23 S. Tejon St., 475-1199, theolivebranchrest.com
The Olive Branch has made a play for the gluten-free market with a commendably wide GF menu spanning all three meals. From its lunch portion, I grab the Olive Branch Burger ($8.95), subbing a nicely cooked, medium-rare buffalo patty for the beef and adding jack cheese ($.95) and avocado ($1.50) to the included grilled onions and indistinguishably GF bun from Denver-based Deby's.
All compiled, it's a fine burger, with ample flavors and ideal textures — not so much a substitution as a standout. Accompanying "country potatoes" (read: home fries) could use crispness on more surface faces, but are otherwise standard. From the juice bar, the off-menu green drink ($3.95/12 ounces) usually contains something like cucumber, carrot, spinach and cilantro; a waitress calls it the "Jerry Forte special" and coincidentally, I spot the Colorado Springs Utilities CEO at a booth when I pick up my to-go order. — Matthew Schniper
Manitou Pancake & Steak House
26 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9225
The Manstake House, as it should have been known this whole time, is a sheltered, old-timey bit of diner. The inside's full of thick wooden beams, stained-glass dividers, and pale pinks and purples on the wallpaper, and my server was a grandmother-type more efficient and helpful than most of the wait staff I come across.
She quickly brought out a huge rib-eye plate ($12.95) stacked with the eponymous: a well-salted, moderately overcooked 8-ounce cut of beef seemingly suffering from a little freezer burn but edged with buttery fat; two beautiful fried eggs over medium; and two Frisbee-sized fluffy pancakes a little on the chewy side, but paired with a delicious walnut butter that instantly took me back to Christmas. The coffee sipped a little acidic, but it's hard to complain while watching thick yolk ooze over shreds of crispy hash browns. — Bryce Crawford
6940 Space Village Ave., 651-0596
Sandy's is the epitome of good diner food, from kick-ass crispy home fries and fluffy egg scrambles to an admirable green chile and a wholly fulfilling burger. Also to be enjoyed is signage like, "Cowboys wipe the shit off them boots before you come in here."
Owner Connie Crippen started serving at the breakfast-and-lunch joint, originally opened in 1972, when she was 13. In 2001, she bought it and began tweaking recipes for the better, she says, making almost everything from scratch including breads and soups. The Hasty Burrito ($7.25) spotlights the potatoes (on the side) and medium-heat green chile and eggs with sausage and a liquefied cheddar splatter. The buttery-bunned Coyote Burger ($7.50) finds heat through pepper jack and roasted green chile strips, while airy onion rings play backup vocals. Dessert is a monstrous house cinnamon roll ($3.25) lacquered with cream cheese icing. — Matthew Schniper
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