Best Of 2019

Favorite

2019 Best Of Colorado Springs Food, Drink and Nightlife 

click to enlarge DUSTIN GLATZ
  • Dustin Glatz

Chef, Fine Dining

Gold: Brother Luck, Four By Brother Luck | fourbybrotherluck.com, luckydumplingco.com

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

By now you probably know about Chef Brother Luck’s biggest TV accomplishments, like winning on Beat Bobby Flay, and finishing with respectable rankings on both Chopped and Top Chef. Of any chef to hang his jacket in Colorado Springs, Luck’s gone the furthest with publicity and name recognition, which is cool. But every time we’ve talked with him over the years he brings up aspects like humility and focusing on the well-being of his staff and clients, and fostering young chef talent as more important than winning competitions. What especially caught our attention recently was an article shared by the James Beard Foundation, in which Luck completely shows his vulnerability; he talks about feeling like an “impostor” after his second Top Chef loss, and discusses his own depression and how he’s struggled with mental illness. “But now I’m done chasing validation and begging others to accept me,” he writes. “... The restaurant business has always glorified harsh working conditions, long work hours, and addiction, but I think it’s time for change.”

Pretty cool to see your vote for local top chef wear an activist hat, too. As for the Fine Dining award, we have a damn fine time every time we punish plates of dumplings at Luck’s Lucky Dumpling, but we’re pretty sure Four by Brother Luck earns the actual nod for gussied-up gustatory goodness. The concept alone of the four-section, four-courses-encouraged dinner menu presents a fun framework for exploring different regional and cultural flavors — everything from comfort food to elevated seafood to superlative turf entrées and lavish desserts. Of course you can also keep it casual and drop in for Luck’s signature bacon jam burger at lunch or hit up daily 3-to-6 p.m. happy hours, where fashionable cocktails are only $6, and small plates are only $4.50 to $6. As always, we’re excited to see whatever Luck does next, because he’s anything but a static personality.

Chef

Silver: Franco Pisani, Paravicini’s Italian Bistro | paravicinis.com

Bronze: Steven Bailey, Atmosphere Gastropub | atmospheregastropub.com

Fine Dining

Silver: The Rabbit Hole | rabbitholedinner.com

Bronze: MacKenzie’s Chop House | mackenzieschophouse.com

Happy Hour, Happy Hour Menu, Overall Bar, Late Night Dining, Upscale Bar

Gold: The Rabbit Hole | rabbitholedinner.com

The Springs may not have subway transportation, but going down the subway-style staircase to The Rabbit Hole will transport you. This dark, eclectic spot stands out to Springs readers for a lot of reasons, not just the offbeat artwork and unique subterranean location. The Rabbit Hole’s kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m. every night of the week, so it’s a great spot to grab a bite and wrap up a late night, or kick one off. Signature dishes like bacon-wrapped rabbit meatloaf make The Rabbit Hole different from anywhere else in the Springs, while a selection of cocktails ranges from whimsical to brooding. Happy hour runs every weekday from 3 to 6 p.m., and locals can enjoy $4 house wine, draft beers and well drinks alongside half-priced appetizers. Said apps range from duck wings to mussels to blistered snap peas, so there’s a little something fancy for everyone. “You can really explore the menu without that sticker shock,” says Hannah Grimaldi, assistant general manager. But she says it’s the service that keeps people coming back, noting that most of their front of house staff have been on the team for three or more years, guaranteeing menu knowledge and skill.

Happy Hour Menu

Silver: Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop | cowboystarcs.com

Bronze: The Wobbly Olive | wobblyolive.com

Happy Hour

Silver: The Bench | thebenchcs.com

Bronze: The Wobbly Olive | wobblyolive.com

Overall Bar

Silver: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Bronze: Shame & Regret | shameandregret.com

Late Night Dining

Silver: Fat Sully’s NY Pizza | fatsullys.com

Bronze: The Green Line Grill | greenlinegrill.com

Upscale Bar

Silver: Cork & Cask | corkandcaskdrinks.com

Bronze: Brooklyn’s on Boulder Street | brooklynsonboulder.com

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

German, Neighborhood Restaurant/South

Gold: Edelweiss German Restaurant  | edelweissrest.com

Edelweiss stands on just over half a century of tradition and excellence, making it a true Colorado Springs landmark, iconic too for its charming decor and luxurious patio. We could run through all the classic, authentic dishes and their bounty of German beers, because that’s what has been netting Edelweiss this award annually for as long as we can remember. Instead, affable manager Dieter Schnakenberg wants to talk about new menu additions when we stop in. That reminds us that greatness doesn’t come from resting on laurels, but adapting as needed to stay relevant, while remaining true to its roots and German cuisine. A few fresh items: a cashew-crusted salmon and caprese sandwich; Strammer Max, an open-faced ham-cheese-and-egg sandwich on rye; and at brunch, sweet Kaiserschmarrn, a funnel cake-like dough loaded with Stroh (German rum)-soaked raisins. A new baker, Pierre Osborne, arrived late last year, and doubled the lavish dessert offerings to more than 30 cakes and small pastries. Grab four treats for $15 in a newly installed takeout pastry case in the foyer — perhaps the “chocolate mountain” Granatsplitter, apple strudel, an éclair and gluten-free chocolate mousse.

German

Silver: Wimberger’s Old World Bakery & Delicatessen | wimbergers.com

Bronze: Uwe’s German Restaurant | uwesgermanrestaurant.com

Neighborhood Restaurant/South

Silver: The Burrowing Owl | burrowingowllounge.com

Bronze: Ivywild Kitchen | ivywildkitchen.com

Irish

Gold: Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub & Restaurant | jackquinnspub.com

A pint of Guinness is the go-to, but try one of the mixed drafts instead, like a Black & Tan (Guinness/Bass) or Blacksmith (Guinness/Smithwick’s). Authentic and roundly awesome Irish eats include bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage and boxty variations. The dish you aren’t expecting: vegan curry and rice (and it’s divine). Whiskey Wednesdays feature half-off scotch, bourbon and Irish whiskey pours. Catch spirited traditional Irish music sessions from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sundays, plus live music Thursdays through Saturdays.

Silver: Alchemy | alchemypubcolorado.com

Bronze: O’Malley’s Pub | omalleys.biz

Steak

Gold: The Famous, A Steak House | thefamoussteakhouse.net

In the grading of beef, not even 2 percent of steaks earn the USDA Prime designation that speaks to significant fat marbling. Remember: Fat equals flavor. What do you think The Famous serves? Keeping it local with Colorado beef and lamb options. You’ll pay, but you’ll be smiling all the way. Get the colossal and awesome Famous Prime Cheeseburger at lunch, ground in-house from steak cuts. Cocktails are appropriately excellent for the swank spot, especially next to a plate of Oysters Rockefeller or a fried quail-egg-garnished steak tartare starter.

Silver: MacKenzie’s Chop House | mackenzieschophouse.com

Bronze: The Peppertree | peppertreecs.com

click to enlarge COURTESY JAKE & TELLY'S
  • Courtesy Jake & Telly's

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern

Gold: Jake & Telly’s | jakeandtellys.com

Owner and co-founder Iakovos “Jake” Topakas has been running this restaurant since 1997, and 22 years on, it’s still an icon of Old Colorado City dining. Chef Cody Herrin has run the kitchen for two years, and general manager Christine Gueran says 10 years in the kitchens of Colorado Springs has made him a versatile chef, comfortable with all types of cuisine. According to Gueran, the spot has just brought back its monthly five-course, five-wine dinners, which take place on the last or second-to-last Thursday of each month. Check online for a schedule. Don’t bother asking what flavor the rotating cheesecake is; it’s always baklava cheesecake, and if that ever changes, expect mass hysteria, as regulars can’t live without the honey sweetness and nutty crunch of this signature dessert.

Silver: Heart of Jerusalem Café | heartofjerusalemcafe.com

Bronze: Caspian Cafe | caspiancafe.com

Thai

Gold: Thai Basil | thaibasilcoloradosprings.com

Pad Thai’s the bestselling dish according to staff, so when in doubt... Alluring beef options: Mongolian, satay, tequila-lime, Thai curry, orange or Sriracha. We love the Thai basil shrimp, Thai eggplant, and pineapple curry. Start with an order of lemongrass mussels or Asian chile hot wings.

Silver: Wild Ginger Thai Restaurant | facebook.com/WildGingerThaiRestaurant

Bronze: Thai Mint Restaurant | thai-mint.com

Chinese

Gold: Coal Mine Dragon | Uintah Street, coalminedragon8.com; Eighth Street, coalminedragon.net; Fountain, 390-4445

Despite sharing a name, these three local Chinese restaurants are all owned separately. Stop by the Uintah location for a range of affordable lunch and dinner combos perfect for cost-conscious diners. They also offer free delivery within 3.5 miles of the restaurant, a fine bonus indeed! The Eighth Street location’s biggest draw is its massive lunch buffet, so come hungry. Those in Fountain can enjoy affordable lunch special combos and a cocktail menu, all with memorably warm and welcoming service.

Silver: Silver Pond | bestsilverpondchinese.com

Bronze: China Village | chinavillage.letseat.at

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

Cheap Eats

Gold: Monica's Taco Shop | Palmer Park, 597-7022; Fillmore, 473-1996

Two locations, because you’re never sure exactly where you’ll be when the irresistible craving for carne asada fries will strike. Also because you won’t find anyone who’ll complain about a whole combo plate’s worth of delicious Mexican food for around $7. No morning car ride is complete without a bacon breakfast burrito in your hand (as you shift gears between pouring salsa on bites). We return for the fish tacos, but have been branching out into the tortas of late.

Silver: La Casita Mexican Grill | lacasitamexigrill.com

Bronze: Roll Up Food Truck | facebook.com/RollUpFoodTruck

Seafood

Gold: Bonny and Read | bonnyandreadseafood.com

This seafood and steak spot, owned by Joe Campana, is named for famous pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read who, along with Calico Jack Rackham, attacked English ships across the Caribbean in the early 1700s. Look for frequent specials ranging from blackened shrimp over polenta to shrimp po boys to ritzy filet mignon presentations. Locals expect a thought-out bar program from any Joe Campana spot, and Bonny and Read is no exception. Try the Bonny and  Read Shark Bowl, a drink for two made with regular and coconut rums, orange juice, pineapple, blue curaçao and triple sec. The decor, a mix of blues with dark and pale woods, gives the space a serious aquatic vibe, made yet more fantastical with multiple paintings by local artist Phil Lear.

Silver: Chef Bob’s Lobstah Trap | thelobstahtrap.com

Bronze: Springs Orleans | springsorleans.com

Korean

Gold: Tong Tong | 591-8585
click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

Don’t skip the appetizers, like japchae (sweet potato noodles), superlative kimchi pancakes and a spicy treat: tteokbokki, rice coins in red chile sauce. The soups are spectacular — we love the kimchi stew and sliced rice cake broth. Don’t be like every other American and just order the bulgogi; branch out into squid, snail, octopus or mackerel dishes that burst with flavor. Pair your meal with a crisp, light Korean beer, like an OB or Hite. The hospitable Lee family opened the spot 13 years ago, and will happily guide you through the menu and make suggestions.

Silver: Korean Garden | Fountain, koreangardenco.com; Colorado Springs, koreangardennorth.com

Bronze: San Chang House | 598-1707

Japanese/Sushi

Gold: Fujiyama | fujiyamasushi.com

Weekday lunch specials allow diners to get their sushi rolls at half-price, a deal that packs the spot at lunch on the daily. We’d describe it as “stupid awesome.” Not a fan of raw fish? Enjoy a variety of baked, deep-fried or tempura-stuffed rolls, as well as other Japanese entrées, including ramen, udon dishes and teriyaki. In business for 21 years, Fujiyama has earned the loyalty of many downtown diners with creatively named signature rolls like the Carson Smiling, 007, Grinch and, uh, Something Wrong 69 rolls. Every day, the spot offers a different special; come by Monday evenings for half off everything, or swing by on Thursday and Friday evenings for wine, beer and sake deals.

Silver: AI Sushi & Grill | Cinema Point, aisushigrill.com; Centennial, aisushiandgrill.com

Bronze: Jun Japanese Restaurant | jun-japanese.com

Neighborhood Restaurant/North, Latin American, Food Truck

Gold: Piglatin Cocina/Piglatin Food Truck | piglatincocina.com

Somewhere over the six years since Andres Velez opened Piglatin, the bright red food truck grew into a brick-and-mortar and an undeniable culinary phenomenon. “It’s something very different in the Springs,” says bar manager Katie Toth. “The quality of food for the price is amazing, and the service and people are amazing. The point was to create something where the people who work here can afford it.” The ever-popular food truck built its reputation on pig alone, specializing in standouts like island tacos full of pineapple-braised pork and the Piglatin plate’s citrus-garlic pork. When Cocina opened and added seafood, cocktails and more, it won the loyalty of northern Springs eaters with ease, and business has been booming.

Co-owner Aaron Ewton says they’ve been expanding, too. The Cocina’s patio opened in early summer 2019 to a great reception, adding more seats to the tiny dining room. In the near future, they intend to expand the Cocina, better supporting the kitchen and its staff. Further, he says they’ve hired local Kristen Ezakovich to take over food truck operations, allowing the truck greater independence from the brick-and-mortar spot. “We’re incredibly grateful that this entire COS community has embraced us the way they have and encouraged us to grow,” says Ewton.

Neighborhood Restaurant/North

Silver: Colorado Mountain Brewery | cmbrew.com

Bronze: The Margarita at Pine Creek | margaritaatpinecreek.com

Latin American

Silver: Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill | salsabravacolorado.com

Bronze: Monse’s Pupuseria | monsestasteofelsalvador.online

Food Truck

Silver: Chef Bob’s Lobstah Trap | thelobstahtrap.com

Bronze: Roll Up Food Truck | facebook.com/RollUpFoodTruck

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

Indian

Gold: Little Nepal | lnepal.com

Two Springs locations make it easier to gather friends and family for a meal, and plentiful meatless choices make it an option anyone can enjoy. Doesn’t hurt that both spots have a full bar, either. Don’t know Indian dishes or can’t decide on one dish? Check out the buffet, offered daily at lunch and Thursday at dinner, with a fully vegetarian buffet on Sunday evenings. Those who want to take home a sample of South Asia can stop by the Indian grocery store that’s adjacent to Little Nepal’s Flintridge Drive location. The Eighth Street spot delivers to a big swath of southern and central Springs, from Old Colorado City to Academy Boulevard and from Fillmore Street to Fort Carson, all with low fees.

Silver: Mirch Masala | 599-0003

Bronze: Sherpa Garden Restaurant & Bar | sherpagarden.com

Vietnamese

Gold: Saigon Café | coloradosaigoncafe.com

Perennial winner of this award, so you know the consistency’s there. Every restaurant claims they have the friendliest staff; Saigon actually might. Chef friends eat here — always a good sign. Just ’cuz “pho” isn’t in the name doesn’t mean they don’t have you covered on everyone’s favorite Vietnamese noodle soup. Three words: spicy lemongrass beef.

Silver: Pho-nomenal | phonomenalrestaurant.com

Bronze: Saigon Grill | 635-0720

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

Caribbean

Gold: Rasta Pasta | rastapastacs.com

Ten years later, Rasta Pasta’s going strong and continuing to “do good” according to their One Love principal, which includes conscientious ingredient sourcing and the most stringent sustainability practices around. Catch Two-For-Tuesdays and nab a pair of Bristol Brewing pints for only $4.50. Gluten-free options abound, including all the desserts, like the Jamaican rum-flambéed Bananas Marley. Be a jerk: Dial your spice levels as you see fit.

Silver: Piglatin Cocina | piglatincocina.com

Bronze: Spice Island Grill | spiceislandgrill.com

Tacos

Gold: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop | fuzzystacoshop.com

When “taco” is literally part of your brand, they better be pretty good. Turns out, they’re the best. That’s according to Indy readers. And one nice thing about the Fort Worth, Texas-born franchise is that no matter where in Colorado Springs you live, you’re likely only a few minutes’ drive from one of three locations. And yes, Fuzzy’s has tacos — chicken tacos, pork tacos, grilled veggie tacos. Did someone say brisket tacos? Fish tacos (with or without tempura), shrimp tacos, the California Heat Taco (tempura shrimp, bacon, avocado, feta, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, and sriracha-lime sauce)... You get the idea. But Fuzzy’s isn’t all shell and no filling. In September, the taco shops partnered with No Kid Hungry and offered free chips and queso dip to those who donated $2 to the national campaign run by the nonprofit Share Our Strength, which works to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

Silver: El Taco Rey | eltacorey.com

Bronze: Piglatin Cocina | piglatincocina.com

Overall Restaurant, Italian, Neighborhood Restaurant/West

Gold: Paravicini’s Italian Bistro | paravicinis.com

Chef/owner Franco Pisani’s Old Colorado City restaurant has been in business for 16 years now, and it’s as packed and popular as ever. But over the course of summer 2019, it got an extensive renovation. “As things get older, they need to be refreshed,” says Pisani. “So we [added] new light fixtures, new artwork, new paint, new tables, chairs, booths… We’re bringing it into the modern day — light grays instead of Tuscan yellows.” That’s a sharp transition for an Italian joint that’s always felt as familiar as Nonna’s kitchen table. But Pisani isn’t interested in running a 50-year-old restaurant with 50-year-old carpets and decor. “I can’t stay stagnant. I’ve always got to be improving myself,” he says. Traveling to bigger cities lets him pick up fresh ideas for food, drink, decor and more. That helps draw in new customers, a critical thing for a restaurant that relies not on tourists but on regulars. But he avoids falling prey to trends in the name of attention, instead focusing on good ingredients at moderate prices, which he says never goes out of style. That calm and focus is part of why Paravicini’s has regulars with standing reservations so consistent that they call when they aren’t coming. And while Pisani is far from shy about his successes, he refuses to take all of the credit. “You’re only as good as your staff,” he says. “From the manager to the dishwasher, nobody’s more important than the others.”

Overall Restaurant

Silver: The Rabbit Hole | rabbitholedinner.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Italian

Silver: Roman Villa Pizza | romanvillaonline.weebly.com

Bronze: Luigi’s | luigiscoloradosprings.com

Neighborhood Restaurant/West

Silver: Front Range Barbeque | frbbq.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Overall Restaurant

Silver: The Rabbit Hole | rabbitholedinner.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Italian

Silver: Roman Villa Pizza | romanvillaonline.weebly.com

Bronze: Luigi’s | luigiscoloradosprings.com

Neighborhood Restaurant/West

Silver: Front Range Barbeque | frbbq.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

Neighborhood Restaurant/Downtown, Diner, Green Chile

Gold: King’s Chef Diner | cosdiner.com

Most superstitious folk consider 13 unlucky, but for King’s Chef Diner, 13 seems to be lucky indeed. The Costilla Street location, now open for 63 years, seats 13 people, and for 52 years, it was the one and only King’s Chef in town. In 2008, the massive Bijou Street location opened, a cash-only operation. Nearly every time we’ve walked by the Bijou spot, the only times it hasn’t been some degree of slammed with diners is when it’s been closed. And most recently, a third location opened in Fountain. And why not? Food Network Magazine has declared the spot’s breakfast burrito the tastiest breakfast in Colorado. Many restaurants around town use King’s Chef’s signature Pueblo green chile in their food, and diner visitors can go home with a jar of the stuff after a green chile cheeseburger or breakfast dish leaves them hooked. After all, there’s no substitute for the simple things, like a cup of coffee and a diner breakfast.

Neighborhood Restaurant/Downtown

Silver: Shuga’s | shugas.com

Bronze: Poor Richard’s Restaurant | poorrichardsdowntown.com

Diner

Silver: Black Bear Diner | blackbeardiner.com

Bronze: Sheldon’s Luncheonette | sheldonslunch.com

Green Chile

Silver: El Taco Rey | eltacorey.com

Bronze: Western Omelette | westernomelette.com

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

Lunch, French

Gold: La Baguette | OCC, labaguette-co.com; downtown, labaguettedowntown.com; Chestnut Street, labaguettefrenchbistro.com

As usual we have no idea if our beloved readers really were voting for the downtown eatery, Westside bakery (and upstairs wine bar) or the French Bistro on Chestnut Street. All have their respective charms and the La Baguette brand is a longtime institution, built on artisan-baked breads and alluring pastries. Come lunch, we have our favorites at each spot: the Croque Madame on Chestnut Street, Salad Niçoise in OCC, and of course French onion soup downtown. But sometimes all you want is a damn good croissant. Or quality coffee. Or lavish dessert. All locations have you covered there. And that’s not even getting into the breakfast delights. Merci, La Baguette.

Lunch

Silver: Shuga’s | shugas.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

French

Silver: Marigold Café & Bakery | marigoldcoloradosprings.com

Bronze: The French Kitchen | tfkcc.com

Mexican

Gold: Crystal Park Cantina | crystalparkcantina.com

Not your average Tex-Mex fare by a mile: Yeah you can grab a great burrito or delicious enchiladas (get the red mole sauce), but the specialties menu highlights more of their unique items; even the Cantina Burger’s bully. Margaritas matter, and should be made with real ingredients, not synthetic pre-made concentrates. CPC knows this, as their house mix has only lime, lemon and orange juices, and they use organic cane sugar for their simple syrup. All the margs are excellent, but hot-heads will want to go for the habanero or jalapeño cilantro. Daily 2-to-5 p.m. happy hours — gracias.

Silver: El Taco Rey | eltacorey.com

Bronze: Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill | salsabravacolorado.com

Pizza

Gold: Slice420 | slice420.com

Christian Patriarca describes life at his New York-style pizzeria as “absolutely blessed and busy,” and between their heartwarming story and the quality of their product, it’s not hard to see why. Christian and wife Stefany Patriarca, who own Slice420 along with local chef Olivier Leheux, moved to Colorado in 2016, seeking medical marijuana to treat their youngest daughter’s cerebral palsy and epilepsy, to great results. As for their product, it’s no joke. From grab-and-go slices to whole pies, it’s all New York-legit on foldably thin crusts. Their most popular pizza is the Mountain Man, topped with hand made meatballs, applewood-smoked bacon, pepperoni and sausage from Denver’s Polidori Sausage, finished with fresh basil and a blend of hard cheeses.

They also give back to the community that has helped their family so much. “We donate annually to the Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center,” says manager Laura Esqueda. “We also offer regular discounts for our military and other American medical refugee families [like the Patriarcas] — special needs families always receive discounts with us.” They also donate to the Flowering H.O.P.E. Foundation, which works to facilitate safe access to cannabis-based medications, as well as propagating health care education.

Silver: Louie’s Pizza | louies-pizza.com

Bronze: Leon Gessi New York Pizza | leongessipizza.com

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

Neighborhood Restaurant/East

Gold: The Wobbly Olive | wobblyolive.com

The pioneer of craft food and cocktail culture on the Eastside. Because there’s a dessert named “James Brownie.” Nobody’s saying that poutine and chicken and waffles are good for you, but damn they sure are good. Sometimes your drink’s on fire. Yeah, it’s a thing. When you just want a really good Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Silver: Sandy’s Restaurant | sandys-restaurant.business.site

Bronze: Frankie’s Too | frankiestoo.com

Cajun/Southern (Tie)

Gold: Springs Orleans & Front Range Barbeque | Springs Orleans, springsorleans.com; Front Range Barbeque, frbbq.com

It should be no surprise that Springs locals had a hard time picking between these two iconic spots. In Old Colorado City, Brian Fortinberry has shared his Southern roots through Front Range Barbeque for 19 years, offering such classics as catfish, red beans and rice, and a variety of specials. For more on Front Range, look to p. 27 to read about their Best Barbecue win.

Downtown, Springs Orleans serves as the attached restaurant for The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel & Spa, as it has for eight years. Restaurant manager Jason Bradford cites a consistent (and consistently excellent) menu under the guiding hand of Mining Exchange owner Perry Sanders as a big part of the reason that’s the case. “Perry Sanders fine-tuned these recipes, and he’s from Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” says Bradford. “Having an owner as involved as him, and as particular as him, is why I keep getting the compliments I have for eight years.” He also praises executive chef Shyanne Aguilar, who’s been with the restaurant for a little under a year now. But Bradford impresses upon us that Springs Orleans’ menu will remain largely consistent going forward, its reputation on the back of dishes like etouffée, gumbo, and shrimp and grits. “When you start changing your menu,” he says, “you can lose sight of what you’re doing well.”

Silver: Momma Pearl’s Cajun Kitchen | mommapearls.com

Bronze: Oskar Blues Grill & Brew | oskarbluesfooderies.com

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZEL
  • Griffin Swartzel

Caterer

Gold: Bird Dog BBQ | birddogbbq.com

Opened in 2004, Bird Dog BBQ boasts three locations across El Paso County, all serving up and delivering oak-smoked, Oklahoma-style barbecue. Bryan Frosco, Bird Dog’s director of catering and events, has been with the company since 2005 and boasts 30 years in the restaurant business. Worry not about gluten-intolerant guests; all of Bird Dog’s meats and sauces are gluten free, as are many of their side dishes. They also offer vegetarian, paleo and kids menu options. Their two most popular meats for catering are their brisket and pulled pork, and their most popular catering side is their baked beans. Nothing wrong with straightforward, after all.

Silver: Picnic Basket Catering | pbcatering.com

Bronze: Garden of the Gods Catering and Events | godscateringandevents.com

Barbecue, Cajun/Southern (Tie)

Gold: Front Range Barbeque | frbbq.com

Owner Brian Fortinberry is a born-and-raised Southerner who says he grew up with a love of home cooking and smoked meats. “We’ve had the opportunity to perfect our processes and recipes over the last 19 years and are constantly looking for new ideas to keep our menus fresh,” he says. “We unintentionally started having live music back in 2002 and have been a local music venue ever since, offering weekly live music and events such as our annual Halloween party,” says Fortinberry. In addition to winning Best Barbecue, Front Range tied with Springs Orleans for Best Cajun/Southern, a testament to the quality of dishes like their Cajun catfish sandwich and red beans and rice. Fortinberry plans to begin renovations on the restaurant sometime in the next year. He says they’ll connect the current restaurant to the house next door, add a new kitchen, enclose their patio, and more. “We want to keep the historical old structures intact, while combining them into a fresh new Westside hangout spot,” he says.

Silver: Bird Dog BBQ | birddogbbq.com

Bronze: Bourbon Brothers Smokehouse & Tavern | bourbonbrothers.com

Burger

click to enlarge CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent

Gold: The Skirted Heiifer | skirtedheifer.com

The downtown location, owned by Kevin and Suzette Megyeri, recently spawned a second spot in northeastern Springs owned by their son, also named Kevin. “We’re a mom and pa shop,” says Kevin the younger, explaining how they stand out. “It comes down to better beef, better buns and better burgers.” Every burger is made with beef from Sangres Best Beef that comes from cows at Music Meadows Ranch in Westcliffe. Kevin Megyeri Jr.’s grandmother, Barbara Megyeri, developed the dough recipe that makes the spots’ house garlic focaccia buns. It’s a good recipe — they sell three times as many garlic focaccia buns as any other bun they offer.

Silver: Drifter’s Hamburgers | driftershamburgers.com

Bronze: Bingo Burger | bingoburger.com

Chocolatier/Confections

Gold: Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory | rmcf.com

Founded in 1981, this Durango, Colorado-based chocolate and confections manufacturer now has stores across North and Central America, as well as in South Korea and the Philippines. Watch a variety of candies and chocolates get made in each location with bright copper kettles and cooled marble slabs. It’s difficult to pass by the company’s Citadel mall, Chapel Hills Mall, Old Colorado City or Promenade Shops at Briargate locations without staring at shelves of beautifully decorated caramel apples covered in everything from chocolate to graham cracker crumbs and more. This Colorado brand once worked with Kellogg’s to develop a limited-edition breakfast cereal flavor — Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Chocolatey Almond.

Silver: Patsy’s Candies | patsyscandies.com

Bronze: Cacao Chemistry | cacaochemistry.com

Gluten Free-Friendly

Gold: Coquette’s Bistro & Bakery | coquettesbistro.com

Home to a bangin’ Colorado beef burger and kick-ass buttermilk-fried chicken. Because gluten-free chile rellenos and a loaded Bloody Mary for breakfast. Also because piña colada cupcakes, among many other lavish flavors. “I think it’s an important point that we are really not just gluten-free people,” co-owner Michelle Marx recently told the Colorado Springs Business Journal as she marked Coquette’s 10-year anniversary. “We’re just a really good restaurant, and we’re gluten-free and allergen sensitive.”

Silver: Slice 420 | slice420.com

Bronze: TAPAteria | tapateria.com

Vegetarian/Vegan

Gold: Adam’s Mountain Café | adamsmountaincafe.com

The day Adam’s doesn’t win this annual award will be the day we’re either amidst a zombie apocalypse or the masses will have somehow experienced a collective taste bud malfunction. The menu breaks down to 65 percent vegetarian and 40 percent vegan, with a sensitivity toward dietary restrictions, plus an eye toward organic and local sourcing. Vegan favorites: the peanut-rich Senegalese vegetables, the sweet potato and quinoa Buddha Bowl, and tempeh and lentil “meat” balls in a coconut milk sauce. Breakfast at Adam’s is a thing. You should do it. Probably often. (Hello, orange almond French toast.) Nearing 35 years in biz, Adam’s has smartly adapted to change while retaining its core authenticity, which resonates with local loyals and first-time tourists alike.

Silver: The Burrowing Owl | burrowingowllounge.com

Bronze: Santana’s Vegan Grill | santanasvegangrill.com

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZEL
  • Griffin Swartzel

Frozen Treat

Gold: Josh & John's Ice Cream | joshandjohns.com

In business for 33 years, Josh & John’s has a reputation for making life sweeter in the Springs. Now in three locations, the company’s made its name with great housemade ice creams in a mix of permanent and seasonal flavors, optionally made more decadent with things like housemade waffle cones and bowls. In fact, when we spoke with co-owner John Krakauer to tell him Josh & John’s had been selected as a Best Of finalist, he told us about a new permanent flavor currently in the works. “Moose on the Loose” is a dark chocolate mousse ice cream packed with brownie bits and caramel-filled chocolate cups. Krakauer and team have also been working on a coconut-based frozen dessert for vegan customers. And while he won’t give us details, he hints at an expansion in the works and more exciting developments on the horizon. With all the excellence in Josh & John’s future, it may be hard for their fans to keep their cool!

Silver: BJ’s Velvet Freez | bjsvelvetfreez.com

Bronze: Rizuto’s Ice Cream | facebook.com/rizutos

Dessert Menu

Gold: Marigold Café & Bakery | marigoldcoloradosprings.com

“Everything’s fresh daily,” says Cailee Nehme, co-owner/manager. “We typically bake enough [product] for our service, plus a few to sell on the side, and our pastry team’s in at 3 a.m. to start baking for the new day.” Head pastry chef Jose Aguilar offers a wide variety of baked goods, from cakes to tarts to puff pastries, all made in-house and from scratch. Nehme says their top sellers are the double chocolate mousse cake and their Fraisier cake with its strawberries and whipped cream. For autumn, Marigold will offer a pumpkin cheesecake, available through November, and they’ll sub in yule logs come December. “We try to do something different for every season,” says Nehme.

Silver: Boonzaaijer’s Dutch Bakery | dutchpastry.com

Bronze: Coquette’s Bistro & Bakery | coquettesbistro.com

Donuts

Gold: Amy’s Donuts | amysdonuts.com

A southern Springs original, Amy’s Donuts has spread to Ohio, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico in just six years in business. Specialty donuts incorporate fruit, candy, breakfast cereal and more atop quality raised donuts — can’t make art stand without a good foundation, after all. Fans of more traditional donuts still have plenty to write home about, as Amy’s offers a variety of simple frosted raised donuts, cake donuts, old-fashioned donuts, fritters and more. Fresh is the word, but that extends beyond donuts being made daily. Employees fill each cream- and jelly-filled donut to order, and donuts topped with breakfast cereal get dipped to order.

Silver: Hurts Donut Company | wannahurts.com

Bronze: Donuts & Noodle Vietnamese Asian Cuisine | donutsandnoodle.com

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZEL
  • Griffin Swartzel

Patio

Gold: Hacienda Colorado | haciendacolorado.com

This Denver-based local chain has six locations, with a seventh set to open in Wheat Ridge in late 2019, but it’s the Springs location that offers stunning views of Pikes Peak and the surrounding landscape from its rooftop patio. Don’t like heights? The ground-level patio hosts live music on Friday nights all summer long, according to general manager Marcos Avila. For an autumn/winter drink while watching the sunset by the roof patio fire pit, Avila recommends the El Jefe margarita. Don Julio reposado tequila meets Grand Marnier and lime juice. “When you drink it, you get a warm feeling, a good feeling, and an overall great flavor,” says Avila. The grand, immersive space will have been open for seven years come February 2020.

Silver: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Bronze: Amanda’s Fonda and Amanda’s Cantina | amandascantina.com

Restaurant for Tourists

Gold: Phantom Canyon | phantomcanyon.com

Originally opened in 1993 by presidential-hopeful-turned-U.S.-Senate-candidate John Hickenlooper, also Colorado’s former governor. We’ve had several recent occasions to sample head brewer Charles McManus’ beers, and been roundly impressed, especially by some fun barrel-aged and sour releases, though we always put an IPA or two in the mix. Not just tourists, but a loyal following of locals regularly pack the second-floor billiards hall to shoot pool and play darts. The heavenly Phantom beer cheese soup’s contrasted by a vegan green chile, so nobody’s left behind. The burgers are beauties, but then the mole tacos start whispering in your ear. “Pssst: Order me! I’m delicious.” (Also you’ve been drinking.)

Silver: Fargo’s Pizza | fargospizza.com

Bronze: Colorado Mountain Brewery | cmbrew.com

New Restaurant

Gold: Snooze: An A.M. eatery | snoozeeatery.com

This Denver-based chain boasts locations in five states, with spots on both East and West Coasts. The Springs location opened on April 24, 2019. Founders Jon and Adam Schlegel show commitment to sustainability and the environment by composting and recycling around 90 percent of the waste their restaurants produce, as well as educating restaurant staff about sustainable practices and more. They’ve been certified as Gold-level Leaders by the Colorado Environmental Leadership Program. Those feeling boozy can enjoy a full bar menu with specialty morning cocktails, which include mimosas, Bloody Marys and coffee cocktails. It’s easy to go ham with heavier traditional and Southwestern-inspired breakfast bites, but those looking for something a little lighter can enjoy healthy options like a simple and excellent sweet potato hash.

Silver: Streetcar520 | streetcar520.com

Bronze: Dos Santos | dossantostacos.com

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

Bean Counter

Gold: Nestaseya Baadani, Loyal Coffee | loyalcoffee.co

So, what makes a great barista? The short answer, says Nestaseya Baadani, is “showing up every day for others.” By that, she means “remembering your humanity when it comes to people you work with and people who come see you every day.” We all have something going on, she says, which begets the personal question: “How can I treat this guest with love and compassion and human decency?” Otherwise, “anybody can make coffee,” she continues, highlighting the difference. Baadani, 32, who is well-loved by her peers for her infectious smile and enthusiasm, has been working with coffee since she was 18, starting at an indie shop in San Diego, and logging some Starbucks time along the way. And she’s been with Loyal Coffee since its beginnings three years ago. Though sometime in the coming months, she’ll begin stepping away to focus full-steam on her new business, Prism Coffee Co. (@prismcoffeeco on Instagram), a mobile La Marzocco espresso unit she’ll dispatch for private events, but also pop-ups around town.

Silver: Juanita “Bunny” Blea, Humble Coffee | facebook.com/humblecoffeecompany

Bronze: Charlie Claus, Switchback Coffee Roasters | switchbackroasters.com

Yeasty Boys (Bakery)

Gold: Boonzaaijer’s Dutch Bakery | dutchpastry.com

The rich delights we experienced on our most recent visit: a bulletproof coffee, muddled blackberry latte, Bavarian cream and puff pastry Napoleon, and hazelnut meringue with mocha buttercream. Read about the 20-year-old bakery’s history on its website; founder Stephen Boonzaaijer is a fourth-generation baker, dating back to his great-great-grandfather who launched a bakery in 1896. But let’s talk sweets: cakes and pies of all types, cookies and brownies, plus an assortment of fabulously flaky-doughed breakfast pastries. Yes, there are gluten-free treats, too. A search of customer reviews yields phrases like “to die for.” (‘Nuff said.)

Silver: La Baguette | OCC, labaguette-co.com; downtown, labaguettedowntown.com; Chestnut Street, labaguettefrenchbistro.com

Bronze: Wimberger’s Old World Bakery & Delicatessen | wimbergers.com

Java Joint, Coffee Roaster

Gold: Loyal Coffee | loyalcoffee.co

Sitting down to write this blurb, we notice on co-owner Tyler Hill’s Facebook page a thank-you for a recent nod in a USA Today 10 Best list for coffee shops in the U.S., listing Loyal Coffee among them. That’s a pretty cool shout-out, as the team of owner/baristas continues to celebrate the opening of its second, larger location on the north side of town after three years in business downtown. Loyal won our award for Best Coffee Shop in 2017 and co-owner Seth Fuller won for Best Barista in 2018 (Loyal’s Nestaseya Baadani won this year); as well, the shop won Best Coffee Roaster in 2018 and this year. That means from the initial handling of beans to the final pull of the espresso handle, Loyal’s pretty much perfected its craft, delivering even on the elusive-for-others challenge of consistency. When we solicit a response to being a finalist in these categories, co-owner Abigail Lauren provides more of a hilarious, written acceptance speech too long to print here. Some highlights: “We have to thank Folgers for creating an ‘enemy’ us and our guests can rally against. Thank you to all our team members who have beards/mustaches/tattoos/funky glasses — without you, people wouldn’t think we are nearly so cool and hip. ... “A special shout-out to all our aprons that make us look super professional and protect us from crumbs/water splashes/and soft boiled eggs. You’re the true heroes. We see you in the trenches. ...”

Java Joint

Silver: Pikes Perk Coffee & Tea House | pikesperk.com

Bronze: The Exchange | theexchangeontejon.com

Coffee Roaster

Silver: Switchback Coffee Roasters | switchbackroasters.com

Bronze: Inertia Coffee Roasters | inertiacoffee.com

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZEL
  • Griffin Swartzel

Caffeine to Go

Gold: Kangaroo Coffee | kangaroocoffeellc.com

And you thought those Dutch Bros. kids were insanely friendly ... I mean, they are, but so are Kangaroo Coffee employees. (Pretty sure they hire for perky personality.) Add to the Fillmore Street, Eighth Street and New Center Point locations a newly opening Roo Café at 319 S. Hancock Ave., at Memorial Park. Committed to sustainability, including organic coffee sourcing and a zero-waste goal. But seriously, I made you read three other bullet points before getting to the seriously sexy, cinnamon-laced Mexican Mocha? Rude, right? (Of course some chump’s gonna say the Peanut Butter Mocha’s even better.) Look into the Roowards to save $, and also because you get to say that cute word.

Silver: Humble Coffee | facebook.com/humblecoffeecompany

Bronze: Morning Glory Espresso | facebook.com/MoGloEspresso

Smoothie/Juice Bar

Gold: Keva Juice | kevajuice.com

This chain, founded in 1996 and first franchised in 1998, spans seven states, but only two locations exist in Colorado, and both of them are in the Springs. Take that, Denver! Colorado’s Keva Juice locations offer frozen yogurt with live cultures, pretzels and burritos as well as juices and smoothies. Employees say customers at both locations frequently order the Strawberry Squeezer, a mix of apple and guava juice, banana, strawberries, raspberry sherbet and nonfat vanilla yogurt. The Southgate location also sells Bananarama smoothies, which combine apple juice, banana, strawberries and nonfat vanilla yogurt. Add boba, granola, whey protein or even Emergen-C to any drink to kick in a little more fun or make it even healthier.

Silver: Ola Juice Bar | olajuicebar.com

Bronze: Cafe Red Point | caferedpoint.com

Breakfast, Brunch

Gold: Urban Egg, a Daytime Eatery | urbaneggeatery.com

This restaurant’s Springs locations were named Over Easy until November 2018, when Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group rechristened them Urban Egg to match their sibling spots out of town. Signature items range from healthy Buddha bowls with sprouted quinoa and avocado to gussied-up pancake flights that could be dessert as easily as breakfast. Those not feeling coffee brewed from Barista Espresso beans can enjoy a variety of healthy juice blends, available as is or with a little something something in the form of Colorado-crafted spirits. Did we mention they do light and brunch-friendly cocktails, too? Colorado loves its Southwestern eats, so when we called the chain’s Briar Village Point location, we shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that their two most popular items are the breakfast burrito and breakfast tacos.

Breakfast

Silver: King’s Chef Diner | cosdiner.com

Bronze: The Omelette Parlor | omeletteparlorcs.com

Brunch

Silver: Garden of the Gods Market and Café | godsmarketandcafe.com

Bronze: The Broadmoor | broadmoor.com

click to enlarge BRIAN TRYON
  • Brian Tryon

Wine Menu

Gold: Swirl Wine Bar | swirlismybar.com

Sure, you could drink the same wine you see at every other restaurant. Or, you know... you could just go to Swirl and try something new and unique. Buy the bottle (most in the mid-$30-to-$40 range) or sample more widely with 2- and 6-ounce pours. We appreciate the organic, biodynamic and vegan options. Why are those tasting notes so accurate and insightful? Because co-owner Sharon Erale-Palmer is a sommelier. The place just has the right vibe for Manitou Springs, especially the intimate back patio.

Silver: Upstairs Wine Bar at La Baguette | labaguette-co.com

Bronze: TAPAteria | tapateria.com

Brewery, Local Tap Beer

Gold: Bristol Brewing/Laughing Lab Scottish Ale | bristolbrewing.com

Yawn. That’s us having written this same commendation for Bristol over and over again for so many years that we’re reaching for something new to say, something you don’t already know. It’s a testament to the die-hard fan base Bristol has earned over 25 years who show up in force annually to vote them to the top. And that’s just locally, where the brewery is well regarded for giving so much back to the community. Laughing Lab has medaled at major competitions like the Great American Beer Festival many times over the years, proving the brew’s mass-market appeal. Nutty, roasty, malty, lightly sweet, with toffee aromas: What’s not to love? Actually, what we love about the brewery are so many of the kick-ass special releases (like this year’s celebratory birthday box mixed cases), ranging from spectacular IPA variants to true German and Belgian styles and recent mango and cherry sours, for example. Another thing we love is being at the brewery itself, in the Ivywild School, soaking up sun on the elevated patio or putting back pints in the bustling taproom. Cheers, Bristol! Here’s to 25 more!

Brewery

Silver: Goat Patch Brewing Company | goatpatchbrewing.com

Bronze: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

Local Tap Beer

Silver: Hazy Unfiltered IPA, Goat Patch Brewing Company | goatpatchbrewing.com

Bronze: Elysium IPA, Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

click to enlarge GRIFFIN SWARTZEL
  • Griffin Swartzel

Store for Craft Beer, Store for Wine

Gold: Coaltrain Wine & Spirits | coaltrainwine.com

Since opening in 1981, Coaltrain has expanded repeatedly, nearly doubling in size after a 2015 renovation. Despite this, two things remain constant: It feels like a neighborhood liquor store, and its staff struggles to find space for all of the products they want to offer. Co-owner and wine buyer Peggy McKinlay and her staff taste every wine that goes on the shelves. “We have an extensive, hand-selected stock of French, Italian and Spanish wines in addition to California wines,” says McKinlay. She also praises her staff for their extensive training in beer, wine and spirits tasting. They’ll keep it brief for customers in a hurry, but they’ll also provide plenty of info for those who wish to share a story along with a bottle. As for beer, longtime manager Austin Sherwood says they offer more than 1,000 brews — likely pushing 2,000 by his estimate, from six-packs to bombers to the contents of their refrigerated beer cave. McKinlay says that changing liquor laws in Colorado have allowed them to add a small selection of cured sausages, cheeses and other charcuterie necessities, which they plan to expand when they find floor space. Additionally, they’ve begun working with liquor delivery service Drizly, offering their full inventory to customers across town.

Store for Craft Beer

Silver: Cheers Liquor Mart | cheersliquormart.com

Bronze: Veterans Wine and Liquor | facebook.com/VeteransWinelq

Store for Wine

Silver: Cheers Liquor Mart | cheersliquormart.com

Bronze: Downtown Fine Spirits & Wines | dtnfspiritsandwines.com

click to enlarge BRYAN OLLER
  • Bryan Oller

Store for Spirits

Gold: Cheers Liquor Mart | cheersliquormart.com

If you’re looking for it, Cheers probably has it. And if they don’t, they can likely procure it for you. Think of them as a well-connected friend, with booze. Search their inventory online, which conveniently notes pricing, to save a call or drive, and you can email those requests in as well. Don’t be dumb. Join the Smart Buyer Club to earn credit toward future purchases. The staff’s friendly: They’ll find you roaming the vast aisles of hooch, wine and beer and help guide you toward good decisions.

Silver: Coaltrain Wine & Spirits | coaltrainwine.com

Bronze: Downtown Fine Spirits & Wines | dtnfspiritsandwines.com

Craft Cocktail Menu, Neighborhood Bar/South

Gold: The Principal’s Office | principalsoffice.co

Despite taking home award after award, The Principal’s Office continues to raise the bar — pun intended — in the Ivywild School and southern Springs. “I think this year, more than ever, we have some incredible creativity when it comes to the drinks that we’re making,” says lead bartender Jason Sweeney. “We want to use new ingredients in a special way and serve the people of Colorado Springs things they haven’t tasted before, just like we always have.” Sweeney emphasizes that it’s the staff’s hospitality, as much as the ingredients and craftsmanship, that makes a bar stand out. He and his team work to bring guests a genuine warmth when they stop in for a drink, whether they’re there for cocktails or quality craft coffees. “I’m proud to be a part of the entire beverage scene in Colorado Springs,” says Sweeney. “It’s not just cocktail bars — we have great coffee, great distilleries and breweries, and every type of bar. This is my home, and I’m proud of where we fit in this city.”

Craft Cocktail Menu

Silver: Axe and the Oak Whiskey House | axeandtheoak.com

Bronze (Tie): Brooklyn’s on Boulder Street | brooklynsonboulder.com; The Wobbly Olive | wobblyolive.com

Neighborhood Bar/South

Silver: The Burrowing Owl | burrowingowllounge.com

Bronze: Hatch Cover Bar & Grill | hatchcover.biz

Local/Regional Chain

Gold: Drifter’s Hamburgers | driftershamburgers.com

While the Springs’ chain gang waits for California competitors In-N-Out to open its first Colorado spot, locavores can continue to enjoy Drifter’s signature “wild style” burgers, made with Thousand Island dressing, a patty grilled in mustard, extra pickles and grilled onions. Local Ranch Foods Direct beef makes every burger pop with rich, meaty flavor without leaving the fast food price bracket. It’s more than just burgers at this surfer-breezy chain: A short breakfast menu includes a mighty, meaty Big Kahuna sandwich and a B-52 breakfast burrito, and the spot’s milkshakes are to die for. “We use a quality product, ingredients such as beef with no hormones or steroids, buns made from wheat with no pesticides or GMOs, and things like that,” says manager Kyle Beaven. “You can really taste the difference.”

Silver: King’s Chef Diner | cosdiner.com

Bronze: La Casita Mexican Grill | lacasitamexigrill.com

Neighborhood Bar/Downtown

Gold: Shuga’s | shugas.com

Paper cranes, vintage signage and quirky table lighting aren’t the kind of things one would expect in a restaurant that opened in 2001, but Shuga’s defies a lot of expectations one might have upon seeing its quaint neighborhood location. Enjoy a long-beloved cocktail like the Lavender Blossom, or try one of the spot’s new fall/winter seasonals, such as the Warm Withnail & I, a play on a Rusty Nail that incorporates apple cider vinegar. The bar menu’s designed by general manager Kevin Dexter. Select from a variety of well-curated wines and beers or, if you’re not feeling too highfalutin, go for the lower-tier wine or beer of the moment, guaranteed to be easy on the wallet. Unmissable: the Brazilian coconut shrimp soup, a combination of spicy, creamy and nutty that makes it a must-try item.

Silver: Tony’s | tonysdowntownbar.com

Bronze: SuperNova Bar and Arcade | supernovabar.com

click to enlarge BRIAN TRYON
  • Brian Tryon

Dive Bar

Gold: Johnny's Navajo Hogan | johnnysnavajohogan.com

Home of the most badass and iconic neon sign in town, plus the amazing domed hogan ceilings. Broasted chicken — every time... ... but also the sweet potato fries with marshmallow-caramel dip. Live music every Friday and Saturday, plus a lively Wednesday karaoke crowd. Despite the “dive bar” win, you can actually grab a damn decent drink and quality craft beer off tap. Let’s agree on “elevated dive bar.”

Silver: Tony’s | tonysdowntownbar.com

Bronze: Benny’s Restaurant & Lounge | bennys-lounge.com

Sports Bar

click to enlarge BRYAN GROSSMAN
  • Bryan Grossman
Gold: The Bench | thebenchcs.com

“Our success with The Bench has been born from the culture we have created at Odyssey Gastropub,” Charlie Wofford, The Bench’s business development manager, tells the Indy. “We focus on hiring great people with great attitudes to run our operation.“ And The Bench hasn’t been in operation long — it opened in 2018 — but it’s already amassed a hearty following. Wofford says the success all comes down to leadership. “Tyler and Jenny [Sherman] are, in many ways, the best owners we have worked for and it encourages us to take on our challenges head-on instead of letting obstacles determine our destiny. We do our best to be engaged in supporting our community and the people who live [in] and support a thriving and expanding downtown Colorado Springs,” Wofford says. The Bench “will continue to refine our vision to give people what they want in a local sports bar.” As for anything new that Indy readers should be aware of? “We are excited to announce that we’ve opened The Joint Food Truck,” Wofford says, “and we’ll be focusing on private and public events and breweries.”

Silver: Tony’s | tonysdowntownbar.com

Bronze: Back East Bar & Grill | backeastbarandgrill.com

Neighborhood Bar/North

Gold: STIR Coffee & Cocktails | stircoffeeandcocktails.com

Opened in 2017, this spot, owned by Joe Campana and Amber Stull, transformed a simple coffee shop into a combination coffee shop and bar that keeps a corner of the Bon Shopping Center hopping at all hours. The coffee remains a focus item on the menu, featuring international flavors. Consider as an example the Inthanon, a mix of iced coffee, condensed milk and cardamom. The garage door allows the fantastical, book-bedecked interior to go from cozy to breezy on warm nights and days. Introduced in summer 2019, the spot’s new cocktail menu features drinks with names taken from classic literature. Not a cocktail fan? Enjoy a selection of wines, beers and now-ubiquitous hard seltzer.

Silver: Colorado Mountain Brewery | cmbrew.com

Bronze: Back East Bar & Grill | backeastbarandgrill.com

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

Neighborhood Bar/East

Gold: FH Beerworks East | facebook.com/FHBeerworksEast

Opened in October 2018 as an expansion to the popular FH Beerworks Downtown, which launched in mid-2014. Downtown hosts a 5-barrel system; this huge location brews on a 20-barrel system to keep up with retail and taproom demand. Typically two or three FH gluten-free beers on tap at any time. Twenty taps total, ranging from flagships like Sticky Paws honey wheat to seasonal specials like a watermelon gose and several awesome IPA variants. Programming like Tuesday night Soul Food Yoga ties FH Beerworks to the community in ways that beer alone can’t — or stretch your brain instead with Wednesday night trivia.

Silver: The Wobbly Olive | wobblyolive.com

Bronze: Frankie’s Bar and Grill | facebook.com/FrankiesBarandGrill

Bartender/Mixologist

Gold: Dave Baumgartner/Zodiac Venue and Bar | zodiacvenue.com

Kudos to Dave Baumgartner, who’s no stranger to this award. Considering that the hot-shot mixologists at fancy cocktail spots with their hoity-toity pre-Prohibition-style drinks tend to steal the spotlight, it’s awesome that a humble bartender at a kick-ass dive bar has once again earned his way to this top nod. The lesson? It’s not always about complex ingredients and showmanship — at the core, being a great bartender’s about taking care of guests. So what if that’s via a cheap domestic beer with a well whiskey back? “I built Zodiac around Dave,” jokes co-owner Gentle Fritz, motioning around her body as if outlining a Hula-Hoop. In other words: Dave’s the cornerstone, holding down Tuesdays through Saturdays. “He’s well-loved,” adds Fritz. “He’s over 20 years sober, which makes him a great caretaker. He remembers names and peoples’ drinks. He also gives the best hugs. Girls want him and boys want to be him.”

Silver: Stephanie McNamara, The Public House | facebook.com/PublicHouseColorado

Bronze: Montana Horsfall, Craft Cocktail Inc. | craftcocktailinc.com

click to enlarge BRIAN TRYON
  • Brian Tryon

Music Venue

Gold: The Black Sheep | blacksheeprocks.com

It’s not surprising that Indy readers have chosen the Black Sheep as this year’s Best Music Venue winner, given that they’ve done so each year since the club opened back in 2005. What is unusual, though, is the fact that the all-ages venue recently changed hands. New owner Geoff Brent, an early Black Sheep general manager and co-founder of the band Leftmore, took the reins back in July. “I’ve always thought the Black Sheep was one of the best venues in all of Colorado,” he says. “The sight-lines are great from anywhere in the room, the sound is great, and most importantly, the staff creates an atmosphere that makes it fun and professional at the same time. You couldn’t recreate what the Black Sheep has meant to Colorado Springs with any different group of people.” Or, as Black Sheep Marketing Director Rosanna Taylor puts it: “We’re one big, happy, weird family of hooligans.”

Silver: Stargazers Theatre and Events Center | stargazerstheatre.com

Bronze: Lulu’s Downstairs | lulusdownstairs.com

click to enlarge BRIAN TRYON
  • Brian Tryon

Karaoke

Gold: Thunder & Buttons | thunderandbuttons.com

Hollywood has given us no shortage of unforgettable karaoke moments: Bill Murray crooning The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket,” Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson belting out Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Jim Carrey’s hip-thrusting rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” and the list goes on. But when Indy readers want to immerse themselves in the real thing, Thunder & Buttons is their destination of choice. Karaoke nights get underway at 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with an expansive food menu and nightly drink specials to help patrons get in the mood. Plus, if you’re lucky, you may find a couple of Indy staffers taking the stage to perform “memorable” renditions of The Church’s “Under the Milky Way” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”

Silver: Dublin House | tinyurl.com/DublinHouseCO

Bronze: Hatch Cover Bar & Grill | hatchcover.biz

Distillery

Gold: Axe and the Oak | axeandtheoak.com

This whiskey distillery’s bottles popped up on shelves back in 2014, and they’ve picked up a variety of awards since, including, recently, a Whiskies of the World Awards gold for their Colorado Mountain Incline Rye Whiskey and a silver for their Colorado Mountain Bourbon. Props to co-owner/distiller Casey Ross and his team. Whiskey fans can compare and contrast the spot’s bourbon and rye whiskeys all day long and have a fun time doing it, but don’t sleep on the distillery’s un-aged Pikes Peak Hill Shine, a great cocktail base. Check out what can be done with this wizard whiskey at the distillery’s tasting room, Axe and the Oak Whiskey House, located in the Ivywild School. Keep an eye on the distillery’s Facebook page for pairings and other events, such as a recent whiskey/cigar pairing event.

Silver: Distillery 291 | distillery291.com

Bronze: 3 Hundred Days Distilling | 3hundreddays.com

click to enlarge MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper

New Bar/Brewery

Gold: Cork & Cask | corkandcaskdrinks.com

Home to more than 200 whiskeys, including some rare and pricey bottles, but also a range of approachable brands that will expand the horizon of any aficionado. Co-owner Lucas Frye describes the decor (velvety sofas and high-back chairs plus cool Phil Lear artwork) as “The Addams Family meets Alice in Wonderland meets Penny Dreadful.” As the name implies, find fine wines at Cork & Cask too, plus ample brews and classic cocktails like the rye-spotlighting Vieux Carré. Simple but satisfying small plates from chef Josh Kelly pair nicely; we fell for the Bavarian pretzel with Brie fondue.

Silver: Shame & Regret | facebook.com/shameandregret

Bronze: Metric Brewing | metricbrews.com

Taphouse

Gold: Trails End Taproom | trailsendtaproom.com

The Springs’ first self-pour taproom, owned by Kevin Weese, started off as an ambitious concept and has only grown from there. Some of what flows from the 40 taps at Trail’s End, locals won’t find anywhere else in town. They’re organized by style. Like sours? Taste one of several, then pour a pint of what you like best — or don’t! Since it’s a pour-your-own spot where patrons are charged by the ounce, there’s no pressure to be decisive. This taproom caters to more than just beer fans, too. They offer wines, ciders, kombucha and even cold-brewed coffee on tap. But it takes more than just a broad beer selection to be the best taphouse in town. The spot has a strong commitment to enjoying and honoring the natural splendor of Colorado, with events supporting many of the area’s outdoors-related charities. They’ve also got a weekly club, Trailrunners, that runs, bikes and hikes nearby Red Rock Canyon Open Space, and participants get discounted pizzas, Oskar Blues pints and — after participating eight times — a free T-shirt.

Silver: N3 Taphouse | n3taphouse.com

Bronze: Brewer’s Republic | brewersrep.com

Neighborhood Bar/West

Gold: Cerberus Brewing Company | cerberusbrewingco.com

A phenomenal place to eat, not just drink. Case in point: the smoked brisket Gruyère grilled cheese and the IPA bacon bites. The flagship Elysium IPA sets the standard for hazy IPAs, citrusy and bursting with hops. Recently doubled its brewing capacity to 15 barrels, with a canning line and new production facility coming soon, which will allow for small-batch experimentation and barrel aging. Also operates Brewer’s Republic downtown, home to a superb guest-tap array and the same great food as the mothership.

Silver: Mother Muff’s Kitchen & Spirits | mothermuffs.com

Bronze: Thunder and Buttons | thunderandbuttons.com

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