Favorite

Haute Cuisine: First-Place Winners 

New Restaurant (since July 1, 2006)
Tapas

click to enlarge Nosh
  • Nosh

Nosh

121 S. Tejon St., #100, 634-NOSH (6674)

nosh121.com Although the small plate/tapas trend has lost steam in some corners, Nosh proves it's still a great way to eat when done right. As James Eaves from the kitchen says, good small plates focus on vivid flavors that take you on a short trip to somewhere interesting. Racking up frequent Nosh-er miles is easy, with choices like tempura fried scallops, smoked trout and seared lamb loin offering a round-the-world excursion. Lunch at Nosh is also a hit: An excellent buffalo burger leads an extensive list of $7 entrees. With its sprawling, sunny patio, delicious white sangria ($2.50) and unbeatable happy hour, Nosh will contend for Best Of hardware for years to come. DTR

Restaurant for Carnivores

MacKenzie's Chop House

128 S. Tejon St., 635-3536

mackenzieschophouse.com

The subterranean coolness of MacKenzie's pervades. General manager Mark Biondo attributes that coolness to continuous evolution, from menu specials to martini recipes. But we're talking meat. While the chophouse isn't at a loss for hot, cave-like masculinity, there's no forgetting that women are carnivores, too. The delicate beef carpaccio with a schmear of elephant garlic on crustini is killer. If you like your meat with a little heat, the filet mignon and the king of all marbled meat the Porterhouse prove that at MacKenzie's, going down has its rewards. MMR

Innovative Menu

Restaurant Wine List

click to enlarge The Blue Star - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

The Blue Star

1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086

thebluestar.net

"It's a big world," says executive chef James Davis in explaining The Blue Star's innovative, ever-changing menu. Building on classic French techniques and using local ingredients whenever possible, Davis, chef de cuisine Jason Miller and others labor tirelessly "to keep raising the bar." Pressure to perform comes from without, as The Blue Star prepares to host its first James Beard dinners, and from within, where the 800-plus-bottle cellar drives the chefs to make "some food to back it up." Each of the kitchen's surprising creations is a love-match in waiting with several different wines from the steel-bound list. Bottles from around the world offer limitless possibilities, making experimentation especially fun on Sundays, when they sell for half price. DTR

Gyros

click to enlarge Mediterranean Caf - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Mediterranean Caf

118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115

medcafe-co.com

With some gyro meat, the less you know, the better. That's not the case at the Med Caf, which serves a high-quality blend of beef and lamb, spiced to perfection. Add a fresh pita and the caf's homemade tzatziki sauce, and you've got a recipe for bliss. No wonder the Med has dominated the gyro category since it was created five years ago. Puzzled about a name, or having pronunciation problems? Co-owner Michael Bergman says his workers always like to help with Greek-food education. AL

Steakhouse

Texas Roadhouse

595 S. Eighth St., 473-9711

3120 N. Powers Blvd., 638-8050

texasroadhouse.com

If you're of the "I like animals but I like eatin' 'em more" crowd, there's no better place than Texas Roadhouse. The steaks are individually cut, weighed and examined every single day. Managers at each store have a 1-hour taste-and-temp quality-check policy, where they have everything on the menu prepared and tasted before opening. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Kitchen manager James Andros excitedly describes the Meat Cutter Olympics, held every year with company cutters from around the country competing to see who slices it best. Now that's commitment. TT

Fine Dining

click to enlarge Penrose Room - PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE PENROSE ROOM
  • Photo provided by the Penrose Room
  • Penrose Room

Penrose Room

1 Lake Ave., 577-5773

broadmoor.com/penrose-room.php

Don't be that guy who has to borrow the Broadmoor-logo blazer because you forgot the Penrose Room requires a jacket. That's the kind of classy, contemporary, French-flavored establishment it is, under the competent knife of chef de cuisine Bertrand Bouquin. The Penrose offers several prix fixe options (three, four or seven courses with wine pairings), as well as the always-insightful and creative chef's table (where you're at his mercy). What's more: "We have a formal, yet fun, environment with panoramic views of the city and mountains from any table," says matre d' Duane Thompson. All that on top of an extensive wine list, entertainment, dancing and attentive, knowledgeable service. Fine dining, indeed. MS

Take-Out

Chipotle

Multiple locations

chipotle.com

Americans want food that's fast, but also healthy and hip, says Chipotle founder Steve Ells in his "manifesto." That's why his restaurants offer burritos and tacos made with ingredients like fresh guacamole, naturally raised meats, rBGH-free sour cream and organic beans. They've got fast covered, too. If you order online or by fax, the food will be waiting when you get there. And when in comes to hip, just check out the Web site, where you get Ells in his beatnik, black turtleneck and "foil shizzle" merchandise. With the time you save eating take-out, you can enjoy avocados ripening via Web cam, pointless pen-tapping and Chipotle jingles with lyrics like "Moo-moo, moo-moo-moo, cow!" Enjoy! JT

Caf

Wine Bar Rico's at Poor Richard's

322 N. Tejon St., 630-7723

poorrichardswebsite.com

Bookishly sexy Rico's has made its mark on downtown. The soothing colors, comfortable seating and peaceful vibe make you want to settle in. And that's fine with manager Ronda Snyder. "There are people that will open with me and still be here when I leave at 4," she says. The loose teas, espresso and iced tea bar will keep you up, while the competent wine list and the tapas and cheese menu will bring you down. Part of the Poor Richard's complex, Rico's is the perfect place to read or write the next great American novel. MMR

Margaritas

The Loop

965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9344

theloopatmanitou.com

One of the best things about being a writer is doing things in the name of research. So a trip to The Loop to sample its famed margarita was inevitable. With aliases like "Black Orchid" and "Horni Grandma," these oversized concoctions have a way of sneaking up on even the most seasoned of drinkers. Add a friendly staff and yummy chips and salsa, and you've got an evening to remember. Or forget. It's your call. ALL

Middle Eastern

Caspian Caf

4375 Sinton Road, 528-1155

caspiancafe.com

"Our big thing is fresh flavors to the plate," says Caspian Caf chef Daniel White. "Most of our dishes are authentic ... not an interpretation. These are dishes from Morocco, Greece, Spain, Lebanon, Italy ... we want people to taste the saffron, spice, fruit infusions, mint, basil." This is White and crew's second year running to win this category, which he attributes also to Caspian's warm atmosphere and dcor, beyond its food. "You walk in the door and Moe [Sharifi, owner] will kiss you on the forehead ..." (Hey, get into it it's a beautiful, cultural thing.) As for the one-time chain-restaurant space: "We exorcized Denny's," says White. Apparently, they blessed the building in the process. MS

Tacqueria

Monica's Taco Shop

30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996

5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022

Although the proliferation of tacquerias means that the competition in this category gets tougher each year, Monica's remains dear to readers' hearts. With enough choices to make a novice's head spin, the big menu keeps everyone happy. Monica's doesn't skimp on the portions, either, loading grill-fresh meat and fried fish into tacos, burritos and tortas. Chunky carne asada (grilled steak), nicely crisped carnitas (slowly cooked pork that's been diced and griddled), and smoky red salsa keep regulars coming back for more. But everyone should try at least one taco de cabeza. Literally translated as "head," cabeza at Monica's means rich and tender beef cheeks, cut into little cubes of heaven. Trust me, it's fantastic. DT

Chips and Salsa

Salsa Brava

Fresh Mexican Grill

802 Village Center Drive, 266-9244

9420 Briar Village Point, 955-6650

salsabravaonline.com

According to managers Sarah Lewis and Deborah Agustin at the Rockrimmon location, Salsa Brava chops through about 2,000 pounds of tomatoes each week to create the four types of salsa served at both its restaurants. Three of those are available with warm chips complimentary with your meal: a slightly spicy, roasted, blackened tomato; a mild pico de gallo; and a sweet and quite spicy pineapple habaero. Who doesn't love a good freebie? But if that's not enough, the salsas are available for purchase by the half-pint and pint. MS

Green Chili

King's Chef Diner

110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135

kingschefdiner.com

The only things sharper than the green chili at King's Chef are the tongues on owner Gary Geiser, cooks Taco and Pickles, and counterwomen Sue and Kate. They'll abuse your ears while the chili abuses your body, and oh, the pleasurable pain. Green and slightly bumpy, this is a culinary triumph, a core of savory heat tantalizingly framed by smoke and a hint of sweetness. King's Chef acolytes suck down nearly 150 quarts of it a week. Virgins may want to ask for it on the side, but loyal subjects (like me) crave it slathered over "The Thing" (a monstrous breakfast of toast, potatoes, meat, eggs and cheese), covering a cheeseburger, or topping crispy, fresh-cut fries. Long live the King! DTR

click to enlarge Louie's Pizza - PHOTO BY JON KELLEY

Tex-Mex

On the Border

7695 N. Academy Blvd., 532-0062

2190 Southgate Road, 635-0100

5832 Barnes Road, 597-0020

ontheborder.com

It may be the snappy service, the high-energy crowd or the vast and varied menu that earns On the Border top pick. But it's best-known for its fajitas and margaritas; regarding the latter, general manager Chris Vann from the North Academy Boulevard location says the secret to the drink is an unduplicated "proprietary mix." As for the former, try the smothered steak or the Ultimate, both of which come loaded with flavorful meats and crisp veggies. The chocolate brownie sundae is a meal in itself, with chocolate so rich it almost distracts from the vanilla ice cream piled on top, drizzled with caramel and even more chocolate. This is classic Mexican comfort food. LLL

Patio Dining

Bar for a Margarita

click to enlarge The Loop - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

Jos Muldoon's

222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311

josemuldoons.com

Tacos, a $2.50 "grande hour" margarita, and lounging under the stars. For 30-plus years, Jos Muldoon's has brought a little of Mexico to Colorado Springs. This year, Muldoon's got even better. Dining room manager Mike Butler says the restaurant's renovation transformed its "grungy Mexican cantina look" into a "clean, crisp Southwestern theme." Improvements included sprucing up the patio to allow for cold-weather dining, and better accommodations for smokers. One thing that hasn't changed is the popular house margarita, still made with Sauza Silver tequila, triple sec, lime juice and sweet and sour. JAS

Bagels

Olde World Bagel & Deli

1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 527-9651

6628 Delmonico Drive, Suite A, 264-1105

oldeworldbagel.com

Bagels make the world go round. Add a little cream cheese to a perfectly toasted whole-grain bagel and, voila, mouths water. At least, that's the way it goes at Olde World Bagel & Deli. Founded in 1997 as a franchise of Chesapeake Bagels, Olde World became its own local operation in 2000. Fresh products are the crew's pride and joy, and the in-house bakery keeps everyone at the top of their games. But there's much more than just bagels at Olde World's two locations. A full menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and beverages guarantees a customer will never leave with an empty belly. KA

Breakfast

click to enlarge Omelette Parlor - PHOTO BY SEAN CAYTON

Omelette Parlor

900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770

co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com

Got great omelettes? Then go for it, and name your place after them. The Omelette Parlor is a Colorado Springs mainstay that's also a Best Of mainstay. The building is intriguing, built as a retirement home in 1893 by well-known movie star Ruth Etting and her husband. Owner Pat Hause believes his customers love his place "because of the history, the food and the location." And don't forget the staff's sense of humor the menu features handy "table etiquette" rules, such as "the knife should never be used to carry food to the mouth," and boasts entres with clever names that only locals will get: "No Meadow Muffins Here," and "The Black Forest." DA

Breakfast Sandwich

Einstein Bros. Bagel

6988 N. Academy Blvd., 265-8610

2848 N. Powers Blvd., 573-7606

4325 Centennial Blvd., 548-8408

einsteinbros.com

Einstein Brothers' breakfast sandwiches are ideal for breakfast leisure or breakfast on the run. The menu isn't extensive, but the combinations for each bagel omelette sandwich and breakfast panini can be customized to every palate. Academy Boulevard location manager Bill Haubert: "They're filling, they're very quick to make, and they're addictive. I eat them all the time." And with Einstein's prices, you don't need an employee discount to enjoy them. They all average around $5. EA

Pancakes

IHOP

2290 Southgate Road, 635-0777

512 N. Chelton Road, 632-5098

8065 Hwy. 83, 264-0469

ihop.com

Is it the "international" allure, the familiarity of a "house," or just fluffy stacks of griddle-cooked joy that keep drawing us back to IHOP? Juan Gonzalez, manager of the city's Chelton Road branch, says it's door No. 3. "To get the perfect pancake, you need the perfect batter," Gonzalez says. At IHOP, cooks turn out those batters in flavors ranging from buttermilk and corn to fruit and chocolate chip. They pour those batters on griddles set at 350 degrees the perfect temperature, Gonzalez suggests, to lead you to pancake nirvana. AL

click to enlarge Marigold Caf and Bakery - PHOTO BY JON KELLEY

Bakery

Marigold Caf and Bakery

4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776

Cakes, tarts, pies, cookies, breads. As far as I'm concerned, anything with sugar and loaded with carbs rocks. And the best treats in town can be found at Marigold Caf and Bakery, where they're made in-house and lip-smacking good. Owner Elaine Chavanon says specialties at her 15-year-old business include the chocolate mousse cake and the tarts, but "everything sells well." Drop by just for the sweets or plan to chow down first at the caf. Just remember, if you eat yourself silly, you should still walk out without some baked goodness in a bag for later. KA

Writers' Pick: Mountain Pit Stop

Donut Mill

310 E. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, 687-9793

Whether tempting my fate at Cripple Creek's low-stakes tables or hot-tubbing and hot-toddying up the pass, I always stop at the Donut Mill. No trip is complete without a plate of biscuits and gravy. Or, if that's not your style, try a cinnamon roll the size of your head. MMR

Sunday Brunch

Cheyenne Mountain Conference Resort

3225 Broadmoor Valley Road, 538-4000

cheyennemountain.com

Fresh fruit. Shellfish on ice. Warm breakfast entres. Salad bar. Lunch entres. Omelette station. Carving station. Pasta station. Dessert bar. Chafing dish loaded with bacon. Free-flowing juice, champagne and mimosas. Commanding south-southeasterly views, framed by a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Is it a dream? No, it's Sunday brunch at the Cheyenne Mountain Conference resort, a veritable Disneyland for the gluttonous. All you can eat, all you can drink, a Belgian waffle loaded with whipped cream and berries, and a spectacular view? No wonder readers love it. DTR

Writers' Pick: Answer to "Where's the Beef?"

Ranch Foods Direct

2901 N. El Paso St., 473-2306

ranchfoodsdirect.com

Ranch Foods Direct all-natural beef keeps popping up in more restaurants. And this year marked the addition of its home-delivery option, making it yet easier to watch what you eat. Find a complete list of local eateries that use Ranch Foods meats on the company's Web site. KA

Buffet

Golden Corral

1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870

5410 E. Woodmen Road, 260-9369

goldencorral.com

Getting the kids to eat their veggies is easier when they come in on the cob, in the casserole, steamed, creamed or glazed. But that's only part of the appeal at Golden Corral, where a staggering range of delights awaits your boundless, all-you-can-eat plate. Think comfort food, says Dan Schuler, general manager of the Waynoka Road restaurant: steaks, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. And for the unconventional and sweet-toothed, there's no problem starting with the Corral's range of pies, puddings and cakes. Ladies and gentlemen, consider wearing loose pants. AL

click to enlarge Amanda's Fonda - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

Enchiladas

Mexican

Amanda's Fonda

3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975

Why does Amanda's Fonda win the Mexican category year in and year out as in seven of the last eight years? It's simple, really. The kitchen follows Amanda's family recipes to the letter, every single day. That's what Amanda insisted upon when the restaurant opened 10 years ago. That this rigid approach works is no surprise, either the family's been in the business for five generations and shows no sign of losing its touch. Beyond the bold flavors, friendly service and upbeat atmosphere, tasty margaritas and healthy portions keep the people coming back for more. Savor the creamy spinach and mushroom enchiladas, or indulge in my personal favorite, pollo borracho. You can't be too drunk to taste that chicken it's delicious. DTR

Chicken Wings

Wild Wings `n Things

Multiple locations

wildwingsnthings.com

Some like it hot. Others like it tangy. And Super Bowl Sunday after Super Bowl Sunday, restaurateurs have told wing-lovers the same thing: You can't please everybody. What a bunch of BS. The Colorado chain Wild Wings `n Things beat out the competition this year by promoting wings from mere appetizer to main course. Their restaurants give folks ice-cream-parlor-style variety in chicken-wing flavors. Kamikaze-Extreme Hot and Chili Lime are just two of the chain's nine offerings. You can also order boneless wings. CEO Mike Morris says sandwiches, salads and kids' meals have boosted business. The dancing "Chicken Man" outside of the restaurants hasn't hurt anything, either. "He's kind of an ambassador of goodwill," Morris says. JAS

click to enlarge Wild Wings 'n Things - PHOTO BY JON KELLEY

Chinese

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

1725 Briargate Pkwy., 593-8580

pfchangs.com

It's all about the Mongolian beef. That's a favorite of diners at Colorado Springs' P.F. Chang's. The restaurant, one of seven in Colorado, features "chefs that bring traditional Chinese cooking methods," says Mike Gall, operating partner. "We combine that with fresh ingredients, quality food and a pleasant atmosphere." Diners respond to the restaurant's careful balancing of fan foods (rice, noodles, grains and dumplings) and t'sai foods (vegetables, meat, poultry and seafood). And if you really get inspired, you can go home and whip up a P.F. Chang's recipe for yourself. (Just look on the company's Web site.) DA Writers Pick Reason to Eat a Funnel Cake Before 8 a.m. Colorado Balloon Classic balloonclassic.com On a chilly fall morning, leave it to a big balloon filled with air to make you comfortable feasting on an airy batter, deep-fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Don't fried foods keep you warm? That's a scientific fact, right? MMR

Noodles & Company

1812 Southgate Road, 385-0800

7234 N. Academy Blvd., 264-0022

5844 Barnes Road, 597-4950

noodles.com

OK, so maybe it's not fair to ask a leading question: "Hey, who makes the best noodle bowl?" Answer: "Uhhh ... ummm ... Noodles?" It's a little like asking, "Who makes the best Taco Bell?" But, despite the name advantage, I think I know why readers picked this place. With 14 noodle dishes on the menu, there's bound to be one that you adore. I just wish I knew which one. I ask the counter girl at the Southgate store, and she says the mac and cheese is a customer fave. Personally, I like the pad Thai. Oh, and the whole grain Tuscan fettuccine. And then, there's the Indonesian peanut saut. (You get the picture.) Maybe next year we should ask, "Who prints the best independent newspaper?" JT

Local Pizza

Louie's Pizza

Multiple locations

louies-pizza.com

People flock to Louie's, where Louie Sciarrotta and family have been tossing and baking fresh pizza pies for 23 years. "We make everything fresh daily," says Louie's son, Mike Sciarrotta. The human touch produces a poofy crust, an herb-spiked sauce and a pie piled high with cheese a soft and squishy landing area for your teeth as they chop through abundant toppings. The Sciarrottas also tend to the flock that tends to them, providing countless pizzas to local schools, community organizations and churches. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and YMCA groups often tour the kitchens, and the little ones learn early to be pizzaiolos of the future. DTR

click to enlarge Ruby's Diner - PHOTO BY JOHNNIE ENGER

Diner

Ruby's Diner

3020 New Center Point, 380-7829

rubys.com

Ruby's Diner is a national chain, but the only place you'll be able to enjoy its quality food in our state is right here in Colorado Springs. Take that, Denver! The menu consists of solid standard diner fare, but also offers a surprisingly wide variety of options for people who are trying to avoid getting a John Goodman-sized gut. The nostalgic diner motif, complete with open kitchen, stand-alone bar and straight-out-of-1943-dressed staff, make for a memorable experience. TT

Cheeseburger

Conway's Red Top

Multiple locations

conwaysredtop.com

Ralph Brown answers his phone and asks if I can call back. I figure the Conway's Red Top operations manager is in a meeting, perhaps jawing with a food purveyor. Instead, he says something like, "I'm working the grill right now can you give me 15 minutes?" Brown's given 27 years to the local institution and its customers; I can do 15 minutes. In a perfect world, I'd do that time with a juicy Red Top burger, topped with Velveeta cheese. That cheese is the secret, Brown later explains. And then there are fresh-baked buns and fresh-ground meat and ... ambience? "It's a building with four walls, a couple chairs," Brown says. "Real simple. It feels like a family restaurant. That's my thing." KW

Japanese

Sushi

Jun Japanese Restaurant

1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368

3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690

Apparently size and speed do matter ... in sushi-making. Jun has swept the categories of Japanese food and sushi for 11 straight years. The large pieces and the speed at which chefs serve their customers are two reasons why Roy McCartney, manager and chef for Jun on Dublin Boulevard, believes it's stayed on top. "We sell out of our fish every day," McCartney says. Jun's specialty rolls are quite popular, but if a customer wants to walk on the wild side, McCartney says, "We don't have a problem making something up." MMR

Restaurant for Herbivores

Adam's Mountain Caf

934 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430

adamsmountain.com

What impact did Adam's Mountain Caf's move to the just-renovated Manitou Spa Building have on its Best Of chances? It made a sure thing surer. Having claimed this trophy every time it's been offered, Adam's got more votes this year than any other entity in any category. The opportunity to enjoy quality ingredients fashioned into beloved standbys like sherry cream potatoes, harvest crepes and Senegalese vegetables in the airy new digs seems to have inspired even more readers than usual. At 23 years old and counting, this enduring favorite has found a healthy dose of youthful exuberance in its sexy space. DTR

click to enlarge Briar Mart - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

Ethnic Market

Briar Mart Mediterranean Market & Caf

1843 Briargate Blvd., 528-6869

Pickled veggies, meat skewers, black olives, feta cheese, phyllo dough, couscous, gyro if you please. I have no idea why Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" comes to mind when walking through Briar Mart Mediterranean Market & Caf. Maybe it's the eye-popping cornucopia of exotic Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Eastern European imported foods. The caf offers a Greek menu of gyros, hummus, kabobs and salads. When asked about Briar Mart's success, manager Shawn Sharifi says, "We listen to our customers they tell us what they want." Sharifi says many customer suggestions, such as European chocolate, have become big sellers. MMR

Greek

Jake and Telly's Greek Cuisine

2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406

jakeandtellys.com

click to enlarge Jake and Telly's - PHOTO BY JONNIE ENGER
  • Photo by Jonnie Enger
  • Jake and Telly's

Few restaurants survive 10 years; fewer still improve in year 11. Yet that's exactly what's happening at Jake and Telly's, where the two boys who started the business with their father at ages 23 and 21, respectively, have grown into maturity along with their restaurant. "Fresh ingredients, a fun atmosphere, and the exciting, award-winning wine list" (not to mention Jake's contagious enthusiasm) make Jake and Telly's a standout. So does chef Jeremy Engle's work behind the stove. He's reinvigorated mainstays like lamb girovetzi and souvlaki, added an ever-changing list of weekend specials, and delivered master performances with monthly multi-course wine dinners. He'd better be sharp; otherwise, Rippledina Bakery's delicious handmade baklava will surely steal the show. DTR

Barbecue

Front Range Barbeque

2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596

4935 Templeton Gap Road, 598-8895

coloradoeats.com/frbbq

The dry rub used on pork and brisket at Front Range Barbeque is a recipe from owner Brian Fortinberry's mom. Fortinberry's brother invented one of the sauces. These and other family touches harkening back to traditional barbecue in the South add to the family atmosphere at Fortinberry's two restaurants. Fortinberry says he learned to cook while hanging out in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. Opening Front Range came as something of a public service, after he realized some Coloradans thought a grill laden with burgers and brats counted as barbecue. Regular live music at the Colorado Avenue location makes dining at Front Range extra fun. And with pecan pie and apple crunch on the menu, who needs more reasons to celebrate? AL

click to enlarge Front Range Barbeque - PHOTO BY SEAN CAYTON

Place for Cajun Food

Culpepper's Louisiana Kitchen

8810 N. Union Blvd., 282-8479

culpeppers.net

"We do one thing and we do it right," says Ethan Anderson, Culpepper's manager. Focusing on heart-stopping fried and unfried Cajun plates, this Louisiana family-owned business brings Mardi Gras to town with live Zydeco Mondays, hurricane cocktails and communal crawfish and blue crab boils in June and July. "There is a definite technique to cracking blue crab," Anderson says, adding that he looks forward to educating locals. An unrelated quick tip: Blackened doesn't mean burnt. The homey vibe, great patio views and the taste of the low country are teaching locals, laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll). MMR

click to enlarge Culpepper's Louisiana Kitchen - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

Local or Regional Restaurant Chain

Il Vicino

11 S. Tejon St., 475-9224

ilvicino.com

Maybe it's the idea of a wood-oven pizza with caramelized onions or artichoke hearts or fresh oregano. Or maybe the option of grilled eggplant. Or the microbrews. OK, it's all of that and more that faithful diners love at Il Vicino. A regional chain based in New Mexico, it has become a popular stop on the Tejon Street crawl on weekends, when a line snakes out the door. What's the draw? We think it's the allure of the fiery oven, the strong flavors and unique toppings and the way they pair up with the beers. General manager Charlie DeLauder says the restaurant's quick and casual style "is as close to authentic Italian service as you can find." DA

click to enlarge Il Vicino - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Writers' Pick: Alternative to Crack

Zoneberry at Coffee & Tea Zone

25 N. Tejon St., 632-3887

Sure, this frozen yogurt fad has only been around a few months in the Springs, but already, many have been ensnared by its slightly sweet, yummy addictiveness. Modeled after the Hollywood-born Pinkberry, aka "Crackberry," Coffee & Tea Zone's "Zoneberry" will haunt you at odd hours, prompting trips downtown to try new toppings. And it's healthier than most other desserts out there, which assuages the guilt of frequent consumption. So smatter your mainline with a smile. MS

Seafood Restaurant

Red Lobster

275 S. Academy Blvd., 591-0771

4925 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9494

redlobster.com

Living in Colorado is a trade-off. Trout? We can catch our own. Fresh shrimp and lobster? Good luck with that. Enter Red Lobster, where the shrimp is endless, the Cheddar Bay biscuits addicting and the appetizers enticing. (Lobster, crab and seafood-stuffed mushrooms, anyone?) "You shouldn't have to live on the coast to get fresh seafood," says Wendy Spirduso, Red Lobster spokeswoman. "People love our fresh, deliciously seasoned food that is prepared with culinary expertise." What's the Red Lobster diners' favorite? Shrimp, of course. Maui Luau shrimp, garlic shrimp scampi, shrimp linguini Alfredo, crunchy popcorn shrimp, buffalo shrimp, garlic-grilled shrimp, coconut shrimp, breaded shrimp ... oh, Bubba. DA

click to enlarge Pita Pit - PHOTO BY JOHNNIE ENGER

National Pizza Chain

Pizza Hut

Multiple locations

pizzahut.com

Indy readers like no, make that love their pizza, and have definitive opinions to share. What we heard, loud and clear, is that Pizza Hut tops the list when it comes to national choices in town. The personal pan pizza, by name alone, is enough to make Pizza Hut the big cheese. Add in take-out, delivery, buffet and enough combinations to go well over a month without a repeat, and they're golden ... like their perfectly golden crust topped with perfectly melted golden cheese ... CSB

Place to Go Condiment Shopping

Place to Fill a Box for $20

West Side Bargain Mart

3135 W. Colorado Ave., 685-4500

westsidebargainmart.com

If you don't know, y'all better ask somebody. Tucked away into a strip mall just east of the Colorado Avenue Safeway is a shopping miracle. As long as you're not particular about pretty labels or expiration dates (at least on dry goods), West Side Bargain Mart will bring you near tears: spices for $1.50 and under, cereal for $1.25, energy bars seven for $1. Give yourself at least 20 minutes in the condiment aisle; it's not unheard of to select from 25 different hot sauces, or to find four organic salad dressings for a buck, total. KW

National Restaurant Chain

Chili's Multiple locations

chilis.com

Drawing upon the cute, chubby chili-pepper logo to the memorable "baby back ribs" jingle to the "guiltless grill" options and, of course, the friendly and outgoing staff, Chili's topped your list for favorite chain food. The endless appetizers, fancy mixed drinks, varied main courses and delightful desserts have a little sizzle and spice and make your taste buds dance. Whether you're dining out with Grandma, the Little League team or co-workers at happy hour, the Chili's menu offers something to please every palate. CSB

Smoothies

Jamba Juice

3730 Bloomington St., 574-8787

1708 E. Woodmen Road, 598-1939

4492 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 266-8300

jambajuice.com

Every year in Hawaii, Jamba Juice hosts an event titled The Jamba 5K Banana Man Chase. No joke. Runners from pint-sized to age 70 chase life-sized bananas for 3.1 miles around Magic Island and Ala Moana. The first three males and the first three females to pass the oversized fruit win a year's supply of smoothies and well, bragging rights, I guess. Oh, if only the company would extend this activity to the mainland! I would kill to witness a bunch of guys in banana costumes booking it down Tejon Street, trailed by a swarm of smoothie-crazed Jamba groupies. AG

Restaurant for Kids that isn't Fast Food

Red Robin Multiple locations

redrobin.com

Take it from me, the kiddos really do love Red Robin. During my brief stint as a hostess at the Citadel location several summers ago, I acquired valuable life skills, such as how to use a helium tank to blow up copious amounts of balloons and how to dance around in a full-body robin costume complete with a five-pound head. With an atmosphere like that, it's a good thing the restaurant also employs "masterful mixologists," bartenders that help fortify parents through kid-friendly evenings out. AG

Restaurant for Tourists

click to enlarge Edelweiss - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

Giuseppe's Old Depot Restaurant

10 S. Sierra Madre St., 635-3111

giuseppes-depot.com

Here in Colorado Springs, we have a love-hate relationship with tourists especially when they're our in-laws. Still, you gotta feed 'em. So where do you take those out-of-town guests? Readers say, "to the Depot." No, you can't send them home on the next train (the last passenger cars stopped in 1971), but you can enjoy the ambience of a long-lost era in the original depot building. Giuseppe's Old Depot Restaurant has been serving Italian and American favorites for 52 years, including sandwiches, pizza and pasta, as well as a full-service bar. Get a table in back to enjoy the views. "Thirty trains a day still pass by the windows," says owner Joanne Colt. Your guests will love it. Just be careful they may decide to stay. JT

Indian

Mirch Masala

5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003

mirchmasalacuisine.com

English actor and author Peter Ustinov once said, "Playwrights are like men who have been dining for a month in an Indian restaurant. After eating curry night after night, they deny the existence of asparagus." Thespians, veggies and the true meaning of this quote aside, it hits at the heart of one simple thing: Curried cuisine is delicious and transcendent, and eating it nightly would not make for a bad life. (Read between the lines. Gosh!) Mirch Masala captures curry essence masterfully, along with many other authentic, Indian favorites. Its specialty chicken plates masala, tandoori and curry make for great marrying with warm naan bread and an Indian beer, chai or lassi. Winning their second gold vote inside five years, it's clear that Mirch's flavor already has many readers totally smitten. MS

Deli

Wooglin's Deli and Caf

823 N. Tejon St., 578-9443

click to enlarge Saigon Caf - PHOTO BY SEAN CAYTON

Kelvin Thorne, Wooglin's owner for the past eight of its 20 years, says he's heard a joke from local collegiate circles that more policy is made at Wooglin's than elsewhere in the city. To him, that speaks to the diversity of his clientele, who recognize his deli for the catch-all that it is. "We're not a bar, not a deli, not a coffeehouse, not a bakery, but everything together ... very urban, which makes us unique." Wooglin's staple sandwiches and baked goods have earned it first place in our Best Of for three years running, with eight total nods dating back to '94. Grab a veggie sandwich and slice of carrot cake under the graffiti wall for a taste of what makes Wooglin's memorable. MS

Salads

Souper Salad

808 Garden of the Gods Road, 277-0687

3636 Citadel Drive, 597-6124

1434 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 533-0614

soupersalad.com

According to the Web site, the first Souper Salad opened in 1978, into a market of fast food and high-end dining. Souper Salad succeeded, the story goes, because it insisted on living right in the middle. Although the salad bar serves a plethora of typical salad items, I suspect it's the hot sidebars that garnered readers' attention: a potato bar and a taco bar complete with nachos. I can always fool myself into thinking that cheese sauce is healthy at Souper Salad because it's at a restaurant with the word "salad" in the name. FG

Caterer

Picnic Basket/Cravings

1701 S. Eighth St., Suite A, 635-0200

pbcatering.com, cravingscatering.com

The Picnic Basket catering family (Picnic Basket, Cravings Catering and Buffalo Gals Grilling Company) is undefeated in this category since 1995, and besides the quality of food and service, it must have a lot to do with the depth of the business and a trusted staff. A call to owners Michelle Talarico and Kathy Dreiling found them out of the country, leaving the dedicated staff to make sure each event went off seamlessly. With more than 16 years' experience and three separate catering companies under their roof, these women have created a local food dynasty. We're the lucky subjects. CSB

Late-Night Dining

Village Inn Multiple locations

villageinnrestaurants.com

The first word at Village Inn was "pancakes." It was 1958, and the original Village Inn was serving breakfast in Denver. Then, of course, Village Inn became a franchise and opened locations all over the place. And as the chain developed, the new word became "pie." Sure, Village Inn has apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies for the purists, but it also has "Triple Chocolate Treat" and "Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme." And after a night at the bars, is anything quite so tempting as gooey chocolate pie, and say, bacon? We think not. JAS

click to enlarge Pita Pit - PHOTO BY JOHNNIE ENGER

Meal for Under $6

Pita Pit

773 W. Garden of the Gods Road, 277-7482

8 E. Bijou St., 634-1748

pitapitusa.com

"Pitas are exotic." So says the Pita Pit Web site. Ironically, the Pita Pit has been largely responsible for pushing pitas into the mainstream since it first started spreading its franchise out of Canada in the late 1990s. And like many a Tex-Mex and deep-fried sushi restaurant before it, Pita Pit has added American flavor to traditional food. (We're going to venture a guess that they're not eating BLT pitas in the Middle East.) That's fine by us. Pita Pit has redefined the sandwich and given us a great option for a cheap lunch. The Pit grills your meat in front of you, makes sandwiches to your specifications and tops it off with a bunch of healthy veggies. JAS

click to enlarge Paravicini's Italian Bistro - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Italian

Paravicini's Italian Bistro

2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200

75 S. Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 481-2222

paravicinis.com

Ted Sexton and Franco Pisani had a vision for a specific style of Italian food they felt the Springs was missing when they opened the Old Colorado City Paravicini's in 2003. (Palmer Lake followed in 2006.) According to Sexton, Paravicini's isn't going for authentic Italian, but authentic East Coast Italian. The native New Englanders, earning their third Best Of first-place nod in as many years, say their restaurants resemble the small mom-and-pop joints around which they grew up. As to their success, Sexton says, "Other than the food, it's the friendly, attentive service ... we get to know our regulars and we're affordable. You can have a meatball sandwich and fries for $7, or a steak for $18." MS

Coffee Roaster

Boulder Street Coffee Roasters

332 N. Tejon St., 577-4291

What better way to travel around the world than to go to the local coffee shop on the corner? With the aromas coming from Boulder Street Coffee Roasters, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays when owners Iwao and Tina Greene roast their extensive selection of coffees, a trip to an exotic destination is just where you'll feel like you've gone. "We have a fresh, large selection of mostly organic beans," Iwao says. Australian, Columbian, Bolivian, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Kenyan, Mexican, Costa Rican and Brazilian are not even half the varieties of gourmet coffee beans available. CR

Local Coffee House

Pikes Perk

Multiple locations

pikesperk.com

"Options, options and more options." That's the difference between this local coffee house chain and other competing establishments, according to owner Rick Roehrman. Pikes Perk roasts more than 40 varieties locally to match delicious pastries furnished by Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery. A peek into the goodie case reveals scones, cinnamon rolls, twists, bagels, cookies and even burritos. Tease your sweet tooth also with Patsy's gourmet chocolates and more than 50 syrup flavors with which to spike coffee. And ice cream lovers, rejoice! Josh & John's is now on board with dipped cones and 101 milkshake flavors. Roehrman calls his customers "true coffee connoisseurs" who enjoy a casual atmosphere and who just might be a bit "less fashion-conscious" than customers across the street. LLL

Farmers' Market

Old Colorado City

24th Street and West Colorado Avenue, 574-1283

Like a good father to his children, 73-year-old Frank Schmidt gives love to each of the three farmers' markets he organizes. But he understands that Independent readers prefer the neighborhood-oriented feel of the Old Colorado City market to even that of his Memorial Park market, which finished No. 2. And he notes that though some vendors sell inedibles in nearby Bancroft Park, "We tend to keep [24th Street] pretty much as a farmers' market. We don't have crafts there; we strictly have farm-related things." Farm-related things from nearly 30 local vendors, June through October, to be precise. KW

Vietnamese

Saigon Caf

20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888

Fifth time makes a dynasty: Since the Indy incorporated Vietnamese cuisine as a Best Of category in 2003, Saigon Caf has never been unseated. Owner Paul Truong and his staff have nourished a loyal, longtime following downtown. "We serve food the way we like to eat it," says Truong. "We like freshness and healthy food. We don't use a lot of oil or MSG." The key to great Vietnamese food, he says, is in the herbs and spices and the freshness of the vegetables. Whether they return for a bun (noodle bowl) or favorite stir-fry, customers have grown to rely on Saigon Caf's consistency. Aside from occasional specials, the menu hasn't changed much, and there's no good reason why it would. MS

click to enlarge Wild Ginger - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Thai

Wild Ginger

3020 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025

Don't like pad Thai? Try the curry. Don't like curry? Try the eggplant. Wild Ginger has more than 100 dishes to choose from, so chances are, you'll find something you like. "Every year we get voted for Best Of," Owner Khon Onexayvieng says. "I think they like us." Indeed, Wild Ginger has yet to be defeated in this category this century. Onexayvieng and her husband opened Wild Ginger about 10 years ago. She says she hoped the west side would embrace the unique, traditional cuisine. Now, she says, she still has customers who were there on day one. JAS

German

Edelweiss

34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220

In 40 years, little has changed at Edelweiss, and customers wouldn't have it any other way. The menu continues to offer traditional dishes of wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten and Black Forest cherry torte, and the best of German beer. Helga Schnakenberg, the manager at the time of opening, still oversees things, only now she's the owner. That is the German answer to quality control. "People know our faces and see us here every day," says Dieter Schnakenberg, Helga's son and Edelweiss' manager. The two maintain the authenticity of the restaurant with German-speaking staff and chefs, but keep things fresh with occasional remodeling and annual trips to Germany for new knick-knacks. Their dedication to continuity is rewarded with a packed house of loyal customers. MMR

click to enlarge Panera Bread - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Bread

Panera Bread

Multiple locations

panerabread.com

The best part of Mark Brandon's workday is opening the front door to be greeted by the unmistakable aroma of fresh-baked bread. "When the sun rises, so does the bread," he says. "It's warm and wonderful." Mark is the general manager of the Southgate Panera Bread, where his bakers work all night to craft hundreds of loaves and baguettes. Panera offers a delightful range of soups, salads, sandwiches and pastries, all to be enjoyed in a comfy, family-friendly caf setting. But the bread in 17 varieties, never frozen and always preservative-free is why we love Panera enough to award it a Best Of nod for the fifth year running. LLL

click to enlarge Whole Foods - PHOTO BY SEAN CAYTON

Grocery Store

Natural Foods Store

Whole Foods Market

7635 N. Academy Blvd., 531-9999

wholefoodsmarket.com

3180 New Center Point (still currently known as Wild Oats), 622-1099

wildoats.com

Field Maloney of Slate probably wrote it best: "Every media profile of the company invariably contains a paragraph of fawning produce porn, near-sonnets about 'gleaming melons' and 'glistening kumquats.'" We'll try to keep our Whole Foods write-up clean: There's just no better place to stock your kitchen. Whole Foods offers size, selection and subsistence. The North Academy store always looks nearly spotless (and the Wild Oats store just acquired on New Center Point surely will, too). Prepared foods taste fantastic. Employees are knowledgeable, happy and health-insured. And they've got some luscious pumpkins. KW

click to enlarge Mona Lisa Fondue - PHOTO BY BRIENNE BOORTZ

Fondue

Restaurant for Dessert

Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant

733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0277

monalisafondue.com

Now in its 12th year, Mona Lisa earns not only the distinction of being the Best Fondue for the third year running, but also the honor of being the first Best Dessert recipient since Michelle's Chocolatier sadly closed downtown. Big ups, Lady da Vinci! Mona Lisa's four-course prix fixe of salad, cheese dip, entre grill (wild game, seafood or traditional meat mix) and chocolate dip is truly famous for special occasions. As for the chocolate, owner Jeff Kiepke says the turtle-pie specialty flambed milk chocolate, caramel and walnut is the best-seller. But customers can create their own mix in which to dip fruit, cakes and cookies by adding liquors and flavorings. And don't forget that dessert-only is an option for those allergic to making reservations. MS

French

La Creperie Bistro

204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984

Once again, we admit our insatiable and unflinching love for a delicately thin pancake stuffed with almost anything. From the filling egg, crab and asparagus crepe lovingly sauced with Hollandaise to the syrupy-sweet crepe Suzette, La Creperie shows masterful culinary skill. I also don't know of another restaurant where you can sit in such tight quarters and still experience intimacy in dining. For 29 years, the tiny eatery has offered a taste of Paris that even Toulouse-Lautrec would appreciate. What would a chilly day be without the perfect French onion soup? MMR

Place for a Free Birthday Dessert

Mobo Sushi

5975 N. Academy Blvd., #209, 593-8249

I spent my 22nd birthday eating fried cheesecake and ice cream courtesy of the folks at Mobo. See if they'll treat you this nicely, too; experiencing the eastern version of Paula Deen's Southern cookin' is definitely worth the extra calories. AG

National Chain Coffee House

Latte

Gourmet Coffee Drinks

Place for a Blind Date

Starbucks

Multiple locations

starbucks.com

Self magazine recently conducted an online poll concluding that 60 percent of readers would rather go to the dentist than on a blind date. That being said, if you can't get out of one, scheduling it at Starbucks makes a lot of senses. First of all, the paper cups include inspirational anecdotes and quotes sent in via e-mail by regular Joes. This means that if your date proves incredibly boring, at least you can read without being too obvious. Second, quick escape is possible, as a cup of coffee goes a lot quicker than drinks, appetizers and entres. Third, the pumpkin spice latte is only available for several months. Need I say more? AG

Ice cream

Josh & John's

111 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 632-0299

5152 N. Academy Blvd., 593-1220

joshandjohns.com

What makes Josh and John's undefeated in the Best Ice Cream category since 1994? You voted, so you probably already know, but if you have any questions, the best answer is a big bowl of chocolate peanut butter chocolate chip ... no make that strawberry ... no, oatmeal cookie ... Besides oodles of naturally produced, artificial-hormone-free, made-on-site ice cream served as cones, sundaes, banana splits, shakes, even cakes, 'tis the season to win free ice cream! Join the "creamometer" club and get extra punches on your frequent-visitor card the colder and crummier the weather gets. And if your votes are any indication, you are frequent visitors. CSB

Restaurant for a Wedding Reception

Briarhurst Manor

404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1864

briarhurst.com

When a bride is looking for romance, seclusion and an "Eden"-like location, she need only look to Manitou Springs' Briarhurst Manor. The staff at the five-acre historic estate strives to create worry-free weddings. Ken Healey, president of the Briarhurst, says along with the location and great food, credit must go to the wedding planners. "Sometimes I think they care more about these receptions than the brides." Whether planning an intimate supper wedding or a grand affair, Healey says they're always "concerned with doing it right." MMR

click to enlarge On the Border - PHOTO BY JON KELLEY

click to enlarge Giuseppes - PHOTO BY L'AURA MONTGOMERY

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