Student loans probably should go toward textbooks and tuition, not prix fixe meals to impress a date, romantic as that may be. But you don't always have to spend big to dine at some of Colorado Springs' choice gourmet spots.
These represent just a sampling around town — and here have been limited mostly to food picks, not drink specials — so if you know of any that deserve to be among this list, hire a skywriting outfit to let us know. Or, just post a comment to this feature or on our Facebook page.
The Cliff House at Pikes Peak
306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 785-1000, thecliffhouse.com
The Cliff House's Four Diamond rating and reputation for historic and posh accommodations might lead you to think it's off-limits to penny-pinchers. And indeed, it's easy to ring up a bill in the central dining room.
Instead, look to the more scenic veranda out front, with a less-expensive menu that's also served indoors in the music room when weather demands. Fish and chips is $11, lobster bisque a 10-spot, and a grilled vegetarian sandwich only $9.
The property's Red Mountain Bar and Grill also offers more affordable (and partly gluten-free) fare, from big $13 burgers to an $11 smoked buffalo bratwurst.
Cowboy Star and Butcher Shop
5198 N. Nevada Ave., #150, 631-6050, cowboystarcs.com
Before you conclude that a lavishly decorated place dishing a $90 porterhouse for two isn't for you, consider the early and late hours, daily: From both 2 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m., you'll find a full 50 percent off select cocktails, wines, well spirits, draft beers and small plates.
Take for instance my co-worker's recent experience, wherein she enjoyed a "fantastic" and filling steak and frites and a pint of Ballast Point's excellent Sculpin IPA for $13.50, pre-tip. Seasonal, four-course beer dinners, too, are a relative deal, if you simply must go prix fixe for a special occasion.
22 S. Tejon St., Suite A, 630-1167, fujiyamasushi.com
At most sushi outfits, if you line up a tabletop of rolls or splurge for nigiri, you will punish your credit card in order to fill up. For this reason, all-you-can-eat counters like Sushi Rakkyo and Sushi Ring can provide a great deal, and should be sought out. But Fujiyama has become famous for one weekly stampede: half-off everything from 5 to 6 p.m. on Mondays.
Other daily deals include two-for-one wines and half-off sake and select beers from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays, or 20 percent off sushi and rolls all day on Saturdays. Another house winner that can match Monday's bargain, depending how you order: During weekday lunch hours, all sushi and rolls are also half-off. (Makes you wonder why you're ever paying full price, eh?)
Margarita at PineCreek
7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, margaritaatpinecreek.com
Why wouldn't you wish to treat your date to a meal at that fun, funky, adobe-inspired structure in the woods, whose driveway entrance hosts those large lit-up carrot sculptures? You've heard about the Margarita's eye toward local food, and maybe you've peeked in during a Saturday farmers market. But that creative, nightly five-course with wine pairings that would set you back around $60 a head (before tip) is simply a fantasy on your current budget.
No bummer, because aside from a tiny happy hour menu from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, the real deal awaits on the eclectic lounge and patio menu, which will often place you downstairs with live music or sometimes outside with a movie. The $11.50 Marcello Burger is epic, as are items like bulgogi pork cheek tacos, also $10, or lobster mac and cheese for $13.
31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, thefamoussteakhouse.net
Again — swank steakhouse. Big money. But don't knock it off your dream list, because a meal here is within reach.
Go Fridays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for lunch, where $12 nabs you a soft drink and either a Red Bird chicken Caesar salad or a burger. Make note: This is no normal burger, and it should be prioritized. It's 40 percent ground chuck from Hotchkiss' 7X Beef and 60 percent pricey primal cut trim — i.e., fabulously fatty and flavorful, served on a stupid-good rosemary onion sourdough house bun.
For nighttime needs, go early on a Sunday to catch three courses for $34.95 a head — considering the quality, a relative steal.
The Blue Star
1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net
The Blue Star is hosting a special 20th anniversary promotion in September, which includes a Throwback Thursdays menu and Tuesday Night Date Nights, with buy-one-entrée-get-the-second-half-off on its lounge side.
But weekly specials are always worth a look, too. Sundays offer half price on bottles of wine; Wednesdays gift a free glass of wine at the bar with the purchase of two cheeses; and Monday is Mules, Martinis and Mussels Night, with half-pound plates of mussels (different preparations weekly) for $8.95 and Moscow Mules and other cocktails running around $5 to $8. Or, drop in any day from 3 to 6 p.m., or 9 to 10 p.m., for the beer-and-burger special in the bar area: $12.95 includes the burger and a Bristol beer.
1 Lake Ave., 634-7711, broadmoor.com
Of course, our badass kingfish Five Star, Five Diamond sets the bar locally for indulgence. The Broadmoor has more separate, swank and superior eateries than you have shoes. Expectedly, they're expensive, and no deal really lets you live it up without fiscal consequence.
But if you're bound to make this your splurging ground, your best bet is the Summit. It's a more casual environment with still-stunning scenery and offers a small-bites menu in the lounge area, where no plate tops $20 and cocktails are creative and excellent. You will impress for less. Otherwise, head to the Golden Bee for half a Reuben and a cup of soup for $13.