Favorite

The 2012 Bites Dining Guide - Listings 

American

Flatiron's American Bar & Grill

Cheyenne Mountain: 2540 Tenderfoot Hill St., 576-2540, flatirons.biz

Best of 2011

Graduating from Best New Restaurant to Best American eatery, this Concept Restaurant dishes everything from Sunday brunch and great daily happy-hour deals ($3 items from 3 to 6) to pastas, pizzas, burgers and steaks. Easygoing all-around. — $$

The Mason Jar

Old Colorado City: 2925 W. Colorado Ave., 632-4820, masonjarcolorado.com

Boasting over a million chicken-fried steaks served since 1982 (take that, American Heart Association!), the Mason Jar is comfort food, embodied and emboldened. But it's not all burgers and prime rib: Catch daily specials like Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout, too. — $$

Maxi's Bar & Grille at the DoubleTree Hotel - World Arena

Cheyenne Mountain: 1775 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 576-8900, coloradospringsworldarena.doubletree.com

Between Maxi's and the Atrium Café, the DoubleTree offers all things at all hours for commuters, but locals can stop in for a drink anytime; chef Jay Gust's now-famous VooDoo Chicken Tenders at lunch; or a jazzed-up steak at dinner. New menus coming soon. — $$

Ritz Grill

Downtown: 15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484, ritzgrill.com

Best of 2011

Voted the Best Place to Meet Women, Concept Restaurants' 25-year-old martini-sipping spot draws power players at lunch and party people at night. The menus range from pizzas and pastas to seafood and a wide salad array, with good price points on generally good food. — $$

Stagecoach Inn

Manitou Springs: 702 Manitou Ave., 685-9400, stagecoachinn.com

A classic Manitou destination for tourists and locals, Stagecoach serves satisfying specials like a wild game meatloaf (elk, venison and beef), and its regular lunch and dinner menus feature equally hearty burgers (buffalo and turkey options), sandwiches, steaks and seafood entrées. — $$

The Wines of Colorado

Cascade: 8045 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, 684-0900, winesofcolorado.com

Serving a wonderful array of state-grown or -produced wines (you don't say!), this is a charming creekside eatery warmed by an iron stove and scented by an on-site smoker that flavors everything from salmon to prime rib. Get a ribeye sandwich, Reuben or green chile veggie burger. — $$

Brewpub

BierWerks Brewery

Woodland Park: 121 E. Midland Ave., 686-8100, bierwerks.com

A taste of the Alps in the Rockies: exceptional traditional German lagers like a dunkel, weissbier and helles, plus seasonal specialties, served alongside giant salted pretzels and basic, hearty cold-cut platters. — $

Colorado Mountain Brewery

Briargate: 11202 Rampart Hills View, 434-5750 | West side: 600 S. 21st St. (coming early summer), cmbrew.com

Boasting new house beer releases at 5 p.m. every Tuesday and a new menu, year-old CMB is aggressively set to open a second location in the iconic former Van Briggle Pottery building. Beers and bites have been thoroughly tested and refined, virtually guaranteeing your satisfaction. — $$

Judge Baldwin's Brewing Company

Downtown: Antlers Hilton Hotel, 4 S. Cascade Ave., 955-5600, antlers.com/restaurants

The Springs' first brewery (est. 1991), JB's has always been a good happy-hour spot (4 to 7 daily), with $3 drinks and half-off apps, weekdays. From an updated menu featuring Kobe burgers, green chile and lobster bisque, the house-barbecue-sauced chicken quesadillas are popular. — $

Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.

Downtown: 2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com

Best of 2011

A key player on our brewing scene, making great specialty one-offs on top of flagship favorites like the amber Railyard Ale. Best pool tables in town; great happy-hour deals; bison burgers and meatloaf; and the forever famous Blonde Ale & Smoked Gouda soup. — $$

Pikes Peak Brewing Co.

Monument: 1756 Lake Woodmoor Drive, 208-4098, pikespeakbrewing.com

Partly brought to you by Beer Journal author Chris Wright, PPBC serves seriously good beer (highlights: Devil's Head Red, Elephant Rock IPA) next to great giant pretzels or cold-cut platters provided by nearby caterer Taste of Life. Get the German chocolate cake with a stout sample. — $$

Trinity Brewing Company

Northwest: 1466 Garden of the Gods Road, 634-0029, trinitybrew.com

Recently expanded, years ahead of schedule, Trinity has deservedly blown up thanks to top-notch, experimental saison production on top of great flagship beers like the seasonally changing Farmhouse. To mitigate the buzz (from the alcohol, not the community), grab lamb sliders, seitan wings or the Mak' N Bacon. — $$

Burgers & Sandwiches

Another Pint

Gleneagle: 13860 Gleneagle Drive, 481-6446, anotherpint.net

Recently split from Coffee Cup Café and under the new ownership of its former GM, Another Pint is craft beer mecca, sporting more than 40 taps and hosting monthly beer dinners. The burger-heavy menu is soon to be revamped. — $

Bingo Burger

Pueblo: 101 Central Plaza, 719/225-8363, bingoburger.com

One of our favorite restaurants anywhere. It's a sustainable, gourmet version of a fast-food joint, complete with grass-fed Colorado beef, locally grown produce and a great drink selection. The Pueblo chile-stuffed Bingo Burger stars, but the lamb and specialty burgers are powerhouses, too. — $

BJ's Velvet Freez

Central: 1511 N. Union Blvd., 633-6365, bjsvelvetfreez.com

With three different owners since 1954, this classic drive-in has remained a Springs staple for soft-serve treats, including shakes, malts and floats. But you can also grab a decent burger, chili dog or some French fries with a slushie. The throwback atmosphere is half the charm. — $

City of Philly Cheese Steaks

North Academy: 4747 Flintridge Drive, 265-5770

The name pretty much says it all: steaming cheese-steak sandwiches on chewy bread from Philly-based Amoroso's Baking Co. Recently added to the hoagies and burgers: hot wings and fried zucchini and mushrooms. — $

Conway's Red Top

Multiple locations

Since 1944 and with four Colorado Springs locations (South Nevada Avenue, Circle Drive, North Carefree Circle and East Fillmore Street), Conway's is locally noted for its "giant" hamburgers: 8-ounce patties on 6-inch buns. — $

Crave Real Burgers

North Academy: 7465 N. Academy Blvd., 264-7919, craverealburgers.com

Think big-ass, "crazy burgers." (How crazy? One uses donuts as a bun.) Our samplings were mixed, but we did like the Nutty Professor (with peanut butter), the garlicky Love Stinks, and the sweet hoisin Dim Sum Daffy duck sandwich. Get sweet potato fries and the awesome Amaretto shake. — $$

Cy's Drive-In Restaurant

West side: 1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008

A classic drive-in since 1953 (then under different owners), Cy's is your stop for nostalgia but also great burgers made from Ranch Foods Direct meat. A longtime favorite is the Alaskan Burger, a Thousand Island-laced double-decker cheeseburger. Also look for house-made brisket and green chile. — $

Drifter's Hamburgers

Central: 4455 Mark Dabling Blvd., 548-8163, driftershamburgers.com

Our readers scolded us for not including three-year-old Drifters in a "battle of the burgers" last year, prompting a worthwhile visit to discover one of the best cheeseburgers in the city (made with Ranch Foods Direct beef). Get it "wild style" for more mustard bite. Great fries, too. — $

The Drive-In

Downtown: 2309 N. Weber St., 633-0618 (635-0769 in off-season)

Operated by the folks behind the 110-year-old Little Market & Deli on Willamette Avenue, this is another classic drive-in dating back more than a half century. Linger over a burger, hot dog or onion rings and a soft-serve cone or sundae, March through October, daily for lunch and dinner. — $

Feelin' A-Little Philly

South Academy: 2750 S. Academy Blvd., #110, 392-5004, feelinalittlephillycs.com

Inspired by, but separate from, two like-named locations in Pueblo, Feelin' is obviously another Philly tribute, with super-affordable subs and great French fries. Beyond hot and cold hoagie options are six Philly cheese steak renditions, including one that subs chicken for steak. — $

Joanie's Mountain Gourmet Deli

Woodland Park: 110 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, 686-9091, joaniesdeli.com

Now run by the capable former owners of The Pantry in Green Mountain Falls, Joanie's stands out at lunch with Boar's Head-built sandwiches like the rotisserie chicken pesto melt. But there's also house-made specials like the pork green chile inside a cornbread crust. And house pies. — $

Mountain Shadows Restaurant

Old Colorado City: 2223 W. Colorado Ave, 633-2122, mountainshadowsrestaurant.com

This 21-year-old breakfast spot stands a head higher than the pack. Meet the inventive Reuben Omelet, complete with corned beef and sauerkraut. Lunch and dinner sport awesome Ranch Foods Direct steaks and burgers. For those who've left the big-boy pants at home: bright salads and wraps. — $

Oliver's Delicatessen

Northwest: 6602 Delmonico Drive, 599-9411

Nearing 30 years' breakfast and lunch service under the Oliver family, here the highlights are homemade soups and traditional deli sandwiches on fresh-baked house breads. Example: the Oliver, with succulent, hot corned beef, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and tangy Russian dressing on light rye. — $

Pantry Restaurant

Green Mountain Falls: 6980 Lake St., 684-9018

Really, who could possibly not love a French toast rendition constructed out of a house-baked cinnamon roll? (Hello, sugar!) There's also the locally famous cinnamon raisin toast, plus lunch items like burgers and sandwiches — great for patio dining in the summer. — $

Patty Jewett Bar and Grill

Central: 900 E. Española St., 385-6908, pattyjewettclubhouse.com

Recently acquired by the folks behind The Famous, this is essentially a relaxed golf-course clubhouse with an appropriately great view. Try breakfast omelets and the like for early starters, delicious Baja Fish Tacos or a burger at lunch, or cocktails over a sunset on the heated deck. — $

P.B. & Jellies New York Deli

Downtown: 106 E. Kiowa St., 465-2686, pbandjellies.com

Great weekly specials like half off everything after 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. Quality New York Deli-style sandwiches with Boar's Head meats. And the highlight: PB&Js with fun flavors of house-ground peanut butter (like pad Thai), locally made jellies (like cherry jalapeño), and add-ons. — $

PJ's Bistro

Manitou Springs: 819 Manitou Ave., 685-1195

Operated by the son of the European Café's owner, PJ's sports some Eastern European highlights like the bestselling pierogi and potato pancake plates. But sitting on the excellent patio space in summer, it's all about happy hour with a burger and beer. — $$

South Jersey Subs

North Academy: 1726 Brookwood Drive, 531-5100

Take in a charming Jersey attitude, on and off the sub, with classic East Coast items like Tastykakes and Boylan's Birch Beer playing backup. We like the ground Italian sausage sub a lot, heaped with grilled peppers, onions and gooey cheese. If this be your heritage, you'll be at home. — $

Trivelli's Hoagies

Central: 2729 N. Nevada Ave., 471-7733, trivellis.net

North Academy: 4547 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 591-4849 (separately owned)

It's one thing, executed beautifully since 1976: hoagies, 18 styles to be exact. The sizzle of beef (Ranch Foods Direct's) and onions on the flat-top promises true Philly-style satisfaction. Varieties include house marinara, house-cured capicola ham and toppings like sweet cherry peppers. — $

Café

AspenPointe Café & Catering

North Academy: 5069 N. Academy Blvd., 572-6296, aspenpointe.org

Overseen by American Culinary Federation trainer and chef Pete Aiello, AspenPointe teaches culinary skills to the disenfranchised (ranging from at-risk youth to people with disabilities), serving affordable and satisfying sandwiches and the like, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. — $

Blue Sage

Northwest: 5152 Centennial Blvd., 332-1397, creativecateringsolutions.com

Open for lunch from 11 to 2 weekdays, Blue Sage's café arm is really a front for its catering biz but stands just fine on its own. There's lots of locally sourced ingredients from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads, plus stellar desserts. — $

Bon Ton's Café

Old Colorado City: 2601 W. Colorado Ave., 634-1007, bontonscafe.com

It's breakfast all day on a cute patio, with lunch options too, daily, 6 until 3. Serviceable pancakes, omelets and Southwest plates like huevos rancheros, or melts, burgers and sandwiches like shrimp po-boys work, even if they won't take you to NOLA, exactly. — $

Bona Dea Boutique & Tea

Old Colorado City: 1824 W. Colorado Ave., 473-8322, bonadeateahouse.com

Set in a quaint Victorian with local art, clothing and accessories for sale, Bona Dea offers a wide array of loose-leaf teas, available with high tea service by reservation. As for the food: dainty and delightful puff pastry entrées and rich desserts. — $

Café 36

Downtown: 30 W. Dale St., 477-4377, csfineartscenter.org/cafe36.asp

Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and for pre-theater dining, Café 36 just returned to the oversight of Garden of the Gods Gourmet. Look for dressy salads, gourmet sandwiches and entrées like a citrus-glazed mahi mahi. Still, nothing beats the view. — $$

Coffee Cup Café

Monument: 251 Front St., 488-0663

Big plates at reasonable prices, since 1978. Expect the usual suspects like huevos rancheros, pancakes and chicken-fried steak and eggs for breakfast, and hefty Reubens and the like for lunch. And consider chasing your meal with a lovely slice of cake. — $

The Corner Cafe

Downtown: 7 E. Vermijo Ave., 520-1843, cornercafecs.com

An Indy go-to by virtue of location and excellence. Co-owner Bob Smoot's humor shows on items like the "Trailer Trash Certified" chicken-fried steak. Sandwiches are built with quality ingredients; the pork green chile is awesome, as is Smoot's garlic habañero ketchup. Pie anyone? — $

Cucuru Gallery Cafe

Old Colorado City: 2332 W. Colorado Ave., 520-9900, cucuru.santuario.com

An eclectic stop for art, music, wine, High Rise Coffee drinks and a light tapas and sandwich menu. Go for owner Guillermo Alvarado's Cuban sandwich rendition: a panini pressed with thick-cut, house-Mojo-sauce-marinated pork tenderloin, with the classic accompaniments. — $

Dale Street Café

Downtown: 115 E. Dale St., 578-9898, mydalestreetcafe.com

Dale Street is the likeable local equivalent of a chain outfit, in that there truly is something for everyone on its expansive bistro menu: salads, seafood, pizza, pasta, burgers, sandwiches — even Jaegerschnitzel. Then there's the always-charming experience of dining in a Victorian. — $$

Donut Mill

Woodland Park: 310 W. Midland Ave., 687-9793

Best of 2011

Your pick for Best Biscuits & Gravy — sausage gravy all the time; special bacon gravy on weekends — and a great ski-drive stop-in for pastries and coffee. "Monstrous" 12-inch cinnamon rolls and bear-paw-sized, chocolate-dipped bear claws, plus 28 flavors of Blue Bell ice cream. — $

European Restaurant & Café

Manitou Springs: 935 Manitou Ave., 685-3556, europeancafemanitou.com

Operated by Polish chef/owner Bozena Jakubczyk, this Manitou staple is equal parts American and European, with burgers and classic sandwiches paired with brats, goulash and the like at lunch, and omelets with crêpes at breakfast. Pierogi by reservation. — $

Faerie Tales Bakehouse and Catering

Old Colorado City: 1015 W. Colorado Ave., 375-5651, faerietalesbakehouseandcatering.com

Complete with a fantastic patio in the former La Petite Maison space, Faerie Tales offers a delicious, diverse pastry list that shows its cake and catering roots. But the savory menu excels, too: crab cakes Benedict at brunch, steak lollipops at dinner ... and that's just the beginning. — $$

Gold Hill Java

Downtown: 332 N. Tejon St., 577-4291 | Woodland Park: 757 Gold Hills Place, 687-6670, goldhilljava.com

Roasting now out of its new location, which occupied the former Boulder Street Coffee Roasters mid-2011, Gold Hill delivers great drip coffee and sweet seasonal drinks, be they your bag. The Kodiak is the best sandwich choice, with a house-baked cookie chaser. — $

Good 2 Go

Downtown: 2 N. Cascade Ave., Suite P1-A, 632-2939

Oddly located inside the Holly Sugar Building's first-level parking garage, but worth the venture for delightful house-made soups, sandwiches and specials like smoked tri-tip and beef and lamb shepherd's pie, complemented by Colorado Coffee Merchants espresso drinks. — $

La Baguette

Downtown: 117 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 636-5020

Old Colorado City: 2417 W. Colorado Ave., 577-4818, labaguette-co.com

Best of 2011

From the original four, two La Baguettes remain, both independently owned (then the French Bistro and La Tartine, detailed below). The Colorado Avenue shop still bakes for all, and generates Best Of awards for bread and French onion soup, and as bakery and French spots. — $

La Baguette French Bistro

Northwest: 4440 N. Chestnut St., 599-0686, labaguettefrenchbistro.com

Best of 2011

You'll eventually tire of hearing us fawn over the gorgeous Parisian Croque Madame sandwich here, unless you've had one and you get it. This is a more upscale/gourmet split-off from the La Baguette chain, operated by Europeans, but still serving the well-established winning soup, breads and pastries. — $$

La Tartine French Bistro Café

North Academy: 1420 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 598-5550, latartinefrenchbistro.com

Split off from the La Baguette group, La Tartine still serves the award-winning French onion soup and baked goods, plus extensive salads, sandwiches, breakfast plates and delightfully highbrow entrées like the wonderful, garlicky escargot in garlic-parsley butter. — $

Lofty's

Downtown: 287 E. Fountain St., #100, 520-0024

Best of 2011

Art, music and creativity drive passionate purveyor Josh Kennard. Lofty's is a hip stop for Pueblo's sustainable Solar Roast Coffee; good, Olde World Bagel-produced sandwiches and pastries; and fun cocktails with small-batch booze, Seattle's Dry Sodas and Denver's Oogavé sodas. — $

Montague's

Downtown: 1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672

Best of 2011

Yes, it's got comfy chairs, high-back antiques with the kind of charm that lends well to the cozy space, with people chatting over cute pots holding an array of fine teas. Enjoy them with stuffed French toast, turkey pot pie and/or large-enough-to-share pieces of cake. — $

Mucky Duck

Green Mountain Falls: 10530 Ute Pass Ave., 684-2008, muckyduckco.com

Featuring a nightly chalkboard menu that rotates through gourmet goodies like duck breast and rack of lamb, as well as seafood and pasta items, and a sandwich-focused lunch list from which the popular French Dip hails. Brunch on Sundays with beautiful eggs Benedict plates. — $$

Naturally's Market & Cafe

Manitou Springs: 110 Cañon Ave., 685-0555, naturallys.net

The best-sellers are the grilled Caprese sandwich on homemade rosemary foccacia and the Black Diamond Burrito complete with quinoa, millet, basmati rice and adzuki beans — a vegetarian's feast. If those ingredients are Greek to you, stick with the buffalo or salmon burgers. — $

Nemo's Coffee

Central: 2114 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2745, nemoscoffee.com

Five-year-old Nemo's recently moved a block from its old spot, expanding into drive-through service. They're proud of from-scratch everything, including sweet baked goods in the a.m., breakfast burritos, and hot and cold sandwiches until 7. Beans from Boulder's Ozo Coffee Co. — $

The Olive Branch Restaurant

Downtown: 23 S. Tejon St., 475-1199, theolivebranchrest.com

A downtown staple with 33 years under owner Mark Meltzer. He views his menu as "an adventure in healthful dining," which translates to no deep frying, an array of gluten-free options, most everything from scratch, and fresh-squeezed OJ at breakfast. It's a little bit of everything, done right. — $$

R&R Coffee Café

Black Forest: 11425 Black Forest Road, 494-8300, rnrcoffeecafe.com

Bad-ass coffee drinks from a very competent roaster, and equally well-handled pastries and baked goods, too. See photos on Facebook for proof. Past the sweets, a big menu of sandwiches, salads, burritos and breakfast plates awaits. Seriously worth the sidetrack during any I-25 trip. — $

Rudiments Café

Powers: 5863 Palmer Park Blvd., 434-5999, rudimentscafe.com

Dishing contemporary crêpes, basic omelets, good wraps like the Chicken Pickin' (with caramelized onions, provolone and honey mustard), plus soups, salads, sandwiches and daily specials, Rudiments is an affordable, easygoing place, especially good during its open mic nights. — $

Shuga's

Downtown: 702 S. Cascade Ave., 328-1412, shugas.com

Best of 2011

Decade-old Shuga's is so cool it hurts. Advice: always get the divine, peanutty, spicy Brazilian coconut soup, but try a different drink each visit. The award-winning cocktails are fun, as are giant mojito carafes and the legendary Lavender Blossom martini. The lemon-ginger hot tea is a treat, too. — $

Ski Barista

Cheyenne Mountain: 124 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 576-7542

Almost a year old, this ski lodge-themed spot makes its own soups, quiches, salads and some baked goods, with a sweets assist from Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery. Fridays bring a cheese and/or chocolate fondue in the evenings; the coffee hails from Pittsburgh-based roaster Kiva Han. — $

Smiley's Bakery and Cafe

Downtown: 323 N. Tejon St., 328-9447, smileysbakerycafe.com

Doing so well that it expanded into a neighboring space last fall, nearly doubling capacity, Smiley's is your stop for tri-berry French toast, chocolate chip pancakes or a rich omelet. At lunch, it's house soups and hot sandwiches, followed by a mandatory slice of fantastic house pie. — $

Speedtrap

Palmer Lake: 84 State Hwy. 105, 488-2007, speedtrapcoffeebar.com

Under smart new ownership, with an expanded menu of soups, salads and the like joining house-baked muffins and baked goods, to be enjoyed with a Serranos coffee or Bristol beer. Try the oddly awesome buffalo bratwurst crêpe with caramelized onions and sharp cheddar. — $

Spice of Life

Manitou Springs: 727 Manitou Ave., 685-5284, manitouspiceoflife.com

Dry goods like coffees, teas and spices line the dining room as a mini market, but locals go for satisfying breakfast and lunch plates constructed with quality ingredients: breads from Great Harvest; pastries from Boonzaaijer's; cold cuts from Denver's Italco — "a step above Boar's Head." — $

Swirl Wine Bar

Manitou Springs: 717 Manitou Ave., 685-2294, swirlwineemporium.com

Best of 2011

Located behind Swirl Wine Emporium, which will soon shrink a bit to make room for more bar space (and expanded tapas), your favorite wine bar serves simple but good meat-and-cheese platters, with rare and unique drink options. The parlor room and patio equally charm. — $$

Terrazza Grill

Old Colorado City: 1005 W. Colorado Ave., 487-1933, blacktiegourmet.com

Part of Black Tie Gourmet catering, Terrazza Grill serves all three meals: gourmet omelets at breakfast; wraps, salads, pizzas and sandwiches at lunch; and more of the lunch menu at dinner, plus pastas, steaks and seafood in the $12-to-$15 range. — $$

Wade's Café

North Academy: 3504 N. Academy Blvd., 596-8122, wades-cafe.com

Now in its 59th year, Wade's continues to serve popular breakfast and lunch menus. Three-egg omelets come with three delicious buttermilk pancakes (or toast or hash browns, for people who don't like fun). Daily lunch specials, such as chicken and noodles, plus a salad, cost only $6.19. — $

Wisdom Tea House

Monument: 65 Second St., 481-8822, wisdomteahouse.com

If all meals just lead to dessert for you, check out Wisdom's photos on its Facebook page. (Sweet sugary mercy!) The luscious sweets are an integral part of the traditional afternoon tea service ($22.50, requires two-day notice), but just dropping in for a killer buffalo burger is also wise. — $

Wooglin's Deli & Café

Downtown: 823 N. Tejon St., 578-9443, wooglinsdeli.com

Not just a haunt for Colorado College students and faculty, Wooglin's is a fine stop for anyone at all three meals. A cup of Barista coffee with an outstanding quiche in the a.m.; a spicy bagel melt or giant Greek salad at lunch; or daily house soup, French dip, or portobello Swiss burger with a beer at dinner. — $

Chinese

2000 Wok

Central: 115 E. Fillmore St., 633-6900

Pick from a variety of items like lo mein, fried rice and spicy pineapple chicken, each only $1.85. Some say portions are bigger if you get it to go. — $

China Café

Briargate: 2761 Briargate Blvd., 260-1111

Here you'll find heaping portions of Chinese standards with pleasantly crunchy veggies, and a nice, thick, chicken-rich hot-and-sour soup. Your adolescents will want to order the Pu Pu platter ($12), for obvious reasons. — $

China Town

Downtown: 326 S. Nevada Ave., 632-5151

Located across the street from our offices, China Town is the staff go-to for a cold-busting wor wonton soup, as well as quick, generously portioned meals on the cheap and on the fly. — $

China Village

Central: 203 N. Union Blvd., 475-8299, menu4food.com/chinavillage

Since 1982, this affordable Mandarin and Szechuan stop has earned loyalty with its expansive menu of Chinese favorites: Hunan duck and Mongolian beef, velvet chicken and Buddha's delight. Free delivery nearby seals the saucy deal. — $

Chopsticks Asian Bistro

Cheyenne Mountain: 120 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 579-9111, chopsticksasianbistro.com

Promoting "a twist on Asian fusion," Chopsticks is slightly upscale and pleasantly minimalist, with food that's clean and bright with distinct flavor and presentation. Example: The orange flavored chicken ($9) in a tangy brown sauce with orange rinds and fiery Japones peppers. — $$

Coal Mine Dragon Restaurant

West side: 1720 W. Uintah St., 578-5430

Abundant portions for the right price on lo mein, sesame chicken and all the standards. Go for the spicy hot-and-sour soup, followed by crispy cheese wontons and the tender duck with black mushrooms, bamboo shoots and broccoli in a salty brown sauce. — $$

Hunan Springs

Downtown: 24 E. Kiowa St., 634-0800, hunansprings.net

It's perfectly satisfying Chinese on the cheap, like a full entrée of proteins, egg roll, rice and side soup for between $6.25 and $6.75 at lunch. The huge menu also features tons of seafood, fried rice, egg foo young, lo mein and vegetarian options. — $

Jasmine Café

Powers: 6064 Stetson Hills Blvd., 591-9898, jasminecaferestaurant.com

This restaurant blew us away when it opened in 2010, a bright, flavorful step above average Chinese cuisine. There are excellent renditions of all the standards, plus a small Thai offering, lunch plates (with egg roll, rice and soup) topping out at $6.55, and a gorgeous wonton soup. — $$

Lanshing Café

Briargate: 9475 Briar Village Point, #150, 266-8351

Co-owner Cheau Jiang says Lanshing's style reflects all regions of China, from Szechuan to Cantonese and beyond, which means good versions of dishes that are by now familiar to you, from Kung Pao to General Tso to dark and delicious black bean noodles. — $

Silver Pond Chinese Gourmet

North Academy: 5670 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9343, bestsilverpondchinese.com

Taiwanese chef Jack Hu has earned a loyal Springs following over the last 15 years, with fun fusion plates, safe standards like Mongolian beef, but also oddballs like a strawberry chicken plate, with real fruit, that a staff member calls "amazing." Gluten-free options and much more. — $$

Tsing Tao House

Briargate: 3604 Hartsel Drive, Suite C, 528-8884, tsingtaohouse.com

A Briargate take-out star, it also serves cheap lunches — $6-to-$8 entrées include soup, rice, an egg roll, a crab rangoon and tea. Dinner offers the typical enormous selection found in many Chinese eateries, everything from hot Szechuan bean curd to honey-glazed walnut shrimp. — $

Crêperie

Coquette's Bistro and Bakery

Manitou Springs: 915 Manitou Ave., 685-2420, coquettecreperie.com

Best of 2011

Gluten-free nirvana. That about covers it. Crêpes, apps, breakfast plates, sandwiches and a wide boozy and non-alcoholic drink list, all with attitude. Oh, and retail GF products like flour and baked goods, plus an expansion planned for spring with an array of new menu items. — $$

La Creperie Bistro

Downtown: 204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984

With 34 years in the same family and true French roots, this 36-seat eatery offers traditional crêpes like the best-selling chicken with hollandaise or bechamel. Also: gluten-free options, including rich seafood plates, plus organic green salads and rich chocolate mousse via artisan French sourcing. — $$

Paris Crepe Euro Café

Downtown: 218 N. Tejon St., 444-0110

People still freak out when they discover the clever sweet crêpes like the S'more, cheesecake and Fluffernutter options. The savories also sidestep convention with international influences, from a rice-flour Thai beef with peanut sauce to vegetarian Mediterranean with tahini. — $

Diner

Barney's Diner

Downtown: 129 W. Las Animas St., 632-1756

Forty-seven-year-old Barney's is a great, classic, cheap greasy spoon open only for breakfast and lunch. Daily specials include sloppy joes and a locally famous fried chicken; the regular menu sports Ranch Foods Direct beef and local sausage. — $

Dad's Kwik Inn Diner

Security: 385 Main St., 392-5063, dadskwikinn.com

The best of two worlds: gut-bombing diner food and smoky barbecue, the result of one business absorbing the 50-year legacy of another. House-smoked brisket with house Death Metal sauce, alongside heaping burgers and all the greasy egg-stuffs that coffee complements. — $

Hungry Bear

Woodland Park: 111 E. Midland Ave., 687-5912, hungrybearcolorado.com

A breakfast and lunch staple up Ute Pass, with bear-themed everything ("bear necessities," and a "baby bear" kids menu). The homemade buttermilk pancakes star in the early hours, next to steak breakfast burritos. The pot roast French dip with melted Swiss sells best at lunch. — $

King's Chef Diner

Downtown: 110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135; 131 E. Bijou St., 636-5010; kingschefdiner.com

Best of 2011

Pretty much everything you've ever wanted a diner to be, at all hours, with consistency. A perennial Indy Best Of dominator for a green chili featured on the Food Network and Travel Channel and sold in Whole Foods Market. Get The Thing or The Grump in the a.m., a Reuben at lunch. — $$

Maggie Mae's

Central: 2405 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 475-1623

Since 1971, dishing classic American breakfast items from omelets and pancakes to Mexican items like chorizo and huevos rancheros. Then more Mexican favorites at lunch alongside burgers, sandwiches, and a right-decent chicken-fried steak. Also serving neighboring Twisted Knickers Pub. — $

North End Diner

Central: 3005 N. Hancock Ave., 442-1833, northenddiner.com

For a little diner, it offers a lot of charm. A wide menu of skillets, omelets and Mexican items at breakfast, and Ranch Foods Direct burgers among lunch offerings (BOGO for a nickel, weekends after 2 p.m.). Homemade soups, green chile, and a new gluten-free menu as well. — $

The Omelette Parlor

Central: 900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770, co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com

Best of 2011

Yup — it's that place. The one everyone loves, with the well-deserved line often stretching out the door. Big omelets, of course, and all the sweet pancakes and waffles and things that taste good under syrup or the homemade pork green chile. Big sandwiches and salads, too, if you're in a little later. — $

Omelets Etc.

Cheyenne Mountain: 1616 S. Eighth St., 634-7321, omeletsetc.com

A bright, modern space with equally bright diner fare. For instance: house green chile-soaked burritos and omelets; good pies and baked goods over bottomless coffee; nice, savory daily specials from a large chalkboard; and classic American sandwiches. — $

Rosie's Diner

Gleneagle: 11550 Ridgeline Drive, 488-4753

Monument: 411 Hwy. 105, 481-3287, eatatrosies.com

The second location just opened last year a little north of New Life Church, with the same '50s decor including a faux Cadillac host stand. The menu is enormous, between breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, mains and 17 milkshakes. Find everything from chicken quesadillas to liver and onions. — $

Sheldon's Luncheonette

Central: 204 Mount View Lane, 599-0887

West side: 310F S. Eighth St., 520-1654, sheldonslunch.com

With daily specials like meatloaf, barbecue and open-face pork, turkey and roast beef sandwiches, Sheldon's supplements its regular diner dishes of simple omelets and American breakfast items, plus burgers, melts, salads and soups. Two locations and many years in biz say a lot. — $

Susie's Westside Cafe

Cheyenne Mountain: 1686 S. 21st St., 442-0090

With another great city view, overlooking Gold Hill Mesa, Susie's serves Ranch Foods Direct meat, a great biscuits-and-gravy rendition, a good green chile, and really wonderful house-baked pies. Literal sister operation (though separately owned): My Sister's Kitchen in Knob Hill. — $

Fine Dining

Adam's Mountain Café

Manitou Springs: 934 Manitou Ave., 685-1430, adamsmountain.com

Best of 2011

Think local, sustainably raised, slow and simply amazing food. Adam's is an annual shoo-in to our Best Of issues, with highly loyal clientele for plates like orange almond French toast (breakfast), the veggie Planet Burger (lunch) and stupendous Senegalese Vegetables (dinner). — $$

The Black Bear

Green Mountain Falls: 10375 Ute Pass Ave., 684-9648, blackbearrestaurant.com

Currently open for winter hours only, Thursday through Saturday, the Bear is the culinary playground of chef Victor Matthews and his Paragon Culinary School students. Catch expansive chef tables, but also à la carte comfort food and special events. — $$$

The Blue Star

Cheyenne Mountain: 1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net

Best of 2011

Winner for our town's Best Overall Restaurant for a fourth year running. 'Nuff said, but here's more anyway: superstar bartender Nate Windham; divine pastry chef Alicia Prescott; a trio of talented chefs pushing ever-changing menus; and big plans for the adjacent Ivywild School project. — $$$

Briarhurst Manor Estate

Manitou Springs: 404 Manitou Ave., 685-1864, briarhurst.com

Best of 2011

Have a prix fixe four-course meal in the cozy castle, perfect also for periodic murder mystery dinners. Savory items include decadently prepared game meats like red deer with mushroom duxelle; sweets include well-executed classics. — $$$

The Broadmoor dining properties

Cheyenne Mountain: 1 Lake Ave., 577-5771, broadmoordining.com

Best of 2011

We're talking about a property with a record 52 consecutive years of five-star status, and it shows at the dining table. The five-diamond Penrose Room is the priciest pinnacle, and simply incredible. Summit sports the same chef in a more relaxed, contemporary setting known for killer cocktails. Lake Terrace Dining Room is the superlative spot for a 100-item Sunday brunch buffet. Charles Court boasts truly local Colorado cuisine, and serves fantastic small plates at the adjacent West Lobby Bar. The more relaxed Tavern does delightful things with steak, seafood and a wide menu. And most relaxed, the Golden Bee is styled as a 19th-century English pub, complete with ales by the yard. — $$$

Carlos' Bistro

West side: 1025 S. 21st St., 471-2905

It's premier and pricey, dinner only, and actually "old fashioned," in the words of hands-on owner Carlos Echeandia. That means French-inspired continental cuisine, daily fish specials, and fresh wild game Wednesdays. — $$$

The Cliff House at Pikes Peak

Manitou Springs: 306 Cañon Ave., 685-3000, thecliffhouse.com

Depending on the season, you have three dining options: the super-view veranda, the casual Red Mountain Bar and Grill, or the more formal but comfortable main dining room. Prices range, but are fair for the high-quality eats. Think steaks and game meats down to build-your-own pizzas. — $$$

Conscious Table

Downtown: 26 E. Kiowa St., 636-3276, conscioustable.net

Late last year, lauded chef Brent Beavers returned to downtown with co-chef Aaron Retka, bringing a sustainability focus to lunch and dinner. Brilliant scallop plates; bangin' bison entrées; the Sencha salad. Cheaper at lunch, plus $8 late-night menu. Oh — and cooking classes. — $$$

Craftwood Inn

Manitou Springs: 404 El Paso Blvd., 685-9000, craftwood.com

Craftwood Inn's menu is like a foodie's Playboy or Playgirl: lots of eye candy. But at some point you have to quit ogling and choose between the apple-cherry wild boar spare ribs and the spiced pumpkin seed antelope with pear-berry salsa and agave whiskey reduction. Just ... damn. — $$$

The Famous

Downtown: 31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, thefamoussteakhouse.net

Best of 2011

Your favorite steakhouse, all swank and no BS. Home of a killer $12.95 cheeseburger that handily won our burger "food fight" last year, plus giant, pricey steak and seafood plates with hearty, family-style side portions. On top of weekly specials, look for new lunch promotions in 2012. — $$$

Gertrude's

Old Colorado City: 2625 W. Colorado Ave., 471-0887, gertrudesrestaurant.com

Under different owners but well trafficked since 1980, Gertrude's dishes gourmet Benedicts and the like on weekends; and solid sandwiches, pastas, steaks and seafoods across lunch and dinner. Think creamy spinach-walnut tortellini, or a smoked cheddar buffalo burger on ciabatta. — $$$

Joseph's Fine Dining

Cheyenne Mountain: 1606 S. Eighth St., 630-3631, josephsdining.com

Entering its fifth year of fine-dining flair, Joseph's maintains its evening popularity for tableside flambéed items: fantastic Hot Spinach Pernod salads, pepper steaks and Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilees. But past the lamb, trout, veal and duck, you'll find an affordable gourmet lunch. — $$$

MacKenzie's Chop House

Downtown: 128 S. Tejon St., 635-3536, mackenzieschophouse.com

Best of 2011

Subterranean swank, courtesy Concept Restaurants. Dark wood, deep martinis, burly steaks and a weekly fresh sheet that proves longtime Springs chef Pete Moreno hasn't fallen asleep on the job. For us: Ahi salad at lunch, and Colorado rack of lamb at dinner, please. — $$$

The Margarita at PineCreek

Northwest: 7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, margaritaatpinecreek.com

Our love for the Margarita knows no boundaries. The restaurant supports local ranching and agriculture; hosts a farmers market; does bad-ass multi-course prix fixe dinners; offers a more relaxed, comfort-food-rich lounge menu; and offers a great Sunday brunch and fun patio events. Simply one of the best. — $$$

Marigold Café and Bakery

Northwest: 4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776, marigoldcoloradosprings.com

Best of 2011

The owners of this 20-year-gem studied under legendary French chef Paul Bocuse (Dominique) as well as at the Culinary Institute of America (Elaine). Beyond great French bistro-style entrées, Indy readers annually award the gorgeous desserts. 2011 runner-up for Best Overall Restaurant. — $$$

The Melting Pot

Downtown: 30-A E. Pikes Peak Ave., 385-0300, meltingpot.com

It's a chain with a local's feel and an expansive, quality wine list. The answer to all special-occasion needs, the fondue setup allows for jointly dipping breads and fruits into molten cheese (or chocolate), and fine meats and veggie hunks into boiling broths. — $$$

The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant

Manitou Springs: 733 Manitou Ave., 685-0277, monalisafondue.com

Giving the phrase "wine flights in the cellar" a good reputation since at least the last time you craved a full fondue coursing. You can get fondue dinners for two ($40 to $49 each) or cheese, entrée and chocolate varieties à la carte. Wild game platters and liqueur-enhanced desserts are highlights. — $$$

Motif

Old Colorado City: 2432 Cucharras St., 635-5635, motifwest.com

Equal parts music, martinis and upscale munchies, catering-biz spin-off Motif is simply cool, but open Thursday through Saturday only. From the small plate menu with big flavors, the white truffle fries are a no-brainer, and the Kobe brioche sliders a fine companion piece. — $$

moZaic

Palmer Lake: 443 S. Hwy. 105, 481-1800, innatpalmerdivide.com

A lodge-set dining room with a view, whose seasonal menus are to be savored for Sunday brunch, lunch or dinner. Lunch is gourmet-affordable with the likes of a bison burger and soft-shell crab and bacon sandwich. The Black and Bleu Ribeye ($30) reigns supreme at dinner. — $$$

Nosh

Downtown: 121 S. Tejon St., 634-6674, nosh121.com

Best of 2011

When Shane Lyons left for New York last year, Nate Dirnberger became chef; he's maintained the menu's excellence and added a few creative twists of his own. Your pick for five Indy Best Of nods, including Cutting-Edge Menu and Happy Hour. You'll love the wings and the bison sandwich. — $$

The Pepper Tree

West side: 888 W. Moreno Ave., 471-4888, peppertreecs.com

Serving dinner only with a tremendous view over the city, this is a sister restaurant to Woodland Park's Swiss Chalet. Its "pride and joy" are the pepper steaks: filet cuts with mango chutney, flambéed in brandy ($34.95 to $49.95). All else is equally haute, from Colorado lamb to Maine lobster. — $$$

The Rabbit Hole

Downtown: 101 N. Tejon St., 203-5072, rabbitholedinner.com

Racking up a respectable number of Best Of awards in its first year, including Best New Restaurant, Rabbit Hole is the go-to for: great cocktails; a big Colorado craft beer list; full menu service until 1:30 a.m.; half-off-app happy hours; and playfully dressed, creative mains. — $$$

Restaurant Fifteen Twentyone

Pueblo: 123 N. Main St., 719/542-9999, restaurant1521.com

At the pinnacle of Pueblo's fine-dining scene, ex-Denver chef Duy Pham builds delicious contemporary plates with classic French influences. It's dinner-only, with five-course chef's tables by advance request, seasonal farm-to-table events and beauties like Duck Two Ways (breast and confit). — $$$

Steaksmith

North Academy: 3802 Maizeland Road, 596-9300, steaksmith.com

Catch happy hours and a cheap small-plate menu in the Fireside Lounge, plus specials like a recent four-course rib eye dinner for $29.95. The house-aged steaks are the main attraction, along with an extensive seafood menu including selections like mahi mahi in a spicy macadamia nut butter. — $$$

Sunbird

Northwest: 230 Point of the Pines Drive, 598-8990, thesunbird.com

A renowned Sunday brunch and unbeatable city skyline view. No lunch service, but a special three-course Sunset Dinner menu available from 4:30 to 6 ($17.95 to $19.95). The prime rib and filet mignon are best-sellers, but nobody will steer you away from the Australian lobster tail. — $$$

Swiss Chalet

Woodland Park: 19263 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, 687-2001, swisschaletofwoodlandpark.com

Sister outfit of the Pepper Tree, Swiss Chalet is equally regal, with another great view and a weekly chalkboard menu. Lunch bears a small list of soups, salads and sandwiches like a Reuben. Dinner blows it up with dishes like an escargot starter, steaks, lamb, scallops and Jager Schnitzel. — $$$

Tabeguache Steakhouse

Woodland Park: 407 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, 687-8536

Now featuring wines of the week with special pricing, Tabeguache is a straightforward steakhouse proud to support and serve Ranch Foods Direct. Get a salad course before slicing into a filet or New York strip, and finish it off with a dessert prepared tableside. — $$$

TAPAteria

Old Colorado City: 2607 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8272, tapateria.com

Pizzeria Rustica's Spanish sister, this Barcelona-inspired tapas joint is totally gluten-free, half vegetarian and a quarter vegan. Catch delicious small items that range from gazpacho shooters to wild salmon tartare and manchego-stuffed bell peppers, next to a great drink selection. — $$

Walter's Bistro

Cheyenne Mountain: 146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 630-0201, waltersbistrocs.com

Best of 2011

Many people start with a cup of Walter's locally famous Maine lobster bisque, and you should too. It's fabulous. After that, cut into a fancy entrée such as a pumpkin-seed-and-crab-crusted Colorado striped bass with horseradish cream sauce. You get the idea how good this is. — $$$

The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery

Downtown: 25 W. Cimarron St., 475-8880, thewarehouserestaurant.com

What's it gonna be? Coffee-rubbed bison shortribs with black bean gnocchi? Wild boar shank with apricot-cilantro chutney? Beer-marinated elk with brandied mushrooms, bacon and lingonberries? Or a build-your-own bison burger at lunch? Or weekday half-off-app-and-beer happy hours? — $$$

German

Edelweiss German Restaurant

Cheyenne Mountain: 34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220, edelweissrest.com

Best of 2011

A Springs fixture: authentic German with more than 40 years' local history. All your great German beers on tap, everything awesome and meaty that ends in "-schnitzel" or "-braten," and wonderful house sweets like Stollen and a dozen torte varieties. Bonus: lovely patio dining. — $$

Schnitzel Fritz

Powers: 4037 Tutt Blvd., 573-2000, schnitzelfritz.com

Schnitzel Fritz is brought to you by the folks behind the excellent Elke's German Deli in Fountain and the new Old German Bakery wholesale operation complete with master German pastry chef. (Sweets are to be found at both eateries.) Enjoy Ranch Foods Direct meats; schnitzel plates and much more. — $

Uwe's German Restaurant

Central: 31 Iowa Ave., 475-1611

A tucked-away treasure that dishes authentic German cuisine, this is a great stop for a giant helping of Warsteiner beer over schnitzel, spätzle or sauerbraten. Another great entrée: the rouladen, with thin beef slivers enveloping bacon, pickle and onion with mustard and spices. — $

Greater Asia

The Curry Leaf Restaurant

Downtown: 321 N. Tejon St., 447-0608, curryleafrestaurant.com

The recently relocated Curry Leaf is simply a world-beater. Sri Lanka native Lana Hillstrom cooks true to her culture, using an array of intoxicating spices that lead to knockout plates, from a rich, brilliant eggplant curry to sweet and spicy mango curry. This, you will love. — $

Everest Nepal Restaurant

Downtown: 28 E. Bijou St., 473-3890, everesttibetimports.com/restaurant.html

You've shopped in the handful of Tibetan import stores around town, now dig the restaurant, perhaps for the wholly satisfying $8.99 lunch buffet. Then or at dinner, offerings include Indian and Nepali plates — vibrant daal, curry and the like — best with a mango lassi. — $

India Palace

North Academy: 5644 N. Academy Blvd., 535-9196

For our money and culinary adoration, none of young owner Raj Kumar's menu items beat the divine, creamy chicken makhani. Still, the stir-fry-like mixed biryani also kills, after a tangy samosa chat app. Sample most widely at the $7.95 lunch buffet. — $

Julie's Bar and Grill

South Academy: 1863 S. Academy Blvd., 596-4019

Year-old Julie's is (to our knowledge) the Springs' only Filipino eatery, and it's quite good. Catch a daily hot line, three items with rice for $6.95, that also features Hawaiian dishes like Kalua pork from Maui native chef Romeo Arruiza. Plus an answer to our quiz: What are afritada, tocino and pinakbet? — $

Little Nepal

Cheyenne Mountain: 1747 S. Eighth St., 477-6997, lnepal.com

Best of 2011

Best-sellers at this Best Of victor, according to co-owner Muku Bhandari: the masalas, kormas, makhani and curries, all with lamb, chicken, shrimp, and salmon options and lovely, intoxicating sauces. Catch monthly belly dances, a daily lunch buffet and a Thursday dinner buffet. — $$

Mirch Masala

North Academy: 5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003, mirchmasalacuisine.com

Holding several past Best Of victories in the last decade (and generously sharing its delicious rice pudding recipe on its website), Mirch Masala's expansive Indian lunch buffet ($8.95) rivals its competitors easily. As do evening entrées like curries, tandoori meats, biryani, and rich paneer plates. — $

Royal Buffet

North Academy: 3680 Citadel Drive North, 574-6666, royalbuffetcoloradosprings.com

Spawned by two similar operations in Kansas, owner Linda Lu's expansive buffet offers all-you-can-eat lunches ($6.99) and dinners ($10.99). You'll find more than 100 items, ranging from sushi and hibachi plates to Chinese Szechuan offerings and American steaks. — $

Taste of India

North Academy: 4820 Flintridge Drive, 598-3428, tasteofindiasprings.com

For most loyal guests, the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet ($8.95, Tuesday through Sunday) is the highlight. Since 1998, this has been a frequent Best Of winner (second place this year), with wide support from the Indian community. Butter chicken, saag paneer — it's all here, made beautifully. — $

TK's Mongolian Grill

Cheyenne Mountain: 1817 S. Nevada Ave., 328-1000

It's like HuHot Mongolian Grill, but local. Grab a bowl and choose between proteins (steak, shrimp, tofu, etc.), then noodles and vegetables (from an array of 20-something options), and 15 homemade sauces. Turn it in and they wok-fry it for you; everyone walks away happy. — $

International

Island Grill Take Out

Downtown: 1107 S. Nevada Ave., #101, 578-1468, islandgrilltakeout.com

Since 2003, Jamaican native Randal Whyte has solo-run this tiny gem of jerk goodness, focusing on flavor over empty heat. It's simply awesome, from coconut-milk rice and sweet plantains to buttery cabbage, curry goat, jerk chicken and ackee, and cod fish. — $

Jamaican Flavor

South Academy: 3016 S. Academy Blvd., 391-0142

A tiny, 15-seat eatery under Jamaican-born owner Hugh Davis, a cook since age 9. His jerk chicken is awesome, with allspice and nutmeg joining the scotch bonnets. For milder spice, get the aromatic coconut milk curry chicken. Adventurous eaters: Go for the goat or oxtail. — $

La'au's Taco Shop

Downtown: 830 N. Tejon St., #110, 578-5228, laaustacoshop.com

With island influences from Hawaii to Indonesia, La'au's offers more fresh crunch than the average taco stop (think mango and papaya toppings), though there's hearty pork, steak and chicken options, too. Nobody beats the all-day happy hours: two Bristols for $5, $1.50 PBRs, $3 margaritas. — $

Rasta Pasta

Downtown: 405 N. Tejon St., 481-6888, rastapastacs.com

One love: always. Two-for-one Bristol beers: Tuesday only. Jerk seasoning abounds, with options to turn up the heat on any pasta. Gluten-free and vegan options, too. We'll never get over the great, fruit-bearing Tortellini Jamaica Mon, though others go for the titular jerk chicken plate. — $

Sabores del Peru

South Academy: 2356 S. Academy Blvd., 447-9646

Laying sole claim to Peruvian and Puerto Rican service in the Springs, Sabores is a welcome departure from the abundance of Tex-Mex, with true, vibrant flavors of South America and the Caribbean. Everything from ceviche and seafood with yucca fries to pork and plantains. — $$

Spice Island Grill

Downtown: 10 N. Sierra Madre St., 473-8280, spiceislandgrill.com

Inhabiting El Tesoro's old haunt, this Jamaican gem is bursting with flavor. We picked its zesty house jerk sauce ($6 to $9 by the bottle) as one our top dishes of 2011, because everything it touches turns awesome, including tofu fries and chicken. For true Rastas, vegan Ital dishes. — $$

Tajine Alami

Manitou Springs: 10 Old Man's Trail, 685-1119, tajinealami.com

Our only Moroccan eatery, featuring weekend bellydancing and multi-course meals that include cous-cous, clay pot-cooked meats, seafood and vegetables, warming soups and phyllo pastries. Take off your shoes and let orange and rose blossom water prepare your hands for feasting. — $$

Uchenna

Old Colorado City: 2501 W. Colorado Ave., #108, 634-5070, uchennalive.com

The sole stop for Ethiopian in the Springs, via warm Ethiopia native Maya Hetman, Uchenna is simply incredible. Take fermented teff-flour bread and scoop marvelously seasoned lentils, favas, chickpeas, lamb, beef, chicken or shrimp with intoxicating spices. Remember: It's Slow Food. — $$

Italian

Bambino's Pizzeria

Central: 2849 E. Platte Ave., 630-8121, bambinospizza.com

A major draw: the $7.95 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet (repeated Wednesday and Sunday nights), complete with soups, salads, pizza, pastas and desserts. Oh, and it's actually quite good. Also known as a sports bar. — $

Ficco's Little Italy

Downtown: 1105 S. Tejon St., 434-7868

Just opened, Ficco's is still getting on its feet with a small lunch menu; dinner menu coming shortly. From the homemade Italian dishes that date back to the owner's grandmother's recipes, get The Lucky, a grinder with Denver's Polidori Sausage. Finish with superb cannoli and banana cream pie. — $

Fratelli Ristorante Italiano

Downtown: 124 N. Nevada Ave., 575-9571, fratelliristorante.com

When the USA Pro Cycling Challenge arrived, the Italian team ate here. The outfit shines with well-executed, classic Italian plates, plus specials and new menu items like risotto primavera or buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto and pears. Homemade desserts, happy hours, gluten-free options. Yum. — $$

Luigi's Homemade Italian Food

Downtown: 947 S. Tejon St., 632-7339, luigiscoloradosprings.com

A 50-plus-year family legacy restaurant, Luigi's is classic, down to checkered tablecloths, empty Chianti bottles and faux vines. Popular entrées like the homemade, béchamel-rich tortellacci come with salad or soup. There's also pizzas, pastas, sandwiches and more loveliness; dinner service only. — $$

Mangia Mangia

Woodland Park: 407 E. Grace Ave., 687-3400, mangiamangiawp.com

The answer to Italian cravings up Ute Pass, where locals really are known by name. Serviceable sandwiches at lunch with daily specials, and mostly pasta plates at night, with a little seafood thrown in. We found success in the sausage puttanesca and beurre blanc salmon on last visit. — $$

Mollica's Italian Market & Deli

Northwest: 985 Garden of the Gods Road, 598-1088, mollicas.com

Stuffing the Springs with delicious carbs since 1987, Mollica's is a family affair with true Italian charm: great sandwiches loaded with fine deli meats and cheeses, often meeting an au jus dip. And that's saying nothing of the big salads and manicotti and pastas of the day. — $

Panino's Restaurant

Cheyenne Mountain: 1721 S. Eighth St., 635-1188 | Downtown: 604 N. Tejon St., 635-7452, paninos.com

The 30-year-old Eighth Street location is newly remodeled, and you too can keep it fresh with Facebook coupons for weekly featured Panino sandwiches (some 30, unique rolled-dough creations). Fat calzones plus all-you-can-eat pizza Tuesdays ($7.99) and spaghetti Wednesdays ($8.99). — $

Paravicini's Italian Bistro

Old Colorado City: 2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com

Best of 2011

Your pick again for the Springs' Best Italian. Let's examine a sample meal's progression: spicy tomato eggplant fries, then wedding soup, followed by garlicky capellini Pomodoro and scallops alla pesto. Homemade tiramisu for dessert, or the chocolate cheesecake with brandy-cherry sauce. — $$

Rocco's Italian Restaurant

North Academy: 3878 Maizeland Road, 574-1426, roccoscolorado.com

Turning 30 this year, Rocco's offers noticeably warm service for its mostly homemade menu. The house sauce is pleasantly garlicky and mildly sweet, and great on dishes like the breaded-chicken linguine Parmigiano. Pizzas and seafood, too, but save room for Italian cream cake. — $$

Roman Villa Pizza

Central: 3005 N. Nevada Ave., 635-1806

Turning 53 this year under the Biondi family, 14-table Roman Villa is legend, for good reasons. Here's one: homemade pastas like the outstanding three-cheese and spinach tortellacci in a caramelized onion-spiked, creamy tomato sauce. Great pizzas and house sausage, too. — $$

The Villa

Palmer Lake: 75 S. Hwy. 105, 481-2222, thevillapalmerlake.com

Its history entwined with the Roman Villa, this recently revived Villa combines simple Italian plates and contemporary gourmet items under the leadership of the former B&E Filling Station owners. Start with delightful crab and crawfish cakes, then get the ham-amped sea scallops. — $$

Korean

Café Banzai

Central: 2917 Galley Road, 622-0333

When he took over the longtime Lettuce Head location last year, chef Kwi Kim expanded his space and menu, featuring affordable plates like $5.99 lunch specials and $5 chicken teriyaki bowls, in addition to a rockin' bulgogi rendition. Try the oyako donburi for simple goodness. — $

Halla San Korean Barbecue

North Academy: 1231 N. Academy Blvd., 622-9595, hallasanbbq.com

Decade-old Halla San will, like pretty much all of our local Korean eateries, win your affection with generous banchan (side bowls) and delicious renditions of Korean standards — everything from a yummy stone-bowl bibimbab to sweet, cast-iron-served bulgogi. — $$

Jin Go Gae

Powers: 1825 Peterson Road, 574-2060

Formerly the Orange Plate Café. Korean-born owner Ramona Burns' Asian accents to the American menu became so popular, she went to a full Korean menu in 2011. Catch a $6.99 bulgogi special daily, plus great lunch deals and staple Korean entrées. — $

San Chang House

North Academy: 3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-1707

Best of 2011

Our regular winner for Best Korean, San Chang is constantly packed with members of the local Korean community, a good sign past what your senses tell you. We recently got happily punished by the spicy nakji bokum, octopus with crisp veggies and kimchi. Get some. — $$

Seoul Tofu Grill

South Academy: 296 S. Academy Blvd., Suite F, 550-2000, seoultofugrill.com

Check out the photo menu online; the colorful dishes speak for themselves. This is excellent Korean food brought to you by the Moon family, who ran a popular south-end eatery years ago. Challenge yourself with blood sausages, bone-broth soups and more. A great lunch bento deal. — $$

Mediterranean

Arabica Café

Downtown: 12 S. Tejon St., 471-2444, cravearabica.com

Arabica Café came under new ownership last June, but the recipes are still made in the former owner's style from Palestine. The hummus and shawarma are reportedly great, with bright citrus and spice notes, respectively. — $

Babylon Market & Cafe

North Academy: 2427 N. Academy Blvd., wix.com/babylonmarket/babylonmarket

Newly opened Babylon puts a slight Iraqi spin on traditional Middle Eastern plates like falafel, kababs and gyros thanks to Iraqi owner Ra'ad Sumaidaie. Enjoy meals with Iraqi teas or Turkish coffee, and shop the attached market for speciality imports from dates to dolmas. — $

Briar Mart

Briargate: 1843 Briargate Blvd., 528-6869, caspiancafe.com

North Academy: 6799 N. Academy Blvd. (opening around late spring)

Tied by family to the Caspian Cafe, Briar Mart is basically a tiny eatery inside an ethnic grocery store (a bonus for drink and dessert selection). It's dished delectable, affordable Mideast fare for the last 15 years. Get the wonderful Mazeh Platter, and look for a second location soon. — $

Caspian Café

Central: 4375 Sinton Road, 528-1155, caspiancafe.com

Go Friday or Saturday night to enjoy belly dancing next to distinctive Mediterranean food at a good price. Its multinational menu ranges from gyros and moussaka to fish, vegetarian plates and excellent desserts. — $$

Greek Cafe

Powers: 4343 Integrity Point, 591-8294

Iran native Said Rishsefid, family member of the Greek Grill's owners, serves a number of satisfying Kronos Foods products from Chicago, including good gyros, spanakopita and baklava. He makes his own delicious tzatziki. — $

Greek Grille Cafe

Briargate: 8844 N. Union Blvd., 282-7776, greekgrillecafe.com

A solid stop for falafel and kabobs, also using specialty Kronos Foods products for the non-house-made items. Go for a grilled chicken plate or fat gyro. — $

Heart of Jerusalem Café

Manitou Springs: 718 Manitou Ave., 685-1325

North Academy: 4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554, heartofjerusalemcafe.com

Best of 2011

The 2011 winner for Best Middle Eastern and Hummus, Heart of Jerusalem is affordable and delicious. Fun blends like the "chikofel" and "beefofel" buck the norm, but it's hard to argue against the $8, shawarma-loaded hummus bowl plate. Baklava mandatory. — $

In & Out Gyros

Downtown: 36 E. Bijou St., 635-7749

Kronos Foods provides the gyro meat and baklava, but owner Behnam Gilanpour (who ran the Persian Grill here, before the brief Rumi's Kabab era) makes most everything else, including yogurt for the house tzatziki. Get the veggie platter. Bonus: open late. — $

Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna

Old Colorado City: 2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406, jakeandtellys.com

Best of 2011

The Topakas brothers branched out to Denver in 2011 with Axios Estiatorio, but their flagship eatery remains a very wise choice when Springs-bound. Great versions of Greek and Mediterranean classics plus creative specials, bountiful happy hours and excellent wine dinners. Yes — opa! — $$

Mediterranean Café

Downtown: 118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115, medcafe-co.com

Consistently excellent, Med Café nails the cuisine with bright spices and garlic flavors and standout renditions of hummus, baba ghanouj and tzatziki. For the discerning yet indecisive, there's the awesome Half & Half: gyro and falafel with feta, tahini and hot sauce. — $$

Pegasus Mediterranean Café

Woodland Park: 19251 E. U.S. Hwy 24, 687-4584, pegasuscafewp.com

Mediterranean with a Lebanese influence, Pegasus serves one of our favorite dishes of last year: a spicy gyro complete with the usual fixins, plus jalapeños and Sriracha. Other fun touches include floral rosewater in the lemonade and orange-blossom syrup on the house baklava. — $$

Sahara Café

Manitou Springs: 954 Manitou Ave., 685-2303, thesaharacafe.com

In the space of the former Nile Café, Jordanian owner Sam Ayaad delivers touches of his home cuisine, plus Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian flavors. You'll mostly recognize the familiar and well-made falafel, gyros and so forth, but go to discover fattoush, ma'amoul and sage tea. — $

Taste of Jerusalem Café

Downtown: 15 E. Bijou St., 477-1777

South Academy: 2810 S. Academy Blvd., 391-1777, tasteofjerusalemcafe.com

After splitting from Heart of Jerusalem Café in 2009, Yemini owner Abdul Nasser added his own accents to the Mediterranean menu — like stuffed pita sambusa and mishkool, seasoned rice and veggies — which includes Halal items for observant Muslims. Also great shawarma, falafel, etc. — $

Westside International Restaurant, Deli & Mart

Old Colorado City: 1502 W. Colorado Ave., 227-9400

As the name implies, there's more than just dining to be had here. You can shop for imported dry goods or even glass pipes. But when it's eatin' time, Egyptian owner Michael Ezzat will personally take good care of you: Egyptian tea, gyros, mixed grill plates and a great falafel platter. — $

Mexican/Southwestern

Alice's Mexican Cuisine

Downtown: 109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 578-8882, alicesmexicancuisine.com

Turning five soon in the alleyway behind Josh & John's, Alice's does right by Tex-Mex, starting with a nice, warmed house salsa with pleasant bite. The chimichangas plate was our favorite on last visit, but Alice says her gorditas and chicken enchiladas sell best. Great tres leches cake by request. — $

Amanda's Fonda

West side: 3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975

Best of 2011

Amanda's is a 12-time Best Of winner in a time of transition: It was sold mid-year to a guy who owns a handful of Wendy's, and he's been talking growth. Regardless, our visit soon after the sale was full of largely satisfying southwestern dishes, and you'll never be disappointed by the creekside patio. — $

Arceo's Mexican Family Restaurant

Cheyenne Mountain: 1605 S. Nevada Ave., 442-2626

Northwest: 4608 Rusina Road, 264-0143, arceos.biz

Two locations serve Tex-Mex standards, but also unique touches, like crumbed Parmesan atop chicken enchiladas. The Chile Colorado burrito stars: top sirloin hunks under melted cheddar and Monterey Jack, with an Anaheim-and-jalapeño red sauce. — $

Bean Bandit

Central: 320 N. Circle Drive, 634-9945; 2819 N. Nevada Ave., 634-9946

The Vasquez family's Circle Drive location turns 46 this year, which says plenty. Its second spot just opened in early January. You'll find popular chile rellenos and shredded beef enchiladas at both, but specials and new items like a Pueblo-style slopper at the spot next to the Navajo Hogan. — $

Big Burrito

North Academy: 3659 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 598-0843

Open late and dishing fittingly big-ass burritos, this extension of a small Arizona-based chain is quite good for its category. The carne asada fries are killer, as is the carne asada burrito with a great guacamole, and shredded dark-meat chicken taco. — $

Carlos Miguel's

Multiple locations

Somewhat of a gourmet Mexican joint, worth the up-charge, Carlos Miguel's opened its third Springs location in Briargate in mid 2011, adding to its holdings in Woodland Park and on Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard. Great margaritas, ceviche and entrées like the pollo en mole. — $$

Crystal Park Cantina

Manitou Springs: 178 Crystal Park Road, 685-5999, crystalparkcantina.com

A favorite newbie of 2011, run by ex-Denver Bronco Justin Armour's family. Highlights: the jalapeño Cantina Burger, Southwestern standards with a coastal Mexican flair, and stunning fresh margaritas like the sangria and jalapeño-cilantro. Newly expanded menu; expanded hours soon. — $$

El Padrino Mexicano

Gleneagle: 13425 Voyager Pkwy., 487-2727, elpadrinos.com

Darin Vasquez of the Bean Bandit family opened this sharply decorated, upscale Tex-Mex spot in mid-2008, dishing sizable combo plates at both lunch and dinner, plus steaks and seafood plates at night. We like the green chile-smothered guacamole-and-shredded-pork burrito. — $

El Poblano

Central: 908 N. Circle Drive, Suite A, 632-1971

Winner of our 2010 "taco truck throwdown" in its mobile version, El Poblano's sit-down location is great for a wider selection of Mexican staples. Make a visit for the mole poblano or mole enchiladas, both bearing chicken soaked in the sweet, creamy, earthy, mildly spicy sauce. — $

El Super Taco

North Academy: 1485 Jamboree Drive, 266-6633

South Academy: 2890 S. Academy Blvd., 392-2277

Popular enough to warrant the second location opening outside Chapel Hills Mall last fall, El Super Taco pulls in many with its carne asada fries and variety of sweet churros for dessert. We enjoyed a perfectly pleasing Super Adobado Burrito (pork and refried beans) and carne asada chimichanga. — $

El Taco Rey

Downtown: 330 E. Colorado Ave., 475-9722, eltacorey.com

Another longtime Springs fixture run by the capable Aguilar family. Lines out the door; the locally legendary pork-avocado burrito; loaded daily specials and hefty combo dinners for about $8; tres leches cake to finish. Done. — $

Estela's Mexican Restaurant

Cheyenne Mountain: 925 S. Eighth St., 575-0244

From the folks behind Pueblo's legendary Mill Stop Café, and bearing its own legacy in the Springs, Estela's is your stop for spot-on, house red and green chiles smothering popular plates like the El Burro burrito. Free sopapillas at meal's end, plus a new, 33-tequila custom margarita bar. — $

Fiesta Jalisco

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

Actually a small Colorado chain with 10 locations, including ski towns, Fiesta Jalisco supposedly serves the flavors of Jalisco, Mexico. It's a huge list with everything from tostadas and fajitas to great soups like the clear sopa de albondigas with pork and beef meatballs. — $

Jorge's/Jorge's Sombrero

Old Colorado City: 2427 W. Colorado Ave., 634-9031

Pueblo: 1319 E. Evans Ave., 719/564-6486, jorgessombrero.com

When Barack Obama passed through Pueblo days before the election in 2008, his family ate at quarter-century-old Jorge's Sombrero. Owner Jorge Ayala just sank half a million dollars into the newly renovated, expanded and reopened Springs location. It's still all about margaritas and tacos. — $$

José Muldoon's

Downtown: 222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311 | Powers: 5710 S. Carefree Circle, 574-5673,josemuldoons.com

It racked up a handful of second-place finishes in the 2011 Indy Best Of, and 30-plus-year-old José's is always a strong contender as the Tex-Mex heart of the local Concept Restaurants dynasty. Great happy hours and margaritas and hearty fare from mahi mahi to buffalo plates. — $$

La Carreta Mexican Restaurant

Central: 35 Iowa Ave., 477-1157

A popular lunch spot for public officials, La Carreta dishes everything from authentic Caldo de Res (beef soup) to chicken mole, Tacos al Pastor, and reportedly wonderful chile rellenos and margaritas. You'll also find fajitas, enchiladas and Tex-Mex faves. — $

La Casa Fiesta New Mexican Restaurant

Monument: 230 Front St., 481-1234, lacasafiesta.net

Best of 2011

Indy readers' choice for Monument neighborhood eatery, with 60-plus years history under the Morris family. It's known for superior margaritas (more than 60 tequilas are on hand), and best-sellers like the smoked pork carnitas and chipotle honey lime ribs. Also features a full gluten-free menu. — $

La Casita Mexican Grill

Multiple locations: lacasitamexigrill.com

You can't miss the bright pink stucco on Eighth Street, North Nevada Avenue or Woodmen Road. And you shouldn't miss deals like Taco Tuesdays from 4 to 9 p.m., with BOGO half-off. Or the periodic all-you-can-eat breakfast ($5.99), lunch or dinner ($7.99) deals. — $

La Perla Tapatía Mexican Taqueria

North Academy: 4737 N. Academy Blvd., 228-6006, laperlatapatiacs.com

Transplanted in 2011 from its original west-side spot and run by Guadalajara native Sergio Laureano, "the pearl" is dynamite. You must eat one of our Top 10 picks of 2011, the tortas de pierna, a giant, smoky pork sandwich with salsa fresca, crema espesa and God's blessing. — $

La Unica

Old Colorado City: 3317 W. Colorado Ave., 633-7499

With 14 years on the west side after five on Platte Avenue, the Barraza family's charmingly decorated eatery offers slightly upscale Tex-Mex. The house salsa is surprisingly hot and delicious, as is the house guacamole. The enchiladas bear a delicious red sauce with cinnamon hints. — $$

The Loop

Manitou Springs: 965 Manitou Ave., 685-9344, theloopatmanitou.com

Best of 2011

Champion in the contentious Bar for a Margarita Best Of category, offering around 30 tequilas and new creations like The Skinny, a clean agave and lime margarita. Past a huge menu of Tex-Mex staples, find specials like the stone-bowl Molcajete: pork, chicken and steak in poblano sauce. — $$

Los Compadres

Central: 2237 E. Platte Ave., 473-2524

New owner and Acapulco-native Baltazar Rosas changed the name from La Costa Chica in December, but the food remains great in the way taco-truck food is. Fatty tripe and tender steak tacos; sopes rich with cheesy masa; and a great torta adobada sandwich of marinated pork. — $

Monica's Taco Shop

Central: 30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996 | Powers: 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022

Best of 2011

So there I am, driving to Denver with a fresh Monica's breakfast burrito steaming in my hand, burning my mouth each time I bite, yet I can't stop or wait for it to cool. I'm inexplicably compelled to suffer gloriously onward. Is it the chorizo? The salsa verde? Who cares. It is epic. — $

Pueblo Viejo

North Academy: 5598 N. Academy Blvd., 266-1999 | Powers: 5934 Stetson Hills Blvd., 638-6040

With four locations, including others in Fort Collins and Windsor, Pueblo Viejo is sharply decorated and on the upscale side of Tex-Mex. An extensive menu features all the usuals — chile rellenos, steak fajitas, carnitas, enchiladas — plus fat seafood plates and good margaritas. — $$

Rudy's Little Hideaway

Cheyenne Mountain: 945 S. Eighth St., 632-9527

We once described Rudy's as a Denny's in a sombrero, basically offering a mix between American diner classics and Mexican comfort food. For example, take this recent special, the Volcano ($7.50): homefries with jalapenos, onions, a hamburger patty smothered in green chili, two eggs and tortillas. — $

Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill

Briargate: 9420 Briar Village Point, #100, 955-6650

Northwest: 802 Village Center Drive, 266-9244, rockymtnrg.com/salsabrava

Best of 2011

Also with a Highlands Ranch location, Salsa Brava is the Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group's Tex-Mex face, more upscale than most with great service. Also: good weekday happy hour deals, $5 margarita Mondays (4 p.m. to close), a gluten-free menu, excellent house salsas and much more. — $$

Salsa Latina

Downtown: 28 E. Rio Grande St., 328-1513

Open weekdays only and related by family to nearby El Taco Rey, Salsa Latina makes everything from scratch in the mornings, like its lauded green chile, from fresh Anaheims. Go for the Friday-only chile relleno burrito, a longtime obsession of at least one Indy employee. — $

Señor Manuel's

Central: 4660 N. Nevada Ave., 598-3033, senormanuel.com

You don't make it 40-plus-years in this business by being bland. The Hernandez family operates a "tortilla factory" below decks, making fresh masa, tortillas and house chips. Go for the unique chile rellenos: a Monterey Jack-stuffed pepper engulfed by an egg soufflé and chile con queso puddle. — $$

Sonterra Innovative Southwest Grill

Downtown: 28B S. Tejon St., 471-9222, rockymtnrg.com/sonterragrill

Owned by the folks behind Slayton's and Salsa Brava, Sonterra is the seafood-centric operation (think coriander-seared scallops and blackened sea bass), with fine steak cuts as well, plus dressy tacos and enchiladas. As at its sister locations, generous happy hour deals here are worth a well-timed visit. — $$

Vallejo's Restaurant

Downtown: 111 S. Corona St., 635-0980

Located just behind the Cottonwood Center for the Arts and celebrating 50 years in 2012, Vallejo's offers a lot of charm via the Martinez family. (See: Chef Lydia stealing glances of her telenovelas through a kitchen window while cooking.) Get a combo plate to sample widely; great green chile tamales. — $

Pizza

Billy's Old World Pizza

West side: 308 S. Eighth St., Suite E, 630-3400, billyspizza.net

An Italian buffet for the hurried, and slow, stone-baked, Chicago-style, deep-dish pizzas for everyone else. Everything from-scratch, including house-ground meats and house-stuffed sausages. — $$

Borriello Brothers

Multiple locations: borriellobrothers.com

Best of 2011

Our readers' longtime favorite local pizza, with nine Front Range locations. Think kick-ass, hand-tossed New York-style creations, backed by salads, heros, calzones and more. Borriello even has its own iPhone/Android app now. — $

Fat Boys Pizza

Multiple locations: fatboyspizzaco.com

Now with three locations, including one at Fort Carson, five-year-old Fat Boys does game-day food well: stupendous Parmesan and garlic butter sticks; spicy, meaty wings with a sharp vinegar tang; and great pizza, with a crunchy, then chewy, homemade dough; and sweet sauce. — $$

Il Vicino

Downtown: 11 S. Tejon St., 475-9224, ilvicino.com

Though it spans 10 locations across three states, Il Vicino maintains a mostly non-corporate vibe and local feel, with fantastic wood-oven pizzas and good craft beers shipped from the Albuquerque brew hub. The Pizza Margherita is simple beauty next to a pint. — $

Joey's Pizza

Briargate: 1829 Briargate Blvd., 265-6922

Young Long Island native Joey Stasolla has built a loyal Springs following in the handful of years he's been slinging here. He's good enough to have faced Gordon Ramsay and crew on MasterChef last year, too. "Real" New York-style pizza with attitude. — $$

Louie's Pizza

Multiple locations: louies-pizza.com

The Sciarrata family has tossed pies in the Springs dating back to 1985. Now there are five locations for your chicken alfredo or chicken taco pizza fix, plus "dyno-mite" wings and popular cinnamon-sugar crust dessert pizzas. Look for new take-n-bake stores sometime soon. — $

Marilyn's Pizza House

Manitou Springs: 964 Manitou Ave., 685-9104

It's a Manitou tribute to '50s icon Marilyn Monroe, owned by the same folks as the Ancient Mariner. The pies are pleasant enough, as recently evidenced by the 10-inch Manitou ($9.75) with feta, mozzarella, olives, artichoke hearts and garlic sauce on thin crust. — $

Pizzeria Rustica

Old Colorado City: 2527 W. Colorado Ave., 632-8121, pizzeriarustica.com

One of our town's sustainability stars — Green Restaurant Certified and sourcing a lot locally — this is the spot for top-notch wood-oven pies featuring house-made mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and gourmet toppings like venison sausage. Killer cannoli and gelato, too. — $$

Poor Richard's Restaurant
& Rico's Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Bar

Downtown: 322-324 N. Tejon St., 578-5549, poorrichards.biz

Best of 2011

A downtown dynasty and perennial Best Of winner, with attached toy and book stores, this is the spot for everything from kick-ass pizzas (even spelt options) and salads to fine wine, cocktails, local spirits, coffee drinks, tea, sipping chocolate and live music on the weekends. — $

Ruffrano's Hell's Kitchen Pizza

Manitou Springs: 9 Ruxton Ave., 685-4355, hellskitchenmanitou.com

The owner trained at a famous Hell's Kitchen joint, bringing its recipes here. The Hellfire (hot sausage, pepperoni, cherry peppers) is a standout, and some go for the goofy mac-and-cheese pie. Gluten-free options plus garlic, cinnamon or Hellfire knots for a different twist. — $$

Savelli's

Manitou Springs: 301 Manitou Ave.., 685-3755, savellispizza.com

Catch all-you-can-eat Spaghetti Tuesdays ($8.99), proficiently made subs like the Grinder (of house-made Italian sausage, green peppers, onions, provolone and house tomato sauce) and the specialty bacon cheeseburger pizza or chicken garlic ranch pizza. — $

Pub Food

Ancient Mariner

Manitou Springs: 962 Manitou Ave., 685-5503, hmsancientmariner.net

Regarded as a major Manitou music venue, the Mariner's a good bet for a pint and anything from a po-boy to a burger, pizza or homemade soups. Wednesday is half-off pizza day; Monday, half-off burger day. The Reuben with a secret "captain's sauce" is a go-for item. — $

Back East Bar & Grill

Briargate: 9475 Briar Village Point, 264-6161, backeastbarandgrill.com

Best of 2011

Our readers' favorite north-side neighborhood bar, this is your spot for game day, or any day you're in need of a pint and food ranging from New York-style pizza, burgers and pastas to a Philly steak hoagie, wings, salads and cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled sweet-potato puffs. — $

Dutch Mill Tavern

Downtown: 503 W. Colorado Ave., 471-3370

Korean-born owner Mi Lee took over here 16 years ago and has added Eastern influences like Asian kebabs and the new kimchi burger (with spicy cabbage inside the meat), as well as a new Thursday Korean dinner. Otherwise, it's bar norms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. — $

1st & 10 Sports Bar & Grill

Monument: 1455 Cipriani Loop, 487-0737, 1stand10monument.com

While free UFC fights are a draw for some, those with strictly culinary bloodlust will want the duck wings with jerk seasoning, "spicy balls" (yes, testicles), gator nuggets, the Fully Loaded wood-oven pizza, or excellent brats courtesy of Denver's Continental Sausage. — $$

Frankie's/Frankie's Too

Falcon: 7376 McLaughlin Road, 495-8707 | Powers: 945 N. Powers Blvd., 574-4881, frankiesbargrill.com

It's Tuesday, what are you doin'? Two-buck premium pints plus a $9.99 steak dinner at Frankie's or Frankie's Too, that's what. Both of Frankie Patton's bars are comfortable eastern hangouts for games or a quick, quality bite. Burgers, Tex-Mex and much more. — $

Gray's Coors Tavern

Pueblo: 515 W. Fourth St., 719/544-0455

Made more famous after 75 years by a recent appearance on Travel Channel's Food Wars, Gray's is a legendary spot to take in a slopper: two cheeseburgers topped in red and/or green chile, fries and chopped raw white onions. Messy, heavy, gut-bomb bliss. — $

The Hatch Cover

Cheyenne Mountain: 252 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 576-5223, hatchcover.biz

Best of 2011

If you need to know more than all-hour 50-cent wings with house sauces like spicy plum and Thai chile, here's this: a 40-selection beer menu and a huge, diverse food list that includes a giant, popular nacho plate ($9) with all the fixins. Go for sports viewing, video karaoke and DJs. — $

Holy Cow Pub & Grill

Powers: 5885 Stetson Hills Blvd., 465-1704, holycowpubandgrill.com

Best of 2011

Your pick for Best Neighborhood Bar on the east side, Holy Cow offers generous happy hours, plus poker, karaoke and live country and rock music nights past regular lunch and dinner service. The three-patty bacon and cheese Holy Cow burger ($15) almost says it all. — $

Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse & Pub

Downtown: 21 S. Tejon St., 385-0766, jackquinnspub.com

Best of 2011

Guinness — check. Traditional Irish music sessions — check. Fish & chips, Irish stew, seafood boxty — check. Everything you'd expect is here, but also a much wider and hearty food menu, plus a weekly pub quiz and running club. It's a warm home away from home, especially if brogue be your lingo. — $$

Johnny's Navajo Hogan

Central: 2817 N. Nevada Ave., 344-9593

That's Johnny Nolan of SouthSide Johnny's, so you're in good hands, especially with expansive Sunday-through-Tuesday happy hours featuring $2-to-$3.50 drinks. The historic building has never looked better, and the broasted chicken is already legend. Pizzas are strong, too. — $

Keg Lounge

Manitou Springs: 730 Manitou Ave., 685-9531

Best of 2011

When you mention the Keg, everyone talks up the buffalo cheeseburger and the berry salad, but just FYI, there's also Ranch Foods Direct-sourced steaks and daily specials. Atmosphere-wise, it's Manitou through and through, which is to say full of twisted, homey bar charm. — $$

McCabe's Tavern

Downtown: 520 S. Tejon St., 633-3300, mccabestavern.com

My colleague remains enamored with McCabe's rosemary-laced Guinness lamb stew with soda bread (yeah, I felt warm inside just writing that), but there's much more to love here, from beer-fueled pub quiz nights to a stellar Irish whiskey selection, Scotch eggs and Guinness chocolate cake. — $$

McGinty's Wood Oven Pub

Divide: 11115 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, 686-7703, mcgintyswoodovenpub.com

It's a mind-blowing Friday-night fish-and-chips with delicious house chowder (one of our dishes of the year), or the Paddy O'Reilly pizza with corned beef, braised cabbage and creamy horseradish. Plus an exclusive Bristol-blended house ale and bangin' sandwiches. A must-go. — $$

Meadow Muffins

Old Colorado City: 2432 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0583

Best of 2011

Winner again for Best Neighborhood Bar on the west side, "The Muff" is a 30-plus-year go-to for games, karaoke, beer bingo, DJs and drinks. The standard pub fares span the familiar burger, sandwich, pizza and wing territories, and obviously don't disappoint. — $

O'Malley's Steak Pub

Palmer Lake: 104 State Hwy. 105, 488-0321, omalleys.biz

Best of 2011

Grilling your own ribeye, New York strip or buffalo or beef burger is the fun schtick here. But there's a lot more to like at your pick for Best Neighborhood Bar in Monument, including a wide, well-priced beer list and complimentary shuttle-bus rides home on weekends. — $$

Oscar's Tejon Street

Downtown: 333 S. Tejon St., 471-8070, oscarsoysterbar.com

Best of 2011

Oysters in the Springs? Why yes, please and thank you — they do 'em right here. Oscar's also channels the sea via good Creole entrées, a tight gumbo and Louisiana-style po-boys. Past that, it's your favorite smoking patio, with bountiful happy hours and live music. — $$

The Silver Tongue Devil Saloon

Green Mountain Falls: 10530 Ute Pass Ave., 684-2555, thesilvertonguedevil.com

This lively drink house with live music far surpasses bar-food expectations. We always freak out over the stupefyingly good egg-roll-wrapped jalapeño poppers (now with habañero option called "Bombas"), but the buffalo and barbecue wings are great, too, as are the house-made pizzas. — $$

SouthSide Johnny's

Downtown: 528 S. Tejon St., 444-8487, southsidejohnnys.biz

Best of 2011

From the man who's saved the Navajo Hogan comes the original Johnny's: an always-hoppin' spot with live music and a good crowd from bikers to businessmen. The diverse and overall delectable menu ranges from burgers and sandwiches at lunch to ribeyes and tuna steaks at night. — $$

Sporting News Grill

Powers: 1855 Aeroplaza Drive, 380-8516, holidayinn.com

Part of the collaboration between Sporting News magazine and Holiday Inns nationwide, this recently renovated dining area is sharp and sweet for sports viewing. It's got an expansive bar selection, with a solid creamy artichoke dip appetizer. — $$

Thunder & Buttons II

Old Colorado City: 2415 W. Colorado Ave., 447-9888, thunderandbuttons.com

Catch daily food specials like steak sliders and blackened shrimp fettuccine, beyond a sizeable sandwich and salad menu. See their website for daily happy hour and late-night drink specials. Also open mic comedy night, Geeks Who Drink and live music nights. — $

Stadium Bar & Grill

Powers: 6120 Barnes Road, 302-0969, barandgrillcolorado.com

An indie split-off from a former Indigo Joe's, this is a great game spot with TVs literally everywhere. Drink prices are good, and the food is, too. The Caesar chicken wrap and kick-ass Inferno Burger pleased us, as did perfect sweet potato fries and delicious desserts. — $

Tony's Bar

Downtown: 311 N. Tejon St., 228-6566, tonysdowntownbar.com

Best of 2011

Tony's, now 12-years old, means DJs, drinks, poker, games and, of course, award-garnering drinking and dining. Catch "Awesome Night" Tuesdays and Thursdays ($5 for a shot and 24-ounce PBR). We once made an intern eat a pickled egg here; he'd rather have had the famous cheese curds. — $

Underground

Downtown: 110 N. Nevada Ave., 578-7771, undergroundbars.com

Best of 2011

The Springs' Best Gay Bar also dishes totally decent pub fare at lunch and dinner, including gourmet pizzas, sandwiches and burgers. Drinkers at the adjacent Brewer's Republic (one of the town's finest craft brew scenes) can also order from the Underground's menu. — $

Will's Sports Pub

Downtown: 424 S. Nevada Ave., 475-2122, liquidcommon.com/willssportspub

Will's has experienced a number of kitchen overhauls in recent years, testing everything from bar-gourmet to Tex-Mex. It most recently settled on somewhat of the bar norm: burgers, nachos, wings and the like. Take in a game or happy hour specials from 4 to 7. — $

Wyatt's Pub & Grill

Northwest: 806 Village Center Drive, 598-4100

Co-owned by the folks behind Back East Bar and Grill, Wyatt's dishes similarly exceptional pub grub. It's got a great house guacamole; thoroughly satisfying pizzas like the Ultimate with steak, bacon and jalapeños; and stellar sandwiches like the Twister — roast beef on a pretzel roll. — $

Southern/Barbecue/Cajun

Bird Dog BBQ

Multiple locations, birddogbbq.com

Bird Dog turns eight this year, its popularity buoying three locations now: in Fountain, Briargate and off Powers Boulevard. You'll find delightful homemade barbecue sauces, including a Wasabi-Q sauce, served on the side of great, oak-smoked Oklahoma-style barbecue. — $

Broken Bones Smokin' Pit

Monument: 481 State Hwy. 105, Suite G, 487-0471

It's Arizona roots with Texas flair, mesquite- and pecan-wood-smoked barbecue, best sampled on a large combo platter with three meats, two sides and a drink for less than $12. The zesty mustard barbecue sauce goes great on the brisket. — $

Buster O'Brians

Woodland Park: 727 Gold Hill Place, 686-8098, busterobrians.com

Traditional Cajun and much more, from scratch, with personality. Enjoy a great fresh salad bar, included in some meals, plus a newly expanded menu of po-boys and hearty bread bowls. Also: breakfast plates, beignets, gumbo, étouffée, Cajun seafood pasta and baked desserts. — $

Colorado Smokehouse

Fountain: 6679 Camden Blvd., 651-1453, coloradosmokehouse.net

Colorado Smokehouse may be the size of a large shed, but its plates are larger than life, merging sauce and barbecue styles to perfection. The thick, chili-rubbed, sweet-sauce-slathered ribs see mesquite, then applewood smoke. The pulled pork gets a great, spicy, vinegar-laden sauce. — $

Culpepper's Cajun Kitchen

South Academy: 6502 S. Academy Blvd., 282-8479, culpeppers.net

"Bite the Bayou," invites the website. Jambalaya, crawfish tails, "Crabilicious Crab Balls," spicy smoked sausage or alligator po-boys, gumbo, boudin, maque choux, and of course, beignets. Good Southern food by good Southern people. — $$

English Dockside

North Academy: 2220 N. Academy Place, 380-7732, englishdockside.com

Arguably the city's most worthy seafood-centric spot, run by Mobile, Ala. native Thomas English and his family. Attractions include a butter-sautéed, secret-seasoned blue crab po-boy, gumbo, a lobster roll and all-you-can-eat fish Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m. ($13.95 with a drink purchase). — $$

Firehouse Southern Style BBQ

Old Colorado City: 817 W. Colorado Ave., 447-8829

Firehouse came under new ownership last fall, but the menu hasn't changed. That's good, considering they won our ribs "food fight" in mid 2010. Think great smoked meats with delicious house sauces. Look for the separately owned split-off, Firehouse on the Run, in Black Forest. — $

Front Range Barbeque

Old Colorado City: 2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596

Central (catering only): 4935 Templeton Gap Road, 598-8895, frontrangebbq.com

Best of 2011

Killer craft beer tap selection, national music acts, great patio, and then there's the Alabama-native-driven menu: quality smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork, po-boys, burgers, catfish, Cajun specialties and, of course, homemade pecan pie. — $

Glad's Original Bar-B-Q

South Academy: 3750 Astrozon Blvd., #110, 392-4156

Fountain: 1510 Chiles Ave. (Fort Carson), 576-1851, gladsbbq.com

Alabama representing again, this time via military-friendly Glad's. This is very traditional Southern comfort food, like whole catfish, Southern smothered chicken, pig feet, pork steaks, ribs, brisket, black-eyed peas, dirty rice, 7-UP cake and sweet potato pie. Wholesome goodness. — $

Nawlins BarBQ and Seafood

Powers: 3317 Cinema Point Drive, 571-9777, nawlinsbarbq.com

Launched by a Hurricane Katrina transplant and bearing an authentic Cajun taste, Nawlins recently changed hands — but the menu remains unchanged and may expand. Great étouffée and jambalaya plus a fun alligator and pork green chile, po-boys, giant muffulettas and more. — $$

Slayton's Tejon Street Grill

Downtown: 28A S. Tejon St., 471-2311, rockymtnrg.com/slaytonsbbq

Great weekend happy hours offer $5 apps and $3 drinks. The apple- and hickory-wood-smoked barbecues are outstanding. Get the Firehouse Chili Burger with a smoked brisket chili and shredded cheddar top, with sweet potato fries. Or the praiseworthy cornmeal-crusted catfish fingers. — $$

The Smokin' Q

Divide: 11027 U.S. Hwy. 24, 687-5800, thesmokinq.com

Using hormone-free meats and rainbow trout from a Buena Vista farm, this worthwhile Divide detour handles smoke well. Cherry and applewood inform the loaded trout burrito. Sample the great pulled pork as part of a five-person family meal for $42 (including brisket, ribs and more). — $$

Springs Orleans

Downtown: 123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 520-0123, springsorleans.com

Best of 2011

Already your pick for Best Cajun/Southern eats, this newbie is the luscious, lardon-laden lead-up to the eventual opening of the adjacent Mining Exchange hotel. Longtime lauded Blue Star chef James Davis and crew sling all things requiring roux and blackening agents. Got it, po-boy? — $$

Sushi/Japanese

Ai Sushi & Grill/Sushi Ai

Multiple locations

There are three local sushi eateries (off Academy, Centennial and Powers boulevards) that incorporate "Ai" into their name, all owned separately. From our readers' feedback, you won't be disappointed at any of them. — $$

Bara Sushi & Grill

Briargate: 1645 Briargate Pkwy., #245, 599-7330, sushibara.com

Bara, which has a second location in the Denver Tech Center, is a modern space with beautiful plate presentations. Among the special rolls: the Super Spider Man and The Big Lebowski. Who's having some fun? — $$

Fujiyama

Downtown: 22 S. Tejon St., Suite A, 630-1167, fujiyamasushi.com

Sizeable donbori bowls or bento boxes at lunch; nigiri and loaded, goofy-named specialty sushi rolls anytime; hibachi service by reservation; and an unbeatable half-off-everything happy hour from 5 to 6 on Mondays. New vegetarian menu coming soon. — $$

Jun Japanese Restaurant

North Academy: 1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368 | West side: 3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690

Best of 2011

Indy Best Of voters' favorite sushi spot for more than 15 consecutive years, under meticulous sushi chef Jun Aizu. Take advantage of daily happy hours from 5 to 6:30 as well as a $1 menu at lunch. We can't recommend a single item or roll, because they're all pretty damn stellar. — $$

Kura Japanese Restaurant

Powers: 3478B Research Pkwy., 282-8238, kurasushicoloradosprings.com

For five years, Song Brinck has steadily built clientele at her beautiful, modern space. She recently added Teppanyaki service to the Japanese entrées and sushi. Happy hours are a good time to visit, for buy-one-get-one drinks and $1 to $1.50 off popular items like the Research Roll. — $$

Shinji's Sushi Bar

West side: 308-M S. Eighth St., 475-0669

Shinji Shibuya is a gracious sushi chef whose warmth equals that of his awesome miso ramen bowl ($9.50). His specialty rolls are fabulous, and the good news is that he recently added lunch hours, complete with affordable bento boxes plus a crazy 18-piece California roll for $2.95. — $$

Sushi Rakkyo

Powers: 9205 N. Union Blvd., 645-8754, sushirakkyo.com

We've seldom been happier to eat so much for so little. You can absolutely punish the all-you-can-eat dining model for $14.95 at lunch and $24.95 at dinner. And it's quality: The super White Fish Volcano roll earned a spot on our dishes of 2011 list. Holy nigiri overload. — $$

Sushi Ring

Cheyenne Mountain: 1861 S. Nevada Ave., 635-5550, sushiring.com

It's another, earlier-to-town all-you-can-eat model, but lunches are $21.95, dinners $27.95. Again, you can murder the quantities for what would cost you much more are regular sushi joints. Part of the draw here is spirited owner Takashi Kishimoto, a former Elvis impersonator. — $$

Tomo Sushi/Tomo Sushi II

North Academy: 975 N. Academy Blvd., 597-2422; 8029 N. Academy Blvd., 277-0200, eatattomo.com

The same overall excellent menu serves both Tomo locations. Though most folks go for the sushi — The Bomb and Tijuana Ninja rolls are big winners — lunch bento boxes are generous and dinner steaks in Japanese sauces, delicious. Drinks and dinner before a dollar movie, perhaps? — $$

Yoo Mae

Downtown: 21 E. Kiowa St., 473-8105, yoomae.com

Check out the photos on its website, and you may not question the claim that "Yoo Mae is no doubt the best sushi in Colorado Springs." Lively chef JJ Kim, having finished his 50-state roll tribute (cool map online also), recently began a car series; so far, the Jaguar and Ferrari are selling well. — $$

Yummy Yaki Japanese Restaurant

Downtown: 1534 S. Nevada Ave., 227-0214

After 16 years dishing Japanese staples and lots of yakitori skewers at Yummy Yaki, Thai/Vietnamese owner Vinichai Seangsoy, by customer request, recently added a Thai menu during evening and weekend hours. As evidenced by the Khang Pineapple plate, it's pretty damn good. — $

Zen Fusion Sushi & Bistro

Powers: 4359 Integrity Center Point, 375-3288, zenfusionsushi.com

Super-talented sushi chef Young Min Kim spent nearly a decade at the Centennial Boulevard Ai location before leaving to open Zen last year. Here, he's dishing excellent Korean entrées like a divine pork belly plate, plus fantastic sushi rolls, often incorporating odd elements such as fruit. — $$

Thai

Arharn Thai

Powers: 3739 Bloomington St., 596-6559, arharnthai.net

Run by a Bangkok native who goes by Pong, gluten-free friendly Arharn has remained consistently excellent since its early 2009 opening, and its prices are perhaps the fairest among its peers, especially for the high quality. — $

Bhan Thai

North Academy: 1025 N. Academy Blvd., 574-3401, bhanthaico.com

Northwest: 4431 Centennial Blvd., 266-1309, bhanthai.net

Our town's two Bhan Thai eateries are separately owned now, but indistinguishable as far as most patrons are concerned. You'll find totally satisfying versions of your Thai favorites for very reasonable prices. — $

Lanna Thai

Briargate: 8810 N. Union Blvd., 282-0474, lannathaicoloradosprings.com

"Hot means hot," promises the website. You'll also find no MSG, plenty of gluten-free options, and great renditions of Thai standards. The tom yum goong is exemplary, and Lanna's curries are among the best around, abundant with flavor and floral herb notes. — $$

Pho-N-Thai

Downtown: 125 N. Spruce St., 329-0705, yourhoodz.com/phonthai

Pho-N-Thai, as the name suggests, blends Vietnamese and Thai classics, along with an American section. One highlight is three free refills of Thai Iced Tea ($2.50); another is the awesome green curry, which, when ordered hot, we called a "velvet-wrapped hammer of lip-numbing goodness." — $

Taste of Thai Spice

South Academy: 1609 Lashelle Way, 226-1999, yellowbook.com/profile/taste-of-thai-spice

The reason this Thai eatery has enjoyed a quiet, loyal following outside of Fort Carson soldiers for many years now, is the authentic cooking of Bangkok native Sumitra Kennedy. From Panang to Pad Thai, nothing is Americanized. Her homemade coconut ice cream is simply divine. — $$

Thai Eats

South Academy: 640-B S. Academy Blvd., 380-0535, thai-eats.com

Part Thai grocery and Thai cooking school, Thai Eats offers great lunch deals from its daily hot-line selection, like a killer Panang curry version made from the freshest curry paste we've encountered. Weekly specials and special requests accommodated — the classes are fun and informative. — $

Thai Mint

North Academy: 1725 Briargate Blvd., 598-7843, thai-mint.com

Dishing a fun, house-made Thai tea ice cream, Thai Mint is MSG-free and generally pretty good. The tod mun fish cake starters are bright, and the tom ka gai soup delivers proper lemongrass punch. For entrées, a nice, light option is the clear-noodle pad woon sen stir fry. — $

Thai Lily Cuisine and Yakitori 8

Central: 319 N. Chelton Road, 597-8374, thaililycuisine.com

Thai Lily recently launched 10 p.m.-to-4 a.m. late-night dining and entertainment; it's also got Yakitori specials and free Wi-Fi for business lunchers. The regular menu is expansive, and from our sampling, well-executed. Lots of vegetarian and seafood options, too. — $

Thai Satay

Cheyenne Mountain: 821 Cheyenne Meadows Road, 540-8288

An expanded menu is coming soon, but what's available now is beyond adequate; it's fantastic. A superior, perfectly textured pad Thai version rivals the simply incredible, honey-sweetened, peanutty Panang curry. Awesome fried bananas. — $

Wild Ginger Thai Restaurant

Manitou Springs: 27 Manitou Ave., 634-5025, wildgingerthai.com

Best of 2011

Wild Ginger earns our readers' vote for Best Thai year after year, which in a town now overrun with Thai options, says more than descriptions of familiar dishes like pad Thai and coconut milk green curry. Suffice to say, then, that this place is simply grand. — $

Vietnamese

House of Saigon

West side: 1014 S. 21st St., Suite A, 473-6707

A highlight here is generous helpings of crisp vegetables like broccoli and green bell peppers, which freshen dishes like the vegetable noodle bowl (your basic bun) and the spicy, ginger-y squid lemongrass entrée.— $

Lemongrass Bistro

North Academy: 6840 N. Academy Blvd., 592-1391, restauranteur.com/lemongrassbistro

After the awesome beef lemon app, get a delightfully fresh bun or classic, fragrant pho, or one of a wide entrée list, including the Lemongrass Three Amigos: shrimp, beef and chicken in spicy lemongrass sauce. Run by Dang Truong, brother of the popular Saigon Café's Paul Truong. — $$

Pho Viet 1

North Academy: 3712 Galley Road, 597-6559

It meets all the criteria for superior pho: lots of fresh herbs, generous meat, staple condiments like Sriracha and hoisin sauce, and strong support from the Vietnamese community. The larb-like shrimp and pork salad is great, and so are the fun-flavored tapioca-ball boba milkshakes. — $

Saigon Café

Downtown: 20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888, coloradosaigoncafe.com

Best of 2011

Evidenced by its constant traffic, expansion and annual Best Of win — it's been your favorite Vietnamese spot for nine years running now — Saigon excels. It also now serves a separate gluten-free menu, beyond its spectacularly vibrant bun bowls and delicious combo platters. Always a safe bet. — $$

Vietnamese Garden

West side: 3043 W. Pikes Peak Ave., 520-9299, vietnamesegarden.net

Sole cook and owner Dung My Tram's Vietnamese menu stands out from others, with items you don't see elsewhere, like a fantastic potato fritter appetizer and delicious mung bean and cassava cake desserts. Her noodle soups and grilled meat entrées are also excellent. Weekly specials are worth a look, too. — $$

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