Best Of 2017

Favorite

2017 Best Of Colorado Springs Food, Drink and Nightlife 

Indy Best Of

BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz
Neighborhood Restaurant – West, New Restaurant, Overall Restaurant, Patio, New Bar/New Brewery

Cerberus Brewing Company

When we first learned that former Underground/Brewer's Republic owners Tom Halfast and Jerry Morris, teamed with brewer and former Brewer's Republic GM Joshua Adamski, were opening a brew house in an old veterinary clinic spot, the name Cerberus seemed a playful homage. But the multi-headed dog from Greek mythology finds a more symbolic meaning here, with Cerberus sweeping up multiple awards — 12, five of them gold wins, truly a dominating number for this and any year's Best Of tally — in a ferocious display of food and drink prowess. This Cerberus doesn't guard the underworld; it currently rules over Colorado Springs' food and drink scene.

The wisest decision the partners made when building out the location was to hire a true, seasoned chef, to elevate Cerberus beyond typical bar/pub fare into what might best be described as brewery fine dining. That's not to say stiff, formal service and white tablecloths, it's to indicate that former Broadmoor banquet chef de cuisine Mark LeFebvre makes stunning things happen to elsewhere-ordinary items. (He finished in second place for Best Chef, behind Brother Luck.)

Just read this description for one of the popular appetizers, the seasonally updated IPA Bacon Bites: pomegranate, winter squash, sorrel, almond dust, goat cheese. Yeah — he had 90 percent of folks captured at the words "bacon" and "IPA" but he then adds frills that take the dish higher, both with a colorful presentation but also tiny flavor accents for a hint of tartness or sweetness or creaminess for overall balance.

Then there's the epic lamb sliders, trout cakes, the smoked brisket grilled cheese ... all the reasons this has become a third place for so many.

House beers show roundly excellent, both diverse and interesting, and in true Adamski fashion, big and beautiful IPAs abound. The quad-hopped, tropical citrus-evoking Elysium IPA quickly became our go-to; it's simply a phenomenal IPA, and especially a treat when Cerberus spins it into double and dry-hopped versions.

Transparently: We were of course big fans of the "liberally hopped" New England-style Independent's Day IPA that several of our Indy crew members brewed with the Cerberus team in June as a collaboration to benefit Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates.

It's not really enough to just pat Cerberus on the head here and say "good doggie." With a dozen awards hard-earned and well deserved, this honoring equates to when you take your dog on a long walk near some water, return home to open a big can of wet dog food, scratch its belly for a while, play fetch with its favorite toy, then let it sleep in bed with you — just this once. It's to say "I recall being happy enough before you came into my life, but now I'm ecstatic, and I can't picture being without you." Cerberus has truly upped the ante in town for what it means to run and play with the big dogs.

Neighborhood Bar – North

Back East Bar & Grill

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• In biz 11 years, the Briargate location is a true family-friendly neighborhood joint — just like the Monument and Denver locations

• Menu offerings really do take you back East with hugely popular Philly cheesesteak, pizzas and 10 flavors of wings — go big or go home with the 18-by-24-inch The Beast pizza

• Sports weekends are a given, but drop by Tuesdays for poker night, Wednesdays for trivia, or for the weekly, all-house-made menu specials, Tuesdays through Saturdays

• A sister outfit, Atmosphere Gastropub, is in the works for Interquest Parkway, opening in early 2018

Upscale Bar

Brooklyn's on Boulder St.

• This speakeasy-style spot serves as the tasting room for Lee Spirits Company's signature gins and liqueurs

• The seasonal drink menu draws from actual pre-Prohibition drink recipes

• Don't like gin? Come anyway; the menu's full of cocktails made for gin-skeptical drinkers, who often become converts

• The dark, cozy space has a very limited capacity, so the crowd never gets too crazy, and the service is always attentive

• Brooklyn's co-founder Nate Windham has a new strawberry ginger gin in the works, a choice summer option

Happy Hour, Overall Bar

Zodiac Venue and Bar

• Co-owners Christina Stone and Gentle Fritz created downtown Colorado Springs' most decadently elegant club in 2011 from the corpse of the more strictly punk-centric Rocket Room

• Zodiac's "roadhouse-flavored" happy hour, daily from 2 to 7 p.m., offers $2 Tecates and PBRs, $1 off all liquor and 50 cents off beer

• "Zodiac is dedicated to the seedy underbelly of creative arts," says Fritz, citing a wildly diverse array of events that ranges from more adult activities — including burlesque, drag and fetish shows — to family-focused art and music events

• The venue's music offerings have been no less eclectic, including touring acts such as Gasoline Lollipops and the Voodoo Organist as well as local favorites such as Moonhoney and My Name Is Harriett

Coffee Roaster (Tie)
click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

Building Three Coffee Roasters

Owner Sean Buckles spent 12 years as an Army engineer before he began formally studying coffee roasting and apprenticing with other roasters. He's made it a point to travel to growing areas including Costa Rica and El Salvador to meet farmers and establish direct trade relationships. He's meticulous about light roasting, just a bit beyond the first crack of a bean under heat, to retain essential aromatics and flavors. The house Long Cap Espresso highlights a blend of two Salvadorean beans with faint fruit notes, while our late-day go-to, the Swiss Water decaf Guatemalan, exudes a faint chocolatey vibe. Located in the Lincoln Center, Building Three roasts across the hall from its bustling cafe, a cool space where we've become big fans of the mocktail menu in particular. Just one example: a cold brew margarita, with deep, potent coffee spiked with cayenne, vanilla and lime juice.

Coffee Roaster (Tie)

Switchback Coffee Roasters

• Want to learn more about the roasting process? Check out the roastery and retail front next door to the café, and question the knowledgeable staff

• When we first chatted with Switchback in 2011, it had just moved into a small Old Colorado City spot from a garage it'd begun roasting in the year prior — it's come a long way

• Our go-to food item in the cool café: the gluten-free and vegan Budda Bowl, with sweet potatoes, quinoa and curried vegetables with adobo sauce (yes, the menu spells it Budda not Buddha)

• Descriptors on one of our favorite Switchback roasts, a Colombian: butterscotch, peach and pineapple. Sounds like pourover paradise

• Early hours make it a good option for early risers and commuters

Happy Hour Menu

Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop

• The deets: 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays; 4 to 6 p.m. weekends; half off Columbia Crest wines, beers and cocktails, plus a small bites menu ranging from $4 to $7

• "We have a ton of regulars" says one employee, noting first-come-first-serve open seating between the bar, lounge, lobby and patio

• The satay-style beef skewers will make you want to return for a big steak — might we recommend the ribeye

• The sister to a lauded San Diego outfit, this 2-year-old Star has earned many of its own local accolades, thanks to real chefs and real good food in a snazzy setting

Caterer

Picnic Basket Catering

• Stands out among the Picnic Basket Family of Companies — which includes Buffalo Gals and Cravings — as their most popular arm for corporate events, though Picnic Basket picks up some wedding and memorial events, too

• Offers more made-fresh options than typical for catering for corporate events

• Caters more than 1,500 events per year, an immense feat of culinary orchestration (admit it: you can barely handle your family's needs)

• Tour the online menus to see just how versatile this outfit is, from boxless lunches to breakfast and dinner menus and much more

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
Barista

Eliza Lovett

It's always good to go out on a high note, which makes Indy readers' love for Lovett all the more timely — and all the more bittersweet. After a year of ups and downs, she left the Springs on Oct. 5 to work for Minneapolis, Minnesota's Mill City Roasters, the company that built the roaster she used while a barista/roaster for Story Coffee Company. She says Mill City's mission is to demystify the coffee-roasting process, and in an educational and training role, that's exactly what she'll be doing. And when Story owners Don and Carissa Niemyer pick her replacement, Lovett will be doing the training.

"There will be no lag," she says. "The coffee will be great."

Lovett qualified for the U.S. Barista Championship in February but was unable to compete after nearly losing her arm in a roasting accident in April. As soon as she was well enough to do so, she returned to work, roasting beans and pulling shots with the best of them.

"Everyone has been so wonderful in this town," she says. "This coffee community just keeps expanding... Without this town, I wouldn't be half the barista I am."

Smoothie/Juice Bar

Ola Juice Bar

• Get the Thai Avocado Medjool smoothie — tastes just like a vanilla milkshake

• The menu's raw, plant-based, gluten-free and "mostly organic," which is fully awesome

• It's so much more than just smoothies, including acai and build-your-own bowls

• Because real men drink wheatgrass shots ... without wincing

• Also because sports recovery drinks should taste good, not like synthetic mystery powder

Breakfast, Sunday Brunch

Over Easy

• Get there early, as this place is uber popular, but the wait is totally worth it

• Check out the pancake-of-the-day flavor and variations on Eggs Benedict

• Their take on avocado toast is quite delicious, even if you aren't a millennial

• Adult beverages available, including a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar

• Part of the locally based Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group that started with Salsa Brava and includes Sonterra

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
Local Coffee Shop

Loyal Coffee

• The ownership team of expert local baristas and roasters (who've worked at all the top shops in town) always brings it back to one core concept: community

• The vanilla latte makes for a transcendent sipping experience (though we'll never say no to a cacao version either)

• The kind of place where those on the move can truly get in and out, but those with time to linger will be compelled to hang out amidst the cool atmosphere (i.e., it's a hip place to be seen)

• The retail beans command a price ($18-$21) reflective of the smart sourcing and fine roasting — visit the Double Zero Blend for more

• Don't just think of Loyal for coffee; there's a great craft hooch menu too, for later-evening lounging

Pizza
click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

Bambino's Urban Pizzeria

Congratulazioni to owners Kevin and Suzette Megyeri and their staff at Bambino's Urban Pizzeria for bringing home the gold this year. Their nearly 2-year-old Bijou Street restaurant, around the corner from sister eatery Skirted Heifer, has what it takes to earn the vote for best pizza in town. Opt for one of their recipes (we love The Hot Chick) or concoct your own; either way, it will take less than five minutes to bake in their 700-degree combo wood and gas oven. House-made Fior Di Latte mozzarella, homemade or gluten-free dough, grass-fed local beef, and vegan and vegetarian options are all available. The 11.5-inch pizzas, for a fair $9.50, are big enough to share, especially if you tack on an appetizer (maybe awesome house meatballs) or salad. Wine, beer and Boylan's natural soda help wash it all down.

Local/Regional Chain

Il Vicino

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• The name of this Albuquerque-based chain means "the neighbor" in Italian

• Consistently providing fast (and friendly) service so you can eat and get back to work on time

• The Ferrari of their wood oven-baked pizzas is the Testarossa, with pepperoni, caramelized onions and Kalamata olives

• Pair with beer or wine, or their lemonade with basil refreshes

• Calling all chocoholics: Don't miss the Torta di Seta chocolate dessert — it is ultra-rich and perfect for sharing

French

La Baguette Bakery & Espresso Café

• Home of the French onion soup to end all French onion soups

• A downtown fixture since 1984

• The humble, Euro-style space offers fast and fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner options; with daily specials and satisfying "express" choices

• It wouldn't be a French bakery without the intoxicating scent of familiar breads and pastries (made fresh and delivered daily)

Indian

Little Nepal

• Hot and fluffy naan offered in a variety of flavors makes the perfect accompaniment to every menu item

• Load your pantry with authentic Indian staples found in the market

• New to curry? The mild and creamy korma is packed with rich coconut flavor and tastes amazing with shrimp

• Pick your pain — go from mildly warm to almost-too-damn-hot with any dish

• The daily lunch buffet lets you have it all: masala, vindaloo, basmati rice ... no one leaves hungry

Seafood

Bonny & Read

• Flying fish! This pirate-named spot keeps its freshness promise with seafood flown in

• Happy hour nets delicious apps at half off, so will it be calamari or hushpuppies tonight?

• Splurge on the seafood tower at least once: It's a chilled pillar of lobster, oysters, crab and shrimp

• The bright blue Shark Bowl comes topped with a gummy shark and enough booze to drown two people

• Speaking of two, try the yellow tail snapper for two on your next date, complete with coconut rice and Asian veggies

Caribbean

Spice Island Grill

• Their bone-in curry goat was sampled — and met with approval — by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

• The real VIP at Spice Island is the brown stewed chicken; rich, flavorful and excellent with rice

• A small-but-tasty vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu means everyone can have a taste of the Caribbean

• The atmosphere is casual and jovial, with good-natured employees who love to share their menu favorites

• Beware the festival bread: Its fried texture and Nutella spread starts a powerful addiction

Italian

Paravicini's Italian Bistro

• Name translates to "for the neighborhood," and this staple of OCC dining dates back 14 years

• Extensive menu choices, many from family recipes — try the eggplant rollatini for an expertly prepared meal

• This summer saw the opening of an excellent new upstairs antipasto and wine bar called Sopra, Italian for "above"

• Offers occasional cooking classes with owner Franco Pisani, including a wine-and-dine experience to try what you've created

Korean

San Chang House

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• Start with an appetizer of duk bok ki, pieces of texturally pleasing compressed rice in a truly spicy chili sauce — hot goodness

• On our last visit, we loved another spicy dish, chilled buckwheat noodles, called bi bim nang myun

• Bulgogi is the most popular Korean dish, for good reason, but venture into other tender beef items, like the kal bi tang short-rib soup, for even more dynamic flavors

• We can eat their kimchi till the cows come home, and all the other banchan (complimentary small plates of fermented items)

German

Edelweiss Restaurant

• Celebrating 50 years, this family-owned spot has served generations

• Get educated in German cuisine in this former schoolhouse designed by famed architect Thomas MacLaren: Try the rahmschnitzel, a hearty pork cutlet in creamy mushroom sauce, and you might just discover a new favorite dish

• Beer-themed functions are frequent, and a monthly stammtisch (German for "regular table") allows for practicing language skills in the mother tongue

• Don't miss the warmer months in the "biergarten" area outside — you'll swear you've been beamed to Bavaria

• The European-trained Swiss pastry chef makes authentic strudel and other fabulous sweet treats

Chef

Brother Luck

• At every turn, Luck displays the thoughtful touches of a seasoned master, balancing flavors beautifully and offering small surprises that elevate his plates from the fine-dining norm

• When we formally reviewed Four by Brother Luck in June, the eponymous international chef of intrigue was once again studying abroad, so fellow chef Aaron Rivera (who also beat Bobby Flay) upheld the brand's excellence

• Brother makes a stupid-good Cubano sandwich at lunch, with pork cheek and Serrano ham plus classic accoutrements

• At dinner, you can't beat the $45, four-course tasting menu (do add wine for $20 more with house sommelier and longtime Luck collaborator Steve Kander)

• The delicate frozen peach parfait dessert with Bavarian mousse nearly brought us to tears

Late-Night Dining

Rabbit Hole

• Night owls rejoice — you can enjoy the full menu until 1:30 a.m., daily

• The rabbit meatloaf is a tasty and modern twist on an old-fashioned family dinner classic

• If you like your cocktails sweet and extra boozy, give the White Rabbit a whirl

• The atmosphere is dark, cozy and filled with Alice in Wonderland art

• Maybe not heart-healthy but damn tasty: a burger made entirely of bacon, topped with Port Salut cheese

Fine Dining, Steak

The Famous

• Hungry patrons will love the bone-in, Colorado-raised ribeye, cooked to perfection and weighing in at 18 ounces — a carnivore's dream

• The classy décor makes it an ideal spot for an impressive power lunch or a romantic interlude

• For lighter fare, try the lunchtime salads that include avocado, crab or tuna

• Live music accompanies your meal most weekends, featuring talented pianists, vocalists and more

• Now owned by Mining Exchange hotel owner a, nothing's changed when it comes to high-end excellence across the menu

Thai

NaRai Thai Restaurant

• A multi-year Indy Best Of gold winner, meaning the eatery has consistency unquestionably pinned down

• Two locations: the original NaRai Thai Restaurant in Rockrimmon and NaRai Siam Cuisine in Cheyenne Mountain, with a slightly bigger menu

• Fabulous Pad Thai, including a swankier seafood option

• Four words: homemade coconut ice cream

• Backing up: Start with the surprisingly light kabocha squash tempura with a lovely sweet-and-sour peanut sauce

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern

Mediterranean Café

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• A downtown go-to for Greek eats since 2001

• Some people swear by their gyros, but their Greek salad with that tasty meat added, plus pita bread, offers enough for two meals

• The house-made baklava is fit for gods and goddesses alike

• The vegetarian platter's so robust you won't miss meats; it bears baba ghanouj, hummus, falafel, tabouleh, dolmas, rice, salad and pita

• There's also a vegan pita sandwich with marinated veggies and tabouleh

Neighborhood Bar – Downtown

Tony's

• This beloved downtown spot has been in business for 18 years and in its current location for four

• Comfort-food daily specials add to the mostly-under-$10 menu offerings

• Daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. keeps things affordable

• Get there early when the Packers are playing — this is where the Green Bay fans congregate

• While drinking and snacking, feel free to gaze at plentiful sports memorabilia, including a signed Peter Forsberg jersey, a reminder of a time when Colorado Avalanche hockey wasn't hot garbage

Neighborhood Restaurant – Downtown

Odyssey Gastropub

• 56 varieties of bourbon and whiskey

• Fan favorite drink: the Appalachian Libation, local moonshine blended with a blueberry lager

• Most popular dish: chicken and waffles

• If chicken and waffles sounds a little heavy, the Mahi Mahi Street Tacos, topped with mango salsa, present a lighter, gluten-free alternative

• New food menu just released at the beginning of October, and the owners have announced plans for a new upscale sports bar slated to open in a few months

Neighborhood Restaurant – North

TILL

• Farm-to-table fare meets chic, modern atmosphere

• Seasonal menu reflects the best in ethically sourced, sustainable meats and veggies

• There's a demonstration beehive in the grocery area

• Speaking of the grocery area, pop in for a load of artisan breads, baked treats or fresh flowers, no dining required

• Coffee and pastry junkies will love The ROOST Coffee House, a brand-new addition

Neighborhood Restaurant – East,Neighborhood Bar – East

The Wobbly Olive

Owners Inez and Sean Fitzgerald brought craft culture to the Eastside

• Seasonal menus highlight a variety of fresh ingredients

• Cocktails. Stupid-good cocktails. So many stupid-good cocktails.

• The kitchen is newly overseen by award-winning corporate executive chef Supansa Banker, who works with current chef Harrison Caubarreaux

• Look for an expansion into the Westside in early 2018

Neighborhood Restaurant – South, Neighborhood Bar – South

The Public House

• Yawn — they must be tired of winning these awards every year

• Go for Tuesday Pint Nights: $3 beers + souvenir glassware and schwag = awesomesauce

• Or hit the weekly running club for a 5K plus food/drink specials

• They've got the right heart, attitude, vibe and way-better-than bar food, including killer burgers

• Also a spot for quality local live music

Mexican

Crystal Park Cantina

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

It's hard to tell which offering motivated fans to elect Crystal Park Cantina for overall best Mexican restaurant. After all, there are quite a few great ones from which to choose. Was it the margaritas, created with the house's signature mix, fine tequilas and fresh juices? Perhaps it was the avocado pork burrito, stuffed with slow-roasted pork and creamy guacamole? Or, was the real deciding plate the sweet and savory sweet potato nachos, covered in chorizo and cheese? Whatever the impetus, it's clear that this beloved eatery (whose owner, former Bronco Justin Armour, personally answers every online review) has what it takes to carry the title with pride. As an added bonus, its slightly isolated location on the edge of Manitou Springs offers a rare bit of peace away from the stuffed streets of the main drag. So maybe the truest reason for the win was their achievement of the restaurant trifecta: great food, strong booze and awesome atmosphere.

Vietnamese

Saigon Café

• The bright and comfortable location downtown is a perennial winner in the Indy Best Of

• Serving deliciously fresh and hearty food, artfully prepared and delicately seasoned

• One of our favorites: the chicken curry, with sweet potatoes perfectly complementing the spices

• Long before the pho boom hit, Saigon was serving a great rendition of the popular noodle bowl

Japanese/Sushi

Fujiyama

• Go for half-price rolls at lunch, every weekday — one of the spot's claims to fame

• Fujiyama recently celebrated its 19th year in business

• Do you like sushi but wish rolls came in 'merica size? Fujiyama recently added gigantic $10 sushi burritos to the menu

• This menu also includes noodle bowls, ramen, tempura and grilled plates, for those averse to raw fish

• Check online for regular specials, including half-off everything from 5 to 6 p.m. on Mondays

Chinese (Tie)

Coal Mine Dragon – South Eighth Street

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• Being a perennial Indy winner speaks to fan loyalty and good eats

• Lunch entrées are all in the $7 range; dinner only $9 to $12; and the lunch buffet only costs $7.99 — great for the food lover on a budget

• A true neighborhood restaurant, these folks recognize regulars and keep dishes consistent

• We recommend fried dumplings for an app, beef lo mein for lunch, and sesame chicken for dinner, but hey, that's just us

Chinese (Tie)

Coal Mine Dragon – Uintah Street

• This spot is totally unrelated to the Coal Mine Dragon on Eighth Street, despite sharing a name and a reader-voted reputation for quality

• Expect a good deal in terms of both the price of the food and the quality

• While it's nice to dine in and tipple a cheap, strong cocktail (the only dessert available), it's also nice to get free delivery

• The menu offers a little bit of everything, including pork, beef, seafood and vegetarian dishes

Frozen Treat

Josh and John's

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• Kids 12 and younger (or 70 and older) can score frozen delights for a mere $1.50

• Start a punch card (15 scoops and the next is free), and watch for specials

• Stop in when the waffle cones are being made and have a sample of the "oops" scraps

• Gluten-free folks have multiple options (sans cone, of course)

• Salted peanut butter cup ice cream adds a perfect touch of salt to cut the richness of the cream

Dessert

Marigold Café and Bakery

• After 25 years, this French-leaning Northside favorite is under new ownership this year, though many familiar staff remain

• Relish: two pages of house-made sweet treats from which to choose, including tarts, cakes, cookies, brownies, pastries and more

• The award-winning Coconut La Raz is a favorite white cake with lemon and raspberries and a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut flakes on delicious frosting

• Cinnamon twists are a great take-home item to savor with coffee or tea

Bakery

Boonzaaijer's Dutch Bakery

• Nineteen years in business, with many Indy Best Of awards to lean on

• Try the gingerbread-like speculaas cookie for a Dutch treat

• Delectable, custom-designed cakes are available to order

• Also offering a small market area of European non-perishable comestibles and two small seating areas to enjoy your goodies immediately

• Some gluten-free items available

Donuts

Amy's Donuts

• Get your favorite sugary carb bombs 24/7/365; Amy's is always open to feed your face

• "The Homer Simpson" looks like it was plucked straight from the cartoon: glossy, pink and coated with rainbow sprinkles

• Be a risk-taker and try the maple bacon fudge, bluntly named and surprisingly good

• You may have to sedate the kids after feeding them any of the donuts doused in beloved breakfast cereals

• Get your fill — they'll fill your donut with your choice of flavors, including lemon, custard, raspberry and more

Power Lunch

Café Red Point

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

A confession: We're pretty sure this award category backfired on us, and that Indy voters might not understand the basic definition of a power lunch — a working meal where big talks take place between big-dog political figures and business executives. In our experience, Café Red Point is not such a place, though it does cater to neighboring CrossFit and ReVibe Pilates clientele, and owner Dan Fuhr is a handsome hulking human (a former Army civil affairs officer). So voters must literally have been thinking "power" (insert manly grunt here). Also on theme, the menu is designed around nutrition, incorporating items like bone broth and healthy fats and proteins, plus vegan protein powders for excellent house smoothies. Enjoy a post-workout acai bowl as a treat, or killer paleo waffles for breakfast. A chicken salad makes a light lunch. And think about the house Power Tea for digestion — a mix of black, green and yerba mate teas with ginger, turmeric, coconut oil and grass-fed butter... Yeah, maybe that's what Indy voters were going for. Superfoods as power lunch — way to vote literal, people.

Neighborhood Bar – West, Karaoke

Thunder and Buttons

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• A Westside mainstay for decades, this bar is said to be named for two bull elk belonging to an early Old Colorado City resident

• A couple of elk items — from younger specimens, naturally — appear on the menu, including a tasty chili; there are also salads, wings and excellent nachos

• Some local and Colorado-made beers and an extensive assortment of cocktails available

• Get your karaoke on Wednesday through Saturday nights; on Saturdays bingo before you sing

• Happy hours 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday

Restaurant for Tourists

Fargo's Pizza

• Now open 44 years, this spot is an iconic part of the city's cultural landscape

• The massive Victorian-opulent saloon spot seats more than 500 — excluding the period-dressed mannequins, whose seating reservations are permanent

• Orders show up as lights in various mirrors around the dining room

• Expect pizza with a crust that's crisp all the way to the tip of the slice, every time

Music Venue

The Black Sheep

• After more than a decade on the scene, the all-ages venue pulled off its first parking lot show this summer, featuring Reel Big Fish's Beer Run tour with opening act The Queers

• High-profile touring artists who've played the Black Sheep in the past year: K Flay, Hieroglyphics, Rakim, Highly Suspect, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Last Podcast on the Left, Miike Snow, and Tribal Seeds

• The venue also has hosted numerous local CD-release events. "Exclusively local band shows are becoming massive, with terrific turnouts," says general manager Jeremy Grobsmith. "These bands are working hard, starting to tour, and are really captivating their audiences."

• This combination of national and touring acts — along with a big stage, top-notch sound system, full bar and all-ages policy — has made the Black Sheep the city's premiere music venue. "2017 has been one of our busiest years to date, with five to six shows per week," says Grobsmith. "The Colorado Springs music scene is thriving!"

Tacos

T-Byrd's Tacos & Tequila

• Sure, tacos make Tuesdays special, but at T-Byrd's, every day can be a fiesta with no need to be restricted to just one taco style — with prices from $3.50 to $4.25, it's fun and easy to mix and match

• Don't look for seasoned ground beef here: The street-style tacos include pork belly, trout, barbacoa, pulled chicken and carnitas

• Vegetarians are welcome — the aguacate frito taco features deep-fried avocado, pepper pico, chipotle sour cream and cojita cheese

• Sure, they won for tacos, but you need to wash it down with something — potent tequila and margaritas are at the ready

Vegetarian

The Burrowing Owl

• Operates on the frankly unique business model of a vegan dive bar

• Encourages discussion and community, which turns the surrounding cell reception deadzone into an advantage

• Bar, table and benches were made from reclaimed wood from the Black Forest Fire, a 120-year-old pine

• All "cheeses" are made from nutritional yeast — good for you and your taste buds

• Our favorites: Spicy Mac for a meal and Adult Chocolate Milk for a cocktail

Gluten-Free-Friendly

Coquette's Bistro

• The gorgeous new location has been the talk of the town since opening in late July; we love the patio and the dramatic fireplace in the high-ceiling main dining room

• Cocktails — well made here, and you'll feel stylish sipping them in such a swank setting

• Cupcakes — put all of them in your mouth part (not all at once, silly), but especially the salted caramel if you have to choose only one

• Gluten-free mecca for your friends who wish they could eat without regard for ingredients — at Coquette's they truly can, and relish the great GF substitutions

• Go for brunch, or crepes anytime, and the lovely lavender vinaigrette should be your dressing of choice on the savory crepes

Cajun/Southern

Springs Orleans

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

• Located in the Mining Exchange complex, Springs Orleans specializes in "elevated Creole" cuisine inspired by New Orleans fare

• While debris sandwiches are no longer on the menu, it's still brimming with genuine Louisiana favorites like freshly shucked oysters, catfish po' boys, gator bites and crawfish étouffée, plus fresh fish specials

• This is also Colorado Springs' place to go for Café Du Monde-style beignets and café au lait, a daily breakfast buffet, or the more elaborate Sunday brunch featuring freshly carved prime rib and turkey

• When he's not on tour, Commodores pianist Thomas Dawson, also the Mining Exchange's director of entertainment, frequently stops by to provide smooth jazz accompaniment for the evening dinner crowd

Place for Bar Games

SuperNova

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

• Sister outfit to the Rabbit Hole, Bonny & Read, and now, Stir Coffee and Cocktails

• The walls are lined with arcade cabinets from the '80s, the '90s and the '00s

• Cornhole and shuffleboard are fun and all, but they've got nothing on Street Fighter, pinball and Joust, to name just a few

• This dark dive "barcade" offers craft beers, wines and spirits for all drinkers, plus a full menu

Food Truck

Pig Latin

• You love the truck, now love the sit-down: PigLatin Cocina, opening around the new year at 2825 Dublin Blvd.

• The truck went on hiatus on Aug. 1 so owner-operators Andres and Tricia Velez could A) repair it; B) sell one house and buy another; C) prepare for Cocina's launch

• The truck will return to the streets in tandem with the brick-and-mortar launch

• The Cocina will serve classic items from the truck — gotta have that stacked arepa plate — but expand into wider Latin American cuisine

• Pig Latin has been pork-centric, but expect more pollo now, and a liquor license

Burger

The Skirted Heifer

• Fluffy house garlic focaccia buns are baked from the pizza dough made at sister outfit Bambino's Urban Pizzeria

• Flavorful burger meat comes via Westcliffe's Sangres Best grass-finished beef

• Though they don't serve booze, they'll give you a Hangover: cream cheese, egg, bacon and Bloody Mary sauce over a patty on a sesame seed bun for around $8

• That line you always see out the door — yeah, um, that tells you there's something special about this place

• The Belgian fries are bomb

Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings

• Purveyors of wings, beer and sports for 25 years

• Making boneless wings great (and cheap) again — mainly to avoid rising global chicken wing prices

• Better known as "B-Dubs," the national chain has two locations in Colorado Springs

• A go-to for network and PPV sports viewing, with more televisions than you could ask for at any given location

Cheap Eats, Green Chile, Diner

King's Chef Diner

• Two locations: The charming purple castle on Costilla Street with around a dozen seats is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; the larger location is open 7 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. or so daily just outside Acacia Park

• Sure, you could try to earn a Clean Plate Club sticker with their infamous and enormous meals like The Thing or The Grump, but even those are available in half and quarter orders for normal appetites

• Be warned, it's a cash-only business; even cheap eats can add up quick in a group

• Their seriously spicy but highly flavorful green chile has earned accolades from across the country, including regular appearances in our Indy Best Of

• The famous chile's found on many menu items, but it can also go home with you, available at the diners or in grocery markets

Barbecue

Front Range Barbeque

• Front Range serves up barbecue and Southern bites with 10 rotating taps of craft beer

• The FRBBQ stage hosts live music every Wednesday and Saturday night — yes, there's regularly bluegrass

• Perhaps the most popular menu item is the Sloppy Pig, a sandwich piled high with pulled pork, kielbasa, bacon, cole slaw, fried onion strings, cheddar cheese and house-made pickles

• On Nov. 8, the spot celebrates its 17th anniversary

Bartender/Mixologist

Kevin Dexter, Shuga's

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

Kevin Dexter was a bartender for only a little while in his native Miami before he came to the Springs in the winter of 2007. He's plied his trade at Shuga's since arriving, inventing never-before-seen drinks for his loyal customers.

"The Sasquatch, which is a butternut squash martini, is really popular," he says. He's also responsible for the Harvey Wrote Some Lyrics, a mix of gin, absinthe, pistachio, nutmeg and egg whites. Currently, Dexter works as the manager and bartends four nights a week. His philosophy when it comes to service is, in his words, "have lots of fun." But when it comes to designing drinks and training bar staff on how to make them, he's exacting.

"When I design a drink ... It has to be something you can't get anywhere else," he says. "[That's] really my main goal, so I tend to stray away from the 'Shuga's take on the classic.' I try to come up with something completely new."

Distillery, Mixed Drink (Tobacco Old Fashioned)

Axe and the Oak Distillery

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

When we spoke with distiller/co-owner Jason Jackson in 2014, the musician described the birth of his whiskey as happening between songs at a gig, while sipping on Knob Creek. "I thought to myself, 'Damn that's good. I wonder if I can make that?" We all know the answer now, though perhaps we wouldn't have known the company would win multiple medals at prestigious international whiskey competitions. The flagship Colorado Mountain Bourbon Whiskey uses Kansas corn and rye, offering tantalizing aromas of maple, vanilla and butterscotch. Co-owner Casey Ross says they've quadrupled bottle sales this year and expect the same growth in 2018, when they'll launch new liqueurs, too. As for the winning Tobacco Old Fashioned, bar manager Alejandro Sanchez walks us through the roughly three-minute process to make one: A house maple-nutmeg syrup — made with birch, nutmeg, sarsaparilla and cassia (cinnamon) chips — joins their bourbon and Angostura bitters, as does a pinch of tobacco. While that briefly infuses the mix, bartenders torch a slab of white oak, then set a double rocks glass atop it to trap aromatic smoke. Next comes a straining into that glass over a house-cut chunk of ice, and garnishing of torched orange peel for more aromatics. "This outsells all our other cocktails, ten-fold," says Sanchez. It's clear why; we'll take two, please.

Taphouse

Brewer's Republic

• The Brewer's website features a live list of the craft beers and ciders that are available on the 20 taps, prices included

• The bar also hosts a massive selection of bottles, cans, wines and whiskeys

• The taphouse hosts frequent special tappings, ranging from a single-brewery release night to a recent Belgian night

• The menu's solid, but frequent beer brunches and dinners really let the kitchen staff show off

• Above the bar, the ceiling's hung with tap handles from its seven years in business

Store for Craft Beer, Store for Wine

Coaltrain Wine & Spirits

• It is easy to see why Coaltrain, nearly 40 years old, has won in these two categories yet again: It carries quality beers from breweries too numerous to count and fine wines from all over the world

• On-site wine and spirits tastings are held in an enclosed space off the sales floor, designed expressly for that purpose

• Smaller display rooms hold more expensive and high-end items; the store also welcomes special orders

• Dog-friendly environment and a knowledgeable staff who are sometimes accompanied to work by their own pooches

Margarita

The Loop

• Cocktail historian David Wondritch claims the margarita came to be during the '30s and '40s, derived from the tequila daisy, a tequila-citrus-grenadine drink

• The Loop's a great place to go with friends, in part because if you finish one of the huge signature margaritas without a team (or at least a chaperone), you may be in trouble

• Anyone can make an enormous margarita at home, but The Loop makes several takes, with frozen options for a buzz and brain freeze combo

• Indiana University Bloomington recommends eating high-protein foods while drinking, so make use of the extensive Mexican-American menu with that birdbath-sized drink

Irish Pub, Running Club

Jack Quinn's Irish Pub and Restaurant

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

An authentic Irish pub's primary purpose is to produce craic. Pronounced "crack," it's a Gaelic word that roughly translates to fun, though there's shades of meaning. It's good conversation and gossip with old friends and new acquaintances, usually shared over a pint of Guinness. Jack Quinn's has both craic and Guinness to spare; it's easy to post up at the bar and make a new acquaintance.

One of the things that makes the spot stand out is the Jack Quinn's Running Club. Started by Ryan Shininger in June 2006, it's modeled on a Pensacola, Florida, pub running club he'd formerly belonged to. The Quinn's club's first 5K run drew around 70 attendees.

"It's developed into the benevolent monster you see now," says Jack Quinn's general manager Martin Troy. The pub sees anywhere from 200 to 300 runners coming through on a Tuesday in the dead of winter, with as many as 1,100 to 1,600 in summer. Club president Tom Finke says they have now had "over 37,000 people run with us."

Store for Colorado-Made Spirits

Cheers Liquor Mart

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

• 36,000 square feet of store means if you're looking for something specific, there's a pretty good chance it's on hand. If it isn't, they'll special order it at no extra charge

• "We don't turn any [distiller] from Colorado down if they've got a viable product and want to get their business going," says owner/manager Jack Backman

• Cheers frequently runs charity-oriented events and specials, including a supply drive for goods to help the pets of Houston after Hurricane Harvey

• Check out monthly staff spirit recommendations, and check online for a full list of the spirits available in-store, prices included

Brewery, Beer Event

Bristol Firkin Rendezvous, Bristol Brewing Company

• Founded in 1994 by Mike and Amanda Bristol, it's one of the oldest breweries in town, and most celebrated

• The Tuesday Night Karma Hour event series raises money for local nonprofit organizations

• Bristol's Firkin Rendezvous hosts 11- gallon firkins of cask-conditioned beer from craft breweries across Colorado

• The 2016 Firkin Rendezvous moved out of the brew room and into heated tents on the lawn, expanding to feature over 40 breweries

• Tickets are limited so it's not a total madhouse — they only allow in about 375 people

Wine Menu

2South Wine Bar

• This fabulous Westside gem located in a historic building with an amazing patio serves a wide, fine array of wines

• Three wine specials a week, including flights and a "brown bag" night, where for $20, you pick red or white and receive a surprise bottle

• Catch a Supper Club meal on third Sundays monthly by reservation

• Pair your wine with charcuterie or a wood-fired pizza, save room for elegant desserts

• It's not all just wine; enjoy a craft cocktail at the upstairs whiskey bar on Fridays and Saturdays

Local Beer

Laughing Lab, Bristol Brewing Company p. 43

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

• Bristol's signature Scottish ale has won nine Great American Beer Festival medals since 1994, placing first in 2000 and 2006

• Now available year-round in cans, as well as bottles and kegs

• The beer got its name from Camden, a beloved Labrador retriever who died in 2010 at the age of 16

• It's available up and down the Front Range and, more and more, on the Western Slope, according to brand marketing head Steve Oliveri

Experimental Local Beer

Nano 108 Brewing Company IPA

click to enlarge BRIENNE BOORTZ
  • Brienne Boortz

Owner/brewer Keith Altemose tapped some 30 IPAs over the course of the last year, so he's not 100 percent sure which one Indy readers dubbed their favorite experimental beer, but he's got a good guess: the house IPA.

"It's 'experimental' because we changed it to meet market demand," Altemose says. His customers were looking for a particular profile of IPA: a clean malt profile that doesn't get in the way of big, exciting, juicy hops, brewed to just shy of 7 percent ABV, with 70 or fewer IBUs — international bittering units — so they could drink a few pints without blowing out their palates altogether. He's brewed four versions with customer-suggested hop combinations, and he released a second batch of the original in the last week of September, which used El Dorado, Galaxy, Mosaic and Centennial hops. Odds are good that by the time you're reading this it's already long gone, with the next one coming down the line.

Writers: Laura Eurich, Bill Forman, Bridgett Harris, Craig Lemley, Cathy Reilly, Zahria Rogers, Matthew Schniper, Alissa Smith, Nat Stein and Griffin Swartzell.

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