Favorite

Best Of 2011: Food & Drink 

Fine Dining
Restaurant for Carnivores
Steakhouse

The Famous

(31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, thefamoussteakhouse.net)

After nine years downtown, the aptly named Famous still shines as the go-to place for an upscale night — and snags three of our meatier categories in this year's readers poll.

Frankly, the Famous is a feast for the senses. The mouthwatering aroma of seared beef greets diners as soon as they turn the door's brass handle. The sexy and slightly masculine vibe that comes from curved lines and luxurious rich leather booths brings them in for a comfy embrace. And then the prime steaks, carefully grilled to perfection with optional indulgences like crab and shrimp toppings, makes primal palates rejoice.

But even something as simple as an open-faced sliced prime rib sandwich at lunch scores high marks. And that's no accident: New general manager Johnathan Shankland, who spent 5½ years leading The Broadmoor's Charles Court, says the Famous has long been there for downtown professionals who need an upscale place for lunch with clients.

Having known owners Tony Leahy and Cindy Gough for more than 12 years, Shankland says he's committed to only enhancing the restaurant's service, which is already as sharp as its steak knives. He also emphasizes the Famous' commitment to source local ingredients, "as long as it doesn't compromise quality." The farm-to-table concept, he says, is where the Famous is heading; currently, the menu boasts Colorado Lamb and prime rib from Boulder Valley.

Recognizing the Famous' upscale price-point, Shankland stresses that the restaurant serves generous portions and buys products that are consistent and of the highest quality. Looking forward, he's anticipating a new "Prime Time" happy hour with discounts on appetizers like shrimp cocktails and Oysters Rockefeller, as well as glass wines, beers and top-shelf house cocktails.

So if the price has kept you away until now, you may soon find the perfect opportunity to get dolled up and enjoy your stylish, Mad Men moment. — MMR


Cutting-Edge Restaurant
Appetizers/Tapas
Happy Hour

Nosh

(121 S. Tejon St., 635-6674, nosh121.com)

Counting its second- and third-place nods, Nosh netted six awards this year, a coup for a crew that not so long ago lost menu-pushing chef Shane Lyons to New York. Nathan Dirnberger has stepped up to fill those shoes; look for weekend specials from him as well as special tastings around Nosh's newly renovated central bar, with its expanded Colorado craft beer taps. Take advantage of $2 drafts during happy hours (weekdays, 3-6 p.m.; until 8 p.m., Mondays), which also provide $3 off select cocktails, $2 off most glasses of wine, and $1 or $2 off a fun and delicious appetizer list. They're great eats at good prices. Just don't call them tapas, says manager Tyler Schiedel: "We're social dining, using smaller plates to push more flavors." — MS


Power Lunch

MacKenzie's Chop House

(128 S. Tejon St., 635-3536, mackenzieschophouse.com)

Nothing says "You're connected" like being shown to a table in this dimly lit, underground downtown eatery. It's where the downtown power set goes, people like Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte and his top aides, elected officials, developers and others who have a lot of say about how this community is run. But they even let newspaper people in there, and treat them like they're somebody special. From the varied and delicious menu, try a monster-sized chicken fruit salad with walnuts, golden raisins and strawberries topped with Parmesan cheese, or my personal favorite, the bone-in pork chop, sauced with smoked gouda Mornay and served with vegetables and white cheddar mashed potatoes. — PZ


Neighborhood Restaurant: North

Salsa Brava

(9420 Briar Village Point, 955-6650; 802 Village Center Drive, 266-9244, salsabravaonline.com)

Manager Alison West prides herself on building a community vibe. She says Salsa Brava's Tuesday Night Run Club, which attracts 70 to 150 people during summer months, has been "hugely successful at allowing new members of the community to connect." Meanwhile, she and her staff have continued to bend over backward for their guests — for instance, honoring frequent special requests for the Carbon, a popular green-chili-and-queso-smothered steak burrito. "If someone asks," she says, "they're gonna get it." Apparently, that's being a good neighbor. — MMR


Neighborhood Restaurant: South

Walter's Bistro

(146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 630-0201, waltersbistro.com)

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"? — BW


Neighborhood Restaurant: West
Barbecue

Front Range Barbeque

(2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596, frbbq.com)

When we add new Best Of categories, you might expect that would result in new winners. And often it does. But when an establishment like Front Range Barbeque is among the competitors, don't count on it. Already first-place winner in the Barbecue category every year since 2006, FRBBQ handily won this year's new Neighborhood Restaurant: West category with its combination of friendly down-home atmosphere and highly addictive Southern-style barbecue. Add in a covered patio with some of today's best local and touring folk and bluegrass acts, often playing for free, and you've got an unbeatable combination. — BF


Neighborhood Restaurant: Monument

La Casa Fiesta

(230 Front St., 481-1234, lacasafiesta.net)

Though obviously now Monument stalwarts, La Casa Fiesta owners Shawn and Mary Morris began their restaurant career together in the Springs, in 1983, with Pepe's Mexican Food. After selling the restaurant at 2427 N. Academy Blvd. in January '96, they moved to the Springs' northern neighbor and opened a remodeled LCF in November that year. "We're a restaurant family," says Shawn, whose oldest brother runs a restaurant in Hobbes, N.M., that their parents started in 1957. As far as what to expect at La Casa, which is the first to win in this new category, Shawn says, "It's definitely basic Mexican food — you know, enchiladas, beans and rice. We sell a whole lot of fajitas; we sell a whole lot of pork carnitas." — BC


Neighborhood Restaurant: Central
Bar for a Fancy-Pants Cocktail

Shuga's

(702 S. Cascade Ave., 328-1412, shugas.com)

"Yeah, my pants are fancy," says Bill Murray in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. And, as it turns out, Shuga's cocktails can make the same claim. Their online drink menu boasts the Blushing Geisha (lychee, lemon ginger, Chambord, champagne), Little Cricket Juice (bourbon, peach, mango, lemon) and the Commie (vodka, Kahlua, Vivace espresso cream), as well as steamier fare like the Irish Monk (Frangelico, Irish cream, coffee, whipped cream) and the Red Poppy (Grand Marnier, Chambord, lemon ginger tea, cranberry, honey rim, orange twist). Add in music, atmosphere, dinner and dessert, and you've got a classic recipe for Indy reader recognition, with the cozy establishment also placing this year in the Place to Dine Alone, Bar for a Martini, and Appetizers/Tapas categories. — BF


Thai

Wild Ginger

(27 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 634-5025, wildgingerthai.com)

If fantasy top restaurant were a pastime as big as fantasy football (and this writer thinks it should be), armchair restaurateurs would be scrambling to add Khon Onexayvieng to their lineup. The million-mile grin and expansive personality of Wild Ginger's owner contribute just as much to the restaurant's perpetual success as her husband's cooking. Together, the couple (who, like their menu offerings, have roots in Laos as well as Thailand's Isaan region) has created a phenom of a Thai restaurant, undefeated in Best Of since 2000. — CS


Indian/Curry

Little Nepal

(1747 S. Eighth St., 477-6997, lnepal.com)

For brothers and co-owners Raj and Muku (who requested their last name not be printed), it's not so much about business as it is about family. The brothers opened up Little Nepal 4½ years ago, and the dishes they grew up with in Nepal have made them winners for the first time this year. Only the most popular offerings have made the cut on their constantly evolving menu, like saag paneer, masala and korma. But all are made with "love and passion." — SB


IndyPick • Egg Rolls

Rong Cheng

(6938 N. Academy Blvd., 594-4849)

I can't really tell you who owns the restaurant, because the Asian purveyors and I can't really understand each other, past what's needed to order. For the same reason, I can't confirm just what's in these babies. All that I can tell you about the egg rolls at Rong Cheng — an unassuming strip-mall restaurant, as God intended, next to a King Soopers at Woodmen Road and North Academy Boulevard — is how fat and crunchy and satisfying they are. Around 5 inches long and 2 inches thick, the rolls come fried in a thick dough wrapper, sprouting lightly greasy cabbage, carrot shreds and ground pork. I don't know if they're made in-house, or where they come from, I just know I gotta have 'em. — BC


Japanese/Sushi

Jun Japanese Restaurant

(1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368; 3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690, junjapanese.com)

Sumo-strong Jun Japanese has been belly-bumping the competition annually since '95. Service and consistency remain dependable, as evidenced by the broiled green-lip mussels with masago and Japanese mayo, which taste to me today exactly as they did 13 years ago. When traveling, owner Jun Aizu says he gets inspiration from other sushi restaurants: "I want to make sure I'm up on the trends." Hence an addition of fresh-made ramen noodles that will debut this November. And though trends come and go, one thing remains certain: There's no stopping this chopstick heavyweight. — MMR


IndyPick • Use of the Number 3

Pho-N-Thai

(125 N. Spruce St., 329-0705)

I praised this back in February, and I'm still not over it: Finish your first Thai iced tea for $2.50 at Pho-N-Thai, and they'll give you three free refills in a full-sized drinking glass. You can even take a fresh fill to go. We're talking your same favorite, sweet, creamy tea that often costs the same or more for only one fill everywhere else, times four. Hey — Phuket, I'll say it — that's simply Thai-riffic! Owner and chef Chnay Duk's wife, Soyin Petpradith, says the couple originally envisioned the deal as a way to get customers to come back, and she does have many regulars who do just that. Thai ice tea, we bow to ye, in all your yummy incarnations. — MS


Vietnamese

Saigon Café

(20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888, coloradosaigoncafe.com)

New to Vietnamese cuisine, I wasn't sure what to expect from Saigon Café. But Sonny, our waiter, had me at, "Welcome. Tea?" Soon he was dazzling me with a vegetarian summer roll, then dancing me through the traditional way of enjoying my vegetable noodle bowl, a dish that sounds far too simple for such a creative orchestration of lettuce, rice noodles, cucumber, bean sprouts and tofu that will never have me looking at a plain old salad the same way again. After scrumptious banana bread pudding, I realized Sonny and the Saigon Café, a perennial reader favorite, will be seeing a lot of me in the future. — SC


Korean

San Chang House

(3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-1707)

One of my colleagues here at the Indy is a San Chang House aficionado. She says that it long ago set the bar for local Korean food; all else must be compared to these colorful plates. My guess is that she's not alone, considering Indy voters have put San Chang House at the top every year we've offered this category. Perhaps they, too, appreciate the friendly staff, who always make sure that new eaters of Korean cuisine know how to dip, mix-and-match, and eat everything. Or maybe they agree with signage that Korean food is healthy. When the results of fermentation taste this good and make you happy, who'd want to argue? — MS


German

Edelweiss

(34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220, edelweissrest.com)

Not that any time isn't, but now is a good time to visit Edelweiss. "We're running Oktoberfest specials just like we did last year, which include a free beer, through October," says co-owner Dieter Schnakenberg. From the 15th through the 21st, the special will be Schweinshaxe, a 28-ounce pork shank that's specialty-butchered, beer-marinated, slow-roasted and finished on the grill. But if you miss it, you may be able to find it on the regular menu soon enough. Or, if you prefer your entrée without a bone and fat cap, you can always go for the popular rahmschnitzel, in which schnitzel (always cooked in trans-fat-free oil) is covered with mushroom cream sauce. And don't flog yourself over it, says Schnakenberg: "People have been eating butter and these good sauces for hundreds of years, and that's not what's causing their problems." — KW


Italian

Paravicini's Italian Bistro

(2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com)

With passion and flair, Paravicini's chef Franco Pisani works to create an experience for his customers. And for the seventh year in a row, Indy voters have rewarded him and his crew for it. With a menu that evolves with the seasons and customers' needs, Pisani enjoys keeping a companion wine list that's also affordable. "Wine is meant to be drunk with Italian food," he says. And if anyone could ever doubt his devotion to his craft and culture, just remember something else he told me: "If you cut me, I'll bleed marinara." — MMR


Bang-for-Your-Buck Restaurant
Diner
Green Chili
Late-Night Dining

King's Chef Diner

(131 E. Bijou St., 636-5010; 110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135, kingschefdiner.com)

To its three-year-running trifecta of Best Diner, Green Chili and Late-Night Dining, King's Chef adds a win in the Bang-for-Your-Buck Restaurant category. Anyone surprised? Despite a mid-summer menu change that bumped prices up by around 50 cents on average, the King's faithful peasants agree that it's still ample fare for the fee — and outrageously good. Your favorite green chili, as of January, became available at 32 Vitamin Cottage shops; it's still selling madly in regional Whole Foods Markets. Its prolific production, now beyond 100,000 bottles a year, forced owner Gary Geiser to undergo two months of preparation and a "really stressful" six-hour-long, third-party audit in July to become a Food and Drug Administration-licensed bottling facility. Ponder that next time you're in at 3 a.m. for drunk food. — MS


New Restaurant (since July 1, 2010)

The Rabbit Hole

(101 N. Tejon St., 203-5072, rabbitholedinner.com/wordpress)

With the Rabbit Hole, longtime area restaurateur Joseph Campana has made quite a comeback after "losing nearly everything." His chic, redesigned subterranean lair has been the talk of the town for some months now, thanks in part to his amiable staff and wicked happy-hour deals. But it's the full menu of luscious eats, like the rich, braised pork belly with red-eye gravy served until 1:30 a.m. nightly, that may have attracted the votes to edge fellow downtown newbie Springs Orleans. — MMR


Gluten-Free-Friendly Eatery

Coquette's Bistro & Bakery

(915 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2420, coquettesbistroandbakery.com)

First things first: Crepes need not be dainty. "They're not small," says Michelle Marx, co-owner of Coquette Bistro and Bakery. "They're hearty." Second, if you really don't believe her, you can order Coquette's half-pound aioli burger. Third: No matter what you get, it's going to be gluten-free. With the eatery's name change this year came a full menu of GF-baked goods including pies, cheesecakes, breads, pizza crusts and made-to-order double-layer cakes. Marx says Coquette's homemade blend of flour gives its products a texture that a lot of GF eats lack. And while she doesn't foresee a gluten-free Cupcake Wars in the Food Network's future, she says Coquette's cupcakes are fierce competition for any run-of-the-mill flour confections. — BA


French
Bakery/Patisserie

La Baguette French Bakery-Café

(4440 N. Chestnut St., 599-0686, labaguettefrenchbistro.com; 2417 W. Colorado Ave., 577-4818, labaguette-co.com; 117 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 636-5020, labaguette-co.com)

Assuming you would've written "La Tartine" on your ballot if you'd wished to vote for the north end spot that used to be a La Baguette location, we're left with the city's three other separately owned Baguettes. The Old Colorado City outfit still bakes for all, earning it perhaps sole cred for winning the Bakery/Patisserie category. It turns out a wonderful assortment of loaves, croissants and sweet treats. And perhaps the Best French vote truly belongs at Chestnut Street's La Baguette French Bistro, where classic French saucier and outfit owner Patrick Garnier delivers true flavors of Parisian bistros: His Croque Madame sandwich is truly breathtaking. That leaves the downtown café, which for all we know, may just be your favorite easy stop for the locally famous French Onion soup served at each location. Regardless, congrats to all. — MS


Breakfast

The Omelette Parlor

(900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770, co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com )

The best-known fact about the Omelette Parlor is that it's always packed with happy customers. But the most notable feature might just be that they can order beer with their breakfast.

The Parlor has a sister company, O'Furry's Sports Pub and Grill, that's actually in the same building. And Omelette Parlor guests can order anything from the bar at any time of day. Who doesn't love an 8 a.m. cocktail?

But now back to the omelettes. All of the ingredients are, of course, fresh. Eggs are used within one to two days of delivery, and other ingredients are chopped and prepared fresh daily. "Nothing sits around in this place," says general manager Steve Abeyta.

Of all the fantastically fluffy offerings, Abeyta's favorite is The Great Chili Cook Off! (That's their exclamation point, not ours.) Full of cheddar cheese, it's smothered with homemade pork green chili and served with tortillas. "It's just an all-around comfortable dish," Abeyta says.

So the Omelette Parlor has great omelettes and beer ... is that why it's won in this category every year for more than a decade? Maybe. But it could also be because it's consistent. While the restaurant does offer daily specials, Abeyta says, "We don't change the menu, because people have been coming in for this menu for so long."

Nor do the people change. The waitresses have all been there for between five and 21 years. "My girls don't go away," he says.

One more thing worth a mention: The Omelette Parlor does serve lunch, too, with loaded sandwiches and salads all under $10. And a Bloody Mary probably would still go just fine with a "Will Rogers Never Liked It" (sliced turkey, bacon, tomato and cheddar cheese on grilled sourdough) at noon. — CF


Place to Eat Local/Sustainable
Restaurant for Herbivores
Neighborhood Restaurant: Manitou

Adam's Mountain Café

(934 Manitou Ave., #102, Manitou Springs, 685-1430, adamsmountain.com)

If Adam's is an easy choice for Manitoids, it's because Adam's doesn't do easy choices.

Most obviously, there's its commitment to buying local. If no farm around here can keep up with the 4,000 eggs Adam's uses during a typical summer week, that's OK; co-owner Farley McDonough sources from four area farms instead.

"We order goat cheese from one [local] purveyor, honey from another purveyor, coffee from another purveyor, onions from another purveyor, whereas a lot of people want to order all that stuff off of one truck," McDonough says. "And so there is a commitment to that.

"But in return, we really do get to know the people that are growing the food."

Then there's the way Adam's treats the people cooking and serving that food. McDonough schedules around her employees' commitments and passions; not surprisingly, the majority of her staff has been there six years or more. She knows it increases her costs — "the longer that you have an employee, the more expensive that employee becomes" — but finds the benefits go beyond thankful workers.

"The cooks recognize people's tickets even though they've never even seen some of these customers," she says. "When that ticket comes in, they know that's the same person who eats here every Friday at 2 o'clock. They know they like their toast a little bit darker than other people. ... It takes having somebody be around for a long time to recognize those kinds of specifics in a customer."

Which segues into the way Adam's values its customers. Espousing "Slow Food" principles means you're content to have people stay for a while. And anyone who's watched dejected visitors shuffle away from a long Sunday morning wait-list knows Adam's could jam a lot more customers in with more of a turn-and-burn mentality.

But then, it wouldn't be Adam's.

"One of the most important things about Adam's to me, and what it represents, is a place where anybody and everybody can feel welcome," says McDonough, who herself discovered it as a fairly broke road-tripper 20 years ago. "So no matter how you're dressed, no matter how much or how little money you make, or who you are, what kind of job you have, all of that is completely even when you walk into Adam's." — KW


Biscuits and Gravy

The Donut Mill

(310 W. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, 687-9793)

With biscuits and gravy, establishments far too often underestimate the deceiving simplicity of this beloved breakfast staple. The Donut Mill gets it. In fact, this Woodland Park landmark gets it so completely, that it now serves a new alternative to its sausage gravy: bacon gravy. Cumulatively, enough gravy is made to fill an SUV every day, according to manager Rob Nightshade. The secret recipe has over 15 different ingredients and has been passed down from owner to owner over the shop's 34 years. — SB


Sunday Brunch

Lake Terrace Dining Room at The Broadmoor

(1 Lake Ave., 577-5771, broadmoor.com)

Broadmoor executive chef Siegfried Eisenberger usually gets the credit for this 12-year-winning, opulent, ever-changing food feast: a $39, 100-item-plus bounty of buffet beauty. But a quick chat with server and hostess Courtney Ambuul, a four-year Lake Terrace employee, illuminates the supporting efforts of nearly 50 others it takes to pull off such culinary splendor.

Cooks arrive at 2 a.m., servers by 5:30, and between 9 and 1:30, upward of 700 guests punish the highly palatable provisions. We're talking an army of people and a mass of gourmet goodness.

One anecdote told by Ambuul captures the bustling spirit of it all, highlighting the staff's dedication to preserving the hotel's coveted five-star ratings and ensuring the awesomeness of your special occasion: It was 10 minutes before opening one day, when everyone suddenly heard "a massive crash." A prematurely melting ice sculpture, "two high columns holding a basket of roses," had suddenly fractured and, on the way to the floor, taken out an entire buffet section, with ice chunks wiping out dozens of dishes. Ambuul says that a hectic nine minutes later, the quick-moving staff had the crash site cleaned and re-dressed so that nobody would have ever known what happened.

That story doesn't surprise me, based on what I witnessed when I finally caught my first Sunday Brunch during The Broadmoor's Salute to Escoffier in February. Sure, the ice swans and gold, frilly tablecloths impressed, but the food selection and quality were tremendous. Working from a carving and omelette station to tray after tray of fine cured meats, seafood, olives, cheeses and fruits, I dipped into a chocolate fountain and sampled mini parfait cups of various desserts, like flan and crème brûlée. Somehow I found room with my coffee for a fresh piña colada garnished in toasted coconut.

Usually I have to be immersed in vacation adventures on foreign soil to decry ever having to go home again. After this brunch, you'll wish you never had to leave the gluttonous, sugary splendor of Lake Terrace. — MS


Cajun/Southern

Springs Orleans

(123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 520-0123, springsorleans.com)

Just as no trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait, no visit to Springs Orleans is complete without those same treats. For those addictive dough balls, "we had to buy a whole new fryer system," says executive chef James Davis. "We go through hundreds a day, and we aren't even full-speed yet." When the Mining Exchange: A Wyndham Grand Hotel (the eatery's parent organization) finally opens, the volume of everything from Po' Boys to blackened fish and gumbo will certainly soar. But the same "Southern love" from Davis and a seasoned kitchen crew will ensure that your shrimp étouffée and the like will be forever up to NOLA standards. — MS


Middle Eastern
Hummus

Heart of Jerusalem Cafe

(718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1325; 4285 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554, heartofjerusalemcafe.com)

When I was growing up near New York City, the epicenter of world ethnic cuisine, one food debate reigned supreme within my circle: Where can you score the best falafel? Here in Colorado Springs, the most popular answer this year seems to be Heart of Jerusalem Cafe, which scored for Best Middle Eastern and also Best Hummus. While Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Syria also claim the falafel as their own, HOJ's owner Hussein AbuKhdeir says it's "a Jewish Palestinian food." Atop his family recipe, AbuKhdeir adds pickled turnips, banana peppers and "gazaziki," the family's original homemade garlic dill sauce. — BA


American

Flatiron's American Bar and Grill

(2540 Tenderfoot Hill St., 576-2540, flatirons.biz)

The name of this family-friendly American restaurant means something different to owners Luke Travins and Dave Lux. It is derived both from the Flatiron Building in New York City (from whence Travins hails), and the Flatirons near Boulder (where Lux went to school). But for most local customers, Flatiron's — last year's Best New Restaurant winner — means flatiron steaks. Aside from those reasonably priced ($14) cuts and great service, people also enjoy the huge fireplace on the patio, which staff will turn on at any time of year, if you just ask. Says general manager Ronni Lekics: "Even in February, people will ask us to turn it on." — CF


IndyPick • Tejon Slogan

'PB&J Is the New Crepe'

No, it hasn't found its way into those "There's Only One Downtown" ads yet, but give it time. The downtown Tejon Street district went through a brief crepe spurt back in 2010, escalating from one to three restaurants, all crammed into just two blocks. But the creperie wave has apparently crested (we're now down to just two), while peanut butter is coming into its own. First came OPB&J, offering organic nut butters, jellies and breads, followed this past August by PB & Jellies New York Deli, which set up shop just a couple blocks away. As its name suggests, the latter is hedging its bets by also offering deli sandwiches, but when that hankering for Thai and other exotic PB&J creations hits, downtown is obviously the place to go. — BF


Mexican
Patio Dining

Amanda's Fonda

(3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975, amandasfonda.com)

It takes a hell of a patio to break Jose Muldoon's 15-year stranglehold on the category, and Amanda's has just the type. "Everybody wants to sit creekside," says manager Ken Stewart. "It's set beside a running creek, Fountain Creek, [and] surrounded by trees." Plus, newly added heaters kick on every time the temp drops below 68 degrees, so the oft-chilly among us need not fear. In the meantime, the food's still in demand — specifically, the carne asada — and that's probably because of who's making it, says Stewart. "The same cooks have been here since it's been open [14 years ago]," he says. "It's three brothers that run the kitchen, and they have been here since the beginning, still following all of Amanda's original recipes." — BC


Taqueria

Monica's Taco Shop

(30 E. Fillmore St.,473-1996; 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022)

Our Lady of Guadalupe hematite jewelry, ninjas and Freaky Geeks are only a quarter each at Monica's Taco Shop on East Fillmore Street. Then there's the food, which is fast, flavorful, spicy and cheap. It's no wonder that during lunch hour on a not-particularly-noteworthy Wednesday, more than a dozen people filed in for Los Angeles street-style tacos and churros. And that the drive-thru business hops, to boot. — CH


Local Pizza Joint
Local/Regional Restaurant Chain

Borriello Brothers

(Multiple locations, borriellobrothers.com)

Borriello Brothers swept these same two categories last year, and in some ways, nothing's changed at your favorite outlet for authentic New York-style pizza; 12 years in, and the game's the same. Which isn't to say that 2011 hasn't seen additions, expansions and more things that taste awesome atop Italian plum tomato sauce and expert thin-crust. According to Matthew Barbee, assistant manager at the downtown store, a new Fort Carson location recently opened, as did Borriello's first Denver branch. New specialty pizzas have come on, too, such as a chicken alfredo and meatball alfredo and, our favorite, the green chili pizza, a collaboration with King's Chef Diner that delivers your Best Green Chili with mozzarella and chicken. — MS


Local Coffee Roaster
Local Coffee House

Pikes Perk Coffee & Tea House

(14 S. Tejon St., 635-1600; 5965 N. Academy Blvd., 522-1432; Colorado Springs Airport, 596-1590, pikesperkcoffee.com)

Pikes Perk has everything you want in a local coffee shop: colorful regulars, friendly staff, comfy chairs and tasty coffee. That tasty coffee is thanks to the roasting skills of Rick Roehrman, current owner of Pikes Perk's wholesale operations and former owner of the whole enchilada. Since selling the individual retail stores, he's appreciated that they continue to share not only "ideas and costs," but also an obvious love for the coffee culture, and for the people who grow deeply attached to their favorite coffee spots. Pikes Perk, as Roehrman says, "is an institution in Colorado Springs."— CH


Spot for a Spot of Tea

Montague's

(1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672)

This cozy café offers dozens of teas and assorted armchairs in which to enjoy them. Server Cassandra Waldie says Montague's most popular tea is the ginger peach, a black tea best steeped for four to five minutes. But it also serves breakfast, lunch and myriad pastries, all on its signature mismatched china. The best-seller at breakfast, Waldie says, is a plate of oatmeal pancakes with an orange glaze; at lunch, the pumpkin tomato soup and the chicken salad sandwich, made with pimentos, celery and poppy seed dressing; and at dessert, the homemade coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. — LJ


Restaurant for Tourists
Banquet Facility

Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.

(2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com)

Say "Phantom Canyon," and thousands of people think of the first-floor restaurant, maybe as a place to take visiting guests. Hundreds or thousands more think of the second-floor pool room, where tables sit, ready to be played for free, during a killer Happy Hour. But apparently, there are quite a few others who'll think of the third-floor banquet facility. "We do 50 to 60 events in just the first three weeks of December," says assistant general manager Heather Robinson, who served as banquet director between 2001 and 2008. Parties of up to 200 people are welcome (though the cap is 170 for weddings) for either family-style meals or buffets at brunch, lunch and dinner. Food for thought: Phantom plans to roll out new banquet menus by mid-November, but Robinson promises that lots of favorites will remain. — KW


Restaurant for a Wedding Reception

Briarhurst Manor Estate

(404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1864,briarhurstweddings.com)

This is its sixth consecutive win in this category, so when it comes to celebrating the most blessed of unions, Briarhurst Manor Estate's reputation precedes it. All it takes is a visit to briarhurstweddings.com — yes, it has its own wedding Web address — to find gorgeous photos, detailed information on planning and, generally, reason to believe these guys will take good care of you, whether you're planning a ceremony and reception or just a reception on the ample grounds. And since they serve their "Colorado cuisine" in the restaurant all the time, you can sample the fare whenever the mood strikes you. — SB


Cake Bakery

Little London Cake Shoppe

(620 S. 25th St., 475-2340, littlelondoncakes.com)

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Little London Cake Shoppe does it deliciously. Exhibit A: a replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for a European-themed wedding. Exhibit B: a replica of a toilet, complete with toilet paper and — ahem, floaters — for a 50th birthday party. Reuben Russell, a baker at Little London for almost five years, is proud of both. Lately, he's seen an upsurge in the less-expensive sheet cakes for weddings, probably because of the economy. But people are still indulging for special occasions. "We're just as busy in September as we were in the middle of summer," Russell says. And that toilet cake? The inscription reads: "Everything turns to CRAP after 50." Deliciously, sublimely ridiculous. — RVP


Ice Cream/Gelato

Josh & John's Ice Creams

(111 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 632-0299, joshandjohns.com)

Josh & John's has dominated this category for 17 years, but that doesn't stop owner John Krakauer from inventing new products. Most turn out pretty well, like a playful "Hava Vanilla" that worked for his own wedding celebration last summer, although an Ouzo ice cream wouldn't set up and was "just plain gross," he says. Undaunted, Krakauer is about to unveil his new Josh & John's YoCream, an answer to the local frozen yogurt craze. It's half the fat of J&J's ice cream and is made using the company's signature, slow-churned, old-fashioned rock salt and ice freezers. "Josh & John's YoCream is so exceptional," he says, "that I do believe it will be a game-changer for us." — MMR


Dessert Destination

Marigold Café and Bakery

(4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776, marigoldcoloradosprings.com)

The dinner rush starts early at Marigold. A call to the café at 5:45 on a Wednesday produced two seconds' conversation with an out-of-breath-sounding hostess and a rapid-fire exchange with pastry master Elaine Chavanon, who was anxious to get back to a line already moving at breakneck pace. With five Best Of awards racked up this year, it's no wonder the proprietors don't have time to talk: In addition to its Dessert Destination win, Marigold is second only to the Blue Star for Overall Restaurant in the Springs, second for Bakery/Patisserie, and third for Cake Bakery and Best French Restaurant. If you're still reading this, you're already late to reserve your table — go now! — CS


Frozen Yogurt

YoYogurt

(5885 Stetson Hills Blvd., 302-6093; 8816 N. Union Blvd., 375-8523; 1798 W. Uintah St., 634-8114, yoyogurtusa.com)

With modern-yet-welcoming décor, a generous sampling policy and employees who greet you with an impossibly peppy "Yo Yo, welcome to YoYogurt!" you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd walked into the Springs' newest Arizona import. But YoYogurt is local, and family-run — it just so happens that the family has opened three stores in eight months, with a fourth soon coming to Mesa Ridge. Marketing consultant Lindsay Yochum, who worked the counter at the Stetson Hills opening in March, says the goal is to give the shops a true "neighborhood" feel, even ensuring that each one has a flavor or two that you can't find at another YoYogurt. And sometimes, a recommendation or idea from a single local will bring about change; that's how potato chips got added to the 30-plus topping selection at Stetson Hills. — KW


IndyPick • Reason to Temporarily Break Your Vegetarian Stance

Marcello Burger at The Margarita at PineCreek

(7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, coloradoeats.com/margarita/home.html)

I'm a vegetarian primarily for moral reasons. Most days I just can't detach the being that lived on this planet from the food it's become. And yet, a couple of times a year my body just craves meat. When this happens, I typically hold off as long as I can, then I turn to my husband and ask, "Margarita at PineCreek?" The Marcello Burger, available on the lounge and patio menu, is topped with gooey white cheddar, sweetly caramelized onions and, lord, oh lord, smoked bacon. It is protein perfection on a soft bun. And because Margarita is committed to working with Ranch Foods Direct and local ranches to source high quality, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from humanely treated animals, I can take some solace in knowing those I'm consuming at least lived healthy, respected lives. — KA


Food Truck
Cupcakes

The Springs Cupcake Truck

(466-1911, thespringscupcaketruck.blogspot.com)

Coco dares you not to like her.

Decked out in sky blue, white and chocolate brown, the vintage step van — known to some as Coco, to others as the Springs Cupcake Truck — rolls around the city, making stops at intersections and call centers and college campuses, dishing nine varieties of confection baked in Denver at Cake Crumbs bakery.

The arrangement works nicely: Coco's co-owned by Mike Bergman, whose family runs the northern bakery, not to mention the Denver Cupcake Truck.

"My niece put it all together, and then they did the cupcake truck for a year, before we started," says Bergman from the truck's window one sunny fall day at the Colorado Farm and Art Market, outside the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. "So, it was kind of an easy process for us. They knew what cupcakes worked on the truck, what people would want, so it was pretty easy. It wasn't like starting from scratch and trying to figure it out."

So what do people want for their $2.75? Apparently, Zippy Lemon with lemon curd and cream cheese frosting; Pikes Peak Pistachio, with amaretto butter cream, crushed pistachios and chocolate chips; and one of the truck's most popular offerings: Rockin' Red Velvet, pairing the cake with more cream cheese frosting, and sparkling sugar.

Now that he's the king of local food trucks, I ask Bergman if he has any plans to turn his Mediterranean Café into a mobile unit.

"No, that would mean a lot of work," he says with a laugh, adding: "The [trucks] that do the best are the ones that, actually, that's all they're doing, is just assembling and putting it out. If it takes me 20 minutes to cook your food, doesn't work." — BC


Overall Restaurant
Restaurant Wine List

The Blue Star

(1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net)

The Blue Star may have recently undergone some turmoil in the kitchen, having hired and fired executive chef Daniel Gerson within a year, but that hasn't stopped it from cleaning up on the awards front. Besides topping the two categories named above, the South Tejon Street staple took second place in Fine Dining, Neighborhood Restaurant: South, and Cutting-Edge Restaurant, plus third place for Bar for-a-Fancy-Pants Cocktail. That's some serious hardware for the hip little spot, where you can find Marilyn Monroe in the bathroom, more than 700 bottles of wine in the cellar and, apparently, a little bit of everything else. — BC


Place to Dine Alone

Poor Richard's Restaurant

(324½ N. Tejon St., 578-5549, poorrichardsdowntown.com)

I like dining alone, probably because 1) I'm an introvert and 2) I enjoy reading while I chow down. At Poor Richard's, not only can I select a new title from the bookstore to crack open, but depending on my cravings, I can pair it with a single slice of my-choice-of-topping pizza and a balsamic-dressed house salad, or pop over to Rico's for a glass of my current-favorite Clean Slate Riesling or a mouth-and-mind-pleasing sipping chocolate. Lots of tables for two across the complex mean an extra chair for putting up my feet, and when I do occasionally get bored with my own companionship, I like to pop in the toy store, shove aside the kids and check out the latest additions to the fuzzy animal puppets. — KA


IndyPick • Use of Fungus

The Warehouse's Cream of Forest Mushroom Soup

(25 W. Cimarron St., 475-8880, thewarehouserestaurant.com)

When I was a little girl, my mother wasn't especially tolerant of picky eating. Still, she allowed her children to exclude two items of their choosing from their diets, provided they try them once a year. My two choices: tomatoes and mushrooms. My distaste for tomatoes was a thing of the past the first time I sat down to a Caprese salad in Italy. But my hatred of mushrooms remained lukewarm well into adulthood. True, my high school sweetheart introduced me to portobellos fried in butter and garlic, and he was right, I liked them. And my college boyfriend made me a mad dog after truffle oil. But those were anomalies. And then my husband got me to try this soup. Oh God, this soup. That thin broth that tastes of cream, butter and truffle oil, sloshing on my tongue. The abundance of portobellos, criminis, oysters and buttons meeting their end under the crush of my teeth. My allegiance, O mushrooms, has finally been won. — JAS


Mediterranean

Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna

(2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406, jakeandtellys.com)

The lamb shank is one of Jake & Telly's best-sellers, says manager Christine Guerin, and it's also representative of the kind of care that goes into the food here. Called giouvetsi, made with a recipe handed down through generations of family, it's slow-roasted for six hours and served with orzo. All the food, and the restaurant operations, get plenty of attention from brothers Jake and Telly Topakas: According to Guerin, Jake can be seen at the restaurant every day, and Telly has stayed active in the overall management while opening a new restaurant in Denver. For those of you craving your Greek favorites while in our capital city, the restaurant is called Axios and will be very similar to the Springs taverna. LJ



Chain champs
Congratulations to these big businesses that locals love:

Bread
Soup
Panera Bread
Multiple locations, panerabread.com

Buffalo Wings
Buffalo Wild Wings
7425 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9464; 2905 Geyser Drive, 219-1500, buffalowildwings.com

Buffet
Golden Corral
1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870; 5410 E. Woodmen Road, 260-9369, goldencorral.com

Burger
Restaurant for Kids That Isn't Fast Food
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
1410 Jamboree Drive, 598-2473;3770 Bloomington St., 622-8157; 2230 Southgate Road, 447-8810, redrobin.com

Chinese
P.F. Chang's
1725 Briargate Pkwy., 593-8580, pfchangs.com

Deli
Jason's Deli
7455 N. Academy Blvd., 302-0234,jasonsdeli.com

National Chain Coffee House
Starbucks
Multiple locations, starbucks.com

National Pizza Chain
Papa Murphy's
Multiple locations, papamurphys.com

National Restaurant Chain
Take-Out
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Multiple locations, chipotle.com

Neighborhood Restaurant: East
Rock Bottom
3316 Cinema Point Drive, 550-3586,rockbottom.com

Salads
Souper! Salad!
3636 Citadel Drive North, 597-6124; 808 Garden of the Gods Road, 277-0687; 1434 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 533-0614, soupersalad.com

Seafood
Red Lobster
4925 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9494; 3510 New Center Point, 596-9057, redlobster.com

Smoothie
Keva Juice
1912 Southgate Road, 667-1112; 5166 N. Nevada Ave., 667-1114; 1702 S. Nevada Ave., 477-1113, kevajuicecolorado.com

Wait staff
Texas Roadhouse (Eighth Street Location)
595 S. Eighth St., 473-9711,texasroadhouse.com

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