You can't eat at a place you can't find, and when you do manage to stumble across that hidden gem, the experience is all the greater for it. Here's a look at some of the harder downtown stops to spot.
Alice's Mexican Cuisine (109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 578-8882) hides down the hallway next to Josh and John's Naturally Homemade Ice Cream. The outfit known for its simple cuisine and unique décor — local blog Oinkety likened the lighting level to staring into the sun — offers delicious warmed salsa and homemade takes on classic Tex-Mex.
For a different feel, hit Vallejo's (111 S. Corona St., 635-0980), located across from the Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The roughly 48-year-old restaurant offers a blend of classics and Mexico City-inspired recipes brought by original owner Paula Vallejo in 1923.
Keeping in a Southwesterly vein, El Tesoro Restaurant & Gallery (10 N. Sierra Madre St., el-tesoro.com) does dining with a Sante Fe kick, serving ceviche, carne adovada, blue corn enchiladas and killer margaritas in a quiet and arty space next to Pikes Peak Community College's downtown campus. Lucia's Family Restaurant (230½ Pueblo Ave., 329-4496) jams sustainably raised meat from Ranch Foods Direct into its beef burritos while hiding out next to the new Zodiac club. And Salsa Latina (28 E. Rio Grande St., 328-1513) is easy to miss among the office spots on East Rio Grande, but its green chile makes the search (and the cash-only policy) totally worth it.
If it's still tacos you crave, but with more flair, find La'au's Taco Shop (830 N. Tejon St., #110, laaustacoshop.com) at the other end of downtown, on the Colorado College campus. Follow the posted signs to tacos, bowls, burritos and salads with toppings from mahi-mahi to vegetarian options.
There are also a couple secret diner destinations. Detz Café (211 E. Cucharras St., 632-9712) comes complete with old men in hats reading the newspaper at the breakfast counter. Barney's Diner (129 W. Las Animas St., 632-1756), across from the Martin Drake Power Plant, churches up the beef with meat from Ranch Foods and know-how that comes with 46 years of operational experience.
You could make an argument to include the original King's Chef Diner (110 E. Costilla St., kingschefdiner.com) in here, what with its total of 13 indoor seats, but they come wrapped inside a purple castle. Sort of blows the cover.