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Series of firsts 

Dine & Dash

Reflecting on this week's Dine & Dash selections (you know, because there's no other pressing work to be done here, really), I'm struck by an underlying theme of first times. Monika had never sampled this Mexican soup she writes about, and I'd neither dropped into Hunan Springs nor eaten a few traditional Filipino dishes at Julie's Bar and Grill.

It's thrilling to still feel virginal as an eater in this town after so many years, realizing that there's still an abundance of places yet to sample, whether you're exposed to someone else's version of a classic or a whole new dish or cuisine. Next time you hear someone lament our dining scene, ask them if they've really tried all our diverse offerings here. (Then kick their shins and run.)

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Julie's Bar and Grill

1861 S. Academy Blvd., 596-4019

Formerly Nanay Betty's, six-month-old Julie's has maintained the Filipino hot line — three items with rice for $6.95 — and added Hawaiian staples, including Kalua pork and cabbage (also $6.95), prepared by chef/owner Romeo Arruiza.

For the majority of the pork and chicken items, the meats are lengthily boiled, then often fried, resulting in tender chunks with crispy skins. Most marinating starts with vinegar, soy and salt, and sometimes fish sauce and various seasonings; the dinuguan gets pork blood for a dark black coloring.

The Kalua would have been great had it been less salty, and everything else seemed dialed-in. The pork adobo (soy, vinegar, garlic), afritada (in tomato sauce) and tocino (with lovely star anise lacing) were great with mung bean and pinakbet (Filipino veggie blend) sides. — Matthew Schniper

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Fiesta Jalisco

6074 Stetson Hills Blvd., 573-8813, fiestajalisco.net

On a recent episode of The Next Food Network Star, a contestant won judges over with a meatball soup called albondigas. When I saw the soup on the menu at the charming, family-owned Fiesta Jalisco (which has nine other locations throughout the Rockies), I had to try it.

The hearty and rustic sopa de albondigas ($8.95) consists of vegetables and meatballs made from a combination of pork and beef, all stewed in a clear broth. Accompanied by a choice of corn or flour tortilla, fresh cilantro and chopped raw onions that retain their bite in the heat of the broth, the soup was really made by a vigorous squeeze of lime. A cheerful staff and their stellar service rounded out the fiesta. — Monika Mitchell Randall

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Hunan Springs

24 E. Kiowa St., 634-0800

It baffles me that anyone can turn a profit by serving a full entrée of proteins, egg roll, rice and side soup for only $6.75, so I'm assuming that like many Chinese restaurants, veteran downtowner Hunan Springs relies on volume versus large profit margins. Based off the Kung Pao chicken and shrimp, the outfit is indistinguishable from a million like it, which is to say it's perfectly satisfying on the cheap but stands out in no way.

The clear wonton soup held a trio of doughy dumplings, the fried rice is fine, and a thin egg roll crunches with the most average of 'em. The Kung Pao delivered no "pow!" with the standard, viscous brown sauce that coats green bell peppers and super soft, almost squishy shrimp and chicken pieces. Had you not had this before, I'd reach to tell you more. — Matthew Schniper

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