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2013: West restaurants

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Essential dishes

These snippets come from our 2013 Bites dining guide, which featured offerings that we deemed "essential" to our local scene.

Moscato and Ginger Mousse at 2South Food + Wine Bar

2 S. 25th St., 351-2806, 2southwinebar.com

This dessert is hella sexy, but in a refined, classy way — like an attractive person at the Broadmoor's swimming pool. It's light and airy, with a ginger simple syrup adding a pleasantly biting zing to the creaminess. Then comes a garnish of salted peanut praline for caramelized contrast and a side of Moscato-ginger honey infused with both lemon and vanilla ... so many lovely flavors hitting in harmony. Genius. Pure genius. ($6)

Christmas Mountain Falls at Adam's Mountain Café

934 Manitou Ave., #102, Manitou Springs, 685-1430, adamsmountain.com

Yeah, the menu says Green or Red Mountain Falls, but locals know you can mix them to dramatic effect. Onto a bed of toasted polenta (yup — 'dem ITALian corn grits) capped in cheddar cheese come the vegetarian chilies garnished with scallions and tomatoes and cooled slightly by a dollop of sour cream. Get the added eggs your style (over medium, perhaps?) because the yolk adds another pleasing dimension. There you have it: Christmas year-round. ($7/$10.25 with two eggs)

Rib Eye at Carlos' Bistro

1025 S. 21st St., 471-2905

It all comes down to the USDA Prime beef on the menu, raised in Nebraska. Less than 2 percent of American cattle will earn the rating, meaning the good stuff goes to the finest eateries. The preparation at Carlos' changes often, but you'll likely see something classically swanky like a peppercorn brandy sauce next to garlic mashers and veggies. ($46, half-off during 5 to 5:30 p.m. early bird hours)

Colorado Lamb at The Cliff House at Pikes Peak

306 Cañon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-3000, thecliffhouse.com

Though the lamb presentation changes a few times a year, the Centennial State's most underrated game meat will always be on the Cliff House's menu. And these folks consistently treat it right. I've seen it as strips inside a phyllo purse under a mint-apricot-apple purée with sweet balsamic spinach (schwing!); under a merlot demi-glace; and, most recently, with a huckleberry jus and port foam next to sweet potatoes duchesse. (Around $26 to $30)

Burger at Coquette's Bistro & Bakery

915 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2420,coquettesbistroandbakery.com

If a bun that comes off like a biscuit butters your bread, Coquette's has a burger for you. The texture's due to its gluten-free nature, but it does nothing to hurt the smokiness running through the Ranch Foods Direct beef. Meanwhile, a creamy garlic-basil aioli does its thing, while slices of Brie melt down the sides. ($10)

Craftwood Inn Tapas at Craftwood Inn

404 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs, 685-9000, craftwood.com

You go to Craftwood to eat game meats, expertly treated. Seasonal menus switch up the preparations, and it's often difficult to choose between all the allure. Enter the tapas sampler, currently featuring house-made duck sausage under pomegranate syrup; Arancini (fried risotto balls) stuffed with Fontina and pheasant confit; and elk-antelope-deer meatballs coated in a sexy black-garlic sauce. ($18)

Cantina Burger at Crystal Park Cantina

178 Crystal Park Road, Manitou Springs, 685-5999, crystalparkcantina.com

We don't necessarily gravitate to burgers, especially at a Mexican joint. But then we met the Cantina Burger and freaked the eff out and now sometimes we write haikus in its honor. Its custom-made Great Harvest Bread Co. corn bun, lathered with chipotle mayo, embraces a 6-ounce patty covered in gooey Manchego cheese. Then cabbage slaw enters the equation, with cilantro and sautéed onions and jalapeños. ($11)

Alaskan Burger at Cy's Drive-In

1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008

Big Mac-esque but better because a) it's not Ronald's monstrosity from a mega-chain, b) it features quality Ranch Foods Direct beef, and c) locals say so. A middle bun and layers of chopped lettuce split two quarter-pound patties cloaked in melted American cheese. A house Thousand Island dressing wets the buns and your chin. ($6.35/$8.85 with fries and a drink)

Biscuits and Gravy at The Donut Mill

310 W. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, 687-9793, thedonutmill.com

First off, these aren't your crappy store-bought biscuits that come from a tube that explodes when you twist it. (Though as kids, we loved watching the cats jump and run from the kitchen post-"Pop!") They're excellent, altitude-lightened, house-made sourdough buttermilk biscuits. But they're really sponges for a killer 14-spice sausage gravy. You have the option to change up for a bacon gravy, for which we wouldn't fault you. ($4.99 large/$2.99 half order)

Riblet Plate at Front Range Barbeque

2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596, frbbq.com

Think of Front Range's riblet offering simply as a big-ass plate of Southern goodness. Tender, slow-cooked St. Louis rack ends sport a light char but copious hickory and mesquite flavor. They're served naked (got your attention) so you can choose your own house sauce tableside: Mustard Wine, Sweet n' Spicy or our favorite, the Original Tangy. ($16 includes choice of two sides)

Mixed Mezze at Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna

2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406, jakeandtellys.com

Another ode to the indecisive: the all-encompassing platter that lets one sample widely. A meat version features Keftethes (zesty Greek meatballs) and gyro meat while a vegetarian rendition subs in grilled veggies and gigantes (big-ass seasoned white beans). Both get the feta, olives, hummus, spanakopita, dolmadakia, pita and tzatziki that collectively whisper the finest essence of the Mediterranean in tones of salt, garlic, yogurt tang, grape-leaf bitterness and phyllo dough crunch. ($16 each)

Berry Salad at The Keg Lounge

730 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9531

A bar with a badass, bestselling salad? Whodathunkit? But it's true, fruit makes the fresh greens go down extra easy here. The season dictates what mix among strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries you'll get on a given day. And you'll have to choose between salmon or teriyaki chicken as your optional topper, though the cabbage, onions, walnuts and bleu cheese are mainstays. And any combination of all of the above is crunchy, sweet and memorable. ($10.95/$13.95 with protein additions)

Croque Madameat La Baguette French Bistro

4440 N. Chestnut St., 599-0686, labaguettefrenchbistro.com

The Monte Cristo has nothing on the Croque Madame. It's the most gourmet ham-and-cheese you'll probably ever eat. Thick, buttered, grilled bread lathered in Dijon mustard holds pan-warmed ham and melted Swiss cheese, plus a cap of gooey Gruyère. Then comes the fried egg, ready to ooze its yolk downward, eventually to merge with an underlying puddle of Béchamel sauce. It's Parisian comfort food, perfected. ($9.95)

McDonough's Friday Fish & Chips at McGinty's Wood Oven Pub

11115 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Divide, 686-7703, mcgintyswoodovenpub.com

As the name implies, you can only get this dish on Rebecca Black's favorite day. But we swear on the sacredness of all things fried that you'll be glad you braved the crowd. Gorgeously fluffy beer-battered haddock hit with a lemon squeeze heads into creamy tartar sauce. The chowder's smoky and rich. Thick fries are beautifully crisp. Even coleslaw is done-up with red onion bite and orangey citrus notes ... "'cause it's Friday; you ain't got no job ... and you ain't got shit to do." ($13.95 large with soup/$8.95 small)

Grinder Sandwich at Mollica's Italian Market & Deli

985-A Garden of the Gods Road, 598-1088, mollicas.com

"Hoagies and grinders, hoagies and grinders, navy beans, navy beans ..." Sorry. But get that reference and you've earned a grinder at Mollica's. (You're still paying for it.) Anyhoo, fennel-forward house-made Italian sausage lays down on a La Baguette French Bakery roll before it's smothered with sautéed bell peppers, gooey provolone and chunky house tomato sauce. ($7.89)

Fondue for Two at The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant

733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0277, monalisafondue.com

Customize your own four courses, but here's how we'd roll: the Caesar salad first, then the Old World cheese option for the bread-veggie-and-fruit round. The Wild Game Entrée Platter for the main affair, featuring buffalo, trout, boar and more. And then a dark chocolate dessert fondue at meal's end, with a liqueur shot of your choice — Amaretto perhaps? — for a buck more per head. ($49 per person)

Veggie Eggs Benedict at Mucky Duck

10530 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls, 684-2008, muckyduckco.com

First off, you've got Hollandaise, which is like bacon in the way that almost everything it touches becomes more amazing. Velvety, rich, buttery, yolky goodness, in this case bleeding over avocado and tomato wedges, plus sautéed spinach, atop ye olde English muffin. Sure, Mucky Duck sells 10 Benedict varieties, including crab, duck and bacon plates, but some Sunday Brunch moods call for the greens. ($10.95)

Tiramisu at Paravicini's Italian Bistro

2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com

A good tiramisu is like a classic painting in that all the culinary brushstrokes are authentic, you know when you're seeing the real deal, and a lame knockoff simply will never capture the original's spirit. Paravicini's tiramisu is the equivalent of a primo museum piece, with the ideal creamy texture plus balanced coffee and chocolate notes. A masterpiece. ($6)

Drunken Noodles at Pho-N-Thai

125 N. Spruce St., 329-0705, yourhoodz.com/phonthai

As compared to the blunt warmth of pho, or the clean zing of pad Thai, drunken noodles, despite their name, are an elegant dish for a more civilized age. Flat, wide rice noodles are bathed in salty oyster sauce, laced with crushed red chilies and the ever-compelling anise, and flash-fired with basil, onions, bean sprouts and green onions. Throw in some plump, poppin' shrimp and this is the dish you've been looking for. ($6.95 to $8.95, depending on meat and lunch or dinner hours)

Margherita Pizza at Pizzeria Rustica

2527 W. Colorado Ave., 632-8121, pizzeriarustica.com

Hotdogs, macaroni, Buffalo wings ... all things arguably disgracefully placed upon pizza in modern times. All of which makes the existence of a true, traditional classic pizza even more important. A retreat. A refuge. Something so perfect, in the case of the Margherita, that it need not ever have been built upon. Thin wood-oven pizza, lauded San Marzano tomatoes, fragrant basil, house-made mozzarella. Done, done and done. Don't talk to me, I'm eating over here. ($11.95)

Mole Chicken Plate at Ramon Q's Cantina

1005 W. Colorado Ave., 434-2741

Finally! A mole sauce that's truly chocolaty — like damn near dessert. It starts with a dark enchilada sauce bearing spices like cumin and the smoky, earthy flavor of house-ground chile de árbol powder. To that, Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips are rained in, to-order, so there's no separation under a heat lamp. The thick, dark goodness coats a trio of nicely charred, juicy boneless breasts, served with good, cheese-laced refried beans and a bright tomato-onion-jalapeño relish. ($12)

Hot Man Sandwich at Spice of Life

727 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-5284, manitouspiceoflife.com

The name is apt and you will relish the sexy, peppery, oily heat of jalapeños meeting a creamy chipotle aioli over layered capicolla, mortadella and Genoa salami. (Ham trio unite.) Romaine, tomatoes and red onion provide the fresh counterbalance on soft sourdough. ($8.90)

Reuben Sandwich at Swiss Chalet

19263 E. U.S. Hwy. 24, Woodland Park, 687-2001, swisschaletofwoodlandpark.com

Executed here by a self-described old Jewish guy who grew up around true New York delis, this Reuben's the real deal, leading off with Colorado Bread Company thick-cut marble rye. Then comes 8 ounces of thin-sliced corned beef, gooey Swiss cheese and tangy house sauerkraut (bearing smoky bacon bits), plus a rich, house Thousand Island rendition. ($12.75, lunch only)

Chorizo & Figs at TAPAteria

2607 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8272, tapateria.com

No, those are not Vienna sausages, they're cured Cantimpalo-style Spanish sausages. Think piquant and smoky chorizo. And they're paired with tart California Conadria figs, which are stewed in sherry and balsamic vinegar with spices that include cloves, which your nose will immediately sniff out. It's all a meaty, sweet-and-sour affair true to authentic Spanish flavors. As tapas go, luscious and addictive. ($6)

Doro Wat at Uchenna

2501 W. Colorado Ave., #108, 634-5070, uchennalive.com

The chicken and egg come at the same time here (get it?), whole ovals and super tender legs drowned in a heavy, mole-esque red wine and butter sauce that's spiked with a berbere spice mix, more undisclosed spices, ginger, garlic and onions. It's poultry perfected. ... "If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved." ($13)

Green Curry at Wild Ginger

27 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 634-5025

So much depends upon a red wheel barrow ... we mean, um, the green curry — at Wild Ginger. Of course it depends on the heat level you order, and whether you prefer tofu, chicken, beef, pork or shrimp as your protein. But however you construct it, the kitchen won't let you down when it comes to spiking the velvety coconut milk sauce with all the usual suspects like fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and basil. Flavorful, floral, essential. ($10.95)

Carrot Cake at The Wines of Colorado

8045 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Cascade, 684-0900,winesofcolorado.com

Though it comes in the shape of a slice, this huge monolith of dessert has more layers than Shrek, feeds up to four people, and fits just fine in a completely empty, jumbo-sized freezer (because you're not eating this whole thing at once). It's a symphony of creamy frosting, soft layers of cake and all the caloric guilt you can muster. ($9.95)

Essential drop-ins

Spend a little time in this section of town, and you'll hear someone raving about each of the places listed below.

Black Bear Restaurant and Bourbon Bar

10375 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls, 684-9648, blackbearrestaurant.com

The Black Bear is the culinary playground of chef Victor Matthews and his Paragon Culinary School students, where custom chef's tables are a rewarding and fancy option beyond the à la carte offerings. The new bourbon-bar addition to the quaint mountain cabin sports around 50 selections with flight options and high-end goodies. Our recommendation: the Maker's 46 Mint Julep.

Briarhurst Manor Estate

404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1864, briarhurst.com

It's known as a big wedding and banquet facility, but the cool castle will also host you comfortably for a special-occasion meal. Try five courses, prix fixe, for between $35 and $53, or à la carte options like braised bison short ribs, filet mignon or the fun Duck, Duck, Goose plate of shank and breast with a gooseberry cassis glaze.

Cucuru Gallery Cafe

2332 W. Colorado Ave., 520-9900, cucuru.santuario.com

Cucuru is a cultural joint hosting everything from art exhibits, dance and live music to a wide menu of coffee and alcohol beverages plus tapas plates, fresh salads and a sandwich list. The pesto panini is a nice option if you're feeling like branching out from the Cuban and its house-Mojo-sauce-marinated pork tenderloin.

Estela's Mexican Restaurant

925 S. Eighth St., 575-0244, estelasmex.com

Estela's won our Margarita Food Fight last year, making good on the promise that comes from stocking more than 30 tequilas. Start a meal with the chile con queso, then move to a chile relleno plate or huevos rancheros, both of which highlight great red or green chile. Enjoy free sopapillas at meal's end.

Fusion Japan

765 Gold Hill South Place, Woodland Park, 687-2228

Delivering Woodland Park a much-needed serious sushi joint, Fusion Japan fulfills more than just a niche with its commendable food. There are fun rolls, like a Banana Island dessert roll of eel, avocado and banana wrapped in yellow soybean paper, and nigiri as fresh as anyone else's down Highway 24. From the wider Asian menu, aim for the vibrant peanut sauce curry.

Good Karma Coffee Lounge & Deli

110 Cañon Ave., Suite A, Manitou Springs, 685-2325,goodkarmacoffeelounge.com

Stop by for house-baked goods like yummy macaroons, a homemade soup, a lavender chai latte or deli meats sliced to order, to-go. But that's only after you've made a visit to linger in the cozy space over a superior sandwich built upon delicious, Denver-sourced Bluepoint Bakery bread. The Karma Dip and Beef N' Bella Melt are great places to start.

Joseph's Fine Dining

1606 S. Eighth St., 630-3631, josephsdining.com

Joseph Freyre is a hands-on restaurateur, so don't be surprised if he's the one personally preparing your flambéed treat tableside: an amazing Hot Spinach Pernod salad, excellent pepper steaks, and Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee for dessert. Lunch prices are more modest, but that Colorado lamb at dinner is worth the $30.

The Loop

965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9344, theloopatmanitou.com

The Loop regularly wins awards for its staple Tex-Mex plates, chips and salsa, margaritas and generally for being a standout neighborhood hangout. It's undoubtedly a Manitou social anchor, with an exhaustive tequila list ready to be raided over a plate of lobster enchiladas or the Burrito From Hell.

Motif

2432 W. Cucharras St., 635-5635, motifwest.com

Motif, operated by Food Designers' chef Andy Darrigan and open Thursday through Saturday only, makes a great destination for a cool cocktail paired with killer house white truffle fries, Kobe beef sliders, charcuterie or other small plates. The live jazz and sharp décor matches up perfectly for a full experience.

Mountain Shadows Restaurant

2223 W. Colorado Ave.,633-2122,mountainshadowsrestaurant.com

Holding strong after two decades, Mountain Shadows serves a bangin' breakfast all day but also solid lunch and dinner plates, many featuring Ranch Foods Direct steaks and burgers. The prices are great, considering the quality and portions. Pistachio-cranberry salmon at dinner, perhaps?

The Pepper Tree

888 W. Moreno Ave., 471-4888, peppertreecs.com

The Pepper Tree, sister restaurant to Woodland Park's Swiss Chalet, serves dinner with a superb view over the city. Their signature flambéed pepper steaks top out at nearly $60, and other primo cuts hover in the $40 range. The fine Trout Amandine can be had for $22, though, so don't stay away because of sticker shock. This, too, can be yours.

Ruffrano's Hell's Kitchen Pizza

9 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-4355, hellskitchenmanitou.com

Recipes hail back to a real New York City joint where owner Nelson Rufran trained. The Hellfire (hot sausage, pepperoni, cherry peppers) is awesome, as is the elegant four-cheese white pizza. Go for the mac-and-cheese pie if you just want something weird, and the cinnamon or Hellfire knots for a treat. Gluten-free bread available.

Swirl Wine Bar

717 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2294, swirlismybar.com

Swirl just closed its wine-shop component to focus fully on the wine bar, which is now a full-service restaurant from patio to front door. The charcuterie and cheese plates are still around, but they've been joined by soups, salads, panini sandwiches and house-baked pastries and desserts. Six craft beer taps have been installed, and wine and spirits offerings are constantly refreshed. Look for new lunch hours.

Upstairs at La Baguette

2417 W. Colorado Ave., 577-4818, labaguette-co.com

The beautiful brick-and-wood, low-lit space has got speakeasy charm as a somewhat hidden bar that opens only Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Cocktails, wines, beers and absinthes come with wonderful, complimentary house breads and delightful dips. Competent appetizers and traditional Swiss fondue service make great pairings, too. Not a drinker? Go for coffee and excellent La Baguette desserts.

Other featured eateries with West locations:

Amanda's Fonda, 3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975, see p. 45

Borriello Brothers, 229 S. Eighth St., 884-2020, see here

Colorado Mountain Brewery, 600 S. 21st St., #180, 466-8240, see here

Heart of Jerusalem Cafe, 718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1325, see here

Jun Japanese Restaurant, 3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690, see here

La Casita Mexican Grill, 306 S. Eighth St., 633-9616, see here

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