15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484, ritzgrill.com
We're in for lunch to try dishes added by newbie kitchen manager Christi Nickey. Our server guides us to the 101 Burger ($10.50), Chicken Milanese ($14) and California Chicken Sandwich ($13). We up-charge sides: $2.50 for asparagus fries and $1 for garlic-Parmesan fries. Avocado on the burger and chicken sandwich mutes the other flavors, which aren't big to begin with considering spinach, Provolone and tomato on each. The sandwich channels "country club" with crumbly crispy bacon. Mushy onion rings do nothing on the burger cooked past our requested med-rare. The breaded chicken is juicy on the pricey Milanese but sage fails to show in the highly lemony sauce, next to a simple side arugula salad. Unevenly minced garlic doesn't stick to the fairly sad fries, amassing under the pile. Battered asparagus spears win the day with a zesty orange aioli dip. Key lime crème brulée ($6) also bears bright flavors, even if texturally it's a pudding. — MS
Golden Flame Hot Wings
5865 Stetson Hills Blvd., 570-9464, goldenflamehotwings.com
Competing with nearby Wingstop, GFHW hosts four Colorado locations. There's more than a little corporate feel to the bright space, though pints of Pikes Peak Brewing's excellent Gold Rush Belgian Ale ($4.99) give a slight local feel. We of course get wings (10 for $9.99), sampling the two hottest sauces out of 14 choices: Pleasantly, neither reach the in-edibility of pointlessly macho ghost chili wings elsewhere. So we opt for the #2 in heat, the Colorado Fancy, and #3, the Flaming, also getting a taste of the #4, Shanghai Sizzle, basically a Mae Ploy bastardization. Vinegar vapors make us cough and the wings could use more crispness on the exterior, heading toward the mushy side internally — but the sauces are good. A heavy seafood combo meal ($13.99) shows limp garlic fries and ranch dip, tiny fried clam droplets, flattened fried shrimp, a generic fish cake-tasting crab cake and a beer-battered fish chunk — basic tartar sauce receiving all. — MS
3015 New Center Point, 380-2720, eastsidepaninos.com
For various reasons, all oddly tied to hockey, I've been eating food from Panino's since before I was allowed to walk to the grocery store unsupervised. Their signature sandwich, the sorta-wrap panino, has remained basically the same over the last 20 years and likely back to the restaurant's 1974 inception. A Reuben panino ($9.29) sees sweet thousand ranch and/or spicy mustard taking the lead over mild pastrami and milder sauerkraut. The bread/wrap gives a fine chew and remains coherent, for a fine but non-fancy bite, same as it ever was.
But this newest Panino's location, opened in fall of 2015, has gone hardcore boxed-corporate with its design. Former Blue Star chef James Davis helped update recipes and set up the back-of-house flow. And food does come out pretty fast. But the fettuccine alfredo ($12.19) lands with less-than-fresh noodles under a chalky sauce, small and ultimately disappointing. — GS