Best Of 2005

Favorite

Vital Vittles 

click to enlarge Its check out or be checked out at The Blue Star. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Its check out or be checked out at The Blue Star.

Best Taco

Readers' Poll Winner: La Casita
click to enlarge Best Hot - Chocolate - Editorial pick - Montagues - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Best Hot Chocolate Editorial pick Montagues

Best Tortillas

Editorial Pick: La Casita
3504 N. Academy Blvd., 574-1499; 4295 N. Nevada Ave., 599-7829; 306 S. 8th St., 633-9616

If you were of the mind, you could roll everything in La Casita tortillas and eat three meals a day right out of your hand. Breakfast: eggs scrambled with peppers and onions, wrapped in a La Casita tortilla. Lunch: peanut butter and jelly in a La Casita tortilla. Dinner: grilled chicken, lettuce and tomato in a La Casita tortilla. Why would you do this? Because their tortillas are made fresh, on the spot. You can stand and watch the guy with the long spatula flip them by the dozen. They still have the taste of the grill about them. They're damn near perfect. Oh, and 12 of them are only $2.75. -- KCE

click to enlarge Best Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Editorial pick - Joanies Caf - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Best Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name Editorial pick Joanies Caf

Best Mad Food Scientist

Editorial Pick: Jason Gust at the Ritz Grill
15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484
ritzgrill.com

You might not guess it by looking at the regular menu, but behind the kitchen door at the Ritz lurks a true food scientist, a disciple of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, a chef delighted and amazed by the language, history and lore of gastronomy. Who else in town might happen by your table with a little kitchen experiment, a sliver of beef tongue braised in port wine, coffee beans and tomato? Jay was the first chef in Colorado Springs to infuse unexpected flavors such as lavender into, well, everything. At a recent wine dinner, he served smoked duck with an elaborate wine reduction sauce over phyllo confetti. It's an adventure just imagining it. And he has more fun than should be legal thinking it up. -- KCE

click to enlarge Best Steakhouse - Best Wait Staff - Readers poll winner - The Famous - RICK GORHAM
  • Rick Gorham
  • Best Steakhouse Best Wait Staff Readers poll winner The Famous

Best Baklava

Editorial Pick: Woody's Continental Pastries
Bon Shopping Center, 2226 N. Wahsatch Ave., 632-2592

Those prone to serious addiction are advised to avoid the scrumptious, gooey, decadently wonderful honey-soaked baklava at Woody's Continental Pastries. The establishment must be aware that these desserts entice gluttonous sin, given that they are tucked deeply into the left corner of the display case, and often covered by napkins and boxes. Woody claims the choice desserts are produced by his "distributor," and not in-house like the rest of the edible merchandise. As with any gotta-have-it substance, it doesn't matter where it's from, only where you can score it. -- AM

click to enlarge Best Chiles Rellenos - Readers poll winner - Seor Manuels Mexican Cuisine - COLLAN FITZPATRICK
  • Collan Fitzpatrick
  • Best Chiles Rellenos Readers poll winner Seor Manuels Mexican Cuisine

Best Bakery

Readers' Poll Winner: Marigold Cafe & Bakery
4606 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776
restauranteur.com/marigold

Criminey -- with so many delicious delicacies to choose from, the mind reels. Marigold Cafe; and Bakery has a full menu that's wonderful, sure, but the desserts are where it's at. As you walk in, take a lookie-loo in the glass cabinet, and take stock of the delights to be had. Will it be creme brulee or one of the three cheesecakes? Chocolate mousse cake or tiramisu? So many decisions, and only so much room in the belly! Try the carrot cake: All cinnamon-y and nutty, and topped with melt-in-your-mouth icing, it's quite possibly the best in town. -- KL

click to enlarge Best (Unexpected) Salad - Editorial Pick - Wild Gingers Yum Neu - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Best (Unexpected) Salad Editorial Pick Wild Gingers Yum Neu

Best Japanese Restaurant

Readers' Poll Winner: Ai Sushi and Grill

Best Improv Roll

Editorial Pick: Ai Sushi and Grill
Three locations (all independently owned)
click to enlarge Best New Restaurant - Readers poll winner - Blue Vervain - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Best New Restaurant Readers poll winner Blue Vervain

Watching a talented sushi chef slice, dice and create beautiful sashimi, nigiri and rolls is just one of the pleasures that comes from sitting at the bar in a sushi restaurant. But when that chef also carves a little man out of an orange peel and a rose out of wasabi -- and names a special after you as a reward for your proclamations of deliciousness -- that's when you know you're at Ai. For the truly epicurious: Ask the gifted chefs to get creative and make you something you've never tasted before. You won't regret it. -- BLS

Best Buffet

Readers' Poll Winner: Golden Corral
1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870; 5410 E. Woodmen Road, 260-9369
click to enlarge Cheers superb selection boggles the mind. - CREIGHTON SMITH
  • Creighton Smith
  • Cheers superb selection boggles the mind.

The purpose of buffet dining is to fill up, and it's tough to think of a better place to accomplish that than the Golden Corral. Here, embracing the herd mentality is key to a satisfactory experience. Upon entry, diners are lined up and move single-file to checkout. Once paid up, they're off, like bulls out of the gates, to troughs loaded with everything from piping and gooey macaroni and cheese to fillets of cod, chicken-fried steak, pasta, salads with every fixing imaginable, soups, daily specials and more. -- VM

Best Unexpected Comfort Food

Editorial Pick: Fried Green Tomatoes at Sencha
331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287
sencha-restaurant.com
click to enlarge c974_best_food-19173.gif

This appetizer has outlasted many others on the eclectic Sencha menu, and there's a good reason why. Fried green tomatoes, thanks to the Fannie Flagg book and the chick flick based on it, have become a sentimental American staple, but they're usually badly prepared. Sencha's are firm and tasty slices, coated perfectly in corn meal and fried at a high enough temperature that the crust becomes one with the tomato. The real deal in the Deep South is fried in bacon grease; at Sencha, they look out for your arteries and your taste buds by frying their tomatoes in vegetable oil, with chipotle essence in the cornmeal to give it that smoky flavor. A dish of lemon aioli on the side cools the smoke and your tongue. -- KCE

Best Eastern European Nosh

Editorial Pick: Bierochs at Family Drive-In
2309 N. Weber St., 633-0618

Next time you're at the Drive-In, ditch the dog and go for a Bieroch-slash-Runza. It just might be the most filling and decadently delicious thing you'll ever put in your mouth. This Polish-Russian-German treat (also available at Little Market, 749 E. Willamette Ave.) combines seasoned ground beef with cabbage, onions and various mysterious spices. Stuffed into a soft shell of bread, it's a super-substantial, gloriously uncomplicated meal, the Old World equivalent of a Hot Pocket, with a million times more character. You'll dank us. -- AR

click to enlarge Best Mad Food Scientist - Editorial Pick - Jason Gust at the Ritz Grill - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Best Mad Food Scientist Editorial Pick Jason Gust at the Ritz Grill

Best Chinese Restaurant

Best Take-Out

Readers' Poll Winner: China Village
203 N. Union Blvd., 475-8299
dininginco.com/719.htm

Maybe it's the over-the-top dcor of bright Asian hues, ornate carvings, rich wood grains, shiny plastic upholstering and dimmed lights. Or the friendly and, at times, downright kooky staff. Or the Volcano, a gigantic flaming drink served in a bowl. Or the ample menu and carefully planned dishes, each with an edible ornament. For certain, the combination of all these elements makes China Village an excellent dining destination, with a charm and flavor all its own. Great news for those who find all this atmosphere a little intoxicating: They have some of the fastest, freshest take-out in town, and if you're close enough, they'll deliver. -- SJG

click to enlarge Best Bakery - Readers poll winner - Marigold Caf & Bakery - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Best Bakery Readers poll winner Marigold Caf & Bakery

Best Hot Chocolate

Editorial Pick: Montague's
1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672

Hot chocolate is a fine art: It needs to be hot, but not scaldingly so. It should be full of chocolaty goodness, but not have a sugar rush-inducing cocoa sludge at the bottom of the cup. Some coffee houses seem to focus on their coffees, leaving their cocoa offerings to hot water and a packet of Swiss Miss. Montague's, though, has its cuppas down pat. In a homey atmosphere full of antique furniture and plenty of space for board games, reading and chatting, both virtual and actual, a chilly day's hot chocolate is icing on the cake. Oh yeah, their cake is fantastic, too. -- KL

click to enlarge 103d_best_food-19173.gif

Best Ice Cream

Readers' Poll Winner: Josh & John's Ice Cream
5152 N. Academy Blvd., 593-1220; 111 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 632-0299
joshandjohns.com

Natural, homemade ice cream -- what else has grown-ups racing past their children to the counter, with wide eyes and ravenous grins? Forget the exact amount of flavors and the staff's posted daily quiz; just grab a scooped tower of ice cream and take part in the subsequent self-absorbed, anti-social slurping and uncontrollable howling of pleasure. Here's a fun game: Take a giant lick of Josh & John's churn-fresh ice cream and try restraining yourself from falling to your knees in euphoric shock, or high-five-ing a complete stranger. -- MS

click to enlarge Best Japanese Restaurant - Readers poll winner - Best Improv Roll - Editorial pick - Ai Sushi and Grill - COLLAN FITZPATRICK
  • Collan Fitzpatrick
  • Best Japanese Restaurant Readers poll winner Best Improv Roll Editorial pick Ai Sushi and Grill

Best Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Editorial Pick: Joanie's Cafe
2224 N. Wahsatch St. (in the Bon Shopping Center), 578-9200

There are two Joans at Joanie's, and they're both gems. They're happy to substitute Eggbeaters in your breakfast burrito or even your French toast batter; they keep a tub of your cholesterol-busting margarine on hand; your coffee cup is never empty and, best of all, they know your name. And your kids' names. And your boss's name. You get the picture: They actually talk to you. Now open seven days a week, much to one Joan's chagrin but to the customer's delight. -- KCE

click to enlarge Best Slice - Editorial pick - Palermo Pizza - COLLAN FITZPATRICK
  • Collan Fitzpatrick
  • Best Slice Editorial pick Palermo Pizza

Best Popcorn

Editorial Pick: Dinner-and-a-Movie Series
Margarita at PineCreek, 7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667
restauranteur.com/margaritapinecreekcom/

When you combine the city's best outdoor dining with a truly novel concept, you're bound to wax sentimental. The Margarita's Dinner-and-a-Movie just might make you tear up. In mild weather, with a massive outdoor screen showing staff favorites and a wonderfully prepared menu by a creative chef, they've got something special going on. Count us in, especially with the Tabasco and white cheddar popcorn, a treat that, in an ideal world, would accompany any movie-going experience. -- AR

click to enlarge Best Unexpected Comfort Food - Editorial pick - Fried Green Tomatoes at Sencha - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Best Unexpected Comfort Food Editorial pick Fried Green Tomatoes at Sencha

Best Steakhouse

Best Wait Staff

Readers' Poll Winner: The Famous
31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333
restauranteur.com/famous

The Famous is sort of a wet dream for the flesh-hungry among us. With massive portions of everything, from shellfish to lamb to, yes, steak, The Famous is known for top-of-the-line product, especially its No. 1 prime cuts of beef. Aged gloriously, they're presented in a Chicago steakhouse environment of masculine leather booths, jazz piano, palms and cocktails. Add a seasoned, professional wait staff and a red-heavy wine list, and you've got the synthesis of everything redolent of class in Colorado Springs. The Famous is living up to its name. -- AR

click to enlarge Whether youre having a fancy party or just plain boozin, - Coaltrain Wine & Liquor has it covered. - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Whether youre having a fancy party or just plain boozin, Coaltrain Wine & Liquor has it covered.

Best Chiles Rellenos

Readers' Poll Winner: Seor Manuel's Mexican Cuisine
4660 N. Nevada Ave., 598-3033

This cozy haven is wedged between the Bighorn Lodge and Lakeview Liquors, in the asphalt wilds of North Nevada Avenue, which will be turned into a yuppie shopping mecca if urban renewal gets its way. A family-owned fave, Seor Manuel's serves up strong margaritas, freshly made chips and whopping plates of Mexican family cooking, mostly to repeat customers. Half the people who eat here don't even bother looking at the menu. They know what they want, and frequently it's chiles rellenos. Manuel's version is mild and light -- cheese wrapped in strips of roasted chile pepper, cooked inside an airy egg souffl and served in a puddle of red chile sauce. -- KCE

click to enlarge Best Chinese Restaurant - Best Take-Out - Readers poll winner - China Village - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Best Chinese Restaurant Best Take-Out Readers poll winner China Village

Best (Unexpected) Salad

Editorial Pick: Wild Ginger's Yum Neu
3020 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025

Phad Thai, peanut sauce, spicy green curry ... all fabulous choices at Wild Ginger. But when you're feeling like something light and healthy, and don't want to miss out on any of the Thai flavor and zing, opt for the Yum Neu salad: sliced grilled steak over lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions. The dressing: tangy lime juice, fish sauce and fresh chili peppers, something divinely Thai and so good that you'll sip the remainders from your spoon once the salad has disappeared. -- CSB

Best Indian Food

Readers' Poll Winner: Mirch Masala
5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003
mirchmasalacuisine.com

Few things can compete with the fulfilling taste of warm naan dipped into a rich curry sauce, washed down by a thick gulp of mango lassi. Good Indian food is what one dreams about when over-grazing on gorp during a backpacking trip, or bag-lunching it to work for too long. Mirch Masala serves up a succulent remedy for these unfortunate afflictions seven days a week. The $7.95 lunch buffet acts more as community service than merely a meal. Fowl fanatics: Try the masala, tandoori or curry. Veg-heads: There's an abundance of faceless delicacies as well. Feed the fix at Mirch Masala. -- MS

Best New Restaurant

Readers' Poll Winner: Blue Vervain
56 Park Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2400
bluevervain.com

Manitou is buzzing, and with good reason. Serious cooking chops, fresh ingredients and vigorous attention to detail set Blue Vervain above this year's other newcomers. Salads of beets, goat cheese and honey, or grapefruit, avocado and shallots, are inspired masterpieces. Steaks and fish deliver equally refined flavors to satisfy heartier appetites. All of this leads to some of the best desserts in town, from feather-light lemon custard to homey sundaes, with a daring creation or two thrown into the mix. (Beet ice cream, anyone?) Professional service and a fantastic bar complete the package. A quiet evening with friends at Blue Vervain is time well spent, as is a leisurely streamside lunch on a sunny afternoon. -- DT-R

Best Fondue

Readers' Poll Winner: The Mona Lisa
733 Manitou Ave., 685-0277
monalisafondue.com

Who doesn't love dipping things into other things? Especially when all things involved are delicious? Mona Lisa means an evening of romance and plentiful dipping sauces. Its "Fondue for Two" features a four-course meal, a great deal that will leave you and your sweet'um chock-full. If a huge meal isn't on the ticket, go downstairs to the wine cellar and enjoy a selection from the extensive wine list, with a cheese or chocolate fondue. Mona Lisa also has some of the most attentive wait staff in town, who will fill you in on every detail of what's served. -- KL

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