302 E. Platte Ave., 650-2495, cupcakegirls.co
The goal of a "vintage-inspired shabby chic cafe" has been surpassed at this overhauled former home of Bernie's Cakes. The whole outfit, from to-go packaging to decor, is as cute as ... well, a mini cupcake. And an alluring display of five daily minis commands attention, with the baked beauties stair-stepping up a pedestal, lofted inside wide margarita glasses with domed glass covers.
I double up on co-owner Andrea Fleischmann's favorite flavor, S'more Please, to complete a 1/2 mini dozen ($7.50), and it's quickly our favorite, too — the graham-cracker crumble a highlight under chocolate cake and marshmallow cream-cheese frosting. The Baileys edge to the Coffee Talk is awesome, and the Peppermint Ali channels a Thin Mint's essence. Though the white chocolate-cranberry butter cream on the 'Tis the Season is overly sweet, the pop of pomegranate seeds enlivens the otherwise simple Twig & Berries. — Matthew Schniper
Bambino's Italian Eatery
2849 E. Platte Ave., 630-8121, bambinositalian.com
Bambino's is the second-level central eatery on Platte Avenue that's been around forever —"34 years family owned & operated," says the sign out front, adding: "Monday & Tues. kids eat free." Though there's an "Italian feast" on Sunday and Wednesday nights as well, it being a Monday afternoon, we just went with the $7.95 lunch buffet.
Unfortunately, unless low price is your first priority, I can't recommend you do the same: The food is as nondescript as the wait staff are welcoming. Mostly the idea is pizza, cut into skinny triangles. There's a variety of the usual — plus interesting choices like a buffalo-sauce, ranch and jalapeño offering — but if you don't get it very fresh, the otherwise good crust quickly solidifies along with the generic sauce and greasy toppings. Other options include soup, salad, and pasta so overheated you can mash it with a fork. — Bryce Crawford
28 E. Rio Grande St., 328-1513, salsalatinas.com
Known as the El Taco Rey offshoot, an extension of Aguilar family cooking given a slight twist by son Danny, Salsa Latina is a weekday-only Mexican mecca. It's filled with loyals who've long since been trained to bring cash (cards not accepted) and who've apparently never grumbled about the enormous waste of foam to-go boxes and plastic utensils given to even sit-down diners.
It's probably because those folks are distracted by the delicious sauces that literally drown the mains, like the red chile over a pork tamale ($2.90) and green chile with soup-like body in the Mexican Gumbo ($5.75). Unlike others' tamales, there's nothing remotely dry about these, with moist masa meeting the red bath. The seafood-less gumbo is really rice, beans and chicken (or beef) swimming with stringy shredded cheese and chopped onions in the fantastic house green chile. I should have ordered corn chips ($1.45) for dipping. — Matthew Schniper