With Colorado being part of the Southwest, it's mandatory that the Springs have wicked-good Mexican food. Sure, there's a glut of mid-grade Tex-Mex out there, but with a little looking, it's easy enough to find good bites from regions all across our southern neighbor, as well as the Southwestern U.S. We've split some of our favorites into a few categories below, plus more honorable mentions.
• La Cava (1755 S. Eighth St., lacavacolorado.com): La Cava fulfills the oft-missed promise made by trite descriptors like "local secret," "hidden treasure" and the like. Though off the beaten path and easy to miss, this gorgeously decorated spot offers high-end takes, including superlative brunch, stand-out tacos and excellent entrées like Sonoran green chile pork and mole dishes.
• Provecho (3240 Centennial Blvd., provechocs.com): Jorge and Carole de la Fuente, Cozumel transplants, opened this spot last October to deliver super-legit Mexican foods from farther south in the country. A standout on our visits, go for the Chile en Nogada for a stuffed pepper garnished with walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
• Sonterra Grill (28 S. Tejon St., sonterragrill.com): It's been downtown for 12 years, and we've never been unsatisfied by the hip takes on classic Mexican dishes coming out of this spot, a partner to Salsa Brava and Over Easy restaurants around town. Go for tacos. Go for their six-days-a-week happy hour, which runs until 7. Just go.
• Crystal Park Cantina (178 Crystal Park Road, Manitou Springs, crystalparkcantina.com) Former Denver Bronco Justin Armour's spot goes a little healthier without sacrificing flavor, whether in their excellent margaritas or their entrées. As a bonus, they're not shy about the spice factor when applicable.
• Taquería Elvira's (2356 S. Academy Blvd.): While the muy gigante calf-sized super wet burrito may be a show-stealer and share-necessary plate, everything on Elvira Muñoz's menu is worth drooling over, from the street tacos to the mariscos (seafood) to the bistec ranchero. Don't like those? Don't worry, the menu's almost as gigante as that burrito.
• Tlaquepaque (911 N. Murray Blvd.): Like Elvira's above, we go out of our way to express the unceasing joy we get from the food at Tlaquepaque. The deep and complex spicing on the beef birria delights, a go-to whether hungover (per tradition) or just hungry. With stinging-spicy sauces available but not ever-present, this spot is mandatory eating.
• Luna Market (280 S. Academy Blvd.): Go for the specialty groceries, stay for the lunch counter at this 8-year-old South Academy mercado, whether going for meaty eats or fruit-and-chili-powder treats. Along similar lines, try Carniceria Leonela (3736 E. Pikes Peak Ave.), especially if you want a whole tilapia.
• El Taco Rey (330 Colorado Ave., eltacorey.com): The Aguilar family's downtown spot always seems packed, and for good reason. If it's too busy and you're carrying cash, walk the blocks to Salsa Latina (28 E. Rio Grande St.) and see if their Friday-only chile relleno burrito stands up to the former's lauded avocado pork burrito.
• La Fiesta Grill (mobile business, facebook.com/thefiestagrill): There are dozens of little taco trucks around the southeastern Springs, many of which are worth a visit. Fiesta Grill is just one of our favorites — and not just ours, either. Last year, Fiesta Grill placed third in the Small Business Week Food Truck Cook-Off, with judges including five-star Broadmoor chefs.
• Felipe Got It (3005 N. Hancock Ave.): Now in the former North End Diner spot, Felipe Pagan's eatery also includes a delivery business with limited food truck service to boot. Expect generously portioned Tex-Mex gut bombs delivered fast and friendly.
• Johnny G's Delicioso Mexican Soul Food (mobile business, facebook.com/johnnygsdelicioso): Eat Johnny Galvan's green chile at every meal, and you will die fat, happy and free of sinus congestion. The huge, affordable burritos satisfy, too.
• Mira Sol (mobile business, thetasteofnewmexico.com): Between José Apodaca's bright yellow truck and Nester Montoya-owned Sapo Guapo Tacos (mobile business, facebook.com/sgtacoburgers), the Springs' food trucks have killer New Mexican food options. Expect plenty of delicious manipulations of red and green chilies at either.
There's a myriad of good Mexican food in the Springs, so if the options above don't scratch your itch, try: Amanda's Fonda & Cantina (3625 Colorado Ave., 8050 N. Academy Blvd., amandascantina.com); Arceo's Mexican Family Restaurant (4608 Rusina Road, 1605 S. Nevada Ave., arceos.biz); Azada Mexican Grill (16 E. Bijou St.); Carlos Miguel's Mexican Bar & Grill (multiple locations, carlosmiguels.com); El Rey Del Taco 2 (3878 Maizeland Road); The Loop (965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, theloopatmanitou.com); Mi Mexico (3956 N. Academy Blvd., mimexicoco.com); Monica's Taco Shop (30 E. Fillmore St., 5829 Palmer Park Blvd.); Señor Manuel's (4660 N. Nevada Ave., senormanuels.com); La Sinaloense (642 S. Academy Blvd., satelliteplaza.com); Quijote's Mexican Grill (208 N. Union Blvd., quijotesmexicangrill.com); and T Byrd's Tacos & Tequila (26 E. Kiowa St., tbyrdstacos.com).