Favorite

2013: Central restaurants 

Colorado Springs West Side

Essential dishes

These snippets come from our 2013 Bites dining guide, which featured offerings that we deemed "essential" to our local scene.

Chile Colorado Burrito at Arceo's Mexican Family Restaurant

1605 S. Nevada Ave., 442-2626, arceos.biz

When chunks of stewed top sirloin act as garnish (as opposed to a pat of sour cream or sprinkle of chopped cilantro or something), you know you're in for a bold treat. And that treat is a thick flour burrito entirely made up of that steak — no filler. Cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses are melted on top with that "garnish" and a delightful, semi-hot Anaheim-and-jalapeño red sauce puddles underneath. ($6 lunch/$8 dinner)

Fried Chicken at Barney's Diner

129 W. Las Animas St., 632-1756

We will not insult your intellect by describing the comfort-food superiority of fried chicken. You know, the soul-satisfying, unctuous crunch that gives way to moist meat — 'nuff said. Just know that here, lines lead out of the building when it's served on first and third Wednesdays of the month, always two days after the poultry began marinating. ($6.90 includes three chicken pieces, mashed potatoes and gravy, veggies, and soup or salad)

Almond Rosemary Crusted Salmon at The Blue Star

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

From the "rooted entrees" section of the cocktail lounge menu comes this favorite dish, which places a focus on simple ingredients in less-is-more fashion. Almonds are crushed and mixed with rosemary leaves for a gluten-free salmon coating, which sees a browning during a pan sear. A honey Worcestershire hits umami notes while rice pilaf gets a paprika dusting and salt-and-pepper rain over haricot verts. ($16)

Blood Orange Froyo at Buttercup's Frozen Yogurt

27 S. Tejon St., #110, 635-6666, buttercupsfroyo.com

Dual credit here: to Buttercup's for carrying it and providing the tantalizing toppings, and to Boulder-based Yoki Bliss for making it. We're talking hormone-free, local-milk-sourced, artificial-junk-free, probiotic-rich frozen yogurt, in this case infused with real blood orange juice and sweetened with beet sugar. It's a nearly year-round bestseller, so no whining if it's out; there's always the cheesecake flavor. (43 cents per ounce)

Ajiaco at Café Corto Coffee Gallery

115 E. Kiowa St., 577-4347, cafecorto.com

Colombian flavors abound at Café Corto, perhaps most beautifully in this potato and chicken soup thickened by crema Mexicana and flavored with garden herbs including guasca, a potato weed. In go avocado and capers, a corn-on-the-cob segment and an addictive arepa — a sweet, creamy corn cake — for dipping. Ask for a side ramekin of aji, a spicy oil-and-vinegar-based pepper sauce. Eat, repeat. ($6, seasonal specialty)

Orange and Saffron Caramel Cream at Caspian Cafe

4375 Sinton Road, 528-1155, caspiancafe.com

Oh, the love poems we've written to this one over the years ... a perfectly textured and executed cream-and-egg-based vanilla bean flan that's sent over the top by ample orange zest and a lovely Iranian saffron infusion. Enter house-made caramel sauce plus berries and a dollop of whipped cream for garnish, and you have yourself one hell of a belly dance, mister. ($5.95)

Spicy Cucumber Sandwich at The Corner Café

7 E. Vermijo Ave., 520-1843, cornercafecs.com

It's a little thin, so you think maybe its flavor will be a little thin, but it's not — it's really, really not. So you keep biting away at the hot-and-cool, wheat-bread-bound package of applewood-smoked bacon, cucumbers, red onion, pepper jack cheese and burly jalapeño ranch, and you realize the only thin thing here is what's left of your doubt. ($7.95)

S'more Please Cupcake at Cupcake Girls

302 E. Platte Ave., 650-2495, cupcakegirls.co

Knock knock. Who's there? A cupcake. A cupcake who? A cupcake that tastes like a S'more, mofo! That's right: graham-cracker crumble under chocolate cake with a marshmallow cream-cheese frosting. No campfire needed. This cake's plenty hot on its own. ($1.25 mini/$2.75 regular)

Mango Curry at The Curry Leaf Restaurant

321 N. Tejon St., 447-0608, curryleafrestaurant.com

Welcome back to the latest episode of When Fruit Stars as a Main Course. Our special guest today is mango, sautéed in coconut milk with caramelized onions, mustard seed and an undisclosed array of Sri Lankan spices. Key word there: spices. This one's a hottie. And it's vegan, marrying sugary and savory beautifully. Sweet heat! ($7.95 lunch/$8.95 dinner)

Harvest Ravioliat Dale Street Cafe

115 E. Dale St., 578-9898, mydalestreetcafe.com

Hints of cinnamon and nutmeg inside the homemade squash ravioli provide the first layer of nuanced beauty. Ideal, nutty basil flavors in the accompanying pesto cream sauce add a second delightful dimension. Think: starchy, creamy, mildly sweet and super-rich overall — the smallish-looking portion will fill you up. ($11.95 lunch/$13.95 dinner)

Leadville Latte Gelato at Dogtooth Coffee Company

505 E. Columbia St., 632-0125, dogtoothcoffee.com

Dogtooth's gelato is homemade on Italian equipment and known for its lower fat and sugar content, plus airier texture, than ice cream. Plenty of flavors, like salted caramel or birthday cake, will compete for your attention. But many would steer you toward the Leadville Latte, concocted with house espresso and ground-espresso-bean garnish for texture. ($3.30/5-ounce, $4.05/8-ounce, $5.55/12-ounce)

Wild-Style Double Cheeseburger at Drifter's Hamburgers

4455 Mark Dabling Blvd., 548-8163, driftershamburgers.com

This monster starts life as a series of beef patties from Ranch Foods Direct. Mustard's cooked directly in, before Stage 2 is completed with toppings of lettuce, tomato, house Thousand Island dressing, pickles and a dash of brightening ketchup. Stage 3 is Austin Powers' crucial "warm, liquid goo phase": melted cheese running through a greasy pile of sweet grilled onions. ($4.19)

Sauerbraten at Edelweiss Restaurant

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

This baby's about as similar to your mother's pot roast as an abacus is to an iPhone. Chuck roast gets marinated for three days in vinegar, sugar, salt, pickling spices, peppercorns and a host of other flavors that'll make your tongue swell so hard it'll reach around to hug you. Slop up the gravy, slurp up the shreds, and praise be the saints for sauerbraten. ($9.50 lunch/$16.25 dinner)

Avocado Pork Taco at El Taco Rey

330 E. Colorado Ave., 475-9722, eltacorey.com

The avocado pork burrito here might be legend, but this double-layer soft corn tortilla version deserves your fealty too. Scarlet-hued, marinated shredded pork is met with a thick layer of mashed avocado then topped with tomatoes, a pinch of shredded cheese and ample crispy lettuce. Eat two and call us in the morning. ($3.65 each)

Oysters Rockefeller at The Famous

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

These are the closest thing to fatty, charred bone marrow that's not, you know, actually bone marrow: A light crust of baked hollandaise sits over molten cheese swirled with spinach, bits of bacon and the licorice bite of Pernod. That there are also oysters at the bottom speaks to God's grace. ($15)

Vitello Marsalaat Fratelli Ristorante Italiano

124 N. Nevada Ave., 575-9571, fratelliristorante.com

Putting aside the whole tortured baby cow thing — yeah ... — if you are going to chow on veal, you may as well do it justice by doing it right. Fratelli easily handles that with a classic preparation executed masterfully. The unmistakable sweet signature of Marsala wine reduced to even more poignancy, plus butter and sautéed mushrooms for an earthy element. Sorry PETA. But, yum. ($18)

Shepherd's Pie at Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub

21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766, jackquinnspub.com

Must. Get. Through. Description. Without. Mentioning. Guinness. ... D'oh! Quinn's and the famous stout are inextricable. And seeing as how heavy beers call for heavy food, the shepherd's pie is a natural choice from the Irish selections. A custom bread boule (yeah, not bowl, ya' eegit!) from Colorado Bread Company holds the mashed potatoes, molten cheddar and ground sirloin and veggies (mushrooms, onions, carrot, peas) seasoned simply with salt, pepper and thyme. ($10.95)

Broasted Chicken at Johnny's Navajo Hogan

2817 N. Nevada Ave., 344-9593, johnnyshogan.com

Call it a culinary parlor trick if you must, Johnny's use of a Broaster pressure cooker as glorified on broaster.com. But nobody rational will dispute how damn good this fried chicken is. (Especially no right-minded Dixie boy.) Brining it for half a day leads to super-juicy, tender meat encapsulated by beautifully crunchy skin. Choose from light or dark meat plates, all with two sides. ($8.95 to $10.95)

Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream at Josh & John's

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

From a wide array, this is the money flavor, as simple to achieve apparently as adding crumbled oatmeal cookies to a vanilla base. (Not so creative as making the shot version out of Baileys, Goldschläger and butterscotch schnapps — but we digress, and who cares?) It's delicious, with a slight cinnamon hint and granular element — as clean and straightforward as ice cream flavors come. (Cups and cones from $3.95 to $5.05)

Breakfast Burrito at King's Chef Diner

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

Fit for the Food Network, this is Colorado in a bite. Why? Because green chili pumps through our veins, and King's Chef's is undisputedly badass. Even heat-freaks get it on the side to measure the madness. The fire-roasted green god-sauce, made with Pueblo green chiles and California habañeros, is gluten-free and vegan. You can keep the burrito vegetarian by subbing in MorningStar Farms veggie sausage in place of the real deal for no charge. Along with either of those sausages, bacon or ham, the flour wrap gets two eggs, onions, filling hash browns and some shredded cheese. If the whole thing were made into a movie, it'd be called, There Will Be Burn. And it'd win an Oscar. ($8.95 full/$6.50 half)

La Belle Salad at La Creperie

204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984, lacreperiedowntown.com

It's a model entrée salad, alive with crunch and color. Over a bed of organic spring mix, ingredients are compartmentalized for mixing as you please. Among them: grated carrots, red onion slivers, cucumber rounds, halved baby tomatoes, avocado segments and a small log pile of semi-crisp asparagus spears. Shredded white cheddar adds richness, followed by a formidable tang from the creamy house Dijon vinaigrette. ($12/$2 extra for ham and chicken topping)

Lox and Cream Cheese Bagelat Lofty's

287 E. Fountain Blvd., #100, 520-0024

The Jew in one of us can't resist, but the gentile in the other loves it too. It's a bagel classic done right, stacked nearly 4 inches thick on your choice of excellently made Olde World bagels — Everything or Plain both wise options. Boom goes the smoked salmon, perched above biting red onion slivers, fresh tomato rounds and a bed of caper-flecked cream cheese. NYC in the Springs, baby. ($6.99)

Manicotti at Luigi's

947 S. Tejon St., 632-7339, luigiscoloradosprings.com

The key to Luigi's manicotti is the delicate, homemade pasta, whose thinness somehow manages to contain a rich ricotta stuffing. But then there's the blend of white and red house sauces: a béchamel and an herbaceous tomato sauce, rendered mellow from seven hours stewing but bearing both ground meatballs and Italian sausage bits. A choice between a full meatball or anise-seasoned sausage link, both homemade, completes the affair. ($16.25 includes a salad or house minestrone soup/$13.50 as a special on Friday and Saturday nights)

Lamb Stew at McCabe's Tavern

520 S. Tejon St., 633-3300, mccabestavern.com

It's snowing outside, quiet little flakes, so you stop at the pub for some bites and a beer. You do a bowl of lamb stew, a mahogany concoction flecked with red chunks of tomato and scallions. You're enveloped in hot steam, you taste rosemary, Guinness and soft potatoes, and you sop with crumbly bites of soda bread. ($7.95 lunch/$12.95 dinner)

Half & Half Pita Sandwich at Mediterranean Cafe

118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115, medcafe-co.com

An ode to the indecisive: chewy lamb-and-beef gyro meat and crispy falafel pieces served inside a single pita. All the fixins are there, too: salty feta cheese crumbles, tomato, cucumber, giardiniera (pickled veggie mix). Plus three different sauces: semi-bitter tahini, zippy tzatziki and harissa hot chili sauce. It covers every flavor perception as a catch-all kingpin — and yes, we did just say "zippy" while employing three colons. ($6.50)

Spicy Bison Sandwich at Nosh

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

If ever a better way to eat bison tongue has existed, we know it not. Nosh's chefs braise the meat stupid-tender with tomato paste and red wine over the course of 24-plus hours at 200 degrees. They then cook it with caramelized onions, jalapeños and Anaheims, receiving more kick from cayenne mayo and pepper jack cheese, melted onto Old School Bakery bread. Dunk that in a sweet jus constructed of the braising liquid refortified with extra carrots to draw out natural sugars. Tatonka! ($9.50 includes a side, lunch only)

Homemade Granola at Olive Branch Restaurant

23 S. Tejon St., 475-1199, theolivebranchrest.com

Olive Branch only recently adapted its 20-plus-year-old granola recipe to fulfill gluten-free and vegan needs. So option one: the original, sportin' bran, oats, sunflowers, cashews, raisins, walnuts, coconut, cinnamon, honey and butter. Option two: sub in special GF oats and rice bran, ditch the butter for oil and honey for agave. Pair with yogurt, milk or soy milk and add fruit slices because it's the right thing to do. ($5.95/$8.95 with fresh fruit)

Green Chili Skillet at The Omelette Parlor

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

Of course they had us at the mere mention of our favorite green sauce, but since eating it by the spoonful can get hard on the gut, it's probably for the best that this dish buffers the spice with diced cheddar cheese potatoes, a couple huevos (I'd go over easy) and an English muffin for some semblance of propriety. ($6.99)

Fred's Hawaiian Pancakes at Over Easy, a daytime eatery

28-A S. Tejon St., 471-2311, rockymtnrg.com

As cramp-your-glutes-sweet breakfast options go, this tropical tribute will spike your blood sugar just fine. Juicy pineapple cubes are caramelized, coconut flakes are lightly toasted, and then both are incorporated into the batter. Come plate-up time, cinnamon butter gets its melt on while a crème Anglaise drags a vanilla-laden drizzle across the flapjacks. Thankfully, no spam appears. ($7.99)

Buffalo Chicken Panino at Panino's

604 N. Tejon St., 635-7452, paninos.com

The pale-yellow side of potato salad is damn good, creamy and bright, but the panino, an ode to simplicity, is the star. Slices of grilled chicken, celery and Swiss cheese are wrapped in dense layers of pizza dough, then baked and topped with mouth-puckering Buffalo-wing sauce. Combine it with ranch for a completed gut bomb. ($8.79)

Thai Crêpe at Paris Crepe

218 N. Tejon St., 444-0110

Puritan Frenchies need not order me. I'm an international spin with global appeal. Inside my fold, juicy steak hunks meet pear slices, cilantro and peanut crumbles while a rich peanut sauce coats all for starchy bliss. ($7.99 on wheat crêpe or $8.49 for gluten-free buckwheat or garbanzo batter)

Blonde Ale & Smoked Gouda Soup at Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.

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

Like the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones or one of those geek-ass elven blades from The Lord of the Rings, this soup is legend. It's not so much that wars have been fought over it (aside from the personal mental battle of resisting eating it all the time) as the fact that it's pretty much the greatest beer-cheese soup in the known realm. With its Queen's Blonde Ale base and thick cheese, it's so rich it's royal. ($3.25 cup/$5 bowl)

Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza at Poor Richard's

324½ N. Tejon St.,632-7721,poorrichardsdowntown.com

Poor Richard's customizable pizzas set the gourmet standard locally. What's extra nice is how the outfit has always been conscious of dietary restrictions. So this pick goes out to our restricted brothers and sisters: Out of the Breadbox supplies the GF crust (smaller than the regular pies) and Daiya vegan cheese subs in for the standard mozzarella. The lovely house Campari tomato sauce remains as is, ready to receive your choice of toppings from a house list of nearly 30. ($11.79 per pie/additional toppings 95 cents/$4.95 per slice)

Torta Cochinita Pibil at Quijote's Mexican Grill

208 N. Union Blvd., 313-9127

As reverently described by a dining "bromigo": a small, crusty, square sandwich filled with slow-roasted marinated pork, pickled onions and beans — not to mention a little savory grit — that comes with a side of bright-orange-and-addicting habañero sauce. It's got Mayan roots, but the sky's the limit. ($5.50)

Tortellini Jamaica Mon at Rasta Pasta

405 N. Tejon St., 481-6888, rastapastacs.com

The mark of a great vegetarian dish is that a carnivore can enjoy it the same, not missing any meatiness because the veggie power is so, um, powerful. And such is the case with this dish, plenty protein-packed from the rich, ricotta-stuffed tortellini that's sexified (it's a word as much as "mon" is, mon) by an onion white wine sauce. But then things get real crazy with the addition of grapes, banana and pineapple. (Say what!? We know.) Creamy, starchy, sweet goodness. ($8.95 lunch/$13.95 dinner)

Tortellacci at Roman Villa

3005 N. Nevada Ave., 635-1806

Homemade pasta at a restaurant being a dying art, Roman Villa's tortellacci is a prime example of why old methods are generally superior. A soft doughy pocket, not a far cry from ravioli, contains Romano, asiago, ricotta and cream cheeses, plus spinach. A thick, cream-fortified tomato sauce lightly sweetened by caramelized onions and sporting a black pepper bite oozes like bright orange lava over the top. ($12)

Vegetarian Bun at Saigon Cafe

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

When you want it light, the bún chá giò is your choice. Soft rice noodles in a hearty broth and the essence of freshness with mint leaves, bean sprouts and cucumber pieces. Toss in some crisp onions and peanut crumbles for garnish and flavor enhancement. Oh, and there's a crunchy veggie egg roll on the side, too. ($8.45 lunch/$10.75 dinner)

Spicy Brazilian Coconut Shrimp Soup at Shuga's

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

As prawn baths go, this one's epic. It's got peanut buttery, starchy sweetness, coconut milk smoothness, a mild ginger bite, medium jalapeño burn and a touch of cilantro influence. It's almost like a Thai dish doing a sexy samba dance. But it's more like the best damn thing in the world at that moment you're mopping it up with fat bread wedges, eyes rolled back, groaning like a mad fool. ($4 cup/$7 bowl)

Jerk Chicken at Spice Island Grill

10 N. Sierra Madre St., 473-8280, spiceislandgrill.com

It's all about the sauce on this one: a house-made jerk sauce — sold by the bottle and also amazing on the crispy tofu fries for you vegans — that incorporates fermented scotch bonnet peppers for some serious heat. The bone-in chicken is also marinated in spices and herbs and then grilled crisp, with a thick spice paste still hugging the skin, which reveals perfectly moist meat. ($6.99 lunch/$13 dinner)

Beignets and Café Au Lait at Springs Orleans

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

It's as close as you're going to get to Café Du Monde locally, especially if it's summertime and you're sitting in the alleyway between the Mining Exchange and Springs Orleans. You accept that you're going to walk away with powdered sugar either on your face or clothes, but it's worth it for that sweet fried dough. In between bites you sip your creamy coffee — One free refill? Be still my heart! — and you ponder other perfect marriages in the food and drink world, losing your train of thought sometime around the next bite. ($2.49 each)

Lamb Shish Kebab Sandwich at Taste of Jerusalem Café

15 E. Bijou St., 477-1777, tasteofjerusalemcafe.com

A fluffy warm pita wraps around lettuce, tomatoes, tangy pepperoncinis and big lamb kabab hunks, pink-in-the-middle and juicy. There's some hummus for sesame smack, but a creamy Italian-esque sauce provides the real zesty element that's perfect with the lamb's gaminess. ($6.99)

Oysters at Oscar's Tejon Street

333 S. Tejon St., 471-8070, oscarsoysterbar.com

When people think oysters, they think Oscar's — the bar that moves more of them than anyone in town. Fresh Chesapeake Bay oysters come in three times a week. Eat 'em raw with a squeeze of lemon juice, and a dollop of cocktail sauce and/or horseradish to add bite to your brine. Or get the flash-fried Oysters Oscar's plate wherein the gooey delights benefit from a Cajun cream sauce then a garnish of spinach, bacon, shrimp and crawfish bits. (market price, currently $14.95 half dozen)

Fried Cheese Curds at Tony's Bar

311 N. Tejon St., 228-6566, tonysdowntownbar.com

Until Springside Cheese Shop opened in Pueblo last year, ushering real Wisconsin cheese curds into the region's retail marketplace, Tony's was the go-to spot when your gut told you it was time to lay a happy clogging on those uppity arteries. It remains the place to have them fried for you and served with either a ranch or bleu cheese dip, or even jelly. There's greasy crunch, tooth-tickling curd-squeak and the certain sense that though this food is not good for you, it's somehow good for you — especially with beer. ($7.30)

North Dakota Bison at The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery

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

Two options here, paleo-migos: the burger or the strip loin. The burger starts with the regular fixings on a brioche bun, to which you can add everything from green chilies to a fried egg or blue crab meat. The Maple Shellacked Plains Bison sees a sear with shallots and peppercorns, then a slathering of maple syrup and Stranahan's Whiskey demiglace. ($13 burger, $1 to $4 for extras/$39 strip loin)

Borriello Brothers

215 E. Platte Ave., 884-2020, borriellobrothers.com

With as many local locations as an octopus has arms, Borriello is a dynasty built on an array of awesome New York-style pies. Try the fun King's Chef green chile pizza or go in for a hero, salad, calzone or pasta plate. Enjoy delivery or grab something to take and bake. And then tug at that invisible, yet perceptible, chain around your neck — they own you now.

Essential drop-ins

Spend a little time in this section of town, and you'll hear someone raving about each of the places listed below.

Café 36

30 W. Dale St., 477-4377, csfineartscenter.org/cafe36.asp

The Pinery holds the catering contract for this artful space with an unparalleled mountain view from the veranda. Hit up lunch (perhaps the Café Cubano sandwich) between 11 and 2, Tuesdays through Sundays, and look for special pre-theater dining menus.

Everest Nepal Restaurant

28 E. Bijou St., 473-3890, everesttibetimports.com/restaurant.html

You should hit the $8.99 lunch buffet for maximum gustatory carnage and mental delight, but Indian and Nepali plates can, of course, be procured à la carte at lunch or dinner as well. Bliss comes in the form of tandoori-oven baked chicken and vegetarian entrées scooped with naan, over a lassi drink.

Fujiyama

22 S. Tejon St., Suite A, 630-1167, fujiyamasushi.com

Fujiyama sports a modern feel with a sleekness fit for Tokyo. If it's rolls you crave, let the fun names draw you in: Viagra, Who's Your Daddy and Screaming Orgasm among them. Get a loaded bento box or donbori bowl at lunch, go for hibachi service at dinner, and don't dare miss the half-off-everything Monday happy hour from 5 to 6.

La Bella Vita Ristorante Italiano

4475 Northpark Drive, 260-4730, labellavitaristorante.net

The service is phenomenal, and within months of its recent opening La Bella Vita was already earning reviews as one of the finest Italian eateries in town. The calamari and mushroom risotto are highlights, but you'd be very happy with the veal scallopini piccata and limoncello-spiked crème brûlée for dessert.

La Casita Mexican Grill

4295 N. Nevada Ave., 599-7829, lacasitamexigrill.com

You won't miss these bright pink stucco buildings dispersed between Eighth Street, North Nevada Avenue, Woodmen Road and Pueblo. La Casita is an affordable Tex-Mex spot with the best flour tortillas in town (used by other restaurants), combo plates galore, and a fresh salsa bar that makes dine-in fun.

Louie's Pizza

333 N. Tejon St., 635-5565; 1146 E. Fillmore St., 473-0060; louies-pizza.com

Louie's has been a Springs staple since 1985, with five locations currently. The Dyno Wings are popular, as are cinnamon-sugar crust dessert pizzas. For the main event, though, the chicken taco pizza might be the way to go.

MacKenzie's Chop House

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

Longtime local chef Pete Moreno rules this dark-wooded, subterranean Concept Restaurants steakhouse that's best enjoyed with a cocktail. He issues a weekly "fresh sheet" spotlighting specials like a 14-ounce, dry-aged, bone-in New York strip with Béarnaise butter. At lunch, get the basil-poblano tortellini.

The Melting Pot

30-A E. Pikes Peak Ave., 385-0300, meltingpot.com

If you've been here a little while, you've probably made the Melting Pot one of your special occasion meals at least once. Grab a bottle of wine from the seriously respectable list, then manage your stomach real estate wisely among the cheese, entrée and chocolate courses. This, friends, is how you feast well.

Monica's Taco Shop

30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996

With a Palmer Park Boulevard location too, Monica's has won its share of Indy Best Of awards. The breakfast burritos are outstanding, particularly the chorizo version. For even more girth, get the chewy carne asada burrito with guacamole, and dump plenty of salsa verde on top.

Montague's

1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672

This little drink house embodies quaintness with large antique chairs and warm décor. Many folks go just for a giant slice of cake and pot of tea (the ginseng-peppermint's a standout), but you can also grab a light meal of soup and salad, or head in for gluten-free French toast for breakfast.

North End Diner

3005 N. Hancock Ave., 442-1833, northenddiner.com

The North End Diner folks recently opened a sister outfit just down the road on Fillmore Street, called the Bistro. At the original, catch fun specials like BOGO-for-a-nickel Ranch Foods Direct burgers, daily after 2 p.m., in addition to a solid breakfast and lunch menu.

Rabbit Hole Dinner and Drinks

101 N. Tejon St., 203-5072, rabbitholedinner.com

Big sister to SuperNova, the Rabbit Hole is a swank, subterranean wonderland dishing cool local art, Colorado brews and spirits, good happy-hour deals and plates like orange-honey glazed duck wings, PBR mussels and good vegetarian-friendly options.

Ritz Grill

15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484, ritzgrill.com

The Ritz is a downtown business-crowd staple by day and a hoppin' restaurant/bar by night. It recently overhauled 90 percent of its menu: Check out the candied spicy bacon jerky, called "Man Candy," and everything from jalapeño-ginger tuna tartare to short ribs and a New York Strip.

Smiley's Bakery and Cafe

323 N. Tejon St., 328-9447, smileysbakerycafe.com

An early 2013 visit reminded us why we're Smiley's fans: A lovely kale-bean stew paired wonderfully with a blackened tilapia sandwich sporting a nice rémoulade on house-baked sesame bread. Others go for French toast, loaded pancakes and, of course, homemade pies. An expansion a couple years back that basically doubled the eatery's space speaks to its value to the Tejon Street strip.

Sonterra Innovative Southwest Grill

28B S. Tejon St., 471-9222, rockymtnrg.com/sonterragrill

Part of the restaurant group that includes Salsa Brava and Over Easy, Sonterra is your spot for generous happy hours and high-quality steak and seafood entrées that best most attempts at Southwestern cuisine as fine dining. Get the tableside guacamole and some blue corn shrimp and lobster enchiladas with a mojito or mango martini.

Stir

2330 N. Wahsatch Ave., 418-6188

Stir boasts a super-sleek, "fresh, vintage-industrial" feel with reclaimed wood counters, items like old windows as menu boards and auto-garage bay doors as front walls. Open for breakfast and lunch with R&R Coffee Café-roasted coffee, locally produced pastries and homemade quiches and the like, it's a bright, warm space that's only missing you.

SuperNova

111 E. Boulder St., 418-3484, supernovabar.com

Bringing the "barcade" concept to C. Springs, SuperNova delivers a bunch of '80s-era video games like Tron next to crazy-cheap drink deals, $5 lunch specials and fun, game-themed "pub grub" like Frogger Legs and a Donkey Kong Foot Long. If you're a cool kid, I'm telling you what you already know.

Underground

110 N. Nevada Ave., 578-7771, undergroundbars.com

Everyone's welcome here, making Underground one of the best gay bars in town. And it recently procured the neighboring Brewer's Republic, which is one of the best spots for rare craft beers in town. Which makes two reasons you should party on either side, matching the drinks with completely respectable pub food like pizzas and burgers.

Urban Steam Coffee Bar & Cafe

1025 S. Sierra Madre St., 473-7832, urbansteamcoffee.com

If there's a Soup Nazi on the local coffee scene, it's Urban Steam's Kelly Bubach. Some part of me is afraid that if I try to order something less refined than all the heady stuff on his menu, he'll stab me in the eye with the back of an espresso handle. (Not really.) All of which is to say that this is a place to drink some serious and special coffee, perhaps paired with a sweet or savory Belgian waffle.

Yoo Mae

21 E. Kiowa St., 473-8105, yoomae.com

Chef JJ Kim's 50-state sushi roll tribute (view the photos online, pretty please) is a work of genius, and he's also become quite popular for his car series, including a Lamborghini roll that delivers habañeros, Thai chilies and ghost chilies — hot damn! Drop by for items like an udon or katsu bowl, too, but hey, live a little.

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