Best Of » Food, Drink & Nightlife

Best of Food and Drink: Vital Vittles


Best Caffeinated Beverage to Bring You Closer to God
Caveman Coffee's "The Nuke"
2438 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 442-2283

Active Ingredient: Caffeine
Dosage: No more than one "Nuke" in a 24-hour period.
Warnings: Do not exceed recommended dosage. This beverage may cause nervousness, dizziness and sleeplessness, but that's why you bought it, right? If you have high blood pressure, heart disease or a history of paranoia, do not drink this beverage.
Keep out of the reach of children. If you begin to fly, get the shakes, or believe that your boss is secretly trying to kill you, then discontinue use of this product immediately.
Having six shots of espresso in one cup is guaranteed to make those long hours spent preparing for tomorrow's big meeting zip on by. Don't say we didn't warn you. (WH)

Best Bottomless Cup of Coffee
The Waffle House
755 W. Fillmore St., 475-2726 395 S. 8th St., 633-5646

The Waffle Houses of this nation are exactly what an American diner should be. The tightly packed, Formica-plated booths lit by dim globes of incandescent light provide vagrants of all types with a safe place to get decent food at outrageously low prices. They're always open, and you can get every item on the menu any time of day. Their food is utterly acceptable, but all it really does is serve to frame a perpetual cup of strong, black coffee. This is the place to come if you're recovering from a bad day. No one will mess with you here, except to refill your cup and say, "Thanks, hon, come again!" And that's what makes it priceless. (WH)

Best Breakfast Indulgence
La Creperie
204 N. Tejon St., 632-0984

This could be dangerous. Crepes Suzette -- delicate, thin crepes soaked and cooked in orange liqueur, rolled up and festooned with whipped cream and crunchy, caramelized almonds. Too sweet? Try the crepes omelette -- an omelette stuffed with your favorite combination of fillings (choose from spinach, bacon, tomato, onion, crab and a large variety of others), topped with fresh-grated Swiss cheese, wrapped in a large crepe and smothered with La Creperie's excellent hollandaise sauce. All served atop crisp white linen tablecloths by nimble, polite waiters who will quietly refill your cup of French roast. It's the perfect Saturday or Sunday morning get-away-from-it-all. (KCE)

Best Breakfast Hangout
Old City Caf
2802 W. Colorado Ave., 575-9195

When this place was new, folks flocked to breakfast because of the early hours, the cozy, laid-back atmosphere and the decadent menu treats -- most notably, chocolate French toast with raspberry sauce. All those things are still good enough reasons to have breakfast at Old City Caf, but on the weekends go there to see and be seen. You'll likely run into your neighbors, an old boyfriend, your boss, your best friend. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the walls echo with conversation and the seats are continually warmed by the flood of customers who come here for good eats, to socialize and just to hang out with coffee and a newspaper. (KCE)

Best French Toast
Adam's Mountain Caf
110 Canon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430

Stepping onto the worn Persian rugs covering Adam's stone and wood floor, one is assailed by the scent of cinnamon and tea. It's everywhere, in everything, and it fills you like the smell of turkey on Thanksgiving. You almost don't need to eat after that, until your plate of whole wheat French toast arrives, perhaps with eggs and potatoes on the side, warm and filling. Drizzled with honey from the hand-glazed pot on your table and perhaps lightly dusted with powdered sugar, you have to eat these delights slowly, savoring every comforting, perfectly sweetened bite. Your storybook fantasy breakfast could not have found a better home. (KS)

Best Dessert
Readers' Poll Winner

122 N. Tejon St., 633-5089; 750 Citadel Drive East, 597-9932
Previous Best Of Awards: '94 '95 '96 '97 '98

The key word here is choice. You can have a frozen, chocolate-dipped banana on a stick. Or a variety of homemade ice creams, or the fantasmagorical creations constructed of ice cream. Or hand-dipped chocolates. Or sinful, chocolate-topped, creme-filled eclairs. Or a wedge of powerfully pepperminty fondant enrobed in chocolate. You can get fudge by the piece or by the pound. You can get pastries and cakes and pies and candies and a stomach ache, if you don't exercise a little restraint. (MBP)

Best Pancake to Shelter You in the Rain
Mountain Shadows
2223 W. Colorado Ave., 633-2122
3345 N. Academy Blvd., 573-0826

Pancakes at Mountain Shadows appeal to two sorts of people. First, there are the people who appreciate a good pancake, rib-sticking, golden-hued, crispy around the edges and delicately cakey and light in the middle, preferably with a large gob of butter melting fetchingly all over the top. Second, there are the folks who like food oddities, things like hamburgers with peanut butter, omelets the size of their heads, or pancakes large enough to shelter them from the rain. Pancakes from Mountain Shadows inevitably extend past the edges of the largest breakfast platters, and if you chose to forego the immense pleasure of eating your pancake, you could take it home, coat it with shellac and have quite a fine piece of headgear for rainy weather. (MBP)

Best Second-Story Eating
Jake and Telly's
2616 W. Colorado Ave., 633-0406

Any schmuck can eat a sandwich on the sidewalk. The trick is to get above the hustle and bustle of foot traffic, cars belching exhaust, careless pedestrians flicking cigarette butts and people whose large and drooly dogs want to investigate your leg, your lap or your lunch. Eating on the balcony at Jake and Telly's is a dream, because you can observe all the foot traffic without being bothered by it. You're sheltered from the sweltering sun by the leafy, green branches of the trees, and you can be serenaded by retiring songbirds as the sun sets. It doesn't hurt any that the food is good, either. (MBP)

Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
Poor Richard's Restaurant
324.5 N. Tejon St., 632-7721
Oh, come on, like anybody else even comes close. It's got food that kids love and that you don't have to feel guilty about feeding to them, plus there's plenty of space for the kidlets to run around and expend some of that boundless energy. In addition, adults can find plenty to love on the menu without being limited to burgers and fries packaged with cheap plastic toys. (MBP)

Best Restaurant to Pop the Question
Readers' Poll Winner
Mona Lisa Gourmet Caf and Fondue

733 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0277

Ply your beloved with rich, warm, velvety smooth chocolate fondue, and how can she say no? The two of you sit together, dunking chunks of banana, angel food cake and fresh strawberries into chocolate, feeding each other, staring into each other's eyes. Just be careful how you aim that long-handled fork -- poking someone's eye with a sharp object isn't very romantic. And be aware: the atmosphere is quaint and cozy, but the intimate ambiance means the restaurant isn't very big (at least for now; we hear they're expanding). Call well in advance for a reservation, especially if you want to be all sentimental and pop the question on Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve. (MBP)

Best Beer and Pizza Combo
Il Vicino
11 S. Tejon St., 475-9224

Beer and pizza, pizza and beer, you make me so happy when you are near. But late at night, sometimes it's a plight to find a place to fulfill this taste. Oh but wait, what's this I hear? Il Vicino has great pizza and beer? A late-night special that starts at nine gets you a pint, a pizza in a cool place to dine. For six dollars and one penny, you get a cheese pizza and choice of ales from many. A bedtime snack or pre-bar appetizer, Il Vicino, you are the wiser. So if you're out late, on a date or carousing, check out this meal deal. It's almost arousing. (SB)

Best Fine Dining
Readers' Poll Winner
Primitivo Wine Bar

28 S. Tejon St., 473-4900

Chef John Broening is an artist in the kitchen. Pure and simple. (He's also a damn good book reviewer when he's got the time. Thanks, John.) And his tenure at downtown's Primitivo has made this, quite simply, the finest dining room in the city. John performs miracles with lamb, salmon and steaks. His salads are subtle, flavorful compositions. When in doubt, try the risotto -- chef's discretion for ingredients on any given day. Last week, the crab and fresh corn risotto was a sweet, creamy delight. And save room for dessert -- John's exotic confections satisfy the most craven sweet tooth. (KCE)

Best Portion-Size-to-Dining-Space Ratio
Voted Best Greasy Spoon by Indy readers
King's Chef Diner

110 E. Costilla St., 634-9135

Good things come in small packages. The King's Chef Diner, that little legendary purple castle of an eatery downtown on Costilla, is living proof. Most of us have bedrooms larger than the entire restaurant, kitchen and all. But never underestimate the power of a kitchen that is four feet square. This joint cranks out huge amounts of food, plates piled high and covering the entire surface. And it's goood. Spicy egg, toast, hashed brown and burger dishes. The best green chile money can buy. And did we mention cheap? Picnic tables out front and a patio in back have been added recently, thus increasing seating space and bringing the total dining capacity to about 24, assuming you're willing to share bench space. Warning: If you are an introverted claustrophobe, phone in your order and use the pick-up window. Otherwise, squeeze on into the King's Chef and eat large. (SB)

Best Suburban Family Trough
The Golden Corral Family Steakhouse
1970 Waynoka Road, 591-9870

If you've got the kind of family that can only be transported en masse in a five-door sport utility van, then you also need a place to take them all to dinner. Following the Super-Size mantra that has come to define suburban living in America, the Golden Corral is large enough to seat a hundred families of six. A massive buffet built around hearty portions of home-styled food, the Corral is also the only man-made object visible from space. Or at least, it might as well be. While the atmosphere and decor aren't as egalitarian as some other family restaurants, the large isles and "mondo" portions are sure to allow your family to whiz through dinner so you can all get home in time for Millionaire. Just don't expect a petite salmon fillet with barnaise. (WH)

Best Thai Food
Readers' Poll Winner
Wild Ginger Thai Restaurant

3020 W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025

See, mostly my relationship with eggplant has been tenuous at best. It's pretty in its natural state, but once I get it home I'm never sure what to do with it. So I don't have a great deal of confidence that other people know what to do with it either. What I'm trying to say is, I'm not prone to ordering eggplant in restaurants. Wild Ginger Thai changed all that, with their wildly delicious, garlicky, spicy eggplant. I'm a true eggplant convert, I am. Now if only I could get them to do something with Brussels sprouts. (MBP)

Best Meal for $1.25
2000 Wok
115 E. Fillmore St., 633-6900

Red, yellow, green, white, amber ... these are the colors of the incredibly crisp vegetables lucky enough to have found homes in the dishes served at 2000 Wok. The new restaurant opened early this year and has consistently created some of the tastiest Chinese and Vietnamese food in town. Everything on the menu is MSG-free, made in small portions throughout the day so it's never less than fresh. The staff works like a well-oiled machine, always has a smile for you, and genuinely appreciates your business. Best of all, every dish is under $1.25. Why in God's name would you go anywhere else? (KS)

Best New Restaurant
Readers' Poll Winner

331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287

Call Sencha the little tea shop that could. Their first year has been such a whopping success that owner Dorelle Raab-Peters and the gang are already in the process of doubling the size of the dining area. Lucky for us, regular service will not be interrupted by this slight adjustment. We can still indulge in the refreshing and inventive salads, the divine mushroom soup (see staff pick: Most Ethereal Mushroom Soup), and chef Brent Beavers' consistently excellent dinner entrees. Beavers invented what has become one of my all-time favorite dishes -- large, tender scallops sauted and served over crusty potato pancakes, swimming in a puddle of sweet/spicy yellow curry sauce. Sencha, we're really glad you're here. (KCE)

Best Down-home Eats
Kennedy's Kwik Inn
385 Main St., Security, 392-5063

Sitting in the red pleather booths, surrounded by the extremely diverse group of patrons that frequent the Kwik, you feel completely at home. It's a familiar, comforting feeling, like eating tomato soup or watching That '70s Show. Whether you're eating a patty melt, or a BLT, or chili, or one of 17 milkshake flavors, or even the Lo-Cal Delite -- a tomato stuffed with cottage cheese and pear slices -- you know you're welcome there, and that makes even liver and onions appealing. Sort of. (KS)

Best Restaurant for Herbivores
Readers' Poll Winner
Adam's Mountain Caf

110 Canon Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430
Previous Best Of Awards: '94 '95 '96 '97 '98

When I'm born again, make me a vegetarian and set me up at Adam's where healthy does not translate into boring. Pungent green chile, warm crusty polenta, creamy cheeses, a divine cream sherry sauce over tender, boiled and sliced new potatoes, spicy noodle dishes, tofu seasoned and sauted so well it's better than meat... Adam's successfully combines a warm, elegant dcor with inspired recipes, an attentive waitstaff and some of the finest vegetarian dining you'll find anywhere. Best of all, walk in and take a deep breath. The air smells like a cup of sparkling cinnamon tea with a tinge of ginger. (KCE)

Best Restaurant with a View
Readers' Poll Winner
The Sunbird

230 Point of the Pines Dr., 598-8990
Previous Best Of Awards: '99

Actually, the very best view from The Sunbird happens on those rare, slightly overcast Sunday mornings when a shroud of mist blankets the city. Then, when you go to The Sunbird for brunch and you stand by the window looking across the nebulous, dreamlike landscape, it's as if you're dining in the clouds. Of course, going in for a drink in the evening, sipping a martini while the lights of the city spring to life, isn't too bad either. (MBP)

Most Ethereal Mushroom Soup
331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287
When mushrooms die, they go to Sencha. They give up their very essence, the earthy, intense part of them that makes them a fungus, to the richness, the velvety smoothness, of the world's finest, richest and tastiest mushroom soup. When I die, bury me in a bowl of this mushroom soup, so it won't matter if heaven exists or not. (MBP)

Best Mexican Food
Readers' Poll Winner
Amanda's Fonda

1625 W. Uintah, 447-1950
3625 W. Colorado Ave., 227-1975
Previous Best Of Awards: '99

Get the tacos made of fish, it's really quite a scrumptious dish.
Or get the mol, if you wish. This is something else delish.
I would eat the tacos in a car. I would even travel very far.
I would eat the salsa here or there. I would eat it anywhere!
(My apologies to Dr. Seuss; my kids have knocked my brain cells loose). (MBP)

Most Refreshing Appetizer
Shrimp cocktail at La Unica
3317 W. Colorado Ave., 633-7499

This former Taco Bell on the West Side between Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs is now a warm, family eatery specializing in Sonoran cuisine -- Mexican food from the western coastal region with an emphasis on fish. The appetizer menu features some dishes you don't often see in Mexican restaurants, including the delicious Camaron Sonoranese -- jumbo shrimp and a sliver of jalapeo wrapped in bacon, all sauted together and served with La Unica's great spicy salsa, a dab of sour cream and guacamole. But the star of any meal at La Unica is the unique shrimp cocktail, served in a tall chilled glass with a fork and a spoon. It's almost like seviche in a glass -- chopped pieces of pink shrimp mingle with chunks of celery, red onion, cucumber and tomato, all swimming in a light tomato broth laden with fresh cilantro. A wedge of lime and a bottle of hot sauce on the side make this the perfect palate refresher. (KCE)

Best Margarita
Readers' Poll Winner
The Loop

965 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-9344
Previous Best Of Awards: '97 '98

Forget about martinis. They cycle in and out of style faster than bell-bottom jeans and ugly polyester. Some things are basic and classic, like white cotton T-shirts, black Converse high-top sneakers and comfortable underwear. Margaritas are like that. They don't have to be flashy to be good. They take the primal essence of the agave, a little lime juice, some orange liqueur, and BANGO! -- the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Plus you can get a margarita at The Loop big enough to soak your whole head in (or maybe your feet) depending on your mood. (MBP)

Best Camouflage for Eel
Fujiyama Japanese Restaurant's Caterpillar Roll
28 S. Tejon St., 630-1167

If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be eating eel on a regular basis, I would have raised an eyebrow and figured they were high. But Fujiyama presents its Caterpillar Roll so artistically and packages it so skillfully, I experience a shock of admiration every time I order it. Most striking is the scale of perfectly ripe avocado slices fanned along the "caterpillar's" back, giving testimony to the chef's enviable skill with a knife. At one end, two carrot spears jut out in the form of whiskers, and in between two salmon roe eggs balance on octopus suckers for eyes. A wide, flat tail of eel protrudes from the other end, making the effect almost dragon-like. I always stare, mesmerized, until my companions have eagerly pulled away their share, disfiguring the work of art just enough for me to take a breath and eat. (TP)

Best Breakfast and Best Omelette
Readers' Poll Winner
Omelette Parlor
900 E. Fillmore St., 633-7770
Previous Best Of Awards: '94 '95 '96 '98

When my family comes to visit, my sister's husband, Uncle Ted, sneaks out every morning before the hordes of sons and cousins have awakened, and lingers over coffee, pancakes and an omelette at Colorado Springs' perennial favorite breakfast joint, The Omelette Parlor. Now, when I take my three boys to the Omelette Parlor on a Saturday morning, tales of the size and volume of Uncle Ted's breakfasts grow and grow -- by now, legend has it, his morning retreat has grown into a breakfast so big it covers the entire table. That's what Omelette Parlor's all about -- lots of food, well-prepared and served quickly, but designed to be lingered over with the morning paper and a bottomless cup of coffee. (KCE)

Best Italian Restaurant
Readers' Poll Winner

947 S. Tejon St., 632-0700
Previous Best Of Awards:

'94 '95 '96 '97 '98 '99

There is only one reason a restaurant stays in business (and thrives) from 1958 to the present. That reason is consistency. Well, OK, the reason could be mob connections, or really cheap food, or free beer, or maybe even a magical enchantment that keeps people coming back for more. But I'm pretty sure that at Luigi's they've been cooking and serving really good, basic, fresh Italian food at reasonable prices throughout their years of existence. I'm practically positive there's no Pasta Fairy hiding behind the door whacking people on the head with a magic wand as they leave. Instead, they opt for quality, year after year after year after .... (MBP)

Best Chili Rellenos
La Carreta
35 Iowa St., 477-1157

No sooner have you begun feeling the effects of your first, and surprisingly powerful, margarita, than the steaming meal appears before you, clearly a gift from the loving hands that arranged it. The batter is so light, you can see, past a smattering of grated cheese, the deep green of fresh Poblano chilies. And when you slice your first bite, the perfectly mild Monterey Jack comes flooding out, mingling with the zesty red sauce that's envelopes two tidy piles of rice and beans. With some chips and delectable guacamole for ballast, your taste buds will be singing. (TP)

Best Restaurant for a Power Lunch
Readers' Poll Winner
The Ritz Grill

15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484

Walk into the Ritz Grill at noon on a week day and you'll notice heads cocked at cell phone angle in at least half the booths. The other half are leaning over their plates, nodding seriously at lunch partners over salads and burgers. In walks the mayor. In walks the former mayor. In walks the mayor's arch-enemy, scanning the non-smoking section for a friendly face. In walks a professional brown-noser, dressed to the nines, stopping to compliment the mayor on last week's decision to proclaim this official Dining Out Week in Colorado Springs. Schmoozing over lunch is a renowned national pasttime, and there's no better place to do it than The Ritz Grill. (KCE)

Best Neighborhood Bar
Readers' Poll Winner
Tony's Bar

311 N. Tejon St., 228-6566

Tony's was an institution practically the week it was born. Already it possessed that worn quality -- dark wood, flashy wall neons, vinyl seats just a little sticky with a residue of airborne grease from the grill. The place smells like a burger and fries. Add beer, lots of beer, bustling waiters and a couple of high-mounted TV's, and you've got downtown Colorado Springs' newest favorite watering hole -- a place where everybody knows your name and you just might forget it if you're not careful -- Tony's. (KCE)

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