Açaí Bowl at Cafe Velo
11550 Ridgeline Drive, #102, 772-6101, cafevelobikes.com
Think sorbet dressed to impress, in terms of texture and accoutrements. This Hawaii-popularized, high-antioxidant health treat starts with puréed frozen açaí and guarana berries, to which fresh sliced strawberries and bananas are added. Then comes crunch from granola and tasty hippie credibility from hemp seeds. (You won't get high.) It's easily breakfast or dessert. ($4.50 cup/$7.50 bowl)
Po Po Platter at Ivy's Chinese Cafe
11550 Ridgeline Drive, #120, 487-8088, ivyschinesecafe.com
It's the answer for the indecisive: a little bit of everything as a tasting platter, artfully displayed on a Lazy Susan complete with a Sterno-warmed, cast-iron grill for toasting at the table. The shrimp are lightly coconut-flake-battered; teriyaki beef and chicken skewers are moist and slightly sweet; wings and egg rolls are quite pleasing. And does anyone really need us to describe the ecstasy of crunching through a hot cheese wonton? ($5.75 a head, minimum two people)
Pepperoni Pizza at Joey's Pizza
1829 Briargate Blvd., 265-6922, joeysnypizza.net
Let's just say slices of pepperoni pizza from Joey's are so damn good — those wide, thin bites so fresh, so steaming hot with lava cheese and delicious grease from the 600-degree oven — we can barely believe it when they tell us the sauce, though modified to their own custom recipe, starts in a can. ($2.19 per slice/$15.03 per pie)
Shabu-Shabu at Jun Japanese Restaurant
1760 Dublin Blvd., 531-9368; 3276 Centennial Blvd., 227-8690;coloradoeats.com/jun
Jun is the only place in the city you can find shabu-shabu, commonly called "Japanese fondue." You take carpaccio-thin steak cuts of your choice and quickly boil them in dashi water (dried kelp and fermented tuna flake) with optional spicy sauce and miso paste enhancement. In goes cabbage, onions and other veggies, all of which is spooned out over rice or plonked in bright, house-made Ponzu, Yuzu or sesame dips. (New York strip/$39.50, filet/$47.50, Kobe filet /$89.50)
Tortas de Pierna at La Perla Tapatía
4737 N. Academy Blvd., 228-6006, laperlatapatiacs.com
The mouth-gasm commences as a chewy, grilled, hoagie-like telera roll relents quickly, revealing salsa fresca and tender shredded pork shoulder marinated to a divine heat in chipotle peppers, tomato sauce and garlic. There's smoke and a pleasant back-of-the-throat burn, moderated only by a little shredded lettuce and the cooling dairy elements of crema espesa (Mexican sour cream) and Monterey jack cheese. ($8.49)
Grilled Beef Ribs at Lemongrass Bistro
6840 N. Academy Blvd., 592-1391, restauranteur.com/lemongrassbistro
It's a beautiful plate, this one full of mounded rice in one corner, some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers in another, and a side of clear, thin, tangy lemon sauce in the middle. And completing the picture? Two long squares of deeply charred meat topped with little curls of scallions and floral juices. ($10.95)
Smoked Salmon Cakes at Margarita at PineCreek
7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, coloradoeats.com/margarita
Precious few items remain fixed on Margarita's ever-changing menu, but this is one that's earned its spot by popular demand. The salmon's rubbed with brown sugar, salt and pepper and hickory smoked on the stove-top. Insert a bed of spinach salad, caper cream cheese and either a horseradish crema or lemon-dill tarter sauce. And son, you're in happytown. ($10 on the lounge menu/$13 at brunch)
Beef Bourguignon at Marigold Café and Bakery
4605 Centennial Blvd., 599-4776, marigoldcoloradosprings.com
When it comes to hitting the venerable Marigold Café for a rich, dark-brown pool of slow-cooked, mashable beef cuts and deeply rich gravy, here's the best advice: Leave your grandma at home. One bite of this, and she'll only get depressed and stop cooking. ($20)
Grill-Your-Own Steak at O'Malley's Steak Pub
104 S. Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 488-0321, omalleys.biz
You're in the driver's seat on this one, so watch the grill — and no whining if your house-cut New York Strip or Rib Eye heads past your desired medium-rare into the well-done territory of shame. Choose between steak cuts ranging from 8 to 26 ounces; you can go bigger, too, paying an extra $1 for every ounce thereafter. Up to you on adding onion and/or garlic powder, salt, pepper, soy or Worcestershire sauce grill-side and A.1. at the table. Don't let us down. ($9.99 to $18.99 and beyond, includes salad bar and a baked potato)
Strawberry Chicken at Silver Pond Chinese
5670 N. Academy Blvd., 594-9343, bestsilverpondchinese.com
Yes it's unconventional, even borderline weird, but sweet pig is it delicious. You've got your poultry pieces, plus water chestnuts, zucchini strips and baby corn. But then along come halved and quartered strawberry wedges and a thick-textured, puréed strawberry-soy sauce. (Smack! Zonk! Insert other antiquated comic-book punch-sound here!) Surprisingly non-cloying, it's bucolic strawberry fields all the way. ($8.50 lunch/$12.95 dinner)
White Fish Volcano Nigiri at Sushi Rakkyo
9205 N. Union Blvd., 645-8754, sushirakkyo.com
Because you went for the all-you-can-eat dining option, you're attention is scattered all over the menu, understandably. But save gut real estate, breathe and focus for a moment on the White Fish Volcano nigiri. Toasted rice, red snapper and a creamy white sauce topped with minced cucumber, daikon and mango. Order it. Repeat until full. ($4.95 à la carte for two pieces/$14.95 lunch/$24.95 dinner, all-you-can-eat dining)
Butter Chicken at Taste of India
4820 Flintridge Drive, 598-3428, tasteofindiacoloradosprings.com
You'd swear the golden pool full of cubed chicken chunks, easily splitting into pink shreds, was 90-percent sweet cream. But ginger zings, then garlic sings, then yogurt and tomatoes vibrate with biting tang. Then you're taking another bite, then you're out of steaming, grilled naan to pile it onto, then you're out of room to eat, so you roll to the car. ($12.95)
Collard Greens at Three Delights Caribbean Grill
4747 Flintridge Drive, 599-5375, threedelights.com
Are there actually any collard greens in that giant mound? Oh yes, there they are — under all that pulled smoked turkey. It's like half-and-half, flesh and leaf. Forget that sad little ham hock your ancestors boiled their green beans with: There's like half a bird in this spectacular roughage. Gobble gobble! ($2.50 as a side)
Potato Fritters at Vietnamese Garden
7607 N. Union Blvd., 520-9299, vietnamesegarden.net
It's like Hanukkah's golden latkes went to Vietnam for a makeover. Rough-grated carrots and yams are battered in Vietnamese beer and gluten-free rice flour, then deep-fried crisp. Great, right? But it's what comes next that pushes it off the charts: fresh mint, basil and cilantro served with crisp lettuce leaves for wrapping, then dunking into a sweet house sauce. Epic. ($7.45)
Spend a little time in this section of town, and you'll hear someone raving about each of the places listed below.
8050 N. Academy Blvd., 266-6680, amandasfonda.com
Amanda's west side location is a longtime Indy Best Of winner, and the addition of a North Academy Boulevard location sees new ownership parlaying that popularity into an expansion strategy. The popular Tex-Mex menu now features some new additions, like the Chicken Ensenada.
Colorado Mountain Brewery
1110 Interquest Pkwy., 434-5750, cmbrew.com
The big news of 2012 for CMB was its expansion to a striking second location in the iconic former Van Briggle Pottery building southwest of downtown. The two locations sport slightly different menus, but at either you can't go wrong with the bison chili or a steak burger. And the house IPA always makes a wise brew choice.
Crave Real Burgers
7465 N. Academy Blvd., 264-7919, craverealburgers.com
Crave made Zagat's list of The Best Burgers in 25 Cities earlier this year, on the heels of earning a People's Choice award at the 2012 Denver Burger Battle and becoming a finalist at Las Vegas' World Food Championships. Now with a third location in Highlands Ranch (the original's in Castle Rock), it's a growing empire built upon enormous, unusual burgers, best enjoyed with sweet potato fries and an Amaretto shake.
La Rosa Southwestern Dining
25 State Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 368-7676
Pretty much all you need to know here is to order the carne adovada — it's the finest rendition of the slow-roasted pork dish we've ever eaten. New Mexico flavors and styles lend a much-more-unique-than-your-average-Tex-Mex feel to the small, quaint space. Do an organic tequila flight or down some caldillo with an agua fresca.
8810 N. Union Blvd., 282-0474
Lanna Thai taps into the fine-dining side of Thai cuisine, with sharp décor, attentive service and beautifully presented food. Start with the Tom Yum Goong soup, followed by the Pa-Nang Talay or Gang Ga-Rhee curry. And rest assured: Lanna Thai doesn't use MSG, and offers plenty of gluten-free options.
443 S. Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 481-1800, innatpalmerdivide.com
Chef Scarlett Farney recently took control of this dapper, lodge-set dining room with expansive mountain views. Her menu shines brightest at dinner with dishes like Colorado lamb or pork-loin chops and a duck-confit grilled cheese. Make sure to include the crab cakes during a lunch visit.
Pikes Peak Brewing Co.
1756 Lake Woodmoor Drive, Monument, 208-4098, pikespeakbrewing.com
Welcome home. Here's what's for dinner: a pretzel stick with an Elephant Rock IPA as an appetizer, followed by a meat-and-cheese platter enjoyed with a Devils Head Red. For dessert, the house-favorite pairing of the German chocolate stout cake with pecan-coconut-praline filling, made and enjoyed with the Summit House Stout. See you next time, perhaps at a special brewer's dinner.
R&R Coffee Café
11424 Black Forest Road, 494-8300, rnrcoffeecafe.com
Chef Carla Erick, roast master Ryan Wanner and crew just celebrated R&R's fifth anniversary at a new, expanded facility (across the street from the old location). Both the beans and bites are well-handled, from non-cloying espresso drinks to superior pastries. Totally worth a destination drive to Black Forest.
84 State Hwy. 105, Palmer Lake, 488-2007, speedtrapcafe.com
The Speedtrap's an awesome community spot for all three meals, happy hours and free live music nights. Suck down locally roasted coffee, local microbrews or snappy cocktails alongside creative plates like a buffalo bratwurst crêpe with caramelized onions and sharp cheddar. Also catch the buttermilk-flax Sunday waffles.
Trinity Brewing Company
1466 W. Garden of the Gods Road, 634-0029, trinitybrew.com
Beyond its own selection of highly rated, cutting-edge saisons (including both Bretta and lacto-fermented series), Trinity sports the finest, most expansive guest-tap selection in town. Recent expansions to the site have brought increased production capability, an 80-barrel cellar room and a big move to statewide distribution. In for a drink? Get the spicy chicken-and-bleu mac 'n cheese with a cask-aged Flo IPA.
Other featured eateries with North locations:
Arceo's Mexican Family Restaurant, 4608 Rusina Road, 264-0143, see here
Bird Dog BBQ, 1645 Briargate Pkwy., #243, 599-4655, see here
Borriello Brothers, 5490 Powers Center Point; 15910 Jackson Creek Pkwy., Monument; 3240 Centennial Blvd., 884-2020, see here
Drifter's Hamburgers, 1485 Jamboree Drive, 264-1512, see here
La Casita Mexican Grill, 3725 E. Woodmen Road, 536-0375, see here
Louie's Pizza, 2771 Briargate Blvd., 260-5555, see here