Pho 5 Sao
1512 N. Academy Blvd., 550-8855
Located in the former El Siete Mares space since September, Pho 5 Sao features a menu that consists of around 70 percent Chinese standards (as lunch specials for $5.95 to $6.59), and 30 percent Vietnamese pho and noodle bowls plus steamed rice plates.
From the first category, a Bun Tom Nuong (shrimp lemongrass vermicelli bowl, $7.50) shows off a flavorful char on eight medium-sized prawns garnished in green onions and cilantro, and sweetened by a dousing of nuoc cham (that ubiquitous sweet fish sauce). From the latter, the Bo Luc Lac (shaken beef plate, $8.50), named quite literally for its agitation inside the wok, is your basic brown stir-fry (oyster sauce- and soy-based, I surmise) with the semi-sweet meat joined by potatoes, white onions and minced garlic flecks. Garlic powder, salt and a fresh lime wedge add a little character, but I don't feel overly shaken up, myself, for having tried it. — Matthew Schniper
Texas T-Bone Steakhouse
5245 N. Academy Blvd., 434-4771, texastbonesteakhouse.com
If you've ever heard the restaurant's indelible jingle, you're going to hate me after this: "Steaks done riigght: Tex-as Tee Bonnne!" The little earworm is everywhere — the restaurant's crew even sings it when they appear at food festivals. But despite it living in my subconscious, I'd never stepped foot in the four-location chain. In fact, the last time I was even in the northernmost spot, it was a Bennett's Bar-B-Que.
Texas T-Bone has done well in the years since then, the current iteration boasting a U-shaped bar and the usual Texas Roadhouse barrel of peanuts. The eponymous, inch-thick T-bone steak ($24.95) cut a fine figure, all glistening fat and salty, crosshatched char so black you could taste the combustion. Five juicy butterflied shrimp came free, along with a mondo build-your-own salad. Dig the dense and chewy house bread with cinnamon butter, but watch out for steak knives that more tear than cut. — Bryce Crawford
Dan's Mtn. Post Espresso
993 N. Santa Fe Ave., Fountain, 970/580-4343
You can't miss Dan Wellmann's bright purple drive-through on your way into downtown Fountain. And if you're well-traveled, you may recall the structure from when it was located in Peyton in '99-'00 under his watch, and in Falcon later under another owner. Wellmann re-established it here this past July, sourcing his beans from Platte Avenue's Spanish Peaks Coffee.
I take his recommendation for an "authentic" caramel macchiato ($3.25/16 ounces) versus "the Starbucks version," on which he also offers a spin. Minus the vanilla syrup and caramel sauce, the authentic contains about half the sugar, which is all from a single ounce of DaVinci caramel syrup added to 2-percent steamed milk and two espresso shots. (I get decaf, which he says is a little darker-roast flavored.) The result is velvety-smooth liquid butterscotch nearly overwhelming all the coffee essence — a delight to many, the devil to others. — Matthew Schniper