Moon Star II
5873 Palmer Park Blvd., 380-9333, moonstar2.com
Locals tell me there once was another Moon Star here. And Moon Star II co-owner Mei Kooi says that as of a year ago, she and partner Chris Long became the fourth owners at this former buffet. They recently renovated, expanded and reopened with a new dining area. Baby blue and gray walls with faux wood floors look neat and modern.
Presentations, too, are bright, with lemon wedges garnishing both vegetable drunken noodles ($5.95) and the 3 Meats in Hot Pepper Sauce ($6.75) at lunch. The former, Thai-style, opts for a thin Pad Thai rice noodle, lacquered in chili flecks and oil, bearing bell peppers galore and requested spiciness. The latter hosts just as many toothsome veggies with beef, chicken and shrimp, all blending into a ubiquitous Chinese stir-fry flavor of soy and wok hay. There's nothing novel here, but even if it doesn't put you over the moon, it's fresh, MSG-free, and served by a sweet staff. — MS
20918 U.S. 24, Woodland Park, 687-7879, thecrystola.com
It's refreshing to ditch the city for lunch, to eat somewhere utterly without pretense. 15 miles up the pass, the Crystola still has only four beers on tap, plus a selection of bottles including Bristol options. The space is comfortable, in the way that a worn-in hiking boot could be described as comfortable.
As for the food, a green chile cheeseburger ($9.45), served open-faced and smothered alongside fries or onion rings, beats the tar out of most options in the general vicinity. The taste of grill char powers to the front, melding with not-quite-medium New Mexico green chilies and mild bits of pork. Unfortunately, my patty came somewhere closer to medium well than medium, making for an unfortunate chewiness. Atop, the chile errs more Tex-Mex than New Mexican, bearing tomatoes and fine-shredded yellow cheese. That said, killer onion rings — coating fried perfectly crisp, and not too thick. — GS
1606 S. Eighth St., 578-8888, asianbistroco.com
The generic restaurant name sums up the familiar menu of Chinese and sushi offerings, with a little pho thrown in because, hey, that's still trending. Asian Bistro opened in early September, though menus attached to to-go orders still say "grand opening" and feature a 50-percent-off-sushi deal, wherein every item is priced twice: once with a strike-through and again with the reduced price for those really bad at basic math.
From the chef's specials section, I get the only apparent Thai offering, the Thai basil steak ($11.99). Its beef is soggy like so many mainstream Chinese-food proteins, with a thin, gelatinous coating yielding to scant chew. The few bites that incorporate a jalapeño or wilted basil leaf taste good. But boring green bell peppers are the first element to overwhelm any cohesive flavor, followed by a profusion of sharp white onion slivers barely sautéed past raw. By plate's end, I feel like I ate an onion like I would an apple. — MS