Ito Japanese Steak House
106 W. Main St., Florence, 719/784-7556, itosteakhouse.com
A Denver couple and her parents, touting decades of combined experience, launched Ito a little over a year ago, enriching this sleepy town. Brick dominates Ito's interior and furnishings are tastefully sparse. Service proves notably friendly, and colorful pictures sell the menu — a mix of sushi, hibachi and limited Thai plates.
The Ito Signature Roll ($12.95) holds asparagus, cucumber, jalapeño and cream cheese capped in Kobe beef cuts, lightly seared by a hand-torch, then topped in a wasabi aioli, garlic-oyster eel sauce and roe. It leads meaty, transitioning to creamy and chili-hot, and would hit perfection if the mute asparagus were replaced by something with acidic counterpoint. Ito's salmon poke ($13.95) is simply divine with soft fish, onion bite and avocado smoothness, though stale tortilla chips as dippers disconnect like mismatched chopsticks. And the tom yum shrimp soup ($9.95) shows Thai chops with a bold, spicy broth and oily depth. — MS
2750 S. Academy Blvd., #110, 390-6644, koreangardencs.com
Taste of Korea Express may be no more in this South Academy shopping area, but the same owner has opened Korean Garden in its place. Familiar bulgogi cheese fries ($7.99) see tender meat, green onions and sriracha top fast-food shoestring fries. Though a little more sriracha would be nice, it's an indulgent gut bomb.
For saner eaters, lunch plates ($7.99) come with steamed rice and banchan, including airy pajeon — veggie pancakes. My modest mound of japchae — sweet potato noodles tossed with olive and sesame oils — met lightly seasoned beef, onions and carrots for a satisfying blend of sweet and savory. And a bowl of duk manduguk ($10.99) matches sliced tteok rice cakes with gorgeous three-bite dumplings filled with fine-chopped beef and mild kimchi. The beef broth takes three days, with fat skimmed off twice. 11 spices compound the flavor of the ghostly white broth, resulting in a smoky character with a black pepper finish. — GS
7645 McLaughlin Road, Peyton, 495-8891, chinarecipefalcon.com
It's a Chinese restaurant in a shopping complex with a Safeway. This may not indicate the quality of the food — after all, Jun shares space with a King Soopers — but the severely mangled blinds on the front door don't lend any confidence. Add sauce-spattered plates and empty stocks of Thai iced tea, and any expectation for excellence flies out the window and back down Highway 24.
A sriracha combination lunch combo ($7.05) includes soup, rice, an egg roll and a cream cheese wonton, all reasonably executed. Though the red bell pepper is promising, the meat and shrimp lack toothsomeness, and the generic brown stir-fry base drowns most sriracha flavor and any heat for a plate best summarized as "meh." The lunch Sesame chicken ($6.95), however, comes out hot and crispy, better than many in Colorado Springs. In the sauce, there's enough tartness and salinity to restrain considerable sugar and keep this dish off the dessert menu. — GS