New Panda II
1213 N. Circle Drive, 574-8336, newpandarestaurant.com
I'm always curious as to how well a given Chinese place will execute Thai food. In the case of New Panda II, which also serves sushi and a thrifty $6.90 lunch buffet, the answer is 50-50. The outfit is an offshoot of Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard's New Panda I, but neither remains affiliated with Voyager Parkway's New Panda. I like that NPII eschews foam boxes and dishes to-go food into greener plastic containers, but I could do without the MSG, so I ask them to hold it on the Pad Thai with shrimp ($9.35) and Panang Curry with chicken ($8.25).
The curry does the cuisine right, with a slightly peanutty, sweet, respectably spicy and flavorful sauce drowning the soft protein and a profusion of onions and bell peppers, plus a few carrot slices that seemingly fell in by accident. The Pad Thai doesn't deserve the name, though, as an unpalatable, clumpy, scary red mess, like a sweet-and-sour experiment gone awry. — Matthew Schniper
Elevation Beer Co.
115 Pahlone Pkwy., Poncha Springs, elevationbeerco.com
As a beekeeper, I was drawn to Elevation's Colorado honey-containing Apis IV Quadrupel (around $11.50/750-ml caged-cork bottle) at the recent All Colorado Beer Festival, and I desired another taste on a cleaner palate. It's a big, 10.7 ABV ale "brewed in the Trappist Dark Belgian-Style Ale tradition," (like La Trappe, reviewed here last December) and it boasts respectable ratings on BeerAdvocate (86) and RateBeer (88). Numbered bottles are cellar-able, but I share mine now with two friends as an apéritif, and even a half pint hits each of us hard.
Though you'll read about fruit and caramel on the bottle description, we taste more straight molasses up front and only a slight honey hint on the back end. The Belgian yeast profile is prominent with a bready, malty body and a mild creaminess, but a much flatter carbonation than advertised. In apiary terms, it's a fine foraging run, but no mating flight. — Matthew Schniper
5825 Stetson Hills Blvd., 597-5878, freddysusa.com
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers is a faux Cadillac away from fully embracing the '50s diner aesthetic. As it is, the mostly red-and-white fast-food dining room where you order, pick up your custard, and grab your food (all at different stations) has a nice, upbeat feel to it, accented with black-and-white photos of the founding Midwest family. These folks have built their shtick — burgers, Chicago dogs and frozen bits — into one of the nation's fastest-growing chains, now in 22 states.
After trying the single-patty, Thousand-Island-dressed California Burger ($3.59), and the Original Double combo ($6.69), we say the latter's better, if only because a single hamburger here doesn't do a very good job offering a meaty bite. In fact, initial tastes tend to be supremely underwhelming. Freddy's also serves decent, if weakly flavored, shoestring fries, but a mixed, frozen Turtle ($2.20/mini) does it completely right. — Bryce Crawford