125 N. Spruce St., 329-0705, yourhoodz.com/phonthai
Pho-N-Thai, let's review: opened in early 2011, closed for a couple months in early 2012 when a Jeep drove through its front window, included in our 2013 "essential bites" guide, and still strong today thanks to great prices for big portions.
For lunch, to-go, I call in a spring roll ($2) and the combination drunken noodles ($7.95), no MSG, spicy. The fresh roll comes with a clear, vinegary fish sauce, as pungent to the tongue as it is to the nose; I crave a peanut dip. The wide rice noodles are broken into short, starchy strands that tangle around some thinner Pad Thai noodles, pockets of scrambled egg, a few overly tough prawns, and thin slivers of chewy chicken and beef. Restrained oyster sauce and ample wok's breath lead off, before chili heat builds but remains in balance, not overwhelming the overall flavor, which finishes with faint basil and green onion influence. Man, am I suddenly full. — Matthew Schniper
R&R Coffee Café
11424 Black Forest Road, 494-8300, rnrcoffeecafe.com
A year ago at this time, I'd taken an impactful media tour through the Black Forest Fire's hardest-hit areas, and days later watched neighbors console one another at R&R, the java spot where the community naturally congregates in good times, too. The atmosphere's cheerier today, as is my own mood after taking in the unique baked oatmeal ($5.75) with an Ethiopia Kaffa Forest pourover ($3.10).
Though it comes in a bowl, this oatmeal's actually presented in muffin form, bound by a little dairy and browned by maple syrup, brown sugar and the oven. Inside is chopped dried fruit, nuts and a not-so-secret ingredient of espresso; fresh fruit acts as a garnish, and brings your attention down to an underlying, airy puddle of steamed milk. Orange essence in the light-roasted bean matches beautifully; its cool backstory relates to the small Chiri Cooperative, located near coffee's believed birthplace. — Matthew Schniper
Colorado Mountain Brewery
600 S. 21st St., 466-8240, cmbrew.com
The menu description of passion fruit-habañero vinaigrette and mango salsa zeroes me in on CMB's pepita-crusted salmon salad ($13.95), which unfortunately disappoints in that way where what you get fails to mirror what you read. The dressing comes across with more of a generic honey-mustard flavor somehow, sans any heat, while the mixed greens are also overdressed with it. Though pretty and colorful, with nice jicama crunch and sun-dried tomato tartness, the salad never tastes like a cohesive sum of its parts, the sweet mango barely aiding the mostly flavorless fish.
Following suit, the chorizo and green chilies fail to really show up in the texturally tacky bison chili ($5.95/bowl), which suffers from an over-reliance on chili powder in the finish. The like-priced soup of the day, a lightly creamed and watery chicken vegetable, for the most part works, with a tortilla-soup-reminiscent construction. — Matthew Schniper