The Cliff House at Pikes Peak
306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 785-1000, thecliffhouse.com
Executive Chef Chris Lynch's menu reads safely pan-European — nobody expects "hip" from a nearly 150-year-old hotel — ditching past options featuring local game. We sample the Veranda menu (available in the Music Room when the weather's too cold for outdoor dining), which is more affordable than the hotel's dinner menu.
The Cliff House burger ($13) rates enjoyable, an inch-thick patty of beef and buffalo, cooked to a spot-on medium-rare on request, with chipotle molasses barbecue sauce and red onion marmalade adding smoke and sweetness. Points also for a great chew/crunch balance on the bacon and quality fries on the side. While the mulligatawny curried chicken salad ($11) pleases with crisp celery and bright apples and grapes in curried mayonnaise — not too much, either — the restrained portion served with fresh fruit feels like the lesser value. — GS
Mauricio's Taco Shop
3659 Austin Bluffs Blvd., 598-0843, mauriciostacoshop.com
Let's face it, the cabeza burrito ($6.57) is the head of its class. The tortilla gets filled with a little onion, a little cilantro, and a whole lot of delicious bits of long-low-slow-cooked meat, a joyously juicy burrito that improves with a little salsa. We enjoy the thin, spicy orange salsa, and we recommend also the chunky, less-spicy salsa.
And since we're not just paying lip service to one dish, we also try the chorizo torta ($5.10), which goes heavy on the meat and cheese in a soft telera roll. Something fresh and acidic (like, say, salsa) would really help the sandwich. So would a different, less crumbly and more strongly spiced chorizo. But in any case, a cucumber agua fresca ($3/medium) refreshes against the rich, fatty food here, sweet but not overmuch so. And it tastes like real cucumber — which, if we're deceived, would mean that the bits of gourd at the bottom of the cup are pulp fiction. — GS
Front Range Barbeque
2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596, frbbq.com
New Belgium reps are in the house the night we stop by, doing their best to talk over a boisterous patio crowd who appear less interested in learning about the small-batch special releases of the night — challenging sours, some pulling fruit notes out of used Leopold Bros. barrels — and more interested in The River Arkansas finally taking the stage.
Meanwhile, we're putting down a serviceable hickory-smoked pulled pork plate ($13.95 includes two sides) to which we add a liberal amount of the original-label house barbecue sauce. Cheddar cornbread muffins are always a side treat, as they are on the filling Louisiana-style red beans n' rice bowl ($10.95), highlighted by andouille sausage. Manager Rebecca Cornell notes FRBBQ's recent 16-year anniversary, and new $8.99 weekday lunch special plates from 11 to 2, including sandwiches, a smaller rice-and-bean bowl with salad, and a rib basket. — MS