Casa Grande Mexican Restaurant
520 Manor Court, Woodland Park, 687-0415
I'm told by owners Zita and Leobardo Gonzalez that Casa Grande has operated here for the last 15 years, and when I ask their daughter, our server, for an authentic family dish, I'm guided to the Mole Poblano ($11.59). Hailing from Piedra Gorda, the recipe calls for an array of lively ingredients that include red chilies (these from New Mexico), banana, crumbled Mexican cookies and Nestle's Abuelita chocolate drink mix.
Over thin chicken pieces, with simple sides of serviceable beans, rice and commercial tortillas, the chicken-broth-based sauce strikes earthy, inky, dark cacao notes and both mild sweetness and spiciness. It's totally good, backed by either a nondescript happy-hour house margarita ($4) or the more interesting but equally syrupy Casa Grande Margarita ($8.59), whose Sauza Gold meets marg mix, lime, triple sec and the dominating Reserva del Señor Almendrado (an almond-flavored tequila liqueur). — Matthew Schniper
Paradox Beer Company
106 E. Village Terrace, #100, Woodland Park, paradoxbeers.com
I've been bomber-ed by Paradox in the past, as well as poured at several beer festivals, but I finally make it to its unique brewhouse (more of a barrel-house, since they buy their wort elsewhere to experiment with and age) to sample amid the cellar's artistic barrel-cut decor. Soon, nine beer snifters sit before me, backed by the cage-top bottles from which they were poured, for a quite photogenic sampling (typically $4 to $6, depending on selections.)
Releases rotate constantly, meaning I can't say that what I drank will be available when you go. So perhaps it's more useful to speak to the overall excellence of the batch, laced with Brettanomyces, oak notes and fun inputs like cherries, elderberries, various hop profiles and, in the case of my favorite, the Santuario, with red Chimayo, N.M., chili powder. Watch out for the uniformly big ABVs, and enjoy the informative banter from the friendly staff. — Matthew Schniper
965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, theloopatmanitou.com
The Loop, known purveyor of swimming-pool margaritas, kind of soft-pedals the entrée it calls the Molcajete ($14.99). "A new dish from Mexico that is served in a stone container that keeps the food warm for a long time," reads the menu.
What it actually is, is a basketball-sized, cast-iron cauldron of boiling south-of-the-border-stew food. Sinfully hot in heat and temperature, the thick poblano mixture is pretty unwieldy — with its whole onion halves, green onion stalks, whole serrano peppers, and silver-dollar-sized hunks of beef, pork and chicken — but you feel like a god when it's set in front of you. (And believe me: You could cook in this liquid.) A nice salad full of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and pepperoncini comes along for the ride, which means that among the greens, the dish and the free chips and salsa, you've got enough to feed three people. — Bryce Crawford