Pad Thai Woon Sen at Arharn Thai
3739 Bloomington St., 596-6559, arharnthai.net
Here's a superstar plate for the gluten-free crowd, still a treat to non-restricted eaters. Rather than the wide rice noodles you're used to on standard Pad Thai, the Woon Sen is built on a base of thin "bean thread" noodles. They get the same stir-fry treatment with a rich peanut flavor, and though egg adds some protein, it's well worth the upcharge for soft prawns to contrast the bean sprouts' crunch. Heat level's up to your better judgment. ($6.80/$2.50 extra for shrimp)
Crab Cakes at English Dockside Seafood and Grill
2220 Academy Place, 380-7732, englishdockside.com
The essence of a great crab cake is, of course, a lack of filler beyond its seasoning. The blue-lump-crab-to-binder-ingredient ratio here is spot-on, and then comes the double-down with a killer creamy crab and crawfish tail gravy, oozing over the cake and marrying with a bed of garlicky rice. ($12 for one/$17 for two)
Heart of Jerusalem Sandwich at Heartof Jerusalem Cafe
4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554, heartofjerusalemcafe.com
The titular grilled pita sandwich makes for a kitchen sink of meaty delight. You've got Middle Eastern-spice-marinated chicken, lamb and beef, all hugged together with tomatoes, vinegary pickled turnips and hot banana peppers. Garlicky hummus and bright "Gazaziki" sauce lubes the joints. Welcome to the Holy City. ($7.99)
Three-Meat Sampler at Kasey's Bar & Grill
1919 E. Boulder St., 635-8128
Why limit yourself to a single meat when you can taste three: ribs, brisket and pulled pork. Apple-wood smoke infuses all generously and the grill leaves a hearty char on the ribs in particular, which are lathered with an excellent homemade brown sugar and black pepper barbecue sauce. The pulled pork is slightly gamey and super tender after 12 hours in the smoker and the brisket's equally soft. ($10.99 with two sides and a roll)
Beef Bulgogiat San Chang House
3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-1707
Bulgogi is the poster child of marinated meat, which is to say it's one of the finest expressions of thin beef cuts patiently tenderized and seasoned to a palate-pleasing perfection. Due to language barriers, we couldn't tell you exactly what's in San Chang's rendition — likely it includes the classic soy, sugar, sesame and garlic and onion inputs — but we can say theirs is as good as the dish gets around here. Semi-sweet, salty and umami at once. ($8.99 lunch/$12.99 dinner)
The Inferno Burger at Stadium Bar and Grill
6120 Barnes Road, 302-0969, barandgrillcolorado.com
Lily-livered eaters with low heat tolerances need not apply. (Welcome to the jungle, baby!) The beer-batter-fried jalapeños will hit hardest, amplifying the spicy pepper jack's modest burn, followed up with a little chipotle character to the mayo. Yes on the lettuce and tomato, maybe on the bacon addition. The better-than-brioche bun will handle it all, including the half-pound beef patty. Burn, baby, burn. ($9.99)
Red Curry and Roasted Duckat Thai Guy
6821 Space Village Ave., 573-8054
The culinary keystone here is the pineapple, lending its sweetness to a velvety coconut-milk broth that's also rich with the floral aroma and flavor of kaffir lime leaves. But the pineapple's inherent bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme, also tenderizes the game meat, leaving it soft and super delicious inside the mix. Prepare yourself for the mouth hammer. ($8.50)
Rouladen at Uwe's German Restaurant
31 Iowa Ave., 475-1611
Think about a Middle Eastern dolma, but instead of grape leaves, thin cuts of beef wrap around more chopped beef and bacon slices seasoned in spices and mustard. Pickle and onion provide a tangy, piquant edge, as does vinegary red cabbage on the plate, which is skimmed with a small lake of thin gravy. ($14.50 includes soup and salad)
Korean Pork Bellyat Zen FusionSushi & Bistro
4359 Integrity Center Point, 375-3288, zenfusionsushi.com
Not that anything that begins with stir-fried pork belly can fail — You can't derail the swine train, sucka! — but this dish really hits the high points of fatty delight. Seared onions and a fantastic Korean hot chili sauce flavor the meat, which, ordered as a wrap, lets you roll it with fresh lettuce leaves, raw garlic slices (hell, yes!) and jalapeño slivers. ($13.99; $5 extra for wrap ingredients)
Spend a little time in this section of town, and you'll hear someone raving about each of the places listed below.
Bird Dog BBQ
5984 Stetson Hills Blvd., 596-4900, birddogbbq.com
This is just one of three spots to love on Bird Dog's oak-smoked, Oklahoma-style barbecue, the others being in Briargate and Fountain. The house Wasabi-Q sauce is a unique favorite, as is the Doghouse open-faced sandwich: brisket (or pork) under Polish sausage, hot links, beans and melted cheese. Woof.
2917 Galley Road, 622-0333
Defining the phrase "good food on the cheap," Café Banzai leads with $5.99 lunch specials that include miso soup, rice, gyoza, Asian noodles and a salad with your chosen protein. The beef bulgogi is always a wise option, as is the $5 chicken teriyaki bowl.
7376 McLaughlin Road, Falcon, 495-8707; 945 N. Powers Blvd., 574-4881, frankiesbargrill.com
Head to the specials page of Frankie's website for just a small taste of what makes these two spirited sports bars so vital to the east-side community. A few teasers: the weekday all-you-can-eat homemade soup-and-salad option for $6.99; affordable wing, burger and steak deals; truly good drink specials. Making either bar your third place would be a first-rate move.
2114 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2745, nemoscoffee.com
Where else in town are you gonna go for a Life Force Green Smoothie? (Answer: nowhere.) Boulder's Ozo Coffee Co. provides the excellent beans, but don't just hit the drive-thru for your coffee fix. Dine in and peruse the recently expanded sandwich menu and from-scratch soups, house pastries and much more.
Pho Viet 1
3712 Galley Road, 597-6559
As Springs food trends go, the pho scene is booming, with one shop after another starting to serve the steaming bowls of herby, meaty goodness. Wise outfits will care to weigh themselves against Pho Viet 1, which clearly shines with authenticity evident by strong support from the Vietnamese community. Follow your pho with a durian boba milkshake.
Rocco's Italian Restaurant
3878 Maizeland Road, 574-1426, roccoscolorado.com
Rocco's has been rockin' standout Italian fare for 30-plus years, including every pasta you could want (gnocchi, manicotti, fettuccine, gluten-free noodles) plus calzones, savory and sweet cannoli, and hot sub sandwiches. The staff's as warm as the welcoming setting — neighborhood spots don't come any more comforting than this.
4037 Tutt Blvd., 573-2000, schnitzelfritz.com
Sister outfit to Fountain's Elke's German Deli and the master-pastry-chef-driven Old German Bakery, Schnitzel Fritz is the solution for sauerbraten needs on the east side. Before you make crumbs of the fantastic sweets, be a good boy and clean that schnitzel plate, appreciating the superior local meat sourcing from the likes of Ranch Foods Direct and Continental Sausage.
640-B S. Academy Blvd., 380-0535, thai-eats.com
Where can you punish a plate of Panang curry or papaya salad, stick around for a cooking class where you learn to make a divine coconut cream Bou Loy Pudding, then head home with a grocery bag stuffed with Thai iced tea mix and an array of dry goods? Here, friends. Only here.
975 N. Academy Blvd., 597-2422, eatattomo.com
The empire has contracted — Burgers and Bowls and Tomo II both closed — but the original Tomo still rolls with the best of them. Come in weekdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. for happy hours, and get 20 percent off sushi rolls plus drink specials. Order from the deluxe, popular or specialty roll menu sections, knowing you won't be disappointed no matter what you choose.
Other featured eateries with East locations:
Borriello Brothers, 4750 Barnes Road, 884-2020, see here
Louie's Pizza, 4815 Barnes Road, 591-5241; 5996 Stetson Hills Blvd., 597-5991, see here
Monica's Taco Shop, 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022, see here
As a volunteer Coach and Mentor in my third year at The First Tee of…