Tucanos Brazilian Grill(3294 Cinema Point, 597-3800, tucanos.com)
The first sign of Tucanos' heart for the Colorado Springs community came with its opening, when the chain restaurant helped raise some $7,500 for three local nonprofits. But it was made even clearer on a flier posted this past summer at Cheyenne Mountain High School.
"Sunday, July 1, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., we are opening our doors at Tucanos to Waldo Canyon Fire Evacuees for a lunch on us," read the paper near the gym-turned-evacuee-hub. "It'll be on a first-come, first-serve basis (we can feed upwards [of] 1,000 guests) ..."
It was a perfect example of what owner Steve Oldham told me when I said he was a finalist in this coveted category: "We enjoy being [in Colorado Springs]; we really like the community and like being involved."
Well, the community clearly likes them back. I imagine it has something to do with the basics: You get all-you-can-eat meat off a skewer, proffered table-side, for around 20 bucks.
Of course, it doesn't cook itself.
"Usually, prep for the day starts about 7:30, 8 o'clock in the morning," says Oldham. "The grills start getting fired up between 10 and 10:30. A number of our meats are marinated overnight; some of our meats are actually cooked overnight, [like] our assado, which is a roast brisket we actually cook all night long. So they come in and pull that out of the oven in the morning and get it ready to go."
On top of that, customers can eat from a huge salad bar full of pastas, fruits and even fried bananas. It's a recipe for success that's led to locations in Utah, Idaho and New Mexico, and a soon-to-open one in Virginia.
"We like to think of ourselves as the urban, Rio de Janeiro version of a Brazilian grill," says Oldham. "So we're a little more festive, a little bit more energetic ... and really try and be reminiscent of the tropical nature of Brazil, with a more urban-type finish." — BC
The Blue Star(1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net)
I have a theory on the reason for the success of the Blue Star, which is winning its eighth Wine List award, its fifth for Overall Restaurant, and its first for Upscale Bar: the ceiling rug. It's all about the ceiling rug! Hanging from the rafters of the bar area like a drunken flying carpet, that little bastard merges with the candlelight, hummus and joy of having Marilyn Monroe's images in the men's bathroom to offer something truly unique in Colorado Springs. And sure, there are the badass cocktails; the expanded, in-house charcuterie; the local greens; and the monthly dinners that routinely attract the culinary world's best and brightest. But I'm sticking with the rug. — BC
Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant(733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0277, monalisafondue.com)
At Mona Lisa, the servers are extremely experienced — one has been there for 15 of the restaurant's 16 years, and the average is about six years. In short, they've been around long enough to know they're not the main event at this fine-dining attraction. "They're attentive, but not overbearing," Mona Lisa owner Jeff Kiepke says simply. Most customers come to Mona Lisa to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other life event, which means a 2½-hour, four-course fondue meal. And in an environment like that there's a lot to be said for servers who can blend into the background but never be missed. But perhaps the clearest thing you can say: They're the best around. — PZ
Black Bear Restaurant and Bourbon Bar(10375 Ute Pass Road, Green Mountain Falls, 684-9648, blackbearrestaurant.com)
Chef Victor Matthews makes five different Mint Julep versions, differing in the deployment of agave, honey, simple syrup and/or molasses. To create the best one I've ever had, by a long shot, he puréed mint with organic raw agave in a small food processor. A little soda splash, some Maker's 46 (chosen from among his selection of nearly 50 bourbons) and ... heaven. My recommendation: Ascend Ute Pass for customized bourbon tasting flights ahead of Denver's much-hyped Southern Hospitality opening, for which Matthews plays a consulting role and compiled a beefy bourbon book. Follow your neat pours with a sweet Mint Julep ... then call a cab. — MS
Saigon Café(20 E. Colorado Ave., 633-2888, coloradosaigoncafe.com)
Competition in the Springs' Vietnamese culinary community has grown tougher over the years, with many new pho joints joining the pack and enough bun to populate a Richard Simmons video. (Three of you will appreciate that joke.) Yet Saigon Café retains the top slot this year for the 10th time. Credit its consistency — loyal patrons will attest that certain dishes just don't taste as good elsewhere. Like owner Paul Truong told me back in 2007, his food focuses on freshness and healthiness with no MSG, ample herbs and spices and, generally, "food the way we like to eat it." Feed your neighbor as you'd feed yourself ... I can dig it. And you obviously do. — MS
The Omelette Parlor(900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770, co-spgs-omeletteparlor.com)
If the Omelette Parlor's Indy Best Of winning streak were a kid, she'd be getting her driver's license this year. For the rest of us, good luck staying awake at the wheel after one of the famously filling specialty skillets or the aptly named "Belgian Wonder Wa-fulls." Add on a morning mimosa from the co-located O'Furry's, and you might as well go straight back to bed. If you happen to emerge from your food coma before 2 p.m., you can experience that which, for the rest of Colorado Springs, is still mere speculation: the Omelette Parlor lunch menu, with equally creatively named (and equally overstuffed) sandwiches and salads. — CAS
Wild Ginger(27 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 634-5025, wildgingerthai.com)
Khon Onexayvieng is the undisputed queen of Wild Ginger, but it's her husband and brother-in-law who man the kitchen ... apparently, with iron fists. "I think my husband, he doesn't like people in his way, he knows what he's doing," says Onexayvieng, who is originally from Laos. "I can't even go in the kitchen without him kicking me out." But it is, she says, probably this exclusivity that has kept Wild Ginger's food so consistently pleasing since 1998: The same two cooks make everything to order, from scratch. "If you get somebody else, the flavor of the food might change," says Onexayvieng, who uses family recipes. And that could be an issue in the front and the back of the house. — JAS
Edelweiss(34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220, edelweissrest.com)
There's a Swiss pastry chef downstairs who makes desserts from scratch using local and imported ingredients — not "imported" from New Jersey, but from the European continent. The meat is butchered in-house, rather than cold-packed and shipped frozen. The spaetzle machine was personally selected and shipped from Germany by Helga Schnakenberg, who owns the restaurant along with her son, Dieter. These are just a few of the reasons Edelweiss has won this category for 15 years. — BW
Paravicini's Italian Bistro(2802 W. Colorado Ave., 471-8200, paravicinis.com)
Franco Pisani starts with a base of his mother's recipes, combines the right people and the right place, mixes in the best ingredients, and garnishes with imagination and love. "Our wait staff has been here for years," says the chef and co-owner. "Our kitchen staff, 50 percent of them helped open the restaurant nine years ago. And everybody has the same passion." He and business partner Ted Sexton are both native New Englanders, but have no plans to take their eight-time winner out of the eatery community in Old Colorado City. "We're friends with a lot of the restaurants," he says. "In my eyes, it's the independents versus the chains." — RVP
Crystal Park Cantina(178 Crystal Park Road, Manitou Springs, 685-5999, crystalparkcantina.com)
I've always considered it something of a sin to order a hamburger at a Mexican restaurant. And so, a few months back, when my husband ordered the Cantina burger, I gave him a glare of disapproval. "Why not get the Pablano Chile or the Navajo Taco?" I pressed. But when the dreaded burger arrived, I had to eat my words. And half of my husband's hamburger. This 6-ounce patty features manchego cheese, jalapeño, cilantro and caramelized onions with chipotle mayo and cabbage slaw, all on a wonderful corn bun. To be honest, I would eat any part of this combo on its own, but put together, this is the most unstoppable burger I've tasted. So wonderful, in fact, that I've sheepishly allowed it to become my regular at the Cantina. — JAS
Jake & Telly's Greek Taverna(2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406, jakeandtellys.com)
Classy though it is, there's an argument to be made that Jake & Telly's is absolutely a family restaurant. It starts by noting that Jake and Telly Topakas are brothers, but goes well beyond that, too, as manager Christine Guerin explains. "Over the last couple of years, Jake's family — he's really changed how they've been eating at home. And he wanted to introduce that into the restaurant." Enter Ranch Food Direct meats, wild-caught shrimp and salmon, and "local and organic as much as we possibly can." What Guerin describes as a nearly two-year menu overhaul is almost complete — surely reason for an "Opa!" Unless, of course, that's overplayed. "It never gets old, and it's so much fun to say!" Guerin assures. "Actually, I find myself dining out at other restaurants — every once in a while — and a waitress or a server or somebody will drop something, and my family and I automatically yell, 'Opa!'" — KW
Colorado Coffee Merchants(302 E. Fillmore St., 473-8878, coloradocoffeemerchants.com)
Give the same green coffee to 10 different roasters, and post-roast, "all would be slightly different," says Eric "Harry" Nicol at Colorado Coffee Merchants. That's because the two main variables — roast time and temperature — drastically affect the flavor, and there's no detailed rule book to follow when it comes to the process.
At CCM, a third variable is key to how the company's coffee is roasted: the equipment. Versus the much more common drum roaster, in which the heat comes from outside, CCM's fluid-air bed roaster heats like a "big, oversized popcorn machine," Nicol says. The air flow has a tendency to sift out more smoke and debris, as well as leftover chaff. Why's that important? When you drink a cup of coffee, he says, it's charred chaff that increases the drink's acidity, and can leave both your palate and stomach unhappy.
In the 8½ years since owner Eric Umenhofer opened CCM, the Fillmore Street shop has shifted most of its roasting from an 8-pound machine to a 38-pounder. Coming off that machine these days are two small-batch brands: Ümpire Estate Mountain Roasters and Idle Truck, the latter nodding to Umenhofer's previous career as a local firefighter.
It's unlikely you'll catch the original roaster running during a random stop by the shop — it's primarily used now for developing taste profiles for new coffees. However, drop by midday Monday through Saturday, and you'll probably be able to pick up a whiff of hot beans "popping" through the larger machine while you wait in line to order a latte (or mocha or another fancy drink). CCM roasts daily in order to produce 100 to 150 pounds a day, enough to keep on top of its local business for that day and the next. — KA
Heart of Jerusalem Cafe(718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1325; 4587 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 685-9554; heartofjerusalemcafe.com)
Hummus is like Goldilocks' porridge: One has too much garlic, one's too chunky, another tastes bland. Hussein Abukhdeir's is just right. Savory, smooth and perfectly seasoned, with a little olive oil floating on top, this hummus demands to be eaten. It's not a happy accident. Abukhdeir, who owns the area's two Heart of Jerusalem restaurants, boils his own garbanzo beans, instead of buying cans (whose beans, he says, aren't fully cooked). He peels the beans and processes them in a special blender he bought just for that task. In addition to the beans, he uses cumin, olive oil and "strong" tahini that he ships in from California. "It's my mom's recipe," Abukhdeir says — one that perfectly complements not only pita, but, say, the lamb, beef and chicken in a Heart of Jerusalem sandwich. Abukhdeir adds that he plans to open a new restaurant, but won't say where — fearing that, as in the past, competitors will encroach. — JAS
China Town(326 S. Nevada Ave., 632-5151, chinatown-restaurant.com)
For years, one of downtown's best-kept secrets has been China Town's Wor Wonton Soup ($6.25). The goodies in your big bowl include pea pods, shrimp, chicken, pork, bok choy and celery — plus thick noodles hiding at the bottom, and of course, the wontons. More than the fortune cookie, I judge the rest of the day based on the number of wontons I get. An average day is four. It is quite extraordinary to have a six-wonton-day. (Go buy a lottery ticket.) On two occasions it's looked like a zero day, but a word with the server brought a soup cup filled with fresh, steaming mouthfuls of goodness. I like to spice mine up with some hot chili oil, no charge. And you get to use chopsticks and a spoon! Together at last. — KCC
Tong Tong(2036 S. Academy Blvd., 591-8585, tongtong.webs.com)
Last year Tong Tong won silver; this year, it's a well-deserved gold. Owner Seon Ok Lee says she and her family owned a restaurant in Korea before moving here nine years ago to open Tong Tong. It's still a family pursuit: Her husband is the cook, her mother-in-law makes the side dishes, her daughter illustrates the menu and website, and she works out front. "Koreans eat here, but a lot of Americans come in too, especially soldiers who have served in Korea," Lee says. "They loved the food and now they bring their families here. I'm very proud of our food and culture. The Korean culture is to share — you share the food, you share the mind." — KK
Monica's Taco Shop(30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996; 5829 Palmer Park Blvd., 597-7022)
Monica's Taco Shop has it all: burritos, tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, tortas and quesadillas. Enormous portions and fresh ingredients, always complemented with two delicious homemade salsas, make for an instant winner — or more specifically, a seven-year-consecutive Best Of winner. If you enjoy a nice burn with your Mexican food, pick the red salsa over the green. A Monica's employee says the red starts with japones chilies (tiny peppers that weigh in at around 35,000 Scoville units). With a bit of vegetable oil, the chiles are "crisped up" on the grill before they go into a blender with garlic, tomatoes, oregano and some salt, giving it the perfect kick. — KL
Short Stop(485 N. Circle Drive, 444-8428)
Cheeseburgers are all that stand between me and a happy vegetarian life, and Short Stop is where I've gotten my weekly fix since moving here from California. Out there, of course, my carnivorous stomping ground was In-N-Out, a legendary West Coast chain that inspires cult-like devotion from its loyal customers. And while another burger shop in town has staked its claim-to-fame as Colorado's equivalent to In-N-Out, I still prefer Short Stop: fast, fresh, cheap and delicious. With drive-thru windows and a few tables in a strip-mall parking lot, it's like what Dairy Queen should be, but most definitely is not. — BF
Lake Terrace at The Broadmoor(1 Lake Ave., 577-5771, broadmoor.com/lake-terrace)
With longtime executive chef Siegfried Eisenberger's departure from our town's five-star resort, this insanely opulent breakfast throw-down has been handed off to executive sous chef of banquets John Frazier (under the larger oversight of executive sous chef of restaurants Bertrand Bouquin). But really it's some 50 other folks who deserve co-credit for pulling it all off weekly, beginning prep in the wee morning hours and staffing everything from carving stations to a gorgeous chocolate fountain beset by ice carvings and gourmet goodies galore. The 100-item-plus culinary affair costs a worthwhile $39 and is bulletproof as a special-occasion destination. For hedonistic foodies, this is Sunday worship service. — MS
Nosh(121 S. Tejon St., 635-6674, nosh121.com)
Nosh won these same three awards last year, so consistency clearly isn't in question. It does happy hour right, with Bristol beer and vino specials, plus discounted signature martinis and cocktails and a couple bucks off many edibles (weekdays, 3 to 6 p.m.; until 8 p.m., Mondays). By early November, manager Tyler Schiedel says, you'll find a new HH deal, wherein select menu items will be a full 50 percent off. Favorite eats like the Korean wings haven't changed, but seasonal specials still come and go, alongside rare tap beers. A new "cheese program" focuses on Colorado-produced dairy goodies, and the eventual opening of the Ivywild center will deliver even more locally grown produce ... just some examples of how one stays "cutting-edge." — MS
Marigold Café and Bakery(4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776, marigoldcoloradosprings.com)
Marigold turns 20 this year, but no need to bake a cake: They've got it covered. Elaine Chavanon, co-owner of Marigold's along with her husband Dominique, says that sweet-toothed patrons often belly up to the wine bar to enjoy a nibble and a glass of vino, but that all the desserts are available in the main restaurant as well. Chavanon also says that they pride themselves on keeping things traditional. The place is often filled with regulars who enjoy Marigold's philosophy of simple fare, done well. — BW
Dahl Curry at the Curry Leaf(321 N. Tejon St., 447-0608, curryleafrestaurant.com)
I've ordered the dahl curry at the Curry Leaf so many times that the restaurant's owner, Lana Hillstrom, has started calling me the Queen of Dahl. Normally a humble dish, a thick stew made with lentils and spices, Hillstrom's Sri Lankan version is a revelation. I asked employee Justin Lastra what sets it apart, but he would only answer mysteriously that there are "spices I've never seen before" in Hillstrom's kitchen. Ask Hillstrom herself, and the answer remains vague at best: "First of all, there's a lot of love going into it, and second is coconut milk," she says, which is unique to the Sri Lankan variation. Sorry, but that's the best I can do. Oh, except to say that at the end, the dahl is sauteed with caramelized onions and mustard seeds. — DM
Montague's(1019 S. Tejon St., 520-0672)
While copious and well-executed tea options snagged Montague's another win, it's impossible to ignore its numerous, and all-homemade, food selections. Take, for instance, one of its top sellers, the baked oatmeal. According to owner David McIntosh, the recipe basically comes out of his childhood. "I went to a two-room schoolhouse back in Kansas," he recalls, "and we had a local woman who was our cook. ... In the summertime, she worked for a camp and had to serve breakfast to 300 kids," he recalls. To feed them all, she'd cook this oatmeal remix, which would come out of the oven in loaves. McIntosh's cozy and eclectic parlor feels far from a cafeteria, adding to the homey vibe that, especially with a steaming pot of Earl Grey, makes Montague's a veteran Best Of winner. — EA
The Springs Cupcake Truck(466-1911, thespringscupcaketruck.com)
Co-owner Pat Kennelly says one of her first experiments with a new business strategy — focusing less on cruising downtown and more on special events — saw her headed up to Woodland Park for a wedding June 23, the day the Waldo Canyon Fire started. It didn't spoil the nuptials, or the cupcakes, but Kennelly sees it as emblematic of a time when it really pays to be a business on wheels. The perks, Kennelly says, include the flexibility to do special flavors or even surprise appearances for clients, plus the joy of discovery in outlying neighborhoods where food trucks are still a novelty. As for already-savvy downtowners, Kennelly shares a secret: If you're missing the signature sugar-coated confections doled out from their 1973 Ford delivery van, go to sister bakery Cake Crumbs on Bijou and ask for a cupcake, "truck-style." — CAS
Pikes Peak Dessert Lounge(481 Hwy. 105, #208, Monument, 313-9484, pikespeakdesserts.com)
Stout ... and chocolate ... in a truffle ... together. Oh my God, yes! The Pikes Peak Dessert Lounge (part of a double-business storefront featuring The Art of Chocolate and Pikes Peak Ice Cream & Gelato in Monument) has transformed Pikes Peak Brewing Co.'s locally produced Summit House Stout into a mouth-watering morsel of bliss. What's more, the chocolatier is completely fair-trade in her ingredient purchases, so it won't matter if you get the Stout Truffle, a Strawberry Balsamic Dark Chocolate truffle, or one of the many flavors of gelato in the house: It's all good. — BW
Coquette's Bistro & Bakery(915 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-2420, coquettesbistroandbakery.com)
Building on what had already been a Best Of winner before, co-owner Michelle Marx has added more options to Coquettes's Bistro & Bakery, including potpies that they can barely keep in stock. Marx says the occasional doughnut days still bring a line, but requests have increased for the new savory items as well as for catering and custom orders. "We wanted to introduce new products and new ways of cooking things," says Marx, who can't eat wheat herself. Once someone says they miss a particular item being gluten-free, Marx says, her staff members "work until they get it right." — SB
King's Chef Diner(131 E. Bijou St., 636-5010; 110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135; kingschefdiner.com)
My husband's cell rang at top volume at 3 a.m., waking us from fitful sleep. It was a close friend letting us know it was time to evacuate. From our Manitou Springs balcony, we could see the flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire licking the hillside above our home. We finished packing and drove to my office; it was late, and we didn't want to wake anyone. But my dark office offered little solace on that terrifying night. So we got in the car and drove down the street to King's Chef. Whether at Costilla Street's famous purple castle, or its roomier new location on Bijou Street, King's Chef offers a delightful mix of stylishness and nostalgia. It's populated by hipsters, but the food doesn't tiptoe anywhere near wilted arugula salads. This is where you go for a cheeseburger the size of your head, or a pile of eggs and hash browns smothered in green chili so hot it will make your eyes water. Comfort food? Given the chili, that might be a stretch. But I can attest that at times, King Chef's offerings can certainly be comforting. — JAS
Shuga's(702 S. Cascade Ave., 328-1412, shugas.com)
Owners Alexius Weston and Kurt Bunch love the Shuga's neighborhood so much that they got married right outside the restaurant's front door, in the median on Cascade. (It's the same median they walked for seven years when they lived down the street.) They know their neighbors well and have a devoted following of regulars who crave menu items such as the Brazilian coconut shrimp soup, lavender martini and lemon ginger tea. "It's so nice to serve people that you know," Weston says. "You know their name and what they want to eat or drink." To which Bunch adds, "And if they don't come in, you get kind of worried. Where are they? Are they OK?" Together, they've seen kids grow up, and couples fall in love. Weston says she likes to pause and take a step back sometimes to take it all in: "It's like life happening right in front of you." — DM
Phantom Canyon Brewing Co.(2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com)
Since it's just a block off the Springs' main strip, lucky tourists often stumble into Phantom Canyon for lunch or dinner. There they find a well-executed seasonal menu, which Phantom's Suzie Nichols says is focused on warmth and comfort food like meat and potatoes in fall and winter, and cool and crisp items like peach- and strawberry-infused plates in spring and summer. But locals flock to Phantom for its brews and 13 pool tables. (OK, maybe for the famous blonde ale and smoked gouda soup, too.) Look for a significant expansion to the brewery soon, which will not only increase brewing capacity, but bring an old-school video-game arcade into the billiard hall — sorry, the foosball tables had to go. — SH
Briarhurst Manor Estate(404 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1864, briarhurst.com)
There's no more romantic setting for a post-nuptial celebration than a stately Victorian manor house built in 1876 (incidentally, the same year Colorado became a state). On the outside, ivy climbs and balconies beckon, from which the bride can unfurl her veil or toss her bouquet. Inside, woven rugs, carved wooden stairway railings, glowing fireplaces and fine dining in every room, including the master bedroom, help guarantee that the Briarhurst further appeals to those given to flights of fancy and formality. So it is that this elegant fixture wins this category for the seventh consecutive year. — PZ
Poor Richard's Restaurant(324½ N. Tejon St., 632-7721, poorrichardsdowntown.com)
Human beings are pack animals, much like dogs, so it's no wonder a lot of us feel self-conscious while eating alone in restaurants. But as co-owner Richard Skorman noted upon winning this award back in 2010, Poor Richard's restaurant offers solo diners a welcoming atmosphere — including counter service, free wi-fi, and lots of nooks and crannies where you can retreat to the privacy of your iPhone, laptop or, for the truly adventurous, a non-electronic readable object selected from the adjacent Poor Richard's Bookstore. — BF
Little Nepal(1747 S. Eighth St., 477-6997, lnepal.com)
Chain coffee shops may have first introduced me to chai, but if I want the real stuff, I know it doesn't come out of a box. Locally, it comes out of Little Nepal. Manager Nabin Pandey says the key is toasting together the green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and green ginger before adding whole milk. The Indian tea, with the spices, is then steeped in the warm milk; after it's all strained out at the end, you're left with a cupful of magic. — SB
La Casa Fiesta(230 Front St., Monument, 481-1234, lacasafiesta.net)
I'm surprised that La Casa Fiesta didn't place in the Patio Dining category, as it offers an epic outdoor experience. Truly, it's gorgeous, allowing 100 extra seats in warm months, and even bringing long winter wait times down. That's right, La Casa Fiesta's fans are willing to brave the cold in order to reach a hot plate of New Mexican food, such as mesquite-smoked chipotle honey lime ribs with a wonderful side of calabacitas. LCF's recipes date back to a Hobbs, N.M., restaurant started by owner Shawn Morris' grandmother and father in 1957. Members of his family have been actively involved ever since, and Morris hopes his sons will take the chili-laced dynasty into many decades to follow. — MS
Front Range Barbeque(2330 W. Colorado Ave., 632-2596, frbbq.com)
If you're like me, this will sum up your relationship with Front Range Barbeque: Came across it one day looking for good, cheap eats; had an amazing meal on a cozy patio listening to bluegrass; fell in love; now consider it the restaurant for entertaining visiting friends and family. It's homey, without the kitsch, and everyone seems happy to be there, even the staff. Brian Fortinberry opened up shop 13 years ago in the home of a former sushi joint. He and his brother are from Alabama, which armed them not only with a love for Southern cuisine, but also priceless family recipes. "That's what we know, that's what we are used to," he says. "We wanted to have a local place, a place where friends can hang out." Add to it their laid-back ethos, and you have all the ingredients for success. — CH
Adam's Mountain Café(934 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430, adamsmountain.com)
An institution in downtown Manitou Springs, Adam's takes multiple titles each year. There are a couple major reasons, says owner Farley McDonough: "First, we try to be as consistent as possible. ... Second, we don't waver from that which we do well." And why would they? Look at the huevos rancheros, for instance. "It seriously rocks: The green chile is great, the avocado is fresh, the beans are spiced just right, and the eggs are local," says McDonough. As for those most partial to dining on Adam's creekside patio, McDonough has more good news: "My hope for the future is that we can find a way to keep the patio open all winter," she says. — CW
Coal Mine Dragon(1779 S. Eighth St., Suite B, 471-7007, coalminedragon.net; 1720 W. Uintah St., 578-5430)
I guess we shouldn't be surprised there are multiple Coal Mine Dragons in Colorado Springs. A quick Google search revealed at least three more in Colorado alone. Still, the fact remains we have no idea which completely separate location you loved best. Is it the small eatery on the west side, with its huge bowls of hot and sour soup, and rich duck dishes? Or the South Eighth Street restaurant, with its impressive variety of lunch and dinner entrées, and sweet Internet discounts? You tell us. Actually, on second thought, maybe we'll just figure it out. — BC
YoYogurt(Multiple locations; yoyogurtusa.com)
With four locations, YoYogurt has an edge on the other fledgling self-serve froyo purveyors in town. But look beyond the numbers, and you'll find this locally owned business (whose website seeks franchisees, by the way) curries favor for other reasons. Perhaps the best one is staff: They always greet you with a jaunty "Welcome to YoYogurt!"; keep the place sparkling clean; and have been known to offer little freebies to, say, a 3-year-old boy I know who can't get enough of the gummy-bear toppings (or tapioca balls or M&Ms, depending on the day). Perhaps when he turns 4, we'll have to look into one of YoYogurt's birthday packages: $6 per person that includes yogurt, reserved seating and other goodies, including a visit from the "FroYo" mascot. (Note: It's anthropomorphic, but not scary.) — KW
Picnic Basket/Cravings/Buffalo Gals(1701 S. Eighth St., 635-0200, cravingscatering.com, buffalogalsgrilling.com, pbcatering.com)
Michelle Talarico has done just about everything in her 23 years in the catering business, including a recent birthday for a 10-year-old turtle named Bubbles. "This was a major, $3,000 party," she says, adding that guests brought Champagne for the pet owners and broccoli for the guest of honor. Talarico's offering to Bubbles: a layered vegetable cake. Outside the reptile arena, her gigs range from charity events to family reunions to sit-down dinners for hundreds. "I think what we do best is listening to what our customers want and work within their budget," she says. "We feel like if people need food and service, we're going to bring our best to bring it to them." — PZ
Josh & John's(111 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 632-0299, joshandjohns.com)
The trees turn, the winds deliver a chill, and Colorado College alum John Krakauer amazes Colorado Springs. Each year, Josh & John's adds fall flavors, including chai, white Russian, and a variety of pumpkin flavors, to its already delicious assortment. (The pumpkin oatmeal brings tears to my eyes.) But unique to current times is the ice-cream maker's e-mail alert, which notifies you when your favorite specialty flavor is in stock. Since 1994, Josh and John's has dominated this category, and Lindsay Keller, store manager and John's wife, appreciates all the loyalty shown the shop throughout the years. "We know there are a lot of choices when it comes to dessert," she says, "and we appreciate that we continue to see our regulars as well as new faces." — KL
Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill(9420 Briar Village Point, 955-6650; 802 Village Center Drive, 266-9244; rockymtnrg.com/salsabrava)
Specialized menus at restaurants are becoming more and more common these days. At Salsa Brava, you'll not only find a gluten-free menu, but also a Paleo menu, devoted to dishes consisting solely, or almost solely, of meats and vegetables. It's part of how keeping a "fresh-from-scratch kitchen" allows the staff to meet its customers' changing dietetic needs. Of course, the menu many of us may want to seize at the two north end locales is the happy hour one, with $3 tapas, reduced-price appetizers, and $3 to $3.50 wines, beers, wells and margaritas. Olé! — KA
Borriello Brothers(Multiple locations, all at 884-2020, borriellobrothers.com)
The use of fresh (no prepackaged or frozen) toppings is only one of the things that make a Borriello Brothers experience so good. But it's hard to overstate how important that is on a top-selling pizza like the meaty Clemente (pepperoni, sausage, ham and Italian meatballs) or Five Boroughs (pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and black olives). Now, for all you veggie lovers, the College Veg and Greca are welcome additions to the Borriello family. For football fans, the First Down Deal — a-two topping pizza, an order of buffalo wings and a 2-liter bottle of soda for $20 — may be your go-to throughout the NFL season. And for those who simply love a good show, be aware that every employee adopts a unique dough-throwing trick — behind-the-back and one-handed are favorites. — KL
Dirty Sally's(306 Victor Ave., Victor, 719/689-3120)
It's easy to miss Dirty Sally's bar in downtown Victor, with no sign marking its presence except one in the window. But the loyal locals know all about it. The menu includes calzones and other sandwiches, but Lori and Bill Phelan's pizza stands up to anything in the big city. Cooked in a top-notch, wood-fired oven and with ample sauce, cheese and toppings, the crust and flavor will blow you away. Prices are reasonable: $12.95 gets you a 14-inch pizza with meat and two veggies, and gluten-free options are available, as are Bristol beers in bottles. What's not to like? — RR
Little London Cake Shoppe(620 S. 25th St., 475-2340, littlelondoncakes.com)
Little London Cake Shoppe competed on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars recently, and won with exotic offerings like a Stilton cheese, pear and toasted walnut cupcake with cucumber-dill cream cheese topping. Baker Reuben Russell says the shop agreed to be on the show after being asked, and he was initially delighted to win. But since then, he says, fans have been stopping by regularly, asking for autographs and photos, and asking the bakery to sell them single cupcakes. This might be great if Little London's business was cupcakes, but it's primarily a special-order cake shop — you know, the kind of place you go for a wedding cake. "We just basically need to try to stay away from the cupcakes and focus on the cakes," Russell says. And fancy cupcakes aside, Little London makes awesome cake — delicious and moist with creamy frosting. — JAS
Amanda's Fonda(3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975; amandasfonda.com)
Amanda's long stay atop the Mexican category was finally broken this year (congrats, Salsa Brava), but its creekside respite is still tops in town, and still best appreciated with a margarita in hand. Plus, with the recent announcement of an expansion near Chapel Hills Mall, the patio power just got a boost. Mark Austin, vice president of real estate and development for the company, says to expect a 1,500-square-foot outdoor seating area with expansive views of Pikes Peak. So when it's the Bodacious Burrito you're craving — with a breeze — you'll soon have two Amanda's outlets from which to choose. — MS
Springs Orleans(123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 520-0123, springsorleans.com
Chef James W. Davis Jr. has lived in Colorado since 1993, but his voice still drips with the slow-molasses accent of his Southern youth. And anyone who has ever dined at Springs Orleans will lift their forks in praise that he's here, cooking up dishes with that Southern sensibility. The restaurant won this same category last year, when it was sort of an outrider for the long-awaited Mining Exchange: A Wyndham Grand Hotel. Since then, the hotel has opened and added to the workload for Davis and his staff. But their focus is still on providing authentic, delicious étouffée, gumbo and other dishes that aren't soon forgotten. "I think that's what life's about, creating memories for people. And food has a lot to do with that," Davis says. — RVP
Frankie's Too!(7376 McLaughlin Road, Falcon, 495-8707, frankiesbargrill.com)
Owner and namesake Frank Patton is anything but blasé about his east side eatery Frankie's Too! being recognized as a favorite Neighborhood Restaurant. Back in 2010, the first Frankie's won in the Neighborhood Bar category, but this is the award he's been waiting for. "Anybody can open a bottle of beer," says the affable bar owner, "but we just constantly keep working on the food." First-time visitors, he says, would do well to order the Slopper, which comes smothered in Frankie's homemade green chili. There are also cover bands most Saturdays, although Patton says he's scaling back on live music now that the NFL and college football seasons are in full force. "If there's a band on and you've got Nebraska playing," he says, "it's just ugly." — BF
The Donut Mill(310 W. Midland Ave., Woodland Park, 687-9793, thedonutmill.com)
The recipe for the Donut Mill's biscuits and gravy used to be secured in a bank vault and only known to one person. Today's owner, Michael Sturdevant, has kept part of the 35-year-old tradition — he's the sole concoctor of the thick, 14-spice sauce that gets ladled over handmade sourdough buttermilk biscuits, a favorite among locals as well as skiers, fishermen and other Woodland Park visitors. "We can go through 22 to 24 gallons of gravy a day and 1,500 to 1,800 biscuits a week," Sturdevant says. Choices of bacon gravy or green chile sauce have been added alongside the hands-down favorite sausage gravy. With a small-town appeal, the restaurant also is known for its bear claws, cinnamon rolls, fritters and Blue Bell ice cream. Plus, a homemade soup station opened this month. — DK
Detz Cafe(211 E. Cucharras St., 632-9712, detzcafe.com)
Detz is sort of a standout in the local dining landscape: First, for being positioned near a major downtown intersection — Colorado and Nevada avenues — it's almost hidden. Second, it does fair-to-middling diner fare, but also boasts local-beef sourcing. But most importantly, it's just like going back in time. The booths are blue, the walls are paneled in wood, and the coffee cups are upside-down on the tables; one time, I overheard somebody making a joke about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. But the ultimate sign of its time-capsuleness? People often sit at the counter, sip their coffee, and read the newspaper — in print. — BC
Cake Crumbs(3 E. Bijou St., 635-9739, cake-crumbscos.com)
At first glance, this could be a contemporary art gallery, with its hardwood floors, exposed brick wall and track lighting.
Then you notice the aroma. Aaaahhh. Your nose leads you to the cupcakes and cakes waiting in their cases, and you realize this gallery is dedicated to the art of creating and decorating delicious, beautiful food.
Cake Crumbs, which spun off from a Denver location in February, is the home base of the Springs Cupcake Truck (see p. 51). The burgeoning empire is led by Denon Moore and her husband, Sean Moore, who handle the Denver bakery, and Denon's uncle, Mediterranean Café owner Mike Bergman.
For Cake Crumbs, they found the perfect location in the former Opb&j site. Then they went looking for the right manager/decorator, someone equally skilled at the front counter and in the kitchen. They found Britt Lyle, a 27-year-old who spotted her dream job on Craigslist.
"I had begged for an Easy-Bake oven when I was a kid, and my mom was like, 'No, if you want to learn how to bake, I'm going to teach you how to bake,'" Lyle says. "I've been doing it since I was 14. I just fell in love with it."
Drawing on the Denver location's experience has helped with business strategy, but Lyle and her assistant, Kori Thumma, have learned that Springs cupcake lovers look for more variety in their flavors. Maple-bacon tops the list here, but customers are welcome to request flavor combinations in person or on the bakery's Facebook page, Lyle says.
"We put a status update that said, 'Hey, any suggestions for fall flavors?' And we got over 70 comments on it. We did use some of those suggestions, so we do take our customers' suggestions very seriously."
Sadly, they're not looking for taste testers. — RVP
Mirch Masala(5047 N. Academy Blvd., 599-0003, mirchmasalaa.com)
Every head in the house turned when my Tandoori chicken arrived, sizzling and popping and looking all plump and orangey-red. I noticed a little jealousy among my tablemates, though that might have just been the spice-laden steam literally bringing tears to their eyes. But once we started in on our meals at Mirch Masala — cleaning up extra sauces with spongy naan, and washing it all down with Indian beers, and wine — each plate commanded a laser-like focus from its owner. I don't think anyone shared a bite of anything. To prevent this situation from unfolding during your visit to this perennial Best Of finalist, consider the daily lunch buffet: $8.95 for an admirable selection of meat and vegetarian options, plus dessert. I know of at least one woman who regularly travels from the far reaches of Woodland Park just for the privilege. — KW
Flatiron's American Bar & Grill(2540 Tenderfoot Hill St., 576-2540, flatirons.biz)
In its three short years of life, Flatiron's has earned itself three Best Of nods in three separate categories: New Restaurant, American, and now Neighborhood Restaurant: South. That means Flatiron's has pleased the public as a newbie and as a tried-and-true favorite. Manager Ronni Lekics says the bar is packed on Sundays, when happy hour specials meet every NFL game there is on HD TVs. Plus, she's just started Wine Down Wednesdays, where you can grab $5 glasses all day. Don't do the bar/football thing? I have three words for you: Monte Cristo sliders. — EA
The Famous(31 N. Tejon St., 227-7333, thefamoussteakhouse.net)
There's the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And then there's what the Famous has been doing since it swept three Best Of categories in 2011. Massive hunks of meat are still on the menu, but you'll start seeing more locally sourced beef from all-natural producers, including ribeyes from Boulder and bone-in steaks from Aspen Ridge. A new bar manager, Luis Rodriguez, is updating the drinks menu with a seasonally changing roster of craft cocktails, and the restaurant's six-month-old Colorado spirits program spotlights local distillers like Stranahan's, Peach Street, 303 and Montaña. Of course, when we asked general manager Johnathan Shankland for comment, it was a good deal simpler. "A couple of words from me? Eat steak." — CAS
Pikes Perk Coffee & Tea House(5965 N. Academy Blvd., #203, 522-1432)
Downtown Perk (14 S. Tejon St., 635-1600)
While you were voting for your favorite local bean empire this year, change was under way behind the scenes at said empire. Don and Kay Heaberlin, owners of Pikes Perk's downtown branch, split from roaster Rick Roehrman, purchased nearby Purple Mountain Coffee Co., and commenced with their own roasting operation. Hence the two names you see above. Moving forward, the north Perk should offer more of what you've come to expect and reward, including live music on Friday and Saturday nights, while the downtown business has announced changes around environmental consciousness, meaning more fair-trade and organic goodies. Truly, it's a whole new flavor. So be clear next year in your voting, and until then, chug some caffeine in both Perks' honors. — MS
Jun Japanese Restaurant(3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690; 1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368)
The champion of sushi and Japanese cuisine has knocked every challenger out of the ring since 2006. This round finds Jun with a new kids menu and a grand re-opening special offering 20 percent off all food items at dinner for a limited time through October, and, according to Jun, perhaps even into November. "Times are tough right now," he says, "so we're going to offer the re-opening special as long as we can." Senior Sundays offer 10 percent off menu items after 7 p.m., and military members get 10 percent off at both lunch and dinner. "But right now, we're not offering the Senior Sundays or military discounts, because the special is a better deal." At the Dublin location, check out the new Japanese noodle menu, or go to Centennial for the teppanyaki grill. — BW
La Baguette(La Baguette French Bakery-Café, 2417 W. Colorado Ave., 577-4818, 117 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 636-5020, labaguette-co.com; La Baguette French Bistro, 4440 N. Chestnut St., 599-0686, labaguettefrenchbistro.com)
The genealogy of the three bakery-cafés that get their bread from Old Colorado City's La Baguette French Bakery is as convoluted as that of the French monarchy. (Which Louis was it, and he was related to the other 16, how ... ?). What's clear is this: There's no more highly regarded place in town to get your Francophile on. A morning spent on the pleasantly shady patio of the OCC storefront with a croissant aux amandes and a café au lait recalled sweet memories of Paris and Strasbourg for this Francophone, but the cute table number cards will instruct non-French-speaking diners on the proper way to order everything from a carafe of red to the legendary French onion soup. — CAS
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (1410 Jamboree Drive, 598-2473; 3770 Bloomington St., 622-8157; 2230 Southgate Road, 447-8810; redrobin.com)
Chipotle Mexican Grill (Multiple locations, chipotle.com)
Panera Bread (Multiple locations, panerabread.com)
Buffalo Wild Wings (7425 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9464; 2905 Geyser Drive, 219-1500; buffalowildwings.com)
Golden Corral (1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870; 5410 E. Woodmen Road, 260-9369; goldencorral.com)
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (7252 N. Academy Blvd., #120, 264-6400; fiveguys.com)
Jason's Deli (7455 N. Academy Blvd., 302-0234, jasonsdeli.com)
Starbucks (Multiple locations, starbucks.com)
Papa Murphy's (Multiple locations, papamurphys.com)
Souper Salad (3636 Citadel Drive, 597-6124; 808 Garden of the Gods Road, 277-0687; 1434 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 533-0614; soupersalad.com)
Red Lobster (4925 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9494; 3510 New Center Point, 596-9057; redlobster.com)
Jamba Juice (3730 Bloomington St., 574-8787; 1708 E. Woodmen Road, 598-1939; jambajuice.com)