911 N. Murray Blvd., 597-4727
Named after the city, Tlaquepaque is an 11-month-old Jaliscoan restaurant serving hallmarks of the Mexican state like torta ahogada ($8.50) and birria ($9.99). I'm no expert on the latter — a stew usually made with lamb or goat that's nearly the official food of Los Angeles — but this bowl, made with beef, red chilies and what tasted like half the spice rack, could cure cancer, let alone the hangovers it's known to quash. Arriving next to cilantro, onions and lime, the dish is dark red and deep, coating your mouth with silky, fragrant oil after you pull shreds of melting meat into some corn tortillas. My fiancée likened its punch to that of beef bourguignon.
Then there's the ahogada, an addicting "drowned" sandwich on a chewy roll that holds up to being drenched in a chile sauce, with a separate, stinging red sauce for an exclamation point on the side. Love the pickled red onions and lime against the crisp chunks of pork. — Bryce Crawford
1904 Southgate Road, 466-6111, larkburger.com
Larkburger is now up to 13 Colorado locations — the C-Springs one was the seventh when it arrived in 2012 — and we'll never not appreciate its eco-friendly efforts, such as the compostables and wind-energy buying. It could buy more local and sustainably raised beef, but the titular Larkburger ($6.50) remains pretty good, more gratifying on a lightly toasted bun than a gluten-free-friendly lettuce wrap.
Seeking further freshness, I order the Bibb and quinoa salad ($6.25), confusingly described on the menu as hosting "tomato quinoa" (never heard of it) and "house made chickpeas." (So, you grew them?) That aside, the quinoa quantity feels skimpy, as does the array of "sliced vegetables" (read: four thin radish slices and not much cucumber or grated carrot). Plus the house vinaigrette's pretty tame. Think I'll stick with the chopped kale salad and truffle burger next time — and hope for a wait of under 35 minutes at lunch. — Matthew Schniper
Monica's Taco Shop
30 E. Fillmore St., 473-1996
To experience both the joy of eating with the multitude, and the thrill of a jacked-up parking lot slammed to the gills, hit Monica's during lunchtime (before someone at Monica's hits you). It's then that you can revel in a dining room full of fake plants, pepper wallpaper and people taking a break from their construction jobs or hospital work.
A plate of two fish tacos ($7.63) brings some generic Spanish rice; awesome refried beans, creamy and deeply flavored; and a few long pieces of fish fried in a lightly sweet batter and then tucked underneath cabbage, some pico de gallo and a smear of cream sauce that tastes like tartar. The little curls of pork in the adobada torta ($5.05) are delicious, but the highlight is the bread, with its gleaming oblong dome, a bit crisper on the outside than inside. You could just eat that with some tangy red sauce, but there's guacamole and shredded lettuce, too. — Bryce Crawford