Flatiron's American Bar & Grill (2540 Tenderfoot Hill St., 576-2540, flatirons.biz)
For more than a year, Concept Restaurants' Luke Travins had his eye on the former Bennigan's overlooking Lake Avenue and the city, between Southgate and Interstate 25. The location had worked well for Bennigan's; it was a national bankruptcy that led to the chain restaurant disappearing. "It was a newer building in a thriving part of town, and the cost of getting it open was much less than building from the ground up," Travins says. "This was a true cosmetic remodel, and in this economy, those deals are the only ones that make sense." Flatiron's opened in June and instantly caught on with southwest Springs-ians and guests at the many nearby hotels and motels. Plus, it had a patio. "People love the patio," Travins says, "and we have a firepit and natural gas heaters until it's too cold." Flatiron's has a concept that can endure for years to come, adapting to whatever the economy does. "It's an American bar and grill, with affordable prices in a comfortable setting," he says. "We built this place with the intent for it to last." — RR
The Famous (31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, restauranteur.com/famous)
The Famous (31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, restauranteur.com/famous)
Texas Roadhouse (595 S. Eighth St.,473-9711; 3120 N. Powers Blvd., 638-8050, texasroadhouse.com)
Manager Marty Searcy says the Famous' approach of "simple elegance" will appease both the Fred Flintstone of carnivores and the Ol' Blue Eyes of steakhouse aficionados. With a median staff age of 35, Searcy attributes the restaurant's success to experience and, of course, great ingredients. (His restaurant doesn't own a freezer.) "Quality will always sell," he says. Of course, fried pickles and free peanuts and rolls never hurt, either, as suggested by locals demanding that the Famous share the Steakhouse nod with Texas Roadhouse. The nationwide chain serves up "hearty, hand-cut steaks" both fancy (filet medallions with a peppercorn or portobello mushroom sauce) and fun (a dish called "Road Kill," a 10-ounce chop smothered in sautéed onions and mushrooms, and jack cheese). — MMR
Adam's Mountain Café (934 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430, adamsmountain.com)
Adam's Mountain Café still features about 35 percent of the same items from its original menu 25 years ago, including my personal favorite, the vegetarian lasagne. But it also now actively functions as a "slow food" restaurant; to owner Farley Kaminer McDonough, that means preparing "everything from scratch" and trying to "create an experience around food, as opposed to just filling the belly." Adam's has won the Restaurant for Herbivores category ever since we started this whole thing in 1994 — apt, since 65 percent of its menu is veg. This year, though, it also takes the new Place to Eat Local/Sustainable category. During the summer, McDonough says, the restaurant sources close to 60 percent of its ingredients locally. During the winter, it's less, though she says they always purchase some items, such as honey, goat cheese and other dairy, close-to-home.
Hot (or haute) food trend on the horizon: McDonough goes to her husband David, who she says is great at predictions, for this question. His answer: "Meatballs." McDonough elaborates by saying we'll be seeing all kinds of meatballs: different kinds of meats, different kinds of seasonings, even tofu or vegan selections. — KA
Nosh (121 S. Tejon St., 635-6674, nosh121.com)
Did somebody say "hat trick"? That's what it is: three years running that Nosh has won both Best Innovative Menu and Best Appetizers/Tapas. At Nosh, the small-plate model has helped fuel exceedingly creative dishes.
"We're playing the same game," says chef Shane Lyons, "but we're changing our moves on the board. ... No matter what we're doing, we have to have elevated technique and thought process. We can't just do burn-and-turn."
Exhibit A on the innovation front, from the current menu: short ribs and beef shanks, cured in salt, sugar and peppercorns for three days then braised for 24 hours before being cooled, picked and reassembled with Activa (a powdered "meat glue") and cut into tidy, boneless bricks that are seared to order.
"It's the most decadent short rib plate you've ever had, and only the best parts," says Lyons who, at 22, has already been at Nosh for a year and competed on The Next Food Network Star.
He admits it's hard to be innovative when almost everything has been done before in the culinary world. "Unless you're working with 40 cooks or take six months off a year to do research, you probably won't do something new," he says. The key, then, is to find new approaches and angles to techniques and dishes.
Exhibit B: Lyons' take on the classic Caprese salad. Instead of the standard tomatoes, mozzarella and basil bathed in salt, pepper and olive oil, he serves a house-made goat cheese; tomatoes from Nosh's garden (which it shares with the Blue Star); pesto made from the garden's basil; a sherry vinegar and olive oil blend; a gelée balsamic reduction (using gelatin for body); black salt; and fried garlic pieces that require strict attention. ("There's one second between perfect and burnt.")
Oh, and by the way, that dish evolves with daily tweaks, such as a gelée of garden-grown lemon cucumber and jalapeño in place of the balsamic.
Aside from the Activa and gelatin, Lyons says he only keeps a couple of other odd ingredients on hand, such as sodium alginate, a gummy emulsifier made from extracted brown algae cell walls. "I'm focused on learning the craft at this level for now," he says. "You have to be good at this level before you move onto the advanced stuff, or else it's just novelty versus clean technique."
Petite plate prognostication: "If we and others continue to change the thought process about what a meal is, restaurants might start focusing on big flavors, textures and experiences and not big plates. Let's have less of more." — Matthew Schniper
The Blue Star (1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net)
Face it: The Blue Star is simply a culinary juggernaut, as evidenced by this third consecutive win for Best Overall Restaurant. This is also a sixth straight triumph for the outfit's extensive wine menu. But wait: Owner Joe Coleman and Co. are mixing it up a bit this year by earning their first victory in the Wait Staff category. And they've returned to the top of Fine Dining for the first time since the early aughts. Any way you measure it, it's a coup, with so many facets of daily service clearly operating at superior levels. From where does all this perfectionism stem? Coleman himself, of course, who despite annual awards and a thriving business, predicts he'll "still feel unsuccessful and uncomfortable a year from now."
What the cosmos has in store for the Blue Star: "Everyone in our organization," says Coleman, "will be working and hoping for the opportunity to grow into Ivywild School in the next year." — MS
Coquette Creperie (915 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2420, coquettecreperie.com)
Hip Coquette Creperie celebrated its first anniversary in mid-August, and this happens to be the first year the Indy has offered this Best Of category, inspired by a clear new food trend. Turu Marx says she and her mother Michelle had no idea how big the response would be to a nearly 100 percent gluten-free menu (only one French bread option, made off-site, breaks form), but they've already made diehards of some locals who suffer from celiac disease and non-gluten-sensitive regulars who just love the outfit's unique sweet and savory crêpes.
Pancake predictions: "I think gluten-free is a huge issue for people, and it's just growing," says Turu, adding that Coquette has "big expansion plans in the retail end" of gluten-free items, beyond the flour the outfit already sells. — MS
The Corner Café (7 E. Vermijo St., 520-1843, cornercafecs.com)
Situated within sprinting distance of the Indy office and crawling distance from the courthouse, the Corner Café is a mecca for the downtown lunch crowd. But location is only part of the story: In addition to some of the city's best burgers, salads and sandwiches — as well as homemade soups, cakes and pies — the menu includes three daily specials you can check online. (Word to the wise: Do not miss the chicken-fried steak). It's comfort food done up right and served up quick, which means you can be back at work, or back in court, before you know it. — BF
Front Range Barbeque (2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596; 4935 Templeton Gap Road, 598-8895, frontrangebbq.com)
When Front Range first began winning Best Of honors for its barbecue back in 2004 (this is No. 7 in a row), customers' favorite choice was the beef brisket. But now, says owner Brian Fortinberry, tastes have evolved and, in his words, "the pulled pork has a strong lead over anything else." Could be more Southerners living here today, he says. Either way, he adapts to the needs and wants of his customers; he's already added veggie burgers, salads and more side dishes, as well as additional craft beers, at their request. The biggest news at the moment: Front Range's tent patio, a popular entertainment venue, is being upgraded with much better heating and a house sound system for bands, and Fortinberry wants to bring in more recognizable acts.
The next trend: Fortinberry says, "I'm predicting that the entertainment business in this town is going to really increase with all the quality music, bands and venues." — RR
Bingo Burger (101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, 719/225-8363, bingoburger.com)
Since I wrote about Bingo Burger back in April, I've recommended the gourmet fast-food joint to several people, including a number of co-workers. Every one of them has returned with a bit of an "oh-my-God" expression. Just look at Bingo Burger's menu online and you'll start to understand: Colorado lamb burgers; grass-fed beef burgers stuffed with fire-roasted Pueblo chilies; a portobello mushroom burger; add-ons like blue and goat cheese and caramelized onions; French fries cut from San Luis Valley potatoes ... it's like somebody sent a master chef in to overhaul a McDonald's. We love that owners Richard Warner and Mary Oreskovich, formerly of the standout Steel City Diner, have also included sustainability in their concept, with the locally sourced items and eco-friendly utensils and such. It's unfortunate that we in the Springs muddy up the green factor by driving 45 minutes each way to scream, "Bingo!" But let's be frank: It's worth it. — MS
José Muldoon's (222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311, josemuldoons.com)
So this is supposed to be a paean to the much-loved patio at José's downtown, the fire-pit-and-bar-accented enclave that some of you can't resist even when the snow flies. But we'd be remiss not to take this opportunity to tell you that, yes, there will be a distinctive patio at José's new location, 5710 S. Carefree Circle. When it opens (hopefully in November), says general manager Cindy Biondo, a few dozen people can sit in "sort of an indoor-outdoor" area — a space adjacent to huge garage doors that will open on nice days. Down the road, you can look for a truly outdoor patio over there as well.
Winter forecast: "I have to say that I'm the worst at predicting that stuff. I'm going to say it's going to be a mild winter, so it'll probably be the opposite."— KW
Briarhurst Manor Estate (404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1864, briarhurstdining.com)
For most of us, it can't be all about historic charm and beautiful gardens — setting romance aside, it really does come down to budget when planning a wedding reception. And the Briarhurst Manor Estate, winner of this category for five straight years, has mastered the art of not saying no. "No wedding is too small," assures public relations director John Kerr. An intimate affair for 20 can unfold here even as a big-time event of 150 takes place elsewhere on the grounds. The Briarhurst prides itself on getting the timing right — as well as the food. "Regardless of whether you want turkey or pheasant," Kerr says, "the same attention to detail is paid." — MMR
King's Chef Diner (110 E. Costilla St.,634-9135; 131 E. Bijou St., 636-5010, kingschefdiner.com)
King's Chef Diner, with two locations, won all three of these categories last year, too. "We've been real lucky," says owner Gary Geiser. But it's not all luck, of course. There's that killer diner menu, with The Thing, The Grump and more — an embarrassment of goodness, particularly at 3 a.m. But that green chili ... why is it so good? "When I bought the location on Costilla Street in '97, the customers said the green chili needed work," says Geiser. "So we kept trying different things, changing it, and getting feedback." Now the green chili is so popular it's sold by the jar at the diners and in local Whole Foods markets.
Future nationwide marketing: "Probably not. ... We buy all our chiles in Colorado, and the supply is limited. We don't want to lose the quality." — KK
Monica's Taco Shop (30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996; 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022)
OC Weekly writer Gustavo Arellano, popular for his derisive "Ask a Mexican" column, should have a new book out relatively soon that's titled Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (And Soon, the World). I submit it as evidence that we're all at least a little crazy about our favorite tacos, an indispensable component of a balanced weekly diet. Not that you didn't already know that. And since you've now voted Monica's as your favorite local tacqueria five years running, its victory doesn't come as a surprise, either. The outfit's carne asada tacos are a favorite, though you won't be disappointed by anything you find on the menu. I'm partial to a starchy breakfast burrito — with ample green salsa, of course — when I swing in. — MS
Amanda's Fonda (3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975)
Amanda's Fonda has won this category six years in a row, and 11 of the last 12 years — which tells us this restaurant knows how to do Mexican. Or, at least, Amanda's knows what Colorado Springs likes in south-of-the-border fare. And the margaritas aren't bad, either. The west side stalwart, which has a six-generation family history, features treasured family recipes, from salsa with a kick to chile rellenos to killer enchiladas and everything in between. The funky indoor tables, in a mixture of add-on rooms, are intimate. But in warm weather, the comfortable creekside patio can't be beat. — DK
Heart of Jerusalem Cafe (4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554; 718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1325, heartofjerusalemcafe.com)
In the always-contentious category of Middle Eastern eats, Heart of Jerusalem has earned top reader nods for a third year running. At the Manitou Springs location, where the grill's hood allows for it, the outfit has become popular for fire-licked beef, lamb and chicken shish kabob plates, served with hummus, saffron rice, salad and pita ($8.99 to $12.99). Owner Hussein Abukhdeir says they're actually selling better than his gyro sandwiches. At both locations, the HOJ crew marinates its meats overnight, makes all sauces from scratch, and prepares food to order. The traditional, heartfelt approach shows with superior flavors. End your shawarma run with outstanding baklava from Hussein's wife, Sarina.
Future of falafel: Don't be surprised if new HOJs open in both the Fountain and metro Denver areas sometime in 2011. — MS
Arabica Café (12 S. Tejon St., 471-2444, cravearabica.com)
Owner Kamel Elwazeir's hummus — our first winner in this inaugural category — is a study in the sensory: It's thick and rich, but mildly grainy on the tongue; the ground chickpeas provide a clean foundation for the lemon, cumin and tahini to spike through the palate; and the accompanying pita triangles are soft and firm. "A lot of restaurants, they experiment with it. They put, like, green pepper, they put chilies, jalapeños, but we stick to the original recipe," says Elwazeir, a 34-year-old native of Palestine. The recipe comes courtesy of his mother, is made near-daily in batches of 20 to 40 pounds, and tastes ridiculously good when paired with the beef shawarma.
What's ahead for Arabica: "Hopefully, a second location, which we're talking about with a couple of real estate companies right now. Maybe Manitou Springs." — BC
Taste of India (4820 Flintridge Drive, 598-3428, tasteofindiasprings.com)
For the love of good gravy! At least that's the way Taste of India owner Tajinder Dhillon see things. Dhillon describes curry — an aromatic mix of onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon and more — as Indian gravy, something found in every Indian home. And he bristles at the oft-heard belief that all Indian food is spicy; in his culture, heat is only achieved through the addition of chilies. So you can get your lamb, beef or mushroom curry mild, medium or hot, or even opt for a creamy dish, like the much-revered butter chicken. Dip some fresh-prepared naan into that sauce, and you'll see why Taste of India has been converting even skeptics into regulars since 1997. — MMR
Two Little Piggies (oinkety.com)
TLP is an actually interesting offshoot of the lives of Adrienne Cragnotti and Mike Eiler. It covers the things they do: for instance, camping in Deckers, as captured in pictures. The things they think: "The bottom line is that the people who live [in Old Colorado City] really probably don't mind that large sections have become trashy and disgusting." The things they eat: "If you don't go [to Paris Crepe Euro Café] and somehow they go out of business I will probably die." It's mostly about food, says ex-Los Angeles resident Cragnotti, and teems with pictures. "It's just, like, what we do living here," the 44-year-old says. "It's a small town, but there's a lot to do. And we love downtown, and we would really like more cool people to move to Colorado Springs." The site is currently getting some 1,000 hits per day, and is a natural offshoot of Cragnotti's other venture, erotic photography company Pink Kitty Studios. — BC
Nawlins Restaurant (3317 Cinema Point, 571-9777, nawlinsbarbq.com)
His recipes are so good, Martin Allred could stick to serving straight stick-to-your-ribs Cajun dishes and probably do just fine, even in a location that's destroyed other independently owned businesses. And for as long as Nawlins is around, you can bet he'll be frying catfish and cooking fall-off-the-bone pork over pecan chips for the casual, movie-going crowd. But with the help of new general manager Paul Dehner, he's also doing something more challenging, and more exciting: finding ways to fuse Southern flavors with Colorado cuisine. Hence the almost-magical Smokebrush Porter burger and alligator green chili specials.
The New Orleans Saints in 2010-11: "We're not looking as good as we did last year," Allred says. "But we've certainly got a shot at the playoffs." — KW
Saigon Cafe (20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888, coloradosaigoncafe.com)
For the eighth year running, ever since the category was added, this café just off Tejon Street captures the category with its menu of noodle bowls, combination plates, salads and vegetarian fare. As you dine, you can't help but see Cuc Nguyen, whose husband, Paul Truong, owns the place. "Our food is healthy," she says of the fresh daily ingredients of cilantro, bean sprouts and other vegetables. "We care for the customer's health." And all the dishes have authentic roots; Nguyen moved here in 1991 from Ho Chi Minh City. — PZ
Wild Ginger (27 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 634-5025, wildgingerthai.com)
If you want to know the secret behind Wild Ginger's 10-year winning streak for Best Thai, just ask owner Khon Onexayvieng where she gets the lime leaves that lend their fresh aroma to many items on the menu.
"Actually our family grows the trees, so we just pick them from our house."
When Onexayvieng says that Wild Ginger is family-oriented, she's not talking about the T.G.I.Friday's sense of the term. For her, it means that customers are family, that the 12½-year-old restaurant should feel like home, and that the food owes nothing to the Americanized Thai cuisine we all know and loathe.
"We stick with the way we cook them and we eat them," she says of the dishes at Wild Ginger. "We" in this case refers to her family, which hails from Laos by way of Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand's Isaan region. "We never try to Americanize anything. We eat the way we eat."
The regional cuisine of Isaan is one of the things that makes Wild Ginger stand out from the rest. Although fans of pad Thai and curry will find satisfaction, aficionados will rejoice to find unusual items like laarb gai, yam and som tam on the menu. Then again, newcomers may be just as excited to try those specialties, which translate respectively as minced chicken with fresh herbs, fresh veggies tossed with lime juice in a mortar and pestle, and green papaya salad.
"We have over 90 items, and once in a while we do specials, when my customers request," Onexayvieng says, before asking, "Have you ever had khao pad sapparot?"
For the uninitiated, khao pad sapparot is a mouth-watering concoction of sweet-and-salty fried rice, served up in a hollowed-out pineapple. You might as well call Onexayvieng to order this true party food now — after all, Wild Ginger has plenty to celebrate. As of Sept. 16, the restaurant officially opened in its new home on Manitou Avenue.
"It's just been overwhelmingly joyful to see everybody," Onexayvieng says. "I've been talking about it with tears in my eyes, you know. They've been so supportive."
Wild Ginger's next 12½ years: Wild Ginger owns the building it's in now, so Onexayvieng says her idea of a great future is to stay exactly where they are. "We still want to be in that same spot and serving everybody here," she says. "I want to do that until I can't walk anymore." — Claire Swinford
Mediterranean Café (118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115, medcafe-co.com)
Eleven years ago, Michael Bergman and Pat Kennelly made three big decisions. One, to get married; two, to move to Colorado Springs from Portland, Ore.; and three, to open a Mediterranean restaurant.
Bergman was just out of culinary school. And his wife remembers that initially, a place like the Mediterranean Café in downtown Colorado Springs was a tough sell. But his and Kennelly's passion for the cuisine helped take the mystery away. A legend on the menu didn't hurt, either; baba ghanouj wasn't scary when you knew it was just roasted eggplant. Over time, Springs residents responded.
And they kept responding. The Med Café's gyro of rotisserie-broiled, seasoned lamb and beef became a favorite, garnering Indy readers' Best Gyro nod for seven years straight before the category was retired. Now, their win in the first-ever Mediterranean category speaks more to the breadth of their offerings.
Asked to talk about the strength of their business, Kennelly stresses their commitment to great ingredients — locally sourced, if possible. "We used to ship in our sumac and spices — now we get it from the Savory Spice Shop around the corner," she says with excitement.
Kennelly also praises her husband's dedication; while she, a chef by trade, has moved to the front of the house, you can still find Bergman manning the grill.
"Too many chef-owners leave the kitchen," she says, adding that with him still back there, they can keep a close eye on quality. What they say they don't keep an eye on: all the Mediterranean restaurants now scattered around downtown.
"I don't give much thought to them," Kennelly says with a chuckle. Hey, had they worried about what other people were thinking, they probably never would have opened up to begin with.— Monika Mitchell Randall
To create a French café you want to relax in, Antoni Rog's staff never sleeps. At least not all at the same time. "The restaurant is [open] from 7 to 6 p.m.," says Rog, who owns the original West Colorado Avenue shop that bakes for all four La Baguettes in town (as well as King Soopers and some other local restaurants). "At 5 [p.m.] the first baker comes in, at 8 o'clock another baker, and delivery guys are coming at 3 o'clock in the morning. And at 6:45, the girls are coming to open the restaurant." So the lights are on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except around a trio of holidays. Behind gorgeous breads, fresh, organic ingredients, and many Old World recipes that debuted with the original shop itself 26 years ago, Rog — educated as a mechanical engineer — has only fortified the La Baguette tradition. — KW
Edelweiss German Restaurant (34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220, edelweissrest.com)
It's certainly possible that some day Edelweiss German Restaurant won't triumph as our readers' first choice for this West European cuisine. It's also possible that some day I'll befriend an Oakland Raiders fan. With one as unlikely as the other, it's with much congratulating that we award the restaurant its 13th consecutive victory in this category. So what's next? "We've remodeled just about everything there is to do," says Dieter Schnakenberg. "Now we're just focusing on the quality and making sure everyone's happy." The 28-year-old co-owner says that, though the restaurant has received numerous requests to open another location, "The building would be impossible to duplicate, and the quality, too." — BC
Paravicini's Italian Bistro (2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com)
It's all about sticking to the basics where chef Franco Pisani and his partner Ted Sexton are concerned, and the philosophy has served Paravicini's well as a six-time winner. Pisani's kitchen mixes the best imported Italian ingredients with the freshest local offerings to bring tastes of traditional East Coast "Little Italy" to Colorado Springs. He notes that in addition to great pasta dishes like eggplant Parmesan or spaghetti and meatballs, seafood offerings shine as well. Given Pisani's appreciation for Old Colorado City — Paravicini's literally translates to "for the neighborhood" — locals can look forward to an upgraded look and a few tweaks to the menu. No "frou-frou and sliders," though — these guys will keep kicking it old school. — MMR
Borriello Brothers (Multiple locations, borriellobrothers.com)
When 18 inches of steaming thin-crust is laid in front of you, it becomes incumbent upon you to reflect on all the reasons why not being dead is completely awesome. And there's no shame in reason No. 1 being the existence of that molten, cheesy tour de force. Borriello Brothers pizza is such a force, in fact, that the business was our top vote-getter in this year's Best Of competition — in any category.
How does this happen?
"It's the tomato," explains general manager and New York City native Chris Mazzarelli. "The tomato is what changes everything. Some people use beefsteak tomatoes and just grind it to a pulp. We use fresh Italian plum tomatoes, and it gives it a light airy texture to it, rather than being so dense and heavy."
Before melting its way through a 550-degree oven, each pizza in the local chain's eight locations begins at the Platte Avenue store. All sauce and dough production happens in the small corner building, meaning a 6 a.m. start time for some employees who churn out the red stuff thrice daily, as well as roughly 2,000 dough balls. Looking at total pizza prep, one location will go through roughly 245 gallons of fresh-made sauce and 420 pounds of mozzarella cheese each week.
And let's not forget the friendly side effect of the Brothers' Platte location.
"We handle the kids from Palmer [High School] every day. Every day, we get about 100 kids. Slice, slice, slice, slice, slice, slice ... two-slice special — it just goes," Mazzarelli says, shaking his head. "So I'll go through about 20 pies a morning, just for this school alone. So that's roughly ... 120 slices, 140 slices."
But the 37-year-old loves the pace, and loves the pizza. In fact, he's got something he wants the people to understand about the 11-year-old business.
"It's not just, 'Hey, we're a New York-style pizza.' We do have New Yorkers that oversee how the store gets run. We have New Yorkers making the pizzas," he says. "We strive [for], 'Hey, that's not how we do this. This is how we do this,' because this is the way it's done back home.'" — Bryce Crawford
San Chang House (3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-1707)
I'm a newbie to authentic Korean dining, the kind of experience that comes with multiple side dishes and lots of kimchi. When that inexperience came through to my waitress at San Chang House, she patiently walked me through the menu, made vegetarian suggestions to please my palate, and not only served my food in record time, but showed me how to assemble my bi bim bap. No wonder why San Chang has won this award every time Indy readers have voted on it. Future plans include a remodel, and continually improved-upon recipes. — SC
Josh & John's Ice Creams (111 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 632-0299, joshandjohns.com)
That guy in the Good Humor truck has got to be pretty pissed at Josh & John's, who've monopolized this category every year since 1994. Then again, turnabout is fair play: In a quiescently frozen world rife with Good Humor and Baskin-Robbins, Josh & John's homespun approach rightfully rises to the top. Manager Todd Maher attributes that to the use of exclusively natural ingredients, which are combined in the store and slow churned in "turn-of-the-20th-century" equipment. Plus, there are those adventurous special flavors like the recent maple bacon ice cream. "Bacon is kind of a polarizing flavor," admits Maher. "You either love it or hate it."
Flavor that's not on the radar: "Probably wasabi." — BF
Uchenna (2501 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5070, uchennalive.com)
The central reason Uchenna deserves applause is that the outfit has brought our city its first authentic Ethiopian restaurant. Any entirely new cuisine on our scene excites, but Uchenna excels too, with food endowed by the passion of owner Maya Hetman. The Ethiopia native takes her time cooking family recipes from scratch, with 70 percent organic ingredients and intoxicating spices. Her doro wat — chicken lathered in a red wine and butter sauce that's granted a mole-like texture and flavor from undisclosed hot spices, garlic, ginger and onions — is the type of dish that alone could make the eatery famous. Scoop a variety of vibrant, flavorful items, including lentil, chickpea, lamb and beef dishes, with gluten-free, teff-flour injera (a stretchy, thin bread of sorts) and save room for excellent Mediterranean pastries like baklava. Uchenna truly offers an unparalleled eating experience, which we're overjoyed is now available in Colorado Springs. — MS
Poor Richard's (3241/2 N. Tejon St., 632-7721, poorrichards.biz)
Greta Garbo may have wanted to be alone, but most people are still a little uncomfortable with the idea, especially when it comes to dining in public places. It's no surprise then that you picked Poor Richard's downtown emporium as their solo-dining choice. There are six dining areas, if you count the patios, and a casual atmosphere conducive to reading, checking e-mail, or just communing with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. "We have lots of nooks and crannies," says proprietor Richard Skorman. "And then we don't have table service, so people can get up and walk around and help themselves. I think there's a feeling that people are welcome to stay as long as they want." Skorman says he's been noticing a big upward shift in the number of people who come in accompanied by just their laptops and smartphones. But for those who don't come with their own props, there are plenty to be found in the adjacent stores. "You can surround yourself with books and eat," says Skorman. "Or if people want to dine and go play with toys, they're welcome to." — BF
Lake Terrace Dining Room at The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., 634-7711, broadmoor.com)
Though it's nestled in The Broadmoor Hotel and overlooks the lake that mirrors majestic Cheyenne Mountain, the Lake Terrace Dining Room doesn't rest on location alone. A small army of culinary and front-of-house staff work with passion and spirit to create Sunday's cascade of culinary creations. Manager Susan Krokidis notes they pay close attention to both people and food. Wait staff focuses on "table touching" — seeing that every guest is satisfied — while the culinary team turns its talents to "action stations," meaning you'll never find pancakes and French toast just stacked and sadly abandoned. — MMR
Omelette Parlor (900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770, co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com)
This is a place where eggs aren't just eggs, and green chile isn't just green chile. They're elements of masterpieces that beg to be ordered again and again. From huevos rancheros — which can help the restaurant move up to 10 gallons of green chile in a day— to melt-in-your-mouth Belgian waffles to incredibly fluffy and light omelettes, savory food has made this 40-year-old restaurant a perennial favorite among Indy readers since 1996. Hefty portions, a sunny green and yellow motif, homey worn wooden floors and benches, and wait staff who remember your name add to the appeal. "We really appreciate the community support for what we're doing," general manager Steve Abeyta says. "We love our customers." — DK
2000 Wok (115 E. Fillmore St., 633-6900)
You don't need me to tell you how awesome a deal $1.75 per item is, but just in case, I will. It's awesome. Like, drive-your-giant-black-SUV-through-a-window-in-the-wee-hours-of-a-Saturday-morning-to-get-to-it awesome. That's what someone did last year, as reported by KKTV. And hell, I'd do it too — have you ever been to 2000 Wok? Your "item" can be a giant scoop of fried rice or lo mein, or beef and broccoli, or my personal favorite: spicy chicken with onions and pineapple, subsequently drenched in Sriracha. Mother of God, but that's the way to go. (Speaking of, be sure to get it to-go — the portions are bigger.) And yeah, the traffic on East Fillmore Street sucks, and a revamped Taco Bell doesn't exactly scream "quality. Who cares? Didn't you hear me? $1.75 per item! — BC
Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com)
Located in the historic Cheyenne Building built in 1901, this multi-story watering hole was voted best in this category for the third consecutive year. It's good for tourists, because it's on the National Register of Historic Places and it makes a perfect lunch spot after a day of downtown shopping, or a place to have a cocktail between day and evening activities. The third-floor banquet hall boasts divine views, and you can choose from 13 pool tables on the second floor. Manager Heather Robinson says tourists gravitate there because it's one of a kind. "You won't see anything like it in town," she says, adding the brews are "awesome" and the menu is tasty but reasonably priced. — PZ
La Creperie Bistro (204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984)
Imagine that ... in a year when four direct competitors move into town — two within a block away — long-standing La Creperie still earns your vote as best spot for crêpes. Apparently, our thin-pancake-loving locals are loyal, and 30-plus years in the business aren't easily forgotten. We're not really sure why the crêpe craze hit us so hard at this very moment in time, but La Creperie obviously still stands out with its renditions of both sweet and savory crêpes. Look for around 15 savory options including classic French flavors like a beef bourguignon, and five or so sweet choices like a Suzette. — MS
Pikes Perk Coffee & Tea Café (14 S. Tejon St., 635-1600; 5965 N. Academy Blvd., 522-1432; Colorado Springs Airport, pikesperkcoffee.com)
Though all three Pikes Perks are individually owned, they share a common easy atmosphere that's endlessly attractive to business folks, students and, apparently, first-daters. It's a phenomenon that South Tejon Street owners Don and Kay Heaberlin have definitely come across. "We'll hear, as you're walking by, some kind of funny questions, or something, and you're like, 'OK, those are [Dating] 101 things,'" Don says, laughing. But besides considering Pikes Perk the city's prime spot for awkward moments, our readers dig on the freshly made sandwiches and soups, not to mention coffee products, which Heaberlin supports by trotting his baristas around the country to destinations like the Coffee Fest Latte Art Championships, or the World Tea Expo.
in the next two years: "We're going to try to open up another one." — BC
Little London Cake Shoppe (620 S. 25th St., 475-2340, littlelondoncakes.com)
The Little London Cake Shoppe takes the cake again. While the category is only two years old, the bakery has been "creating art out of cake" for 28 years. So it's not that it's needed any help — but the shop has gotten some from shows like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. "When I first started, I did a lot of writing, roses and baby booties," says owner Jane Vasterling. "Now everyone's getting personalized cakes." Vasterling came from England to the U.S. as a registered nurse, but couldn't practice until she took the American board exams. Meanwhile, she started washing dishes and gathered enough business acumen to create Little London. Now she particularly loves sculpting, even when someone asks her to create an alien baby emerging from a woman's pregnant stomach.
Most popular item next year: "Cupcakes, especially the wedding cake made of cupcakes." — LB
The Couture Cupcake Co. (4705 N. Academy Blvd., 229-2613; 3347 Cinema Point, 266-4597, springscupcakes.com)
Couture Cupcakes, which opened a year ago this month, has made the cupcake an art form. See: cupcakes with pearls, cupcakes with flowers, cupcakes with cherries on top, cupcake pyramids, cupcakes with sprinkles, and cupcakes adorned for any holiday you can imagine. But underneath, you could see any one of these flavors: strawberry cheesecake, tiramisu, cherry, mango, almond poppy seed, key lime, spiced cider, s'mores, vanilla raspberry, chocolate peanut butter. You get the idea. It all began with owner Joni McCoy making bridal towers and blossomed into 100-hour work weeks. This year, the company joined Facebook and built a following of 2,900 fans within six months.
The future, frosted: Mobile cupcakes. McCoy hopes within six months to announce locations that'll make the treats accessible to people across the city. — PZ
Montague's Parlour (1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672, montaguesparlour.com)
British Admiral Montagu wasn't exactly the host of the Boston Tea Party, but he was the man ordered to place armed ships at the mouth of Boston Harbor. I suppose that makes him more of a bouncer instead. Fortunately for us, Montague's Parlour has plenty of tea (more than 80 varieties) and a similar name, but no security detail at the door. And, while its South Tejon Street location is a little outside the downtown bustle, the cozy tea-and-treat establishment is worth the short detour. Packed full of unmatched, overstuffed wingback chairs surrounding closely spaced tables, the shop offers an intimate and informal friendliness that invites you to return. Whether you come for the tea, espresso, fresh-baked coffee cake, muffins and sweets, or breakfast and lunch entrées, you're sure to find that Montague's staff welcomes you. — JT
Motif (2432 W. Cucharras St., 635-5635, motifwest.com)
As a person who used to put down six hamburgers and a large french fry for lunch while working at McDonald's as a teenager, I'm well acquainted with the allure of ground beef, even in assembly-line form. There's just something about a cow's mashed-up by-products that calls to my red-blooded Americanness. So it was with much delight — and no small amount of drool — that I found Motif's Kobe beef sliders and shoestring potatoes hanging out on the west side. Chef Andrew Darrigan makes 2-inch-thick meat medallions and drizzles them with whipped Port-Salut cheese, oven-roasted tomato and backyard arugula, all on a French Brioche roll. Grab an order of the Manchego-cheese-topped fries, and go burn down your local fast food joint — they've been keeping these flavors from you your whole life. Bastards. — BC
Jun Japanese Restaurant (1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368; 3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690, junjapanese.com)
Sushi has become so mainstream, most supermarkets now employ sushi chefs to churn out product. But as evidenced by 15 years of wins, Colorado Springs only has eyes for Jun. Owner Jun Aizu, humbly attributes his success to a staff that's shared his philosophy of "cooking from the heart." Some, in fact, have basically made it their lives; manager Roy McCartney has been with Jun for 20-plus years. Now with two restaurants, Aizu will concede to thinking about a third location somewhere down the line. But he shudders a bit at the thought, too. "I'm not trying to be a millionaire," he says. "If I can provide good food and make a decent living, I'm fine." Swoon! — MMR
Marigold Café and Bakery (4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776, marigoldcoloradosprings.com)
While Marigold no longer serves breakfast, people still wait outside the door for it to open; they want first crack at assistant pastry chef Heather Hart's heavenly confections. Of course, if you come later in the day, a few croissants and the like probably will remain, and there'll be other treasures to enjoy, too; in the new wine bar, whites and reds up the French flair behind a sleek counter and walls tiled in a red-tone mosaic. Also, rows of decadent desserts — comprising a buffet of difficult decisions — chill and await your attention. The other-worldly Frasier, an airy take on strawberry shortcake with whole fresh strawberries, light cake and melt-in-your-mouth Bavarian cream, left me no room for (and no interest in) lunch. — BA
Chain championsCongratulations to these big businesses that locals love:
Chili's (Multiple locations, chilis.com)
Chipotle Mexican Grill (Multiple locations, chipotle.com)
Golden Corral (1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870; 5410 E. Woodmen Road, 260-9369)
Keva Juice (Multiple locations, kevajuice.com)
P.F. Chang's China Bistro (1725 Briargate Pkwy., 593-8580, pfchangs.com)
Panera Bread (Multiple locations, panerabread.com)
Papa Murphy's Pizza (Multiple locations, papamurphys.com)
Pizza Hut (Multiple locations, pizzahut.com)
Red Lobster (4925 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9494; 3510 New Center Point, 596-9057, redlobster.com)
Red Robin (1410 Jamboree Drive, 598-2473; 2230 Southgate Road, 447-8810; 3770 Bloomington St., 622-8157, redrobin.com)
Souper Salad (3636 Citadel Drive, 597-6124; 808 Garden of the Gods Road, 277-0687; 1434 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 533-0614, soupersalad.com)
Starbucks (Multiple locations, starbucks.com)
Buffalo Wild Wings (7425 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9464, buffalowildwings.com)
Jason's Deli (7455 N. Academy Blvd., 302-0234, jasonsdeli.com)