28 S. Tejon St., 471-9222, sonterragrill.com
The key to good Mexican food — to any good food, really — is balance. And with dishes both new and old, that's what 12-year Tejon Street veteran (and Over Easy/Salsa Brava partner) Sonterra serves, at a price. In a new Caesar salad ($12), bitter baby kale and citrus dressing nicely complement salty strips of plancha-grilled cotija cheese while toasted quinoa adds crunch. Modestly seasoned skewers of chicken thigh mark an X on top.
As for the old, both server and hostess recommend the carne asada tacos ($11), a menu favorite for good reason. Zesty beef stands out under crisp red cabbage, a generous mound of guacamole and queso fresco crumbles. A plate of three arrives with seasoned rice and peppery refried black beans, garnished with fresh lime wedges. With good service that includes complimentary chips and warmed blackened tomato salsa, you'll find balance in the experience, too. — Griffin Swartzell
Downtown Fine Spirits & Wine
103 S. Wahsatch Ave., 475-8115, dtnfspiritsandwines.com
Last year, I praised Weber Street Liquor's $9.99 mix-and-match six packs for inspiring beer exploration. This go-round, a similar nod goes to DFSW's even-better $8.99 build-your-own, which currently hosts half a dozen pumpkin options plus seasonal Oktoberfests. (Pricier pumpkin brews store-wide include Epic, New Holland and Elysian labels.)
Lining them up: Ace's pumpkin hard cider sports a nice, spiked nose but too much clove in the flavor; added "natural flavors" explain Saranac's cloying candy element; Southampton exudes natural fruit elements and pleasant butterscotch tones; Uintah's Punk'n lands rounded and pleasant but scantly pumpkin-y; Tommyknocker hits roasty and molasses-forward; and our favorite, Wasatch's Black O'Lantern imperial pumpkin stout, boasts a big boozy nose and lovely vanilla and leather aromas, as if aged in a bourbon barrel. — Matthew Schniper
1025 S. Sierra Madre St., 473-7832, urbansteamcoffee.com
"Meticulous" is the word that always comes to mind when dining and drinking at Urban Steam. Owner Kelly Bubach always gives a detailed answer as to why he's using a certain product, or why I should pair my fundamentally simple and satisfying B.L.A.T.T. ($8.75; bacon, lettuce, avocado, turkey and tomato) with a medium-dark-roasted, stout Yemeni pourover ($4.50) — basically it's just a bold coffee with cacao/leather descriptors, which stands up well to eats, even when they contain big, biting notes from horseradish aioli.
Bubach thankfully talks us into the seriously good Meltdown ($7.50), too, also bearing horseradish-cheddar zing with Havarti and sharp cheddar, balanced by fig jam and caramelized onion on panini-flattened sourdough. (Carnivores can add meat for $2.) A creamy blackberry Italian soda ($3) acts as dessert, and we're once again reminded why we love this place. — Matthew Schniper