During summer’s peak travel season I get variations on the same question from friends and sometimes strangers that go something like this: “We’re driving south on I-25 to New Mexico. Is there any place to eat down there that’s worth getting off the interstate?”
I don’t blame them. I made the same assumptions about the cuisine “down there” until assignments from various magazines led me to some taste gems of very different sorts in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs and Pueblo. Great pizza, doughnuts, green chile, spätzle and hot malasadas make these destinations worthy diversions from the great concrete ribbon and the chain eateries nearby.
If you are looking for progressives in the Springs you’re most likely to run into them at this amazing block-long business that includes a cool toy store (with a large puppet selection) and a book and gift shop. The coffee bar and restaurant dishes reputable hand-tossed whole wheat pizza topped with a sauce of fresh tomatoes and local veggies. There are lots of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options and coconut cream pie. 324 1/2 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, 719-578-5549, poorrichardsdowntown.com
I like Amy’s Donuts because you choose the filling you want inside your doughnut. The shop has a ridiculous number of varieties on hand including German Chocolate, Apple Spice Cake, Almond Banana Caramel and my favorite, Zesty Lemon. Amy’s in the Springs serves the rarely seen malasadas — hot chewy Portuguese donuts, 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 2704 E. Fountain Blvd., Colorado Springs, 719-632-0512; 1303 S. Pueblo Blvd., Pueblo, 719-564-7592, amysdonuts.com.
The Corner Café
Pie transcends politics which is why you’ll see people of all belief systems at this straightforward breakfast and lunch café with a big plus — pies: Classic Banana Cream, Apple Raisin, Buttermilk Pecan and Sweet Bing Cherry pies and the very tall Lemon Meringue. Eat it Monday through Friday because the Café is shuttered on the weekend. 7 E. Vermijo Ave., Colorado Springs, 719-520-1843, cornercafecs.com.
Edleweiss German Restaurant
Sipping a smoked German beer in a two-liter glass boot on the patio of this unexpected Alpine oasis is an experience worth putting on your bucket list. Edeleweiss’ roster boats fine Wienerschnitzel and sauerbraten but I’d settle for a yeasted brötchen roll, a bowl of spätzle dumplings in Swiss cheese sauce and an apple strudel under a whipped cream crown. 34 E. Ramona Ave., Colorado Springs, 719-633-2220, edelweissrest.com.
If you are feeling more hipster than down-home you’ll be at ease at Stir, a coffee place set inside an old car garage with equally old furniture. The espresso drinks are first class and can be paired with well-made breakfast burritos, pastries and topnotch pie with house-made ice cream à la mode. 2330 N. Wasatch Ave., Colorado Springs, 719-418-6188, stircoffeeshop.com.
East Coast Pizza and Bakery
They had me at biscotti and pignoli cookies… but this non-fancy Italian-American joint also delivers big foldable slices of pizza and a bona fide eggplant Parmesan grinder — fully toasted, neatly sauced, loaded with melted mozzarella. 1638 W. U.S. Highway 50, Pueblo, 719-583-9000, eastcoastpizzapueblo.com
Gray’s Coors Tavern
A pilgrimage must be made to this historic watering hole for a cold one and a taste of Pueblo’s iconic comfort food classic invented here decades ago. The Slopper consists of two open-face cheeseburgers in an oval bowl inundated with pork green chile and topped with onions, grated cheese and/or saltines. Note: This is a hipster-free bar, not a brewpub concept. 515 W. Fourth St., Pueblo, 719-544-0455.
The Slopper may be an experience but the Bingo Burger is a culinary memory worth having. The signature dish mixes chopped Pueblo chilies with beef that’s griddled and topped with chopped red (ripe) green chilies and Springside cheddar cheese made in Wisconsin. 101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, 719-225-8363; 132 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, 719-418-6223, bingoburger.com.
Ruffrano’s Hell’s Kitchen Pizza
You don’t expect to find good, square Sicilian pizza in a resort destination like Manitou Springs but it’s the real deal. This shop is literally one man’s dream of bringing hardcore New York City pizza to town complete with tastefully Satanic decor. The hurtful Hellfire pizza is for adults, the mac & cheese pizza is for the kids. 9 Ruxton Ave., Manitou Springs, 719-685-4355; 1670 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., Colorado Springs, 719-576-4355, hellskitchenmanitou.com.
Local Food News
The Rayback Collective has opened at 2775 Valmont Road in Boulder with a craft brew garden, food trucks, outdoor games and live music. Among the regulars will be one of my favorites, Sancho’s Mexican, dishing 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. Nearby, the Ali Baba Grill is set to open at 3033 28th St. The small metro area restaurant group specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Taste of the Week
Sometimes a restaurant has been around for so long that it becomes part of the scenery. I hadn’t been into Falafel King, 1314 Pearl St., for a decade or more when I stopped in recently. The place and its antique tin ceiling hasn’t changed and luckily, neither has the food. The falafel fried to order is still perfect with fresh salad, whole wheat pita and sides of hummus and house eggplant. It remains one of downtown’s best healthy meal deals nearly 40 years after it opened. Falafel King pita, falafel and hummus are available at local supermarkets.
Words to Chew On
“Here’s to the java flowing like lava out of the coffee pot. Here’s to the eggs and bacon, here’s to the waffles unique, and here’s three rousing cheers for the best meal of the week!” — “Sunday Morning Breakfast Time” by Cole Porter
Read John’s blog at: johnlehndorff.wordpress.com. He hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org). Send e-mail to: email@example.com.