503 W. Colorado Ave., 471-3370, 503w.co
When I first reviewed 503W in early 2014, it had just entered the scene, and I commended the colorful presentations and Asian-Pacific-inspired mindfulness, plus the overall brilliant reboot of what had been the Dutch Mill Tavern. But I'd also said the place needed to tighten execution across the menu to really shine. Back in for a mango shrimp quesadilla ($9.69) and the Apricot Smash ($7) beer cocktail, I find that job is done.
The fantastic Smash muddles basil and lime in Cointreau, which then gets a strong hit of Bulleit rye and a half can of Dry Dock's Apricot Blonde; the other half's served as a beer-back. I find the beer alone overly sweet, but here the Cointreau's orange essence boosts the natural apricot flavor, and the herbal-citrus punch balances the sugar, as does a beautiful whiskey finish. Wasabi ranch and side Sriracha heat blow up the quesadilla, flat-top-seared crispy with cilantro, corn, red onion and black beans in the mix. Bar-food heaven. — Matthew Schniper
Nourish Organic Juice
303 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 634-5686, nourishorganicjuice.com
In 2012, Cafe Velo first introduced C-Springs to acai bowls, originally a Hawaiian phenomenon. Nourish has since created a lovely, loaded rendition ($7.95) — the frozen superfood puréed with banana, strawberry and coconut milk into a honey-sweetened, teeth-tingling purple soup. It's dressed with more banana rounds and a rain of crunch-gifting granola, goji berries and hemp seeds.
Two drinks, by contrast, could use more punch and panache. A watermelon lime slush ($5.25) is just that, agave-sweetened and fairly citrus-mute, unlike a limeade. I'd recommend an herbal offset: At home I pull basil from my garden and blend it with watermelon and coconut-almond milk, which adds body. Another take-it-or-leave-it tip: more ingredients and/or a longer infusion on the house cherry-ginger kombucha ($3.75). Neither element is bright like in a GT's, though the tang and carbonation are on point. Blueberry-lavender was my best batch, if you are taking requests. — Matthew Schniper
The Coffee Exchange
526 S. Tejon St., 635-0277, thecoffeeexchangecolorado.com
When we visited with Coffee Exchange owner Andy Schlesinger in May last year, we heard about, but were unable to try, the Miami native's Cuban sandwich, which he calls El Cubano ($8.95). (He also serves it at Bella's Bakery and Bistro, which he recently purchased.) The dude is serious: First, he talked about his multi-day mojo marinade, the limes and sour oranges and heaps of garlic working into the pork, which he roasts in an iron kettle for eight hours until it falls apart. He combines that with Boar's Head ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and "special dill pickles."
The effect of moist mounds of juicy meats playing under kicking mustard and pickles is memorable. The pressed bread creates a crunchy shell of chew, keeping it all in one piece as you inch toward the next bite. My only complaint is that the fillings seemed to run on the skinny side, though that could just have been my stomach wishing for more. — Bryce Crawford