11 S. Tejon St., 475-9224, coloradosprings.ilvicino.com
A few years have passed since Il Vicino expanded into University Village as part of its current nine-restaurant holdings across a tri-state area. The downtown location still feels like home though, to many locals, and particularly so to me on account of having labored there for a couple years in college. (I swear the woodsmoke smell still clings to my all-blacks in the back of my closet.)
The menu's seen additions and minor tweaks since then, and service remains efficient for the counter-style-plus method of food and drink delivery, which includes regular check-ins by more than one server. On this visit though, my food arrives too fast, as evidenced by my Fino ($10.25) pizza, which hadn't cooked through, leaving a thin layer of doughiness at its core. It's not underdone to the point of a send-back, so I deal with the gumminess and otherwise enjoy the punctuation of goat cheese between oregano-forward tomato sauce and peppery chicken sausage. — MS
1831 Briargate Blvd., 532-0110, mandarinbistrocoloradosprings.com
Mandarin Bistro also calls itself Tropix Hawaiian BBQ, supplementing its Chinese menu with a few Thai curries plus Hawaiian items like a Spam burger and a "plate lunch" section, which includes a couple scoops of white rice and a very mayo-wet macaroni salad on the side of a protein choice. The seafood and short ribs mixed plate lunch ($9.25) obviously includes half portions of two meats, in this case pounded, breaded fried shrimp with a generic tartar dip and proficient Korean-style kalbi.
My Hawaiian Special Fried Rice ($8.55) sports more kalbi slivers, thin, chewy, fatty bits, plus flavorful barbecued chicken, shrimp and pineapple chunks. Wok hay essence leads off followed by serious soy sauce saltiness and some pleasant char essence. Only fork-fulls with the fruit sport sweetness and acidity, but overall it makes for a satisfying dish. Though thumping bass from the attached vape lounge makes for a distracting dining experience. — MS
222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311, josemuldoons.com
Mexican food can be lean and healthy. But José's healthier salsa lime chicken ($12.99) pales next to the carnitas torta ($10.99). The former, a juicy baked chicken breast, brings a nice citrus brightness under fresh pico de gallo and melted cheese. But it also lacks heat, with the chicken off-putting and a little spongy. Said torta comes modestly portioned, packed with tender pork and mushy black beans, but a refreshing and mild avocado jalapeño créme helps make it an overall pleasant bite.
A margarita taster tray ($9.25) backs the food up respectably. The Midori-forward Green Supreme goes down like a green apple Jolly Rancher, all booze buried. Horni Blue comes across a little sticky with blue curaçao, but the balance is better than the neon blue indicates. The Black & Gold brings some depth into play with Chambord. And my favorite, the Alamo, emphasizes the earthy spice of Sauza Conmemorativo with Grand Marnier and Cointreau. — GS