It's easier and easier to ring up a big bill even at moderately priced places, especially when a good cocktail might set you back $10 to $12. Two drinks each for two people over a meal will quickly add $50 to a tab, for example. But there's many a time throughout the year that calls for a fine dining experience, when we're more willing to ignore the dollar signs on the menu and live a little. Here's a sampling of some of the go-to places in the area to do just that.
1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com
I always start with our Five-Star, Five-Diamond luxury resort because it represents some of the highest achievable ratings internationally; the high standards must be upheld. The Penrose Room specifically (and exclusively in Colorado) holds the stars and diamonds, offering stunning prix fixe menus — the most robust, a chef's tasting menu paired with wine, runs more than $200 per person. Prices drop significantly from there elsewhere on the property, though it remains easy to splurge. Ristorante Del Lago invokes the Old World and Italian sensibilities, while Summit boasts a smart, showy wine list and overall French aesthetic. La Taverne strikes more of a steakhouse pose with prime cuts and a fresh seafood bar, while Natural Epicurean appeals to veg-heads and Restaurant 1858 at Seven Falls takes aim at "Colorado cuisine" to fit the tourist attraction vibe. Hit Lake Terrace for Sunday Brunch and Play for bowling with your bites or the Golden Bee for an upscale English pub.
25 W. Cimarron St., thewarehouserestaurant.com
We're really liking what chef James Africano has done since returning to his former stomping ground (after working for Ted Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico for eight years). His "Colorado casual" approach still rings quite gourmet, with an eye toward seasonal items and game meats. Killer cocktail list a bonus.
Margarita at Pine Creek
7350 Pine Creek Road, margaritaatpinecreek.com
One of our longtime favorites for attention to locally sourced goods, diverse and eclectic flavors always done well, and loads of personality. Go for the five-course prix fixe daily menu for the special occasion or hit the lounge and patio menu to share some small plates and enjoy music or a movie.
9633 Prominent Point, tillkitchen.com
Till came to us last year via the same restaurant group behind the locally minded Garden of the Gods Gourmet marketplace, Napa-inspired and quite ambitious in scale. Their head chef comes from teaching at the Culinary Institute of America and brings a Mexican flair to the menu. Sourdough pizzas are excellent as are the trout and lamb items.
Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop
5198 N. Nevada Ave., cowboystarcs.com
An offshoot of a successful San Diego spot, Cowboy Star sports an attached market for super fresh steak cuts, including wagyu and Colorado bison. Start with house-cured meats or steak tartare.
1025 S. 21st St., carlosbistrocos.com
Owner Carlos Echeandia's everywhere-at-once service style remains legendary and his menu prices outdo even The Broadmoor at many turns ($80 prime Filet Oscar anyone?). Look for Peruvian touches (his native country) and wonderful seafood treatments. (Maybe get sauced enough on his pisco sours so as not to scream when the bill arrives.)
The Pepper Tree and Swiss Chalet Restaurant
888 W. Moreno Ave., peppertreecs.com;
19263 E. U.S. Hwy 24, Woodland Park
I lump these two together as they're from the same ownership. Tableside food preparation sets an intimate tone, with fire plumes erupting from flambéed items and the pepper steak always commanding attention. The Chalet leans more toward European items.
Joseph's Fine Dining
1603 S. Eighth Street, josephsdining.com
Another spot you'll find tableside shows, run by Joseph Freyre, who notably was the maitre d' of the Broadmoor's Penrose Room for a decade. His most popular items include a hot spinach Pernod salad and pepper steak, with ample seafood offerings as well.
The Famous Steak House
31 N. Tejon St., thefamoussteakhouse.net
Recently bought by Perry Sanders of The Mining Exchange and Antlers hotels, the Famous remains a wise choice for oysters and a ribeye with some shared side items and a well-constructed cocktail. Their house burger is a special occasion all of its own.
MacKenzie's Chop House
128 S. Tejon St., mackenzieschophouse.com
Offering another steak option downtown at more modest prices, where you can still get into prime-grade cuts, Colorado lamb and fine seafood. Chef Pete Moreno's a longtime local face, allowed some play on weekly fresh menus. Brought to you by the same restaurant group as Flatiron's, The Ritz and José Muldoon's.
The Blue Star
1645 S. Tejon St., thebluestar.net
Spearhead of the Blue Star Group eateries, which includes Nosh, La'au's and entities inside the Ivywild School, the Blue Star breaks things out into cocktail lounge (more casual) or dining room offerings. Menus have always remained interesting and ever-changing, with ample play opportunities for the chefs.
The Steakhouse at The Club at Flying Horse
1880 Weiskopf Point, flyinghorseclub.com
Flying Horse opened this portion of their dining room to the general public in late 2015, showing off gourmet touches at all turns in a gorgeous space. We thoroughly enjoyed our scallops and pork chop, and dessert.
1605 S. Tejon St., prime25.com
Even newer, Prime 25 gets pricey quick, but delivers where it counts. We appreciate the Colorado striped bass and lamb chops, each prepared beautifully. Happy hours make a nice time to work through small plates over drinks in the attractive, swank space.
The Cliff House at Pikes Peak
306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, thecliffhouse.com
Currently helmed by a Broadmoor alum in the kitchen, Cliff House offers a few dining options, including a charming veranda that's a summer day's best friend. Dinner features game meats and seafood.
Marigold Café and Bakery
4605 Centennial Blvd., marigoldcoloradosprings.com
Recently sold to an investment group, we can only hope and assume that Marigold will live up to its former grandeur, French-inspired. Offerings are quite diverse and dessert's recommended on account of the fine bakery arm.
We can't fit in everyone and we're obviously leaving out many a good ethnic spot, from fine sushi houses to our town's standout Ethiopian eatery. But here's a quick-hit list of more spots you may wish to consider: For unique atmosphere, Briarhurst Manor Estate (404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, briarhurst.com); for lobster bisque, Walter's Bistro (146 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., waltersbistro.com); for French cravings, La Baguette French Bistro (4440 N. Chestnut St., labaguettefrenchbistro.com); for Spanish tapas and true Tuscan pizzas, the TAPAteria (2607 W. Colorado Ave., tapateria.com) and Pizzeria Rustica (2527 W. Colorado Ave., pizzeriarustica.com) sister eatery combo; for Italian renditions we like Paravicini's Italian Bistro (2802 W. Colorado Ave., paravicinis.com), Red Gravy (23 S. Tejon St., redgravyco.com), Fratelli (124 N. Nevada Ave., fratelliristorante.com) and La Bella Vita Ristorante Italiano (4475 Northpark Drive, labellavitaristorante.net); for Mediterranean, Jake and Telly's Greek Taverna (2616 W. Colorado Ave., jakeandtellys.com) or the Caspian Café (4375 Sinton Road, caspiancafe.com); for German excellence, Edelweiss (34 E. Ramona Ave., edelweissrest.com); and for fondue, the Mona Lisa (733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, monalisafondue.com).