Where and what to eat in Colorado Springs

Marigold Cafe, Photo by Cameron Moix

Colorado Springs’ food scene is exploding, meaning there’s no shortage of exciting dining options to challenge and entertain the adventurous eater.

People across the nation are drawn to Colorado for the views, opportunities and culture, and the state’s second-largest city has each in spades, especially when it comes to food. The many military bases create a culture where soldiers go out into world and bring it back with them, leading to a diverse dining scene. To make it easier to dive in, we’ve divided the city into four quadrants.

NORTH
The city’s north end is a place of suburban neighborhoods, green parks and chain restaurants, but many independents flourish among the corporations.

Sushi is in abundance, with one of the oldest names in the area, Jun Japanese Restaurant (1760 Dublin Blvd., jun-japanese.com) holding court in a small strip mall at Dublin and Academy boulevards. Don’t be fooled by the low-key presentation: The restaurant routinely wins best sushi from the city’s newspapers, driven by quality rolls, generous portions and fun selections like shabu-shabu.

A comparably newer entrant on the scene, four-year-old Sushi Rakkyo (9205 N. Union Blvd.) takes a more upscale approach to fresh fish, with plate creations ranging from the delightfully prosaic (a teddy bear made from oranges) to the drool-worthy, like a whole fish sliced into fat, sumptuous pieces. Considering the rolls’ quality, Rakkyo’s all-you-can-eat options at lunch ($14.95) and dinner ($23.95) are some of the best values in existence. Shift gears a little and head west from Japan to Thailand and Lanna Thai (8810 N. Union Blvd., lannathaicosprings.eat24hours.com), where the tea is dark and sweet, the hot hot and MSG never touches the food.

But because man cannot live on Asian food alone, we offer three standouts to get down and dirty American-style. Back East Bar and Grill (9475 Briar Village Point #168, backeastbarandgrill.com) pumps out some of the best bar food in the city with an East Coast focus. Yes, this means beef on weck, that Buffalo classic of juicy sliced beef on a weck roll slathered in horseradish sauce. Joey’s Pizza (1843 Briargate Blvd., joeysnypizza.net) drops New York-style pizza like it’s steaming hot, with owner and Long Island native Joey Stasolla competing on FOX’s MasterChef when he isn’t pushing pies like the 24-inch Big Apple or a series of bake-at-home options under the Colorado-appropriate name Stone Your Own. Lastly, Crave Real Burgers (7465 N. Academy Blvd., craverealburgers.com) continues to gain recognition for its crazy burger creations — the Luther features bacon, cheddar, eggs, onions and a burger patty sandwiched between two glazed donuts — with the TODAY Show recently visiting the restaurant’s kitchens. Cowboy Star Restaurant & Butcher Shop (5198 N. Nevada Ave., #150, cowboystarcs.com) immediately marked itself as one of the city’s ritziest experiences when the steakhouse opened in summer 2015, and it’s hard to argue with steak tartare topped with quail egg or a 16-ounce Drummond Ranch T-bone.

The University Village Colorado shopping center provides a home for many standouts, including Over Easy (5262 N. Nevada Ave., overeasycolorado.com) and Hacienda Colorado (5246 N. Nevada Ave., haciendacolorado.com). The former offers locally sourced breakfast options and a Bloody Mary bar in a hip environment, while the latter plays like an On the Border on crack — a multi-level experience complete with crystal-filled firepits.

The Mexican food rolls on, with Salsa Brava (9420 Briar Village Point, salsabravacolorado.com), a statewide success story using “more than 2,000 pounds of fresh tomatoes weekly” in a restaurant that “invite[s] you to Eat Fresh and Live Well.” And no visit would be complete without a stop at Señor Manuel Mexican Cuisine (4660 N. Nevada Ave., 598-3033), a lively, 46-year-old stalwart of the Pikes Peak margarita scene.

 

EAST
Chef Pong Peanvanvanich has put Arharn Thai (3739 Bloomington St., arharnthai.net) on the map with imaginative plating, fresh ingredients and bright flavors that immediately set the hook. The Tod Mun fish cake brings lime flavors together with a sweet dip while the Choo Chee Pla combines a fried Rocky Mountain trout with coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar and fresh basil.

And since nothing beats phở (pronounced “fuh”) puns, meet Pho-nomenal (5825 Stetson Hills Blvd., #100, phonomenalrestaurant.com), a restaurant whose restrained, Apple Store-like interior wonderfully contrast with its playful name. Find fabulous renditions of the Vietnamese soups on a menu sensitive to the needs of the gluten-free.

Visit a downtown classic at its second location by hitting Jose Muldoon’s (josemuldoons.com) at its 5710 S. Carefree Circle address. The Colorado Springs staple has been kicking out Mexican food for almost 40 years, recently opening a flourishing satellite on the city’s east side. Bird Dog BBQ (5984 Stetson Hills Blvd., #200, birddogbbq.com) is another local classic with multiple locations, but each makes a strong case for the ‘cue coming from its oak-filled pits. Bird Dog “combines authentic Oklahoma BBQ tradition with clean, efficient, modern facilities that appeal to a broader, more urban market,” the restaurant says on its website.

The Wobbly Olive (3317 Cinema Point, wobblyolive.com) is a must-stop for lovers of creative cocktails and inventive food, creating a transportive experience at odds with its busy Powers Boulevard location. Meanwhile, Tucanos Brazilian Grill (3294 Cinema Point, tucanos.com) is a must for gluttons of meat-based punishment. The churrascaria specializes in all-you-can-eat skewers of top sirloin, garlic Parmesan beef, bacon-wrapped turkey, sugar-glazed ham and more. Here, the meal’s not over when you’re full — it’s over when you hate yourself.

Work it off at BooDad’s Beach House Grill (5910 Omaha Blvd., boodadsbeachhouse.com), a food and drink stop every bit as tropically minded as it sounds. Sand pits out back host regular volleyball tournaments, while the kitchen kicks out Bayou classics, even flying in Lousiana crawfish for the occasional boil.

Change it up with a visit to Schnitzel Fritz (4037 Tutt Blvd., schnitzelfritz.com), a 10-year-old German restaurant, deli and bakery on the city’s northeast side and frequent winner of best German restaurant by local media. And since home is where the heart is, find your heart at Sandy’s Restaurant (6940 Space Village Ave., 651-0596), a converted house near Peterson Air Force Base specializing in home cooking like cinnamon rolls, corned-beef hash and biscuits and gravy.

The Blue Star

The Blue Star, by Cameron Moix

SOUTH
The city’s central and downtown core contain a concentrated level of talent. Walking down Tejon Street is a bit like a live greatest-hits experience, so we’ll fit in as much as possible.

There’s a variety of ways to attack the scene. For instance, you could do it in ownership groups. Serial restaurateur Joseph Coleman offers a host of interesting experiences, like mahi-mahi tacos at La’au’s Taco Shop (830 N. Tejon St., #110, laaustacoshop.com); great happy hours and creative cuisine at Nosh (121 S. Tejon St., #100, nosh121.com); a deep wine list and award-winning fine dining at The Blue Star (1645 S. Tejon St., thebluestar.net); and cutting-edge coffee and cocktails across the street at The Principal’s Office (1604 S. Cascade Ave., poativywild.com) inside Ivywild School.

Or take Joe Campana, whose underground hit — literally: the entrance is subterranean — The Rabbit Hole (101 N. Tejon St., rabbitholedinner.com) elevated downtown’s late-night food scene, before he moved on to beer and arcade games at SuperNova (111 E. Boulder St., supernovabar.com). Campana’s new restaurant Bonny and Read (101 N. Tejon St.) promises big things with oyster happy hours and towers of seafood.

The Famous Steakhouse

The Famous Steakhouse, by Cameron Moix

Across the street is The Famous Steak House (31 N. Tejon St., thefamoussteakhouse.net), the home of old-school cocktails, thick steaks and a leather-clad, live-piano ambience inspired by Chicago power spots. Exit your three-martini dinner and head for craft coffee and beer at The Wild Goose Meeting House (401 N. Tejon St., wildgoosemeetinghouse.com) or green-chili heaven at King’s Chef Diner, which does early morning and late-night business from either a slammed corner spot (13 E. Bijou St., kingschefdiner.com) or from an iconic, 1950s-era building shaped like a purple castle (110 E. Costilla St.).

A venerable classic known for fine dining and local art, The Warehouse (25 W. Cimmaron St., thewarehouserestaurant) was recently rebooted under chef James Africano and now features top-shelf bison steaks and a host of small plates and local beers.

Depending on what you’re in the mood for, burger up at Bingo Burger (132 N. Tejon St., bingoburger.com), Skirted Heifer (204 N. Tejon St., skirtedheifer.com) or The Green Line Grill (230½ Pueblo Ave., greenlinegrill.com). Colorado meats and organic ketchup: Bingo Burger. Rolls baked feet away and a “skirt” of grilled cheese: Skirted Heifer. Perfect, juicy, Oklahoma-style onion burgers: Green Line.

Inspired by the kind of intriguingly inaccessible culture popularized in Portland, Shuga’s (702 N. Cascade Ave., shugas.com) is a sexy place full of crane origami, PBRs and a breathtaking spicy coconut shrimp soup. Rasta Pasta (405 N. Tejon St., rastapastacs.com) swings its cultural cache toward the Caribbean with jerk-chicken pasta, curry dipping sauces and surprising fruit accoutrements. And with Colorado Springs flush with post-Katrina transplants, no visit downtown would be complete without beignets and a café au lait at Springs Orleans (123 E. Pikes Peak Ave., springsorleans.com).

Do it different at Seeds Community Cafe (109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., seedscommunitycafe.org), where the food is organic, the cost pay-as-you-can and the benefits rolled right back out to the community. Coquette’s Bistro and Bakery (321 N. Tejon St., coquettesbistroandbakery.com) also offers a targeted experience, but this time to those in need of modern cuisine that’s 100 percent free of gluten.

Lastly, we would be remiss not to mention some of the best dining in the city: the restaurants at The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com/restaurants). Summit offers upscale bistro cuisine and brilliant drinks in a modern atmosphere, while Ristorante del Lago, also designed by Adam D. Tihany, offers a Lake Como-like view and Italian dining. The Golden Bee includes a real English bar from the 19th century, while The Penrose Room is the most exclusive table in the city.

WEST
The area west of Interstate 25 is likewise crammed with local eateries, but the standout has to be Brother Luck Street Eats (1005 W. Colorado Ave., chefbrotherluck.com), with owner Brother Luck and his executive chef Mark Henry kicking out the most innovative cuisine in the city, pairing that with dual appearances on the Food Network.

Margiold Cafe & Bakery (4605 Centennial Blvd., marigoldcoloradosprings.com) is home to gourmet French baking and cooking, while Paravacini’s Italian Bistro (2802 W. Colorado Ave., paravicinis.com) offers a taste of the old world. Jake and Telly’s Greek Taverna (2616 W. Colorado Ave.,jakeandtellys.com) boasts a deep menu, a shout of “Opa!” with every shot of ouzo, and one of the best patios in Old Colorado City.

Speaking of the best, professional maitre’d Carlos Echeandia and his Carlos’ Bistro (1025 S. 21st St., carlosbistrocos.com) routinely land on national lists for the best fine dining; and also in fine dining, The Pepper Tree (888 W. Moreno Ave., peppertreecs.com) offers Steak Diane and tableside Bananas Foster. You’ll also find incredible food like doro wat at the much simpler Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant (2501 W. Colorado Ave., #105, uchennaalive.com).

If simple is the name of the game, The Mason Jar (2925 W. Colorado Ave., masonjarcolorado.com) has been kicking out comfort food like chicken-fried steak since 1982. You can also head to Cy’s Drive In (1833 W. Uintah St., 630-7008), which has been dishing burgers at the corner of Uintah and 19th streets since 1953. And you can’t beat the combination of white-cheddar queso and a creekside view at Amanda’s Fonda (8050 N. Academy Blvd., amandasfonda.com).

Dave Brackett and chef Jay Gust have turned the power duo of Pizzeria Rustica (2527 W. Colorado Ave., pizzeriarustica.com) — a sustainability focused gourmet pizzeria — and TAPAteria (2607 W. Colorado Ave., tapateria.com) — a Spanish wine and tapas bar — into must-visits on the west side.

Adams Mountain Cafe

Adam’s Mountain Cafe, by Blue Fox Photography

There’s even more fantastic eating in Manitou Springs. Adam’s Mountain Cafe (26 Manitou Ave., adamsmountain.com) is like eating heavenly food at your hippy organic aunt’s house; while Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant (733 Manitou Ave., monalisafondue.com) has been a romantic destination for decades. The Loop (965 Manitou Ave., theloopatmanitou.com) drops huge margaritas; the Keg Lounge (730 Manitou Ave., 685-9531), famous buffalo burgers; and Swirl Wine Bar (717 Manitou Ave., #102, swirlismybar.com), impeccable appetizers and a deep wine selection.