click to enlarge Three bottles of Magic Hat #9

Magic Hat Brewing Company

5 Bartlett Bay Road, South Burlington, Vt., magichat.net

Magic Hat is a big deal in the Northeast (I was reverently introduced to it a decade ago near Boston), but it only recently became available in Colorado, affirms a Vintages Wine & Spirits employee. The company boasts a somewhat funky portfolio, as evidenced by Magic Hat #9 (around $9/six-pack), a "not quite pale ale" with low hops, a light 5.1 ABV, amber hue, malty texture, tangy tongue bite and odd, arguably off-putting, semi-synthetic-tasting fruit characteristic that's challenging to describe.

I get blueberry hints; a friend, rosy flower notes; and many online reviewers, apricot elements. The bottle only says "ale with natural flavor," promoting a "mysterious melange of time-honored ingredients." (Thanks for that.) I'm with my friend in thinking that "12 ounces will do." And I find the Heart of Darkness stout to be a much better Magic Hat emissary. — Matthew Schniper

click to enlarge lunch combo plate from Charlie's Pit BBQ/Yakibob's

Charlie's Pit BBQ/Yakibob's

1190 E. Fillmore St., 632-9452

With its chipped brown tables, brick walls and red plastic chairs, Charlie's (or, equally, Yakibob's) has a faded look that fits the smoke-tinged air perfectly. But given the barbecue, or at least the stuff on the lunch combo plate ($8.59), I can't wholly recommend you see for yourself. Mostly covered in a too-sweet, ketchup-y sauce, the platter I order comes with a split spare rib, some pulled pork and brisket, and a small pile of spicy sausage.

Starting there, that sausage is industrial-strength — like a cheap, Tabasco-laced hot dog. The shreds of pork come off unseasoned and a little dry, while the sides of flavorless potato salad and weirdly tangy baked beans are just bad. Though lacking any char, the rib's tender, scrape-off-with-your-teeth meat is much better, and so are the slices of brisket, held together with buttery fat. — Bryce Crawford

click to enlarge Taste of Thai Spice's Panang Curry

Taste of Thai Spice

1609 Lashelle Way, 226-1999

I'd heard chatter that my longtime favorite Thai place had slipped a little recently, but found that to be untrue on a Friday night. Prices haven't gone up in two-plus years, and chef Sumitra Kennedy still rules the line after more than seven. Though there's the blare of Thailand's Shopping Network TV to contend with on a big-screen TV, you still don't have to worry about MSG here or any shortcuts; it's real tamarind and real hot peppers all the way.

"One to 10, if 10 is unbearable?" asks our waitress, gifting me my new favorite heat-rating index. The Panang Curry ($10.95), ordered with chicken at a 7, is a pretty perfect fusion of fire and fresh flavors, led by lime leaves and basil. A pad Thai ($9.95) with shrimp ($3 extra) is as locally superior as it's ever been. And house-made coconut and mango ice creams ($3.95) are even more excellent over sticky rice ($2 more), starchy saltiness amping the sweetness. — Matthew Schniper


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