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Best of Food and Drink: Vital Vittles


Best New Restaurant

Readers' Poll Winner
Mimi's Caf
7133 N. Academy Blvd., 590-1357

Who said you can't please everybody? Probably those "have-it-your-way" disappointed souls that have never supped at Mimi's, voted Best New Restaurant by Independent readers.

With spectacular dinner prices ranging from an incredible $5.95 to a still reasonable $13.95, Mimi's delights and surprises with the sheer variety and quality of its "home-cooked" meals. Uncle Freddy insists on traditional fare? Treat him to the Pot Roast or Liver and Onions. Nellie the Self-Proclaimed Foodie wants adventure? The Thai Roll-Ups with Peanut Sauce or Barbequed Chicken Salad entices. Kids can gorge themselves on roast beef au jus or select from the large children's menu, breakfast is served all day, and vegetarians can choose a decent meatless burger or wonderful Asian noodles. You can even toast Mimi -- supposedly a lost love of the owner's grandfather during his occupation of France during WWII -- with wine or a startling Blackened Voodoo beer.

So what's not to like? You can find Mimi's by tracing the line of toddling, sated diners laden with Styrofoam boxes of food too good to waste, in portions too great to finish, to their feasting place (just north of Woodmen Road). And if you know what's good for you, you won't leave without sighing over the warm Bread Pudding in Whiskey Sauce. --rs

Best Food Fantasy Made Real
Sencha's Literary Experience Dinners
331 S. Nevada Ave., 632-8287

You could taste the love. Forks moved slowly from plate to mouth. Eyes closed in blissful contemplation. Gentle sighs escaped our lips. So closely did our experience match what one could only fantasize from reading (or viewing on film) Like Water for Chocolate, the highly sensual, food-friendly novel by Laura Esquivel. As characters do in some of the more festive scenes, we sat in banquet fashion throughout the dining area of Sencha one mid-August evening, our dinner dates teasingly placed across the table, just out of reach. Perfect strangers sat at our sides, but they weren't strangers for long -- formalities have a way of disappearing once you witness someone groan in pleasure -- and a celebratory giddiness took over. What were we celebrating? Well, officially my husband and I were there to celebrate my birthday -- how else to justify a $60 per person bill? -- but on a collective level, we were celebrating life, creation. Staff members recited passages from the book and performed key scenes, drawing us through the novel and setting up the flavors to come. Chef Brent Beavers appeared to seductively read the recipes for each new dish -- five in all, served in sustained succession with five complementary wines. From the Tezcucanna-Style Chile served in conical, homemade tortillas, to Chiles in Walnut Sauce (with a pomegranate sauce, too), to Quail with Rose Petals to Champandango (must eat to believe) to Crme Fritters, each dish renewed our gratitude to the chef for bringing the book's recipes to life. Each dish was a momentary masterpiece made real on our tongues. --tp

Best Kept Secret
Fifteen C
15-C Bijou Street (in the alley behind Old Chicago), 635-8303

A simple, unadorned black door on the asphalt alley behind Old Chicago hides Fifteen C from the naked eye. But martini seekers have sniffed the place out and return again and again to enjoy the elegant furnishings, the huge, polished wood bar, the comfortable sofa, the gorgeous glasses, the friendly, quite atmosphere -- basically the best after-work beverage respite imaginable. Swank but relaxed, Fifteen C is the place to go if you want to actually have a conversation over drinks. Be careful -- you'll want to stay and stay. And hats off to the owners for honoring restaurant workers with a 20 percent discount on Monday nights. Small and hidden, Fifteen C is big on atmosphere and heart. --kce

Best Dang Reuben Sandwich Around
and Readers' Poll Winner for Best Neighborhood Bar
311 N. Tejon St., 228-6566

A Reuben is a Reuben is a Reuben ... or so many would have you believe. But if you've had a Reuben at Tony's, you know that is simply not true.

A Reuben at Tony's is an experience all its own, a sandwich extravaganza, an adventure in sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and grilled rye.

Due to its drippy ingredients, the Reuben can often be a soggy sandwich if not done just right. The key lies in the grilling of the bread, the order the ingredients are layered and timeliness in delivery to the table.

And Tony's has it down. The bread is grilled to a perfect golden brown. As a result, the corned beef, sauerkraut and tasty Thousand Island dressing sit, piled high, between two perfectly crisp, non-soggy pieces of bread, all held together with a piece of Swiss cheese.

If you are going to model yourself after a true Wisconsin bar, you'd better have a good Reuben in the house. Tony's displays its Cheesehead roots proudly. --sb

Best Fine Dining
Readers' Poll Winner
The Blue Star
1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086

Well, we all agree: The Blue Star just keeps getting better and better. Under that neon sign, a jagged star beckoning on South Tejon Street, is one of Colorado Springs' most exciting restaurants. And there's something for every mood. Sip a martini at the bar and watch the raucous activity around you. Grab an oversized booth for some wine and tapas. Or reserve a table in the art-filled dining room for a more elaborate meal.

Menu items change regularly. Innovation, experimentation and fresh seasonal ingredients result in some fabulous dishes -- like Venison with a Cranberry Cinnamon Sauce served with chipotle-seasoned whipped yams, or Coconut Seared Halibut. Not every dish is flawless, but everything is done with panache. --nh

Best Patio Dining

Readers' Poll Winner
Jos Muldoon's
222 N. Tejon St., 636-2311

Who says man is not a paradox? We live in as beautiful a natural setting as any city could wish; does the winner of best al fresco dining face westward, offering spectacular views of sunsets behind the mountains? 'Course not. Jos Muldoon's offers two outdoor options, but neither takes full advantage of our Front Range scenery. On the one hand, you've got the courtyard in the back, perfect for feeling enclosed and cozy while still enjoying some fresh air. And then, for those urban animals who wish remain in the thick of things, you've got the front patio, smack dab between Mountain Chalet, Chinook Bookshop and Terra Verde, the perfect lures for beautiful, healthy and intellectual specimens. Sit at one of Jose's sidewalk tables and watch the parade go by. The nachos and margaritas aren't bad either. --nh

Best German Restaurant

Readers' Poll Winner
Edelweiss Restaurant
34 E. Ramona Ave., 633-2220

Loosen up your Lederhosen, you'll need the extra room before you're done! From the first bite of a crusty roll slathered in sweet butter to the mouth-watering sweet and sour red cabbage sparked with caraway seeds, you won't be able to stop yourself. Will you have the meltingly tender roasted pork, the fork-tender sauerbraten, or a luscious, golden, crispy schnitzel? You could be swept away by juicy brats calling out for a German beer, or succumb to the siren song of spaetzle, or fall in love with the tangy, sassy sauerkraut. --mbp

Best Italian Restaurant
Readers' Poll Winner
Antonio's Italiano Ristorante
4475 Northpark Drive, 531-7177

Anyplace that has the Singing Sweethearts performing light opera and show tunes on Sunday nights is swell by me. Doesn't hurt any that the food is FAB-olicious, too. Plus it's not part of a national chain serving the exact same, exact same, exact same dish, down to the last molecule of too-sweet tomato sauce, from Portland, Maine to Portland, Ore. The people who own this restaurant actually live here, and as such deserve our loyalty and support. --mbp

Best Greasy Spoon

Readers' Poll Winner
The North End Diner
3005 N. Hancock Ave., 442-1833

Big ol' burgers dripping with onions and cheese or green chili? Got 'em. French fries fresh out of the frier? Got 'em. Breakfasts so big there isn't room for the omelet and the hash browns and the biscuits all on one plate? Got 'em. Biscuits that are a mile high and flaky as pie? Got 'em. Leatherette booths, fast-moving waitresses and homemade gravy? North End has got all of that, plus really separate smoking and non-smoking sections and the world's largest collection of salt and pepper shakers displayed on shelves along the walls. --mbp

Best Seafood Restaurant

Readers' Poll Winner
Red Lobster
4925 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9494

275 S. Academy Blvd., 591-0771

Folks, we're thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, and if you want something that was splashing about in the briny deep just moments ago, may I suggest a vacation to some coastal place? I love Red Lobster because I can get pretty good crab legs every year on my birthday, and they don't look at me funny when I consume embarrassing amounts. The kiddie meals are really good. Plus, there are those damn cheddar biscuits, which I cannot get enough of. --mbp

Most Colorful Lunch
Three Doors Down
26 E. Kiowa St., 477-9144

Just stepping off the sidewalk and through the door of this tiny eatery warms the spirit. Blue and yellow Provencal fabrics adorn the tables, exuding a sunny warmth on the grayest day. But colorful as the surroundings are, the dishes are even more festive. One patron, when served the special Phyllo Shrimp declared, "It's a party on a plate!" And it is. Five phyllo-wrapped shrimp are surrounded by a fruit salsa and adorned with macadamia nuts and crispy rice noodles. The result is sunny and bright, the trademark look of Three Doors Down. Or try the popular Thai Chicken, cooked in a sweet chili sauce to a saucy redness, then served on a bed of lettuce with caramelized almonds, red bell pepper, scallions and rice noodles. Save room for dessert -- a triple chocolate terrine swimming in gorgeous garnet raspberry sauce. -- kce

Best Chinese Buffet for People Who Don't Like Chinese Food
Super China Buffet
3835 N. Academy Blvd., 572-5730

This is the place of choice when you want Hot and Sour Soup but you've got a picky 3-year-old/mother-in-law/second cousin in tow who vows not to let so much as a single grain of fried rice pass his or her lips. Besides the usual Chinese fare, you can get salads, Jell-O, pizza, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, onion rings, french fries, and little bits of stuff wrapped in bacon and fried. They also have these crazy little corn fritters -- just golden-fried little puffs of dough loaded with corn ... plain old corn. They must spike them with some addictive chemical or magical potion, because it's impossible to walk by the steam table without several of them appearing on my plate. Stranger still, by the time I get back to the table, they have all disappeared. --mbp

Best Reason to Sacrifice a Banana
Readers' Poll winner for Best Thai Wild Ginger Thai Restaurant
3020-A W. Colorado Ave., 634-5025

While there is often little room for dessert once you've gorged yourself on dinner here (voted Best Thai restaurant by our readers), we recommend that you save room and order the fried banana.

Served hot, either drizzled in honey or topped with coconut or vanilla ice cream, the fried banana is a tasty and decadent treat that literally melts in your mouth.

The banana is not actually deep fried, like a piece of chicken from the Colonel would be. It's more like lightly sauted. Pan-fried. It is then cut in half lengthwise, and then crosswise, becoming a lovely quartered, sweet banana covered in one of the two tasty toppings. It is as tantalizing as it is intriguing. It's a naughty little dessert that you must now go try. --sb

Best Pecan Pie
3105 S. Academy Blvd., 390-3556

1747 S. 8th St., 471-8551

A rich, well-baked pecan pie should have a flaky crust, not over-browned, filled with a rich, sugary, caramel-brown essence of sweetness that ought to contain just a whisper of a hint of bourbon. The pecans may be halved or chopped (not too finely), with the underlying pecans having picked up just a hint of softness from the filling while the nuts on top stay crunchy in contrast. Rule No. 1 of pecan-pie hunting: Just go to Coozan's. --mbp

Best Sushi

Readers' Poll Winner
Jun Japanese Restaurant
1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368

The delicate, sweet, silken flesh of very recently departed sea creatures reclines across a tiny hidden treasure of wasabi, supported by a staunch and sticky mound of rice. Perfect bite after perfect bite. For dinner and a show, sit at the tiny sushi bar and watch the sushi chef deftly create his masterpieces, wielding large, gleaming silver knives with the same ease and dexterity your grandma uses with her knitting needles, although no sweater ever tasted this good. --mbp

Best Blueberry Shake
BJ's Velvet Freeze Drive-In
1511 N. Union Blvd., 633-6365

You want none of that artificially sweetened, chemically enhanced color that leaves your mouth blue. All you're looking for is honest to goodness blueberries and vanilla ice ream, so nobody will ever know that that's what you had for lunch.

Where can you indulge in such a sumptuous treat? We're not telling.

Just kidding.

BJ's Velvet Freeze is home to a myriad of interesting shake flavors, but the blueberry shake is the true standout. The flavor is subtle, yet ever-present, as are the little chunks of blueberries that accompany every sip. Luckily they give you a nice fat straw. --sb

Best Sunday Brunch Buffet

Readers' Poll Winner
The Broadmoor
1 Lake Circle, 577-5733

It's elegant. It's posh. It's out of your price range. So what? Live a little. Have Sunday brunch at the Broadmoor. It's hands-down the best around, and the food's just part of it.

Held in the Lake Terrace Dining Room with its vast windows facing westward, Sunday brunch features as much finery and frippery as food. Ice sculptures tower above food-strewn tables. Live classical music on the piano blends with the clink of silver and crystal. Make sure you're at least as well dressed as the furniture -- garden chairs covered in flowered fabric, crisp linen on the tables -- then throw caution to the wind and tackle that buffet.

More than 70 items are offered including prime rib, seafood, omelets made-to-order by be-toqued chefs, pts, cheeses, Belgian waffles, blintzes, bagels and lox, fresh fruit and a wide-ranging dessert selection (try the Bananas Foster). One is tempted to stay all day but in true Broadmoor fashion, your empty plate will be whisked away, a check subtly replacing it; you'll notice impeccably trained staff standing in the wings waiting to clear and reset for the next seating. It's food as grand theater. It's a hit. Don't miss it. --nh

Best Barbecue

Readers' Poll Winner
Red Hot & Blue Memphis Pit Bar-B-Que
4290 N. Academy Blvd., 592-0300

Poem to the pig:

I love your mighty greasy ribs
On the crusty bits I always call dibs.
When the waitress asks me "Wet or dry?"
I think I want both, that is no lie.
With coleslaw nestled by your side
Over my lips you seem to glide.
The other barbecued meats are great
And I'll lick the hot sauce off my plate.
Glorious pig, you make me pine for the South.
Pass me some beans and I'll shut my mouth.


Best Place to Eat Under a Watchful Eye

Stagecoach Inn

702 Manitou Ave., 685-9400

The Stagecoach Inn is a fine steakhouse, with good service and a very cozy, mountain cabinlike atmosphere and decor -- down to the knotty pine exterior, fireplace and trophy animal busts hanging high and proud on the wall. The whole scene provides a warm and intimate dining experience, not to mention that their slow-roasted buffalo is a stupendous dish.

But it is odd to savor such a fine piece of meat under the watchful eye of the large buffalo head that hangs above the fireplace. Try as you might not to make direct eye contact with the head, no matter where in the room you go, it seems to be staring you down.

The large buffalo bust is not the only one watching either. There are some deer, an elk and what looks like a jackalope as well.

But in a way, it is very humbling to see the life cycle in action -- makes you appreciate your food and its beginnings. And truth be told, if you are a connoisseur of fine animal busts, these are pretty nice. So if you are OK with being gawked at by the former incarnation of your meal, you can't beat the front room of the Stagecoach Inn, for both the atmosphere and the food. --sb

Best Selection of Specialty Coffee Drinks

Readers' Poll Winner
Pikes Perk
14 S. Tejon St., 635-1600

5965 N. Academy Blvd., 522-1432

Rivaling the big boy chains of the local coffee scene, Pikes Perk has frothed their way into our hearts. They've done so by serving good coffee and steadily growing their specialty drink selection to meet our espresso needs.

Sure, some of the more intricate and specialized drinks take a few extra minutes to prepare, but for those wanting the ultimate loaded buzz, nothing beats a white mocha, a chocolate cappuccino or a latte with a few shots of caramel, heaped high with whipped cream.

In total, the Perk, as it has come to be known, serves over 20 different coffee concoctions, iced or hot, no-caf, half-caf or fully loaded. With the additions of designer sodas, Granitas, Chai tea drinks and fruit smoothies, beverage choices run the gamut, offering something for everyone. Since Pikes Perk hit the scene three years ago they grow stronger with each latte served. -- sb

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