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Damn. Rough week. I swear we weren't all in pissy moods as we engaged in our dining and drinking for the knowledge improvement of all. Coincidentally, it just worked out that each of us ran into off flavors, textures and overall tastes that left us wanting.

It's a booze with a slick PR campaign but little follow-through, aside from a cool souvenir bottle. It's an American classic that hits more like a national disaster. And a south-of-the-border raid whose virtues are almost outweighed by its detractors. Really, it shouldn't be this hard to get a reliable burger and some love from Mexico, not to mention a decent shot.

We were most saddened in the case of the grub, as many locals love each outfit. Well, to each his own. Maybe we're missing something.

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Conway's Red Top

1520 S. Nevada Ave., 633-2444

While traffic on South Nevada Avenue streams by, diners of a certain age joyfully order "giant" hamburgers — 8-ounce patties delivered on 6-inch buns — from the Springs dining classic. They do it in a dining room colored the teal of a '59 Cadillac Eldorado, where servers are friendly and tables come preset with ketchup and yellow mustard.

Both condiments come in handy on burgers like the Spicy Jalapeño Burger ($11.44), which offers a nostalgic, school-cafeteria appeal but little in the way of flavor. Typical white-bread bun, bland and greasy meat patty, tasteless iceberg lettuce and, apparently, tomatoes. The sliced peppers help, but they're buried underneath the culinary largesse. Under-seasoned, skin-on fries offer no relief: fried too long, or not enough, or in oil that needs changing. They're just not good. — Bryce Crawford

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Kru 82 Vodka

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Taking the 3 Rs to heart with their new, reusable stainless steel bottle — complete with strap and carabineer — Dutch company Kru has exploited a smart market niche. Unfortunately, the best thing about Kru 82 ($17.99/750 ml) is the bottle.

To be fair: It's not entirely bad; it's simply not stellar. Soon, I have no doubt that Kru (official vodka of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition) and Red Bull will be co-branding some event where mixing their swill will be all the rage. Contrary to the company's claim of "an unusually smooth finish," the 80-proof grain vodka has a harsh bite with a finish akin to rubbing alcohol. It's a reasonable mixing vodka, but if you're mixing, you're not into the clean flavor of the spirit anyway.

If that describes you, sure — ditch the plastic and glass and feel better saving the world, one mixed drink at a time. — Steve Hitchcock

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La Unica Restaurant

3317 W. Colorado Ave., 633-7499

The Barraza family started La Unica as a taqueria around 20 years ago on Platte Avenue, but grew into this charmingly decorated spot about 15 years ago.

Pros: The complimentary house salsa is surprisingly hot and awesome, and the guacamole app ($6.95) is as good as they come. Also, on a weekend-only special plate of a chile relleno plus a cheese or chicken enchilada with rice and beans ($12.95), the decent enchilada's red chile sports a unique cinnamon edge.

Cons: a slick breading on an under-cooked (to my palate) poblano. And an off-putting, mushy texture on the Tilapia a la Azteca special with shrimp under a pleasant Mexican curry ($14.95). Also, an overpriced-for-its-quality ($7.25) house margarita brought a disagreeable artificial aftertaste and a rim oddly garnished with fine, instead of coarse, salt. — Matthew Schniper

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