1015 W. Colorado Ave., 634-6842, lebistrocs.com
Given its rich history and legacy location, I'm among those thrilled to see Le Bistro back open under French owner/chef Henri Chaperont, after what was nearly a three-year hiatus. (See Side Dish, Feb. 5, 2014, for a full back story.) His time in Taos, N.M., during part of that stint immediately shows on his new, more-affordable menus.
Even our soup of the day at lunch, a shrimp bisque ($6), offered a little spice bite on the back end, chasing a delicious, deep stock flavor. But the Mussels Mariniere ($8), delivered with a new smoky chipotle pepper treatment, doesn't work as well as it sounds, the fiery muddiness not complementing the oddly brightened white wine broth that I used to worship when it simply merged garlic, shallots, parsley, salt and pepper. Get a jicama-, cucumber- and candied-walnut-bearing Le Bistro Salad ($6) for a freshness that speaks to one good reason to return. — Matthew Schniper
Tacos El Guero
1853 S. Academy Blvd., 368-7642
With mariachi music overhead, a basket of variously shaped bites of light-brown dulce de leche at the counter, and a bar of spicy sauces and pickled condiments in the corner, Tacos El Guero is a perfect getaway from South Academy traffic. Offerings range from four or five different caldos (broths), several featuring shrimp, to a full slate of tacos, and much in between.
For $2.25 each, we paired a plate of tripas — the god of street tacos, each crispy, fatty bit better than the last — al pastor and alambre (carne asada with peppers, onions and cheese) with a cubana torta ($7). The latter's a sandwich of beans, ham, tender barbacoa, more al pastor and asada. Toasted on the inside and chewy on the outside, it's a deliciously messy, savory nod to a typical Cuban. In the taco and sandwich alike, the pastor kicks out a little pineapple sweetness to go with the pork. — Bryce Crawford
6799 N. Academy Blvd., 528-6869, caspiancafe.com/briarmart.htm
Joey's Pizza moved into the old Briar Mart on Briargate Boulevard after the mart moved into the old Mission Inn Restaurant on Academy Boulevard. That brings us up to speed, and explains why what's long been known as the Inn's front room now teems with shelves containing jars of tamarind paste, za'atar and rose hip jelly, while those giant, memorable round booths fill the corner.
After a "ding" of the counter bell, we ordered a plate of chicken and beef skewers, called sultani ($9.99), and a shawarma ($4.99) sandwich. The latter was nothing special — the meat came a bit overdone, the bread toasted hard and densely chewy — but the chicken on the sultani was a revelation. The plate's juicy beef also represented itself well, but the super-moist, lightly charred chicken glowed with notes of sour and salt. Dig the acidic grilled tomatoes over fluffy rice. — Bryce Crawford