click to enlarge Raven's Nest Coffee

Raven's Nest Coffee

330 N. Institute St., 632-3433, ravensnestcoffee.com

Raven's Nest is on our city's short list of charming, off-the-main-drag coffee spots, probably entirely unknown to most people who don't commute along Boulder Street or live nearby. Young, first-time proprietor Ashleigh Cohen took it over around 2½ years ago, opting to use locally roasted BuyWell Fair Trade Coffee as her java connection.

In the house signature drink, the Ash Kicker ($4.15), three shots of espresso (I get half-decaf) are met with chocolate, hazelnut and caramel Monin syrups, then a thick foam cap. It's much less sugary than I worried it might be and actually quite in balance, as a nutty, mild sweetness rides on the strong espresso punch. A sausage breakfast burrito ($3.75) is by contrast prosaic, lacking salt, spice and any distinguishing flavor, especially paired with a generic, tame salsa. — Matthew Schniper

click to enlarge Alfonso's Mexican Food

Alfonso's Mexican Food

1022 S. 21st St., 575-9289

Alfonso's is almost as iconic a west-side staple as its more expensive cross-street neighbor, Carlos' Bistro, and offers roughly the same kind of thing — food that makes you happy to eat. I'd say that once you're inside, the restaurant doesn't look all that different from the Taco Stars of the city, but have you ever seen one offering an 18-inch-long dive into burrito debauchery?

Meet the Big Don Pancho Burrito ($11.99). This baby's as big as a small fire log, and at 6 inches across — not to mention crammed with carne asada, good refried beans, rice, salsa, cheese, sour cream and gut-sticking guacamole — easily feeds three people. We recommend cutting it into sections, using the wrapping as a bottom, then shoving the beast in at a medium pace. While that's happening, the counter's likely full, the drive-thru's hopping, and you might even overhear a friendly, "Feliz navidad." — Bryce Crawford

click to enlarge José Muldoon's

José Muldoon's

222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311, josemuldoons.com

It's been three years since this Concept Restaurants staple has had a significant menu overhaul, so I head downtown to grub on new additions. The chile lime shrimp salad ($11.99) comes off colorful and (mostly) nicely presented: cucumber and (mostly) shapely avocado slices round the rim, and pleasantly seasoned and adequately cooked prawns curl over a bed of (mostly) fresh romaine leaves. With some crisp red cabbage, tomato, sharp red onion bits, oddly un-toasted pumpkin seeds and a skimpy crumble of queso fresco, it's OK.

The Muldooniac Burrito ($11.99) arrives as a heat-lamp victim, with a wrinkly skin over the chile con queso and a (shouldn't-be) warm corn-pico relish. The mean green chile is nicely spicy, if thick. But bites incorporating both sauces with creamy guacamole and interior rice, black beans and shredded pork are comfort-food heavy and amply flavorful. — Matthew Schniper


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