Heart of Jerusalem
718 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1325, i75775.wix.com/hojcafe
HOJ wasn't our original destination — our first choice couldn't serve food because of an electricity-connection agreement with the building next door that had somehow left them without power. So we headed for the corner stalwart, one of two locations owned by Hussein Abukhdeir. The pleasant restaurant features beautiful hanging lights and a casual atmosphere set off by impeccable service.
I think we got yesterday's shawarma, though, as the pita wrapping our Beefofel ($7.99, a combination of beef and lamb) had a crust so hard you heard it when it broke, and the shavings of meat reminded me of calcified bacon. The Veggie Plate ($8.99) was better, with a creamy hummus flecked with cooked garbanzo beans and really incredible heart-shaped falafel, delicious and rich with a nutty crunch. Finish it off with a thumb-sized bit of baklava (99 cents) oozing honey and cinnamon. — BC
1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., 527-0171, thefrontcs.com
On Dec. 1, The Front, that strip-mall Italian joint near Tinseltown, switched ownership from the Pignatiello family to Travis and Jessalyn Lawley. The menu remains mostly the same, though some classics have been added. You can still expect pizza, pasta and a gorgeous hidden dining room, full of dark wood and French press coffee, that remains one of the city's best-kept secrets. (I mean that literally: You enter into what looks like a Domino's and go through an unmarked door into some impressive ambiance.)
For simple to-go, grab the Colorado Sweet & Heat ($15/large), a pie peppered with sweet Italian sausage from Sara's Sausage in Palmer Lake, and a heavy smattering of roasted green chilis. The topping balance is off, leading to the feeling that you're eating cheese enchiladas or something, but the flavors are killer and you can't argue with the chewy dough. — BC
821 Cheyenne Meadows Road, 540-8288, thaisataycs.com
Since he opened in 2011, I've encouraged Thai Satay owner Gary Sanova to expand his Indonesian offerings (reflective of his birthplace) since he's the only guy in town with any at all, to my knowledge. On a recent visit, he insisted customers were "afraid" to try those new-to-them plates, that they just don't sell. So, sadly, we have only ourselves to blame, C-Springs.
Nonetheless, Sanova's forged ahead with some menu updates. His spicy shrimp coconut noodles soup ($8.90) launches out of a vegetable stock and coconut milk base enhanced with shrimp paste. Next comes a flavoring array to include lemongrass, galangal and typical Thai spices, saturating thick rice noodles, zucchini, green onions and plump prawns. Trying to burn out a stubborn cold, I ask Sanova to increase the Thai chili load to a Thai-hot level. He obliges. Even my feet sweat at the table, and many a Kleenex dies at my hand. All is well in that moment. — MS