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Best of Food and Drink: Vital Vittles: Food & Drink 

click to enlarge KATHY CONARRO

Best Martini Readers Poll Winner 15 C Club 15-C Bijou St. (in the alley between Tejon and Cascade), 635-8303

Shaken or stirred, the readers have spoken when it comes to martinis: 15 C (in the alley where the little purple light glows) is 'bouty 'bout it. With more choices than names in Genesis, a fine selection of cigars and a crowd that always ranges from pinstripes to punks, this is one of the few truly classy places in town wherein to derange the senses. NB

Best Mushroom and Swiss Burger Zak's Tavern & Grill 100 Morning Sun Drive, Woodland Park,

687-6200

Zak's has a lot of great-sounding food on their menu, including beef stew served in a bread bowl, and they make a damn good French dip. But if you're going for the first time, do not pass up the mushroom and Swiss burger. They saut whole tiny mushrooms and mound them on top of your burger ... and when you bite in they come shooting out like happy little firecrackers. The best part is stuffing the stray mushrooms down your throat after you've devoured the whole delicious burger. CSB

click to enlarge Zaks Tavern boasts our favorite shroom and Swiss burger.
  • Zaks Tavern boasts our favorite shroom and Swiss burger.

Best Place for Herbivores Readers Poll Winner Best French Toast Readers Poll Winner Adam's Mountain Caf 110 Canon Ave., Manitou Springs,

685-1430

It may be time for a Lifetime Achievement Award. For almost 20 years, under the command of three different owners, Adam's Mountain Caf has taught committed carnivores to eat their veggies. Their award-winning dinner and lunch menus have an international flair: Thai, Senegalese, Caribbean. And for anyone needing a reason to get out of bed before noon, we've got four little words: Orange Almond French Toast. Is there anyone among us who hasn't tried and loved it? You poor fool; hurry over to Manitou. NH

Best Italian Readers Poll Winner Luigi's 947 S. Tejon St., 632-0700

The big Italian chain restaurants have invaded the northern end of the city full force in recent years, but Colorado Springs diners still heed the call to family-owned Luigi's in its retro building just south of downtown. Why do we come back? Because there are no surprises here, no nouveau recipes, no bank-busting luxury specials, just good handmade Italian food served in a warm, bustling atmosphere. Excellent pizza is also a hallmark, along with the standards -- rich lasagna, tender veal, good garlic bread and slow-simmered sauces your Italian mamma could have made. KCE

Best New Restaurant Readers Poll Winner Best Chinese Restaurant Readers Poll Winner P.F. Chang's China Bistro 1725 Briargate Parkway, 593-8580

click to enlarge Adams Mountain Cafs Orange Almond French Toast is delish. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Adams Mountain Cafs Orange Almond French Toast is delish.

P.F. Chang's delivers a blend of atmosphere, style and cuisine quite unlike the average Chinese restaurant. The dimly lit interior initiates a somber and relaxing mood, creating the perfect environment for sampling the many dishes served. Be it simple, such as the Tofu and Broccoli, or exotic, such as the Oolong Marinated Sea Bass, there is something on the menu to satisfy anyone. GM

Best Korean Readers Poll Winner San Chang Korean House 3659 Austin Bluffs Parkway, 598-1707

The tangy, peppery-bright bite of kimchi dances along your tongue. The delicate sweet and shy sour of pickled, shredded daikon radish eases the heat from your mouth. Solid little seaweed-wrapped circles of kimbap explode with flavor when dunked into the dark heart of a dipping sauce. The bold and pungent garlic of bulgogi is tempered with the natural placid sweetness of onions. Spicy soups writhe and bubble in small black pots, ready to unleash their chili-laden broth upon your chin. Soothing mild soups smile from big silver bowls, ready to slide with silky smoothness down your throat. MBP

Best Dinner at a Dinner Theater

Best Chef Readers Poll Winner Best Restaurant Staff Readers Poll Winner Sencha 331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287

No rubbery banquet chicken or tepid warming dishes of canned green beans here. At Sencha, dinner theater comes with a five-course meal attuned to specific themes. The wacky staff's adaptation of Robin Hood this summer found the audience supping on wild boar and pheasant. Cast members double as wait staff, serving a new course between each act and refilling glasses with one of the five wines chosen to accompany the meal. Audiences mingle with friends and strangers at long tables, feasting on Chef Brent Beavers' latest gustatory and literary inspirations. Call for schedule of fall literary dinners and reservations. KCE

click to enlarge P.F. Changs stormed the Colorado Springs food scene this year. - MATT STEVENS
  • Matt Stevens
  • P.F. Changs stormed the Colorado Springs food scene this year.

Best Smoothie Readers Poll Winner Jamba Juice 15 E. Bijou, 633-3200; 4492 Austin Bluffs Parkway, 266-8300; 1708 E. Woodmen Road, 598-1939

Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy, Jamba Juice makes the smoothies that have Colorado Springs citizens shakin' their booty. They are naturally low in fat and chock-full of all sorts of vitamins and nutrients you should get on a daily basis ... plus they taste like dessert. CSB

Best French Dip The Mucky Duck 10530 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls,

684-2008

The three elements to a stellar French Dip sandwich are the meat, the bun and the jus. The meat should be meltingly tender, thinly sliced by a steady hand, with a rich, beefy flavor that can stand on its own. The bun has a completely different job. It must be sturdy enough to hold mountains of the beef within its borders, never weakening, never falling into soggy clumps. The jus must be just salty enough, as richly flavored as a good, earthy gravy like Grandma used to make, good enough to drink on its own. Cheese is superfluous. The Mucky Duck rocks. MBP

click to enlarge Smoothies soothe your sweet tooth at Jamba Juice. - DREW WYETH
  • Drew Wyeth
  • Smoothies soothe your sweet tooth at Jamba Juice.

Best Coleslaw The Famous 31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333.

Not a sloppy scoop of mayonnaise-laden shreds of limp, petered-out cabbage here. Oh, no. This isn't something to plop on a sandwich or push off to the side while searching out errant fries to devour. This is transcendent coleslaw. One might go so far as to say zippy. Tangy. Crunchy and sweet in the natural way fine, fresh cabbage should be. Pulled together by a vinaigrette redolent with Italian herbs, this is coleslaw with sass. Panache. Just be warned -- you may be ruined for all other coleslaws. MBP

Best Use of a Former Pizza Hut El Mirador 1605 S. Nevada Ave., 442-2626

The problem with dive restaurants is sometimes the food descends to the level of the surroundings. Nestled beside a Wendy's in the heart of the unloved pawn-motel district of South Nevada, El Mirador looks like a chancy dining venture.

But holy diamond-in-the-rough, Batman, this place rocks! Fish burritos big enough for two, respectable salsas, Snapper Vera Cruz, shrimp dishes galore, Spanish-speaking melodramas on the tube -- what more do you want? Oh, yeah, it's pretty cheap.

Who says nothing good ever came out of a Pizza Hut? JD

click to enlarge The Mucky Ducks French Dip is an architectural marvel.
  • The Mucky Ducks French Dip is an architectural marvel.

Best Restaurant for Kids That Isnt Fast Food Readers Poll Winner Best Pizza Readers Poll Winner Poor Richard's 324-1/2 N. Tejon St., 632-7721

At Poor Richard's you'll find great pizza with the best and most varied toppings in town, available in kid-size slices. The pizzas can even be gluten- and/or dairy-free, if that happens to be what your little tykes digest best. A play area that includes a giant tree and a two-story playhouse; a selection of new and classic children's books displayed around the room; friendly staff; friendly patrons; easy-to-clean tables and floors -- what else could you ask for? How about the fact that it's attached to an award-winning toy store as well? MBP

Best Overpriced Pizza Extreme Pizza 7340 N. Academy Blvd., 522-1515; 2130 Southgate Road,

634-1616

Extreme Pizza may seem extremely overpriced, but maybe you really do get what you pay for: ber-fresh ingredients, bursts of flavorful flavor (even in the cheese-only pizzas), and plenty of vegetarian (and even vegan) choices. This isn't "New York" or "Chicago" pizza; it's genuine "Colorado" pie. Get some. NB

Best Taco Readers Poll Winner La Casita Patio Caf 3504 N. Academy Blvd., 574-1499; 4295 N. Nevada Ave., 599-7829; 306 S. 8th St., 633-9616

click to enlarge Poor Richards, a near-perfect pizza, play area and plenty more. - KENNETH WAJDA
  • Kenneth Wajda
  • Poor Richards, a near-perfect pizza, play area and plenty more.

Long before chain Mission-style burrito joints were claiming to be the saviors of fast food (we won't name any names), there was the original Colorado Springs fast but not "fast-food" Mexican joint: La Casita. Hail to the La Casita taco, and everything else on the menu for that matter. NB

Best Chain in the Making Deenz 2130 Southgate Road, 473-7660

Sure, there are plenty of made-to-order sandwich chains around but here at last is one worth cloning: Deenz in the Broadmoor Town Center. Besides showing a knack for tasty sandwich combos (with choice of chicken, beef or portobello mushroom as the main ingredient), Deenz offers some genuinely good salads. All this in a spacious room decorated with an odd assortment of other "Deans" -- from postcards of Dean College to Time's Man of the Year, Dean Acheson. Wit and nutrition: May Deenz go forth and multiply. NH

Best Reason to Eat at a Franchise Pita Pit 8 E. Bijou St., 634-1-PIT

Eating out every day is expensive, monotonous and usually unhealthy. Enter the Pita Pit, a Canadian franchise expanding into Colorado Springs. Most of their many pitas are under $5 and range from vegetarian selections including hummus, baba ghanouj and falafel to pitas with chicken, steak, turkey, tuna, ham, bacon and more. Add cheeses, fresh veggies and any of 10 sauces and each day of the month you could eat a different inexpensive, healthy meal. They're open late every night (midnight Sun.-Thurs. and 3 a.m. Fri.-Sat) and deliver for a small fee. Plus, they're real nice. Must be the Canadian influence. CSB

Best Gyros Readers Poll Winner Mediterranean Caf 118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0155; 750 Citadel

click to enlarge La Casita, home of the Best Taco. - DREW WYETH

Drive East # 1088, 574-5839

You can judge your gyro by how many hands you need to hold it and how many napkins you need to mop up. At the Mediterranean Caf you need plenty of both. The gigantic gyros here are made with either chicken or a lamb and beef combo, smothered with lettuce, tomato, feta cheese and thinly sliced onions. They are finished with a generous slather of tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt sauce, and a garlic sauce that will be with you for the rest of the day. Wipe that grin off your face. NH

Best Greasy Spoon Readers Poll Winner King's Chef Diner 110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135, www.kingschefdiner.com

This castle-shaped 1956-era classic only improves with time. The killer green chili -- vegetarian and spicy enough to stand your hair on end -- is available in pint jars at the store or over the Internet. The menu is largely unchanged -- The Thing and the Merl Scramble at breakfast, burgers and fat deli sandwiches at lunch -- with the addition of a Reuben sandwich and the Pancho Via (sic), a steak burrito. New expanded hours make it possible to get your green chili fix on the weekends. There are still only 13 seats inside, but two patios provide nice outdoor seating when the weather permits. KCE

Best Ribs Readers Poll Winner Red, Hot & Blue 4290 N. Academy Blvd., 592-0300,

click to enlarge The Famous serves steaks, chops and the yummiest coleslaw in town. - KENNETH WAJDA
  • Kenneth Wajda
  • The Famous serves steaks, chops and the yummiest coleslaw in town.

www.redhotandblue.com

In Memphis, where the Red, Hot & Blue chain hails from, barbecue means pork. Period. So when you go there, expect tender pork spare ribs prepared with a spicy dry rub or drenched in a tangy, vinegary barbecue sauce. They're tender and hickory-smoked, as barbecue should be. To prove their authenticity, Red, Hot & Blue serves sweet iced tea and pulled pork barbecue sandwiches topped with coleslaw. This chain strives to be un-chainlike, as their corporate motto attests: "The best BBQ you'll ever eat in a building that hasn't already been condemned." (Non-pork lovers can indulge in a tender, slow-cooked brisket or barbecue chicken.) KCE

Best Fish Tacos Monica's Taco Shop 30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996; 5829 Palmer Park Blvd.,

597-7022

Cheap, quick, and good -- sums up a lot of pleasures, doesn't it? Too bad so few of them are legal outside Sweden. What's more, even the cheapest usually runs far north of $3.46. That's the damage for not one, but two of Monica's fish tacos. Sometimes they're accompanied by a lime, other times not, but they always come with an assortment of salsas. This is fast food for the non-fast-food palate. This is a dive whose time has come. Listening, Monica? We've seen the enemy and her name is Taco Bell. Go forth and multiply! JD

Best Salads Readers Poll Winner Souper! Salad! 3636 Citadel Drive North, 597-6124; 1434 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 533-0614;

click to enlarge Mediterranean Caf is our gyro. - SEAN CAYTON

808 Garden of the Gods Road, 277-0687

Limericks about lettuce spin through my head

As I stagger away, feeling well fed.

The broccoli, the peppers, the onions sliced so nice,

The soups full of beef and chicken and veggies and rice.

Potato salad, macaroni, coleslaw and more;

click to enlarge Saigon Caf has the nicest noodles in town. - DREW WYETH
  • Drew Wyeth
  • Saigon Caf has the nicest noodles in town.

By the time I'm finished, I won't fit through the door.

I fall upon the potato bar, ready to cease

But hot breads and pastas continue to tease.

I slide into my chair, ready to sup.

Is that an ice-cream machine? I give up! MBP

Best Grocery Shopping From Your Office Tres Rios Coop Tresrioscoop@yahoo.com

Freshly picked baby salad greens, Western Slope peaches, beef and pork from local ranches with no antibiotics or hormones, peaches-and-cream corn, organic oranges from California, fresh herbs, strawberries, heirloom melons, heritage tomatoes -- just a few of the items you might find in your weekly produce box or meat box from Tres Rios, a cooperative of southern Colorado farmers who deliver to the Springs each Tuesday. It's a beautiful arrangement; you can shop from your desk, your family gets healthful, quality food, and agriculture gets a boost. E-mail the coop or kathryn@csindy.com for more details. KCE

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