Peak Place Coffeehouse
2360 Montebello Square Drive, 445-1050, peakplacecoffeehouse.com
I'm not going to tell you how lost I got trying to find Peak Place, but just know that if you're similarly challenged, it's located behind everything and tucked in the corner of the strip mall. The struggle did nothing to detract from a very cool interior, the front door opening into a low-ceilinged area with different rooms branching off at different ceiling heights. Chalkboards broadcast rotating live-music schedules, along with specialized coffee drinks and a nice alcohol list.
We drank a hot cocoa ($2/eight ounces), balanced and bittersweet, and a bold café au lait ($2.50/12 ounces). The delicious breakfast hash ($7) brought peppery squares of fruity sweet potato with onions, spicy chunks of chorizo and a pair of tragically overdone fried eggs. It was an impressive depth of flavor, also true with the shepherd's pie ($6), a neon-orange layer of mashed sweet potato topping a deep, rich brown mix of grass-fed ground beef, carrots, onions and spices. — Bryce Crawford
Thai Lily Cuisine and Yakitori 8
319 N. Chelton Road, 597-8374, thaililycuisine.com
Finding faces on plates remains rare in the U.S., unless you're eating at a Korean, Mexican or, as in this case, Thai restaurant. People seem averse to eyes staring up at them, and often don't have the patience required to sort flesh from bone before each substantial bite.
But there's a reward for the toil with Thai Lily's red curry fish ($10.25), a fully intact tilapia laid crisp with spice-flecked char in a floral curry broth under sautéed white and green onions, green bell pepper slivers and whole wilted basil leaves. (Two other menu options sub in either a ginger sauce or Thai hot chili sauce.) Pick and pour the dish over steamed rice. At a 4-out-of-5 heat, the basil essence still pervades through the sauce's serious chili smolder, while the skin's crunch yields to soft meat. At the end, naught remains but a stripped spine and tail attached to a browned, toothy beak, and lingering curry loveliness. — Matthew Schniper
Ruffrano's Hell's Kitchen Pizza
1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., Unit E, 576-4355, ruffranoshellskitchenpizza.com
While Ruffrano's tightened its stranglehold on the Manitou Springs pizza scene, The Front tried out a mob theme with a "secret" dining room door in a location next to Tinseltown. After an ownership change, it was ultimately unsuccessful, and Ruffrano's moved in. Its second location now sports free delivery and an opened dining room with red accents and flames licking the walls. High-tops sit next to the ordering counter, surrounded by comfortable red leather chairs.
Aside from weekend pasta specials, one employee tells us it's the same menu as found in Manitou, which means our pick is the Hellfire ($22/18 inches). It combines mozzarella, hot Italian sausage, pepperoni, "Hellfire sauce" and pickled cherry peppers on a medium-thick, chewy crust. The pizza is greasy but sings with flavor. The pickled peppers are bright and stinging, while the flat layers of sausage make for a filling experience. — Bryce Crawford