasta, smart seafood and nice desserts. Seeds Community Café (109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., seedscommunitycafe.com) acts as our city's first "pay-what-you-can" model. Bob Smoot's green chile and fun, funky sandwiches with quality ingredients highlight The Corner Café (7 E. Vermijo Ave., cornercafecs.com). And beyond its clever cocktail regimen, Shuga's (702 S. Cascade Ave., shugas.com) dishes great gourmet sandwiches like a brie BLT and soups like the locally famous spicy Brazilian coconut shrimp.

Manitou Springs' Swirl Wine Bar (717 Manitou Ave., #102, swirlismybar.com) also pairs its sophisticated drink selections with lush eats like meat and cheese plates, paninis and bruschetta creations, while The Maté Factor (966 Manitou Ave., 685-3235) just needs Ewoks to finish off the "dining on Endor" vibe.

Still on the west and far-west sides: European Restaurant & Cafe (935 Manitou Ave., europeancafemanitou.com) and PJ's Bistro (819 Manitou Ave., 685-1195), owned by the same family, address pierogi and potato-pancake cravings, while serving other Polish, European and American items. Hit Cucuru Gallery Cafe (2332 W. Colorado Ave., cucurucafe.net) for a good Cuban sandwich; the Mucky Duck Restaurant (10530 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls, muckyduckco.com) for a Hollandaise fix at Sunday brunch; and Joanie's Mountain Gourmet Deli (110 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, Woodland Park, joaniesdeli.com) for great sandwiches at high altitude. And for pie with a view, Susie's Westside Café (1686 S. 21st St., 442-0090) will get your attention, while Bon Ton's Café (2601 W. Colorado Ave., bontonscafe.com) is a breakfast favorite.

Now, to explain the La Baguette family, which once had a single owner but has since been split: La Baguette French Bakery-Café (2417 W. Colorado Ave., labaguette-co.com) is owned by a charming Polish couple who bake great bread, fine desserts and also operate Upstairs at La Baguette .... wait for it ... upstairs above the bakery. La Baguette Downtown (117 E. Pikes Peak Ave., labaguettedowntown.com) bustles, especially during the week; La Tartine French Bistro Café (1420 Kelly Johnson Blvd., latartinefrenchbistro.com) is known for more French goodies and rich pastas; and La Baguette French Bistro (4440 N. Chestnut St., labaguettefrenchbistro.com) is run by a real French guy and hits serious fine dining excellence at a great price.

Inside the El Paso County Citizens Service Center, AspenPointe Café (1675 Garden of the Gods Road, aspenpointe.org/cafe) acts as a social enterprise, teaching culinary skills to those with a variety of disabilities and disadvantages, while dishing affordable and legitimately delicious eats to the public. Longtime north end favorite Oliver's Delicatessen (6602A Delmonico Drive, oliversdelishop.com) requires a visit for its Oliver sandwich of hot corned beef, slaw, Swiss and Russian dressing on rye.

Nearly 40-year-old Trivelli's Hoagies (2819 N. Nevada Ave., trivellis.net) uses Ranch Foods Direct beef for popular items like its steak hoagie, and you don't have to play golf to enjoy the Patty Jewett Bar & Grill (900 E. Española St., pattyjewettclubhouse.com). Finally, find a cool tribute to women in history in the form of delightful sandwiches at Her Story Café (2356 S. Academy Blvd., herstorycafe.com). — MS

Chinese

A Chinese friend of mine, who sometimes lives in the Springs, confirms that pretty much everything we call Chinese here is actually an American-Chinese conglomeration of mostly stir-fried things that deliver tastes that are far from the homeland. But authenticity aside, our "Chinese" gets the job done when cravings call for a starch base, umami-rich protein top, and speedy availability. Taken as its own hybrid cuisine, sometimes it's all you want.

And it must be said that Silver Pond Chinese (5670 N. Academy Blvd., bestsilverpondchinese.com) consistently stuns after 17 years in the Springs. Locals love chef Jack Hu's fruit infusions, namely the strawberry or mango chicken or shrimp entrées, served with whole chunks of the fruits as part of each dish's saucing.

We've been big fans of chef David Bang's style at Ivy's Chinese Cafe (11550 Ridgeline Drive, ivyschinesecafe.com), where his personal favorite and most popular item is the crispy, deep-fried orange chicken. Bang's former haunt, Jasmine Cafe (6064 Stetson Hills Blvd., jasminecafechineserestaurant.com), maintains a similarly expansive menu, and the Kung Pao dishes tend to be top sellers. At Overseas 101 (5166 N. Academy Blvd., 268-9288), the lengthily marinated, bone-in crispy duck delights with a mildly tart, plum-forward sauce.

There are two separately owned Coal Mine Dragon locations (1779 S. Eighth St., coalminedragon.net; 1720 W. Uintah St., 578-5430), and the Uintah Street one also makes for a good destination for duck, this time plated with bamboo shoots and black mushrooms in a salty brown sauce. The Eighth Street spot should be hit for a cheap, better-than-most lunchtime buffet. Manitou Springs' Jade Dynasty Chinese Restaurant (106 Manitou Ave., jadedynastymanitousprings.com) has a vibrantly colored Volcano Shrimp plate, and China Town Restaurant (326 S. Nevada Ave., chinatown-restaurant.com) serves a winner in its cold-busting Wor Wonton Soup.

Dragon Gate Chinese Restaurant (323 N. Union Blvd., 633-1166) makes decent Lo Mein, while Lanshing Café (9475 Briar Village Point, #150, lanshingcafe.weebly.com) will serve you a healthy burdock root tea over a plate of sesame bean curd from its lengthy menu. — MS

Diners

When it comes to local diners, there are only two words you need to know: green chile. Love for the stuff seems to follow the edge of the Rockies, from New Mexico — where the fanaticism really lives, to include The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, which just mapped the pepper's genome — up to Wyoming.

Of course, technically it lives anywhere there's a love of it, and there's an abundance of that in Colorado Springs. The thick, gravy-like version popular in Pueblo is one notable example, but you'll find variations on spice and ingredients across the board.

And though we won't promise you'll find it in every diner, it's pretty rare not to, especially at a spot like King's Chef Diner (131 E. Bijou St., 110 E. Costilla St., kingschefdiner.com). A roughly 60-year-old classic that started in the same tiny purple castle still operating today on Costilla Street, it dishes a vegetarian version that'll knock your spice-loving socks off. Plus it pairs beautifully with its famous breakfast burrito.

The Omelette Parlor (900 E. Fillmore St., co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com) is another god among mortals, its wooden booths holding court on Fillmore Street since before creation. It's related to the bar in the other half of the building, creating the perfect storm of inebriation and recovery. Milt's Coffee Shop (2314 E. Platte Ave., 634-9016) is another busy-street standard, with bottomless cups and all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy.

In other news, New Day Café (5901 Delmonico Drive, newdaycafe.com) does a fine take on sandwiches and breakfast classics, surrounded by local photography, while The Dive (3043 W. Pikes Peak Ave., 719thedive.com) fearlessly combines barbecue, burgers and breakfast. Out east, hit Sandy's Restaurant (6940 Space Village Ave., 651-0596) for a country breakfast and a whole lot of loving.

Hailing from the small mountain town of Cascade, Mildred's Cafe (4645 Fountain Ave., mildredscafe.com) combines incredibly scenic views with homemade pie and a '50s feel, while a little farther up the pass, in Woodland Park, The Donut Mill (310 W. Midland Ave., thedonutmill.com) and the Hungry Bear Restaurant (111 E. Midland Ave., hungrybearcolorado.com) feed famished locals and tourists alike. French toast at the latter is killer, while the former does good, you guessed it, donuts.

Simple, delicious fare is found at Wade's Cafe (3504 N. Academy Blvd., wades-cafe.com), which kicks out the Ranchman's Breakfast — thick ham, two eggs and all-you-can-eat pancakes — or the Egg McWade breakfast sandwich. Located near a power plant, Barney's Diner (129 W. Las Animas St., 632-1756) pairs the usual solid-and-satisfying with beef from local company Ranch Foods Direct.

Western Omelette (16 S. Walnut St., westernomelette.com) is another name to know in the green-chile game, as the west-side spot popular with Colorado College students spits out a stew so murderous it will either hook or kill you. Detz Cafe (211 E. Cucharras St., detzcafe.com) stays away from such slaughter by hiding its local-beef-buying restaurant in the middle of downtown (and virtually next door to the Indy's offices). Omelets Etc. (1616 S. Eighth St., omeletsetc.com), on the south side, is also worth a visit, despite its generic name, with gluten-free pancakes, bottomless coffee and Cajun tilapia fillets.

Lastly, meet the classically steel Rosie's Diner (411 U.S. Hwy. 105, Monument, eatatrosies.com), and down the street, Coffee Cup Cafe (251 Front St., #6, Monument, coffeecupmonument.com). — BC

Food trucks

There will be tacos — lots of 'em. But first, let's get to the most ambitious food-truck forum: Curbside Cuisine (225 N. Nevada Ave., curbsidecuisinecs.com). It's the almost-year-old downtown hub where a number of operators park at various hours to serve as one supergroup, with the greatest number in warm weather. Check its social media sites for daily updates on which vendors are on-site.

Among the possibilities: the richly gourmet The Heavenly Dessert Truck (theheavenlydesserttruck.com); Za (zapizza.com), with its wonderful wood-oven pizza; the porkalicious Piglatin Truck (231-6278); Korean fusion in the form of Wada Wada (603/568-5161); jerk and Jamaican jazz (get the fried mac & cheese!) under the banner of High Grade Catering and Food Truck (930-3843); gringo-friendly Macos Tacos (216-7536) with its kick-ass chili de árbol hot sauce; Langosh.good (231-2284), a Slovak tribute to the Eastern European deep-fried dough treat, here turned into thick sandwich wrappers; gator bites and more goodies from the Creole Kitchen by Gus (464-5394; returning in June); and the newest addition, SuppenBar (hot-soups.com), dishing East German-influenced soups, salads and traditional German entrées.

Elsewhere on the road — and again, check individual sites for location info — The Springs Cupcake Truck (thespringscupcaketruck.com) was recently revived, offering sweet standards plus gluten- and allergen-free renditions sans artificial ingredients. Merken (337-2233) delivers a true taste of Chilean cuisine via the titular smoked chili pepper spice that informs all its dishes, from beefy chacarero to light, doughy empanadas.

Potato Potato (362-0750) is a spud-centric concept devoted to various, creative renditions of poutine (gravy and cheese-curd-covered fries), plus everything from potato latkes to gourmet, stuffed Tater Tots. The name similarly tells a story with Bite Me Gourmet Sausages (331-0546), where Denver's Continental Sausage gets dressed up pretty on-site — that site often being outside of a given local brewery. FrostBites Frozen Yogurt (frostbitesfroyo.com) dispatches its 26-foot Yeti 1 Yogurt Bus (that's just fun to say) with a wide sampling of its house-flavored yogurts made with real ingredients.

And as for those tacos, one of your best bets is to hit the Airport Road corridor between Circle Drive and South Academy Boulevard. Here's where you'll find all the cheek, tongue, stomach and intestine tacos, and sometimes seafood — the authentic, good stuff. Tacos Junior and Tacos Junior #2 (232-6246 for both) will park here on weekends, as will El Tio Gaby (337-4027). Tacos el Paisa (213-6692) can be found nearby at South Chelton Road and East Fountain Boulevard., and La Flor de Jalisco (392-4571) still holds down the Union Boulevard and Constitution Avenue area. — MS

Italian

Our Italian scene is overseen by a handful of long-lived restaurants whose lineage stretches back decades. Probably the grande dame of them all is Roman Villa Pizzeria (3005 N. Nevada Ave., 635-1806), a beloved relic of the '50s whose Nevada location is as classic as it gets. In the small dining room dig on the pizza, of course, but don't miss the tortellacci, made with moist, homemade pasta.

Farther south, Luigi's Homemade Italian Food (947 S. Tejon St., luigiscoloradosprings.com) has been rocking from a converted car garage for the last 56 years. Inside, chianti bottles, faux wine vines and red-checkered tablecloths put you smack in the middle of Lady and the Tramp. Chicken marsala, house pasta sauces and fresh Italian bread are just the beginning.

Rocco's Italian Restaurant (3802 Maizeland Road, roccoscolorado.com) isn't quite so old — operating for over 25 years — but has enjoyed recent expansion into a larger space. Another checkered-tablecloth standby, Rocco's cooks a chicken parmigiana like nobody's business, with the service to back it up. Both downtown's Fratelli Ristorante Italiano (124 N. Nevada Ave., fratelliristorante.com) and Manitou Springs' Savelli's Pizza (301 Manitou Ave., savellispizza.com) have seen at least 15 years in these parts, and each has the loyal clientele to prove it.

Paravicini's Italian Bistro (2802 W. Colorado Ave., paravicinis.com) is going on 11 years dominating the west side — and our readers poll for Best Italian — with colorful chef Franco Pisani kicking out jams like eggplant rollatini or the simple-but-delicious penne alla vodka with prosciutto. Nearby, Pizzeria Rustica (2527 W. Colorado Ave., pizzeriarustica.com) pairs a nationwide notability for sustainable practices with refined takes on rustic classics. Complemented by brilliant antipasti, its Neapolitan pies are served uncut, just like the good ol' days, and play beautifully with house mozzarella and organic greens. For a more family-style feel, Dat's Italian (2514 W. Colorado Ave., datsitalian.com) is just east.

La Bella Vita Ristorante Italiano (4475 Northpark Drive, labellavitaristorante.net) is a relative newcomer, but with limoncello crème brûlée, risottos melting with flavor and typically impeccable service, as welcome as they come. The Front (1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., thefrontcs.com) is even newer to the scene, but has already made an impression with its "hidden" dining room, crisp pizzas and succulent short-rib ragu. Panino's (604 N. Tejon St., 1721 S. Eighth St., paninos.com) does its baked-sandwich thing from two Springs locations, plus ones in Fort Collins and North Oaks, Minn. But it's a justifiably loyal following the family restaurants gathered here, and a revamped downtown location will only help.

Far up the road, The Villa Palmer Lake (75 S. Hwy. 105, thevillapalmerlake.com) puts you "in the 'almost heaven' setting of panoramic Palmer Lake," where you can look out while you're putting down some veal osso bucco or butternut squash ravioli. A trip up the pass to Woodland Park gives you Mangia Mangia (407 E. Grace Ave.), mangiamangiawp.com), which gained a little notoriety for recently hosting chef Gordon Ramsay for the upcoming season of his FOX show Kitchen Nightmares. — BC

Japanese

Since we don't have any real izakayas (casual, cigarette-smoke-filled Japanese drink and snack lounges) here, not to mention any Lawson storefronts — Japan's 7-Eleven equivalent where cash-strapped Gaijin (foreigners) can actually eat rather lavishly and well — being big in Japan while still inside C-Springs basically equates to punishing some sushi somewhere.

In the all-you-can-eat realm, Sushi Ring (1861 S. Nevada Ave., sushiring.com) and Sushi Ring II (308 S. Eighth St., 635-9744) will treat you quite right, under the creative, crafty care of Takashi "Elvis" Kishimoto and Paul Lastrella, respectively; think of them as dinner and a show. Sushi Rakkyo (9205 N. Union Blvd., sushirakkyo.com) also needs to be hit for AYCE when your eatin' pants are cinched loose.

All these outfits do a nice job with presentation, but check out the impressive pics on the Facebook page of Zen Fusion Sushi & Bistro (4359 Integrity Center Point, zenfusionsushi.com) to see why it's worth your dollars. Yoo Mae (21 E. Kiowa St., yoomae.com) also guarantees stunning scenery, and should be visited for chef JJ Kim's super-fun roll series, including car themes, a roll for each U.S. state, and now international rolls, such as a fish-'n-chips-inspired, french-fry-containing England roll.

Catch exclusive (as far as we know) shabu-shabu (called Japanese fondue) and real ramen service at Jun Japanese Restaurant's north store (1760 Dublin Blvd., jun-japanese.com), and similarly superlative sushi at its 3276 Centennial Blvd. location. Confuse yourself or just eat at all three separately owned places that incorporate "Ai" (meaning "love") into their names: Sushi Ai (6552 S. Academy Blvd., 576-8855), the original progenitor, and great for a 10-piece lunch nigiri plate; Ai Sushi & Grill (4655 Centennial Blvd., aisushi.us), where just maybe the Pop Corn Scallop roll is for you; and Ai Sushi & Grill at Powers (3215 Cinema Point, aisushipowers.com), offering pre-movie-friendly rice bowls and bento boxes as well as teppanyaki (iron griddle) service.

Fuji MT Hibachi & Sushi (16064 Jackson Creek Pkwy., fujimtmonument.com) also leads with an abundance of teppan tables amid gorgeous decor, and the hibachi lunch specials are generous. The teppan show at Kura Japanese Restaurant (3478B Research Pkwy., kurajapaneserestaurant.com) is a draw, as are vegetarian rolls like the Sun Burning for those not desiring fish.

Woodland Park's Fusion Japan (765 Gold Hill South Place, 687-2228) sported some fun dessert rolls on our last visit. Icheeban (405 N. Union Blvd., icheeban.com) specializes in yakitori, and its stir-fries are awesome, with subtle honey and cinnamon influences. Kohnami (7673 N. Union Blvd., kohnamisushico.com) pleases with the baked Monkey Business roll of cream cheese with banana-topped avocado; go to Mobo (5975 N. Academy Blvd., mobosushi.com) for a bacon-asparagus-avocado-cucumber roll; and Tomo Sushi (975 N. Academy Blvd., eatattomo.com) for its T.N.T. or Tijuana Ninja rolls, both artfully cooked.

Mr. Lee's Chilean sea bass should be experienced at Sushi O Sushi (3643 Star Ranch Road, 576-9830), and if stampedes are your speed, Fujiyama (22 S. Tejon St., Suite A, fujiyamasushi.com) takes half off all sushi and rolls for weekday lunches, and half off everything from 5 to 6 on Mondays. — MS

Korean

Many Americans will never venture past sweetly sauced beef bulgogi plates inside the Korean realm, or kimchi bowls dropped alongside other banchan samplings as part of a traditional table setting. And though those both have earned popularity for a reason — those who love a good pepper-infused salsa burn feel loyal also to spicy Korean red-chili-laced kimchi renditions — most Korean eateries offer many additional authentic flavors.

Tong Tong (2036 S. Academy Blvd., 591-8585) should be visited for its bright orange kimchi pancakes, good for a shared app or a single meal. Having just eaten the real deal at an open-air marketplace known for them in Seoul, I can vouch for these.

San Chang House (3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-1707) might be most authentic based on the lack of English spoken and crowds of Korean fans. On the menu, it's written: "You can eat as much Korean food as you like without gaining weight!" We don't know about that, but the jalapeño-flecked veggie and octopus plate, the nakji bokum, makes you want to test the theory.

At Happy Time Korean Restaurant (5547 Powers Center Point, 282-2110), get the amazingly delicious Atka Mackerel, a grilled, salted fish with crunchy, charred skin and unctuous flesh. Taste of Korea (1825 Peterson Road, 574-2060) deserves a drop-in for its $7.49 bento box-esque lunch specials, but also the superb sliced rice pasta soup in a creamed ox bone stock.

The tangy beef short ribs soup at Shin Sa Dong (3845 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 638-2695) makes a nice gateway dish from bulgogi to big broths, while Seoul Tofu Grill (296 S. Academy Blvd., Suite F, seoultofugrill.com) offers a specialty house tofu soup that can be customized to spice-level preferences.

Chingu Chicken House (3322 E. Fountain Blvd., 572-5757) dishes a fun and spicy chicken bulgogi rendition, as does Da Mi Korean Restaurant (1683 Jet Wing Drive, 596-2580), which also makes a molten cauldron of pork-tofu-kimchi soup. At Café Banzai (2917 Galley Road, 622-0333), the chap chae brilliantly puts sweet-potato glass noodles in a sesame oil sauce. — MS

Mediterranean

Even leaving off the standard gyro drive-thrus, there's still a large variety of regional cuisine to be found. Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna (2616 W. Colorado Ave., jakeandtellys.com), in Old Colorado City, is a leader in the local restaurant scene and famous for its hummus, a family recipe brought over from the Aegean isle of Chios.

The recently expanded Briar Mart (6799 N. Academy Blvd., 528-6869) offers charbroiled chicken skewers and gyros to enjoy after you're done shopping from among shelves packed with enticing ingredients.

Elsewhere, Heart of Jerusalem Café (718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs; 4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., heartofjerusalemcafe.com) and Taste of Jerusalem Café (15 E. Bijou St., tasteofjerusalemcafe.com) may sound similar, and that's because the respective owners used to be business partners before a disagreement. Both offer moist shawarma, creamy hummus drizzled with oil and festive atmospheres.

Like others on this list, the centrally located and widely ranging Caspian Café (4375 Sinton Road, caspiancafe.com) periodically hosts belly dancers. They accompany your meal of eggplant in honey sauce, or mussels in saffron cream. Tajine Alami (10 Old Man's Trail, Manitou Springs, tajinealami.com) sits you down on cushions, anoints you with orange and rose-blossom water, and serves you its multi-course, clay-cooked Moroccan cuisine. Finally, Jordanian owner Sam Ayaad offers similar luxury at his Sahara Café (954 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, thesaharacafe.com), where Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian flavors mix among exotic teas and rich pastries.

And if you're just looking for straight-and-simple deliciousness, hit downtown's friendly Mediterranean Café (118 E. Kiowa St., medcafe-co.com). "Med Café," as it's called by regulars, plates huge gyros with seasoned fries, and packs vegetarian plates full of falafel, hummus, baba ghanouj and dolmas. — BC

Mexican

This town is so flush with varieties of Mexican food that we could fill the rest of this guide just telling you about it. Instead, here's a handful of good-to-knows.

Almost all play around with their margaritas; like the diners, most are flush with green chile; and free chips and salsa are as common as colorful tiles and mariachi music. (Those just looking for some street-style quick-and-delicious should hit the small spots and taco trucks in the southeast, typically along East Platte Avenue, Circle Drive or Airport Road. We've also got our fair share of late-night drive-thrus.)

First, there are the near-twins of El Taco Rey (330 E. Colorado Ave., eltacorey.com) and Salsa Latina (28 E. Rio Grande St., 328-1513). The former is the king of spicy avocado pork, shredded and habit-forming in either burrito or taco form; the latter, run by the family's offspring, dishes it out a few blocks away. Both small outfits get packed at lunch, so be thinking to-go.

And though you might not be thinking burger if you're thinking Oaxaca, the Crystal Park Cantina (178 Crystal Park Road, Manitou Springs, crystalparkcantina.com) puts out an 8-ounce patty lovingly tucked between jalapeños and grilled onions on a corn bun that manages to be as good as, or better than, the creative, big-bowled margaritas.

Part of the locally owned Concept Restaurants company, José Muldoon's (222 N. Tejon St., 5710 S. Carefree Circle, josemuldoons.com) is a longtime staple of downtown, and in recent years has opened another flourishing location on Powers Boulevard. Down the street is the higher-end Sonterra Grill (28B S. Tejon St., sonterragrill.com), which is part of another successful local conglomerate, the Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group. Sonterra boasts a ceiling painted to look like a cloudy blue sky, and strawberry-jalapeño margs, while its sibling in the RMRG — refreshingly named Salsa Brava (9420 Briar Village Point, 802 Village Center Drive, salsabravacolorado.com) — boasts multiple salsas made daily. Lucha Cantina (23 S. Tejon St., luchacantina.com/coloradosprings) is a newcomer to the downtown scene, replacing the much-loved Olive Branch with options like a "Make Your Own Mex" selection.

Way out east, Guadalajara Family Mexican Restaurant (7336 McLaughlin Road, Falcon, 494-0700) feels like it fell from central casting, but still throws out a unique spin. The sopa siete mares fills a giant bowl with fillets of whitefish, tiny scallops, clams, mussels, chunks of calamari, plump shrimp and protruding crab legs, all swimming in a salty, cilantro-rich tomato broth.

Hacienda Colorado (5246 N. Nevada Ave., haciendacolorado.com) is another gargantuan outfit, new to the city and its University Village Colorado shopping center, but hailing from Denver. It's like a coked-up On the Border, with multiple levels joined by an elevator, large portions and roof-top fire pits glistening with flaming glass rocks.

The 17-year-old Amanda's Fonda (8050 N. Academy Blvd., 3625 W. Colorado Ave., amandasfonda.com) is a perennial winner in our Best Of voting, its original west-side location offering creek-side dining and killer white cheddar dip. The Bean Bandit (320 N. Circle Drive, 634-9945) is another multi-decade staple, with a dining room full of loyal clientele eating the usual. Jorge's (2427 W. Colorado Ave., jorgessombrero.com), in Old Colorado City, recently renovated its space and is a popular destination with the tourist crowd. The Loop (965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, theloopatmanitou.com), with its infamously huge margaritas, is often seen as a can't-miss.

For quicker takes on the cuisine, La'au's Taco Shop (830 N. Tejon St., #110, laaustacoshop.com) was redoing its space as of press time, but will reopen to serve papaya-graced tacos and bowls with daily happy hours; Monica's Taco Shop (30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996; 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022) does a brisk drive-thru business, driven on by its magnificent sauces; Azada Mexican Grill (16 E. Bijou St., 634-8338) — with its chile verde, rojo pork and pillow-soft, house tortillas — kicks out better fast-casual food than anything Chipotle's ever made; and the delicious gut-busters at Alfonso's Mexican Food (1022 S. 21st St., 575-9289) are probably what you joyfully ate the last time you were drunk and in the neighborhood. Another purveyor of tip-top tortillas is La Casita Mexican Grill (multiple locations, lacasitamexigrill.com), which also puts out a killer salsa bar inside each of its famed pink buildings.

Lastly, look here for some quality variety. La Rosa Southwestern Dining (25 Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 368-7676) cooks a piquant carne adovada that will turn you into a freakish pork fiend; the food at Quijote's Mexican Grill (208 N. Union Blvd., 313-9127) is cheap enough to be insane, especially given the pickled onions and slow-simmered pork in the torta cochinita pibil. The family-owned 3 Margaritas (310 S. Academy Blvd., coloradoeats.com/3margaritas) does a mean pork chile verde; and Carniceria Leonela (3736 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 637-2641) fills a large space with shelves stacked with Mexican staples to go with a full slate of butcher-shop selections, not to mention the café in the back serving whole tilapia mojarra. — BC

Pizza

Two names own Colorado Springs pizza, though of course not everybody agrees they should. Regardless, Louie's Pizza (multiple locations, louies-pizza.com) and Borriello Brothers (multiple locations, borriellobrothers.com) have 13 sit-down stores between them, meaning you're probably around 10 minutes from one or the other from pretty much anywhere in the city.

Louie's is a 29-year-old collegiate classic, offering the perfect proportion of greasy, affordable and edible through its "homemade-style pizza." Valentine's Day brings heart-shaped pies, and there's always "Dyno Wings: More than just a Buffalo" at the ready. If chicken-taco pizza is your thing, or you're just down to pound a plate of mozzarella garlic bread, then Louie's is your stop.

Borriello Brothers is all New York City, all the time. Pies are thin and large, with a fruity sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. Avoid complaining about delivery times by dining in; the Eighth Street location even comes complete with a multi-story slide. The company also partnered with local favorite King's Chef Diner to make a chicken-and-green-chile pizza. (See? The stuff's everywhere.)

Helmed by chef Joey Stasolla, who made a 2011 appearance on the FOX show MasterChef, Joey's Pizza (1843 Briargate Blvd., joeysnypizza.net) is another standout in the New York-style category. Stasolla's recently expanded space is filled with spray paint, borough hallmarks, 50-cent wings and $15 buckets of beer.

Leon Gessi New York Pizza (1806 Palmer Park Blvd., leongessipizza.com) rocks a perfect "pizza parlor" feel, with its open kitchen, wooden walls and booths; while Poor Richard's Restaurant (324½ N. Tejon St., poorrichardsdowntown.com) downtown offers hand-tossed gluten-free crusts, roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes for its Northeastern pies.

Billy's Old World Pizza (308 S. Eighth St., Suite E, billyspizza.net) bakes the 40-minute Chicago-style monstrosities that often eat like double-decker lasagna, while up north, Duca's Neapolitan Pizza (12229 Voyager Pkwy., ducaspizza.com) flexes its Italian muscle through a world-class, wood-fired brick oven, dense-and-delicious dough, and singing tomato sauce to go with craft toppings. Ruffrano's Hell's Kitchen Pizza (9 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, hellskitchenmanitou.com) does New York pizza with its own twist, making pies like the popular Hellfire, which combines spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni and kicking cherry peppers.

Fargo's Pizza Co. (2910 E. Platte Ave., fargospizza.com) is a classic for its grandly scaled, weird, saloon-style interior that's perfect for kids, and across the street is Bambino's Italian Eatery (2849 E. Platte Ave., bambinositalian.com), where Wednesday and Sunday night dinner buffets have saved many a desperate parent. Pizza Time (8794 N. Union Blvd., pizzatimecolorado.com) provides a northern spot for your soccer team to kill the 26-inch, $25, 20-slice MONSTER Pizza. Lastly, up the pass, AJ's American Pizzeria (751 Gold Hill Place, Woodland Park, enjoyajspizza.com) shows off its knack for bread with chewy, toasted crusts and cinnamon knots that will have you reconsidering how full you are. — BC

Pub grub

There are comestibles for consuming at just about every bar, but here's where you're pretty much guaranteed at least a handful of items worth ordering.

The Broadmoor's Golden Bee (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com/goldenbee) wins hearts and minds when staff members throw little bee stickers at you, but its fancified British offerings are no joke, including a flaky fish-and-chips packing a side of crazy-fun mint mashed peas. The Public House (445 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 465-3079) also surprises for one simple fact: Here, you order the salad. Fresh spring greens mixed with a brilliant lemon vinaigrette shine brighter than expected. (And then there's the truffle-aioli-packed Mountain Burger, too.)

McCabe's Tavern (520 S. Tejon St., mccabestavern.com) and Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse and Pub (21 S. Tejon St., jackquinnspub.com) are two longtime downtown staples packing a lot more than pints. At the former, owner Greg Howard and Co. run out a menu full of house-cured whiskey salmon and ratatouille; the latter, commonly known as "Quinn's," dishes smoked pork loin and Gaelic steak. Down the block, Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., phantomcanyon.com) brews small-batch brilliance and pairs it with chili-dusted red snapper, smoked pork green chile or tortellini primavera.

Alchemy (2625 W. Colorado Ave., alchemypubcolorado.com,) with its craft cocktail menu, may be the only true gastropub in town — serving prosciutto-wrapped artichoke hearts and duck pappardelle — though the fine folks at 503W (503 W. Colorado Ave., 503w.co) could make a pretty good case for inclusion. Short-rib tacos on a steamed bao bun play on a hip menu also featuring lemon-pepper satay and kimchi-burger sliders.

Wyatt's Pub & Grill (806 Village Center Drive, 598-4100) provides a family-friendly destination full of worthwhile grub that's a perfect pair for your sporting desire, while Back East Bar and Grill (9475 Briar Village Point, #168, backeastbarandgrill.com) offers one of the best beer-and-food selections in the city and will soon open a second location in the old 1st & 10 Sports Bar & Grill in Monument. Look for that at the beginning of May.

A fine-dining destination for the last three decades, the Sunbird Mountain Grill & Tavern (230 Point of the Pines Drive, thesunbird.com) recently rebooted as a Western-themed honky tonk where you can get Cowboy Calamari, Rattlesnake Fritters or Fire-Grilled Cornish Game Hen with your hilltop views.

The volleyball-minded ought to seek out BooDad'S Beach House Grill (5910 Omaha Blvd., boodadsbeachhouse.com), where Corona and sand meet crawfish dip. O'Malley's Steak Pub (104 S. Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, omalleys.biz) lets you play around, too, but this time it's with your food, as the restaurant hands you some toppings and raw meat and points you toward the dining-room grill. The rest is up to you. SuperNova (111 E. Boulder St., supernovabar.com) fills a room with old arcade games for your pleasure, and then cooks you up some Frogger Legs, or maybe a Donkey Kong Foot Long.

Those in the mood for a drive and seeking a bite of regional food history should hit the green-chile slopper at Gray's Coors Tavern (515 W. Fourth St., Pueblo, 719/544-0455), while Johnny's Navajo Hogan (2817 N. Nevada Ave., 344-9593) offers a bit of that history a little closer to home. Johnny Nolan, who also owns SouthSide Johnny's (528 S. Tejon St., southsidejohnnys.net), took over the famed-but-decrepit concert venue and turned it into a place where the taps flow with craft beer from outfits like Firestone Walker Brewing Co. and the pressure-fried "broasted" chicken crunches all night.

If looking for a little something different to go with your G&T, hit Oscar's Tejon Street (333 S. Tejon St., 471-8070). The downtown bar brings in fresh oysters multiple times a week, serving them raw on the half shell. Tony's Bar (311 N. Tejon St., tonysdowntownbar.com) also fearlessly treads unique-ish waters with its cheese curds, squeaky little fried devils that are hard to put down (and not hard to put down, if ya know what I mean). Look for its coming move across the street. Up the pass, the night's just not complete unless you can finish it with mutton sliders or a Dublin cheese toastie at McGinty's Wood Oven Pub (11115 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Divide, mcgintyswoodovenpub.com). And everybody knows you hit the Keg Lounge (730 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9531) for a buffalo burger and a beer.

Finally, for some standards: The Hatch Cover (252 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., hatchcover.biz) offers fat 50-cent wings topped with a handful of sauces, with the "fire" likely to scorch your face off. The Point Sports Pub & Grill (1545 S. Eighth St., thepointsportsbar.com) draws an interesting crowd, all looking forward to Fish Taco Friday; and Thunder & Buttons II (2415 W. Colorado Ave., thunderandbuttons.com) may be full for its karaoke stage, but we think a rib-sticking menu serving stuff like the sirloin-filled cottage pie probably has something to do with it, too. — BC

Thai

With its velvety, chili-laced coconut milk broths and floral curry notes, Thai stands as one of the most elegant and exalted cuisines. But you already know this ... so let's get right to it.

For Panang curry enthusiasts, Thai Satay (821 Cheyenne Meadows Road, thaisataycoloradosprings.com) executes a stunner, rich with lime leaf, fish sauce, galangal, chilies and honey. Chef Gary Sanova also promotes a bit of his Indonesian heritage with dishes like Indonesian fried rice and satay beef, as well as rotating specials.

Taste of Thai Spice (1609 Lashelle Way, 226-1999) has, over our years of patronage, remained one of the truest to flavors found in Thailand. Try a big plate of papaya salad, hot — or Thai hot if you dare. Arharn Thai (3739 Bloomington St., arharnthai.net) also stands faithful to form under chef/owner and Bangkok native Pong Peanvanvanich; get her Pad Thai ho kai — the favorite dish inside a fried egg purse.

Chef/owner Meaw Merrell at Thai Eats (640B S. Academy Blvd., thai-eats.com) also hits hard on the homeland, even in weekend cooking classes. Her Hung Le Curry shows how pork ribs surrender to tamarind juice. NaRai Thai Restaurant (805 Village Center Drive, narai-thai.com) does a delightful dance with its red curry and Kabocha squash dish, bursting with basil essence, and its new offshoot, NaRai Siam Cuisine (120 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd.) offers an expanded menu, with alluring plates such as a Thai take on Korean short ribs, using a lemongrass marinade.

At Thai Guy (6821 Space Village Ave., 573-8054), your mission is the stupid-good red curry roasted duck. Hit Thai Mint (1725 Briargate Blvd., 598-7843) for the fun Thai Tea ice cream dessert, and Lanna Thai (8810 N. Union Blvd., gowaiter.com) for the outstanding Pa-Nang Talay seafood medley. There are two separately owned Bhan Thai locations in town (4431 Centennial Blvd., bhanthai.net; 1025 N. Academy Blvd., bhanthaico.com), and each makes a great case for drunken noodles all the live-long day.

Pho-N-Thai (125 N. Spruce St., 329-0705) gives three refills on its $2.50 Thai iced tea to make sure patrons are thoroughly cracked-out prior to exiting the premises, while Thai Lily Cuisine and Yakitori 8 (319 N. Chelton Road, thailily.comcastbiz.net) does the standards well, including your basic green curry. Earning the prize for longest name: House of Yakitori #5 & Thai Kitchen by Naya (6626 Delmonico Drive, 265-9168), where dessert options are sticky rice with either mango or taro. And, saving the best for last, according to Indy readers poll votes, Wild Ginger (27 Manitou Ave., 634-5025) should be frequented for all things over rice and glass noodles, plus ambiance. — MS

Upscale or eclectic

Any discussion of upscale dining has to begin with The Broadmoor hotel's powerhouse stable of restaurants, set to grow even larger this summer with the opening of Italian eatery Ristorante Del Lago, as well as a health-food-focused outfit. The hotel already boasts one of the most decorated and respected restaurants in the state: the Penrose Room (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com/penrose-room), where plate drops are muffled by thickly cushioned tables, service is impeccable, and the food is five-star.

A step down, but still serving cuisine from noted French chef Bertrand Bouquin, is Summit (19 Lake Circle, broadmoor.com/summit), an Adam D. Tihany-designed beauty across the street from the main hotel; think Wagyu burgers and chicken tagine. Lastly, Play (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com/play-at-the-broadmoor) combines a multi-lane bowling alley with a rich, heavy feel full of wood and leather. Food runs toward the gourmet fried-chicken territory but also skips across the globe.

Downtown, Couture's Bistro (218 N. Tejon St., couturesbistro.com) is a new face, serving classic European plates in a revamped dining room gorgeously done up in the style of southern France. Brother Luck Street Eats (26 S. Wahsatch Ave., create719.com) is a few blocks, and styles, away. Chef Luck plays with food in ways that call to mind the molecular-gastronomy movement, reinventing even the simple things like popcorn.

The subterranean Rabbit Hole (101 N. Tejon St., rabbitholedinner.com) supplies a more upscale menu than most late-night eaters are used to, serving PBR mussels next to a white-bean vegetable pâté. And while Nosh (121 S. Tejon St., nosh121.com) doesn't rotate its menu often, established classics like Brussels sprouts in kochujang, and chicken and waffles, keep the crowds coming.

Steak's another downtown staple, coming from The Famous (31 N. Tejon St., thefamoussteakhouse.net) and MacKenzie's Chop House (128 S. Tejon St., mackenzieschophouse.com). The former offers the quintessential big-city meat experience, with richly appointed tables, oysters Rockefeller and a happy hour full of the city's cognoscenti; the latter plays to a similar clientele at lunch, though chef Pete Moreno's Alaskan King Crab cioppino or beef tips and mushrooms are always rocking.

First-name fine dining offers a colorful trio in Carlos' Bistro (1025 S. 21st St., carlosbistrocos.com), Walter's Bistro (146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., waltersbistro.com) and Joseph's Fine Dining (1606 S. Eighth St., josephsdining.com). Carlos' recently earned statewide honors as the highest-ranked in the 2014 Zagat America's Top Restaurants Survey, edging the Penrose Room (fifth place) and Walter's (15th place). Still, Walter's Maine lobster bisque is a heaven-sent bowl, and seasonal menu rotations guarantee something new. Joseph's continues the seafood-soup swing when it offers its smoky clam chowder and consistently plates creative dishes like the seafood trio platter, the salad wrapped in a cucumber-slice "bowl."

There's a range of options outside of town, as well. The melted cheese and chocolate, not to mention Victorian charm, at Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant (733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, monalisafondue.com) make it an easy go-to for special occasions. Farther up the pass, you can enjoy a new wine bar, or just eat whole roasted garlic next to almond-crusted fish while looking over the creek at The Wines of Colorado (8045 U.S. Hwy. 24, Cascade, winesofcolorado.com).

Even farther up Highway 24 sits the Black Bear Restaurant and Bourbon Bar (10375 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls, 684-9648), chef Victor Matthews' small-town shrine to cooking and drinking.

Lastly, a swing up Interstate 25 will bring you to moZaic (443 Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, innatpalmerdivide.com), the Inn at Palmer Divide's house restaurant with gorgeous views and entrées like the Drunken Chicken marinated in limoncello and rosemary.

Wine drinkers would do well at The Blue Star (1645 S. Tejon St., thebluestar.net), which gets voted by our readers as the best restaurant in Colorado Springs more often than not. A huge selection, weekly specials and a wine room available for private dining all set The Blue Star apart. Naturally, 2South Food + Wine Bar (2 S. 25th St., 2southwinebar.com) is another logical choice. Sitting in a repurposed Victorian on the west side, the restaurant combines food like lavender lamb bacon with an extensive system for serving vino. TAPAteria (2607 W. Colorado Ave., tapateria.com) knows Spanish small plates and how to pair them with a varied lineup of spicy reds and fruity whites. Lastly, Motif (2432 W. Cucharras St., motifwest.com) also plays the plates-and-pours game, but aims for the jazzy cocktail crowd.

Marigold Café and Bakery (4605 Centennial Blvd., marigoldcoloradosprings.com) combines classical French cooking with classical French baking, meaning it's impossible to go wrong; while the Margarita at PineCreek (7350 Pine Creek Road, margaritaatpinecreek.com), which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, turns chefs Eric Viedt and Cathy Werle loose to offer their New World takes on Old World classics.

And, finally, there are the restaurants that have helped set the bar for local dining over the years.

The Briarhurst Manor Estate (404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, briarhurstdining.com) lives in the house built by the founder of Manitou Springs, from which it offers gourmet mystery dinners and one of the best wedding venues around. The Cliff House at Pikes Peak (306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, thecliffhouse.com) aims for a similar clientele, offering mountain views from its gorgeous patio. The Pepper Tree (888 W. Moreno Ave., peppertreecs.com) competes for best view in the city, while The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery (25 W. Cimarron St., thewarehouserestaurant.com) sings to your senses with art on the walls and on the plate. — BC

Vietnamese

Judging by explosive recent growth, pho stands poised to take over the culinary world; we wonder where the market-saturation point lies and when the cannibalization will begin. Until then, slurp up and see if you can spot the differences in many local variations. We often have trouble, so long as there's ample greenery (basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, lime wedges, fresh chilies), flank, brisket and tripe pieces tossed in, and a little extra hot sauce from the usual table condiments.

In no particular order of excellence, here are strong pho spots: I Love Pho (1817 S. Nevada Ave., 328-1000), Pho 54 (1371 N. Academy Blvd., 380-0000), Pho-nomenal (5825 Stetson Hills Blvd., phonomenalrestaurant.com), Pho Viet 1 (3712 Galley Road, 597-6559), the separately owned Pho Viet II (8029 N. Academy Blvd., 599-4638), Pho Lu'u (4488 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 548-8909), and Pho & Grill Vietnamese Restaurant (3357 Cinema Point, 597-1541).

I'm not listing Pho Queen (3748 Astrozon Blvd., 392-0001) above, because I want you to head there for its fantastic and authentic pork Banh Mi sandwich. Or Pho Saigon Grill (3071 S. Academy Blvd., 391-0148), because that's your destination for locally exclusive (to our knowledge) Vietnamese fondue in the form of the Banana Blossom Fire Pot, plus superb house salads.

Hit Lemongrass Bistro (6840 N. Academy Blvd., 592-1391) for grilled beef ribs in lemon sauce, and Saigon Café (20 E. Colorado Ave., coloradosaigoncafe.com) for a light, fresh, bun bowl of rice noodles and your choice of protein. And for a handful of awesome dishes not available elsewhere in town, visit Vietnamese Garden (7607 N. Union Blvd., vietnamesegarden.net). You should call ahead for the grilled eggplant in coconut cream sauce (limited daily), but the yam-carrot-rice flour potato fritters are always around to warm your cockles. — MS

World cuisine

Technically, all the other cuisines we've highlighted are somewhere in the world, which makes this category title a bit lame. But we're employing it as a bit of a catch-all here, nabbing the groups of eateries that don't quite constitute their own whole section: Indian and German eateries, some Caribbean and beyond. You get the idea, now grab your passport and let's go.

Uchenna (2501 W. Colorado Ave., #105 and #108, uchennaalive.com) operates as our town's only Ethiopian restaurant and remains ranked No. 1 out of more than 1,100 restaurants in Colorado Springs on TripAdvisor. Eat with your fingers, try unfamiliar and exotic spices, and experience the human equivalent of a cat's purring while drinking the rosewater lemonade. The Curry Leaf (3578 Hartsel Drive, curryleafrestaurant.com) serves authentic Sri Lankan food, with its own unique spice makeup.

Jumping to the islands, Rasta Pasta (405 N. Tejon St., rastapastacs.com) leans on Scotch Bonnet heat, doing its own blend of Caribbean and Italian that made the first location famous in Breckenridge. Three Delights Caribbean Grill (4747 Flintridge Drive, threedelights.com) captures the beauty of the Bahamas with everything from conch fritters to barracuda steaks and lovely, smoked-turkey-infused collard greens. Jerk chicken, curried goat, fried plantains and all the beloved Jamaican classics will be enjoyed equally at either Jamaican Flavor (3016 S. Academy Blvd., 391-0142) or Island Grill Take-Out (1107 S. Nevada Ave., #101, 578-1468). And Spice Island Grill (10 N. Sierra Madre St., spiceislandgrill.com) handles those same traditional favorites, while also catering to the vegan and Ital crowd with stellar tofu fries dipped in house-made jerk sauce.

Destination Deutschland: Edelweiss German Restaurant (34 E. Ramona Ave., edelweissrest.com) became famous internationally last year for security footage of a bear rolling its Dumpster away. But international tourists have been enthusiastically supporting it, along with locals, for the last 40-plus years. Uwe's German Restaurant (31 Iowa Ave., 475-1611) follows suit under the care of a charming Bavarian couple, who make a great case for a plate of red cabbage, spätzle and rouladen with a tall Warsteiner beer. And though the Verburg family just closed Elke's German Deli in Fountain, it carries on at Schnitzel Fritz German Restaurant & Deli (4037 Tutt Blvd., schnitzelfritz.com), which hosts a lovely deli counter, and of course dishes a variety of schnitzel plates, bratwurst and the like. Schnitzel King (5644 S. Hwy. 85/87, Unit 6, Security, 638-4974) executes nearly 20 renditions of the dish, plus an awesome King's Dressing, a light, sour-cream-based vinaigrette for its salads. Also get the signature spaghetti ice cream (soft-serve vanilla ice cream pressed through a ricer).

Moving to Mumbai, or all points India, really (often with influence from Nepal and Tibet), head to Everest Nepal (28 E. Bijou St., everestnepalrestaurant.com) for its popular all-you-can-eat lunch special. In fact, check all of these places we're mentioning for their respective AYCE buffet hours, which remain a value and highlight to dining Indian. The excellent Little Nepal (1747 S. Eighth St., 4820 Flintridge Drive, lnepal.com) now operates at two locations, where you'll find pleasers like the lamb korma, best eaten with garlic naan and maybe a rosewater lassi or Chakra beer.

India Palace (5644 N. Academy Blvd., indiapalacecoloradosprings.com) is under new ownership, but still offers a wide array of classic favorites. Grab a chai and chicken pakora, or tandoori dish. Mirch Masala (5047 N. Academy Blvd., mirchmasalaa.com) promotes kabab and curry dining, but also boasts biryani and the other staples. And Taste of India (760 Citadel Mall, tasteofindiacoloradosprings.com) makes a trip to the mall more meaningful with everything from vindaloos to paneers and mahkani dishes. — MS

  • Bite off a chunk of the Colorado Springs restaurant scene

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    • Sat., Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 4, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free
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  • A Christmas Carol @ UCCS Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater

    • Wednesdays-Sundays, 7:30 p.m., Sundays, 4 p.m. and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 24 $18-$42
    • Buy Tickets
  • Festival of Lights Family Fun Day @ Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

    • Sat., Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free
    • 1 going/interested
    • Buy Tickets
  • Craft Fair @ Doherty High School

    • Sat., Dec. 3, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 4, 12-4 p.m. Free
  • Holiday Chocolate Festival @ Mortgage Solutions Financial Expo Center

    • Sat., Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $5 to attend, $10 taste ticket includes 12 samples

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