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Caspian Cafe, Illegal Pete's, Stir 

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click to enlarge Caspian Cafe

Caspian Cafe

4375 Sinton Road, 528-1155, caspiancafe.com

As pretty perfect lunches go, I've discovered a killer combo at Caspian Cafe. Start with a half-sized Caspian salad ($6.95 instead of $9.95) that's entirely worth the garlic-and-red-onion breath. Both ingredients join olives, feta, pine nuts and diced tomato over crunchy romaine with a fresh lime-and-olive-oil dressing buttressed by cilantro garnish.

Then get the excellent chicken with sabzi ($11.95), an Iranian dish built around the saag paneer-like, dark, leafy green sauce with tomatoes and red beans, which is lightly seasoned and soaked by sweet cream. It's a recipe from the wife of owner Moe Sharifi, and something you've probably never tasted before, which is to say truly remarkable. And it pairs beautifully with a house-made Greek yogurt soda ($2.25) — mildly effervescent (lighter than a lassi) and laced with mint and a salt kick that amplifies all. — MS

click to enlarge Stir

Stir

2330 N. Wahsatch Ave., 418-6188, stircoffeeshop.com

If you are going to do that thing where you order something you'd usually never order, you may as well go for the newly concocted Banoffee ($4.25/16 ounces) — 'cuz it's clearly a made-up word, and we should reward playfulness. Plus, half-shots of toffee and banana syrups do blend seamlessly into a few pulls of espresso. It finishes with a roasty banana-bread note and faint caramel underlying the complementary cocoa element of R&R Coffee Cafe's rich Peruvian organic decaf roast. Risk rewarded.

And since sugar likes more sugar, an array of goodies from Sweet Daphne Confections should be plucked from liberally. My always must-have favorite is the granola bar — unlike dry, oat-clumped versions, it's soft and pasty from honey and peanut butter encapsulating almond and pecan flecks, Craisins and Rice Krispies. Two years in, Stir's still artfully awesome. — MS

click to enlarge Illegal Pete's

Illegal Pete's

270 S. Broadway, Denver, 720/287-5233, illegalpetes.com

Though friction around the phrase "illegal immigrant" has caused activists to describe the rock 'n roll Mexican restaurant's name as a slur — a fervor heightened by a new location opening in Fort Collins — Illegal Pete's was relaxed when we visited. One guy working the counter said he'd heard about the uproar, which drew the attention of The New York Times, but owner Pete Turner said the name only referenced a bandit spirit, and that was good enough for him.

If you're there to eat and not protest, though, expect Mission-style burritos, tacos and the like, à la Chipotle and others. You likewise construct your food as you go down the line, though there are more options for sauce, like queso or a smoky pepper pesto. A trio of steak tacos ($6.99) brought big chunks of meat with an angry, dark-red salsa and fresh vegetables; a bean burrito ($6.09) was simple and boring, with a tomatillo kick. — Bryce Crawford

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