Robin Intemann

The interior design at La Bella Vita mirrors the food; it's a light touch rather than heavy handed. Absent are red-checkered tablecloths and wax-coated Chianti bottles. There is, however, a chef from the old country, and that matters more than the cliché décor associated with Italian restaurants. Our server provided a brief history of chef Giuliano Casulli, who is from Italy and prepares "Old World Italian" cuisine. To me, this does not necessarily mean thick, heavily sauced dishes. Based on the entrees we sampled, I'm in sync with the chef. The food was rich, well-seasoned and plentiful, without overwhelming the palate or the belly. We started with an order of carpaccio ($12.75).

Enchiladas and tacos and beans, oh my. At Señor Manuel's, they're nothing to fear, but neither are they the best renditions of standard Mexican cuisine - notwithstanding the restaurant's nearly 50-year presence in Colorado Springs. Perhaps it's the longevity that keeps the place hopping. A steady flow of families, couples and groups kept the staff busy the night of our visit. Several diners were on a first-name basis with many of the servers. Even though the service was very good, our sampling of menu items gave us no reason to establish relationships. The friendly hostess, our attentive server and well-made house margaritas bode well for the meal. So we thought. Then came the complimentary chips and salsa.

Dining

Despite the lack of a bayou, Springs Orleans in downtown Colorado Springs has all the trappings of Louisiana cuisine, right down to the beignets, catfish and gumbo. Our server said he can always tell who's from the Pelican State, not so much from their accents but from those who order the crawfish. "It seems a lot people are afraid to try crawfish," he said. I've tried it and wasn't frightened, but I do prefer shrimp. A small bowl of Cajun kettle chips was set on the table along with remoulade for dipping soon after we were seated. The chips had a spicy flavor, and the sauce provided a soothing equalizer. The menu offers a few appetizers, and we selected the calamari with creole marinara ($9) based on our server's

Old School Bakery has graduated from simply sweets and baked goods to an honors level menu. The food is prepared in the common kitchen for all Ivywild School eateries and bars. The range of offerings is what sets it apart from others in the building. Breakfast is served from 7 to 11 a.m. daily. The menu for lunch and dinner is the same. This makes it the perfect spot to enjoy appetizers, a full meal or late night nibbles. We took the entrée route. Four days a week, the casual dining restaurant offers a special. On Sundays, it's fried chicken ($11); Monday is mac and cheese ($10), then Taco Tuesday ($9) and Wednesday burgers, which change week to week ($9). Sundays are made for comfort food, so I went right for the chicken.

Dining

If an exceptional dining experience is like attending a rock-your-world concert where the food takes the spotlight, then the staff at Colorado Craft deserves a lot of credit as the backup singers providing perfect harmony. It's clear that servers at Colorado Craft are not simply told about the food. They taste it and know how it's made. Our server, Jen, deftly described the dishes in rich, mouth-watering detail. Asked her favorite dish, she pointed to the braised short rib ($26) without hesitation. Her enthusiasm for it was contagious; it felt like a disappointment was in store if we didn't order this entree. Thankfully, our trust in her was rewarded. The fork-tender, no-knife-needed, boneless beef is braised in cider, which

This is another in the series of 20 profiles of The Gazette's Best and Brightest Class of 2018. The positive influence of her kindergarten teacher is something Alexis Harris has carried throughout her school years; it's inspired her to pursue a degree in English and education when she attends the University of Colorado-Boulder in the fall. "My kindergarten teacher had such a passion for what she was doing," Harris said. "It made me fall in love with school." The same instructor also instilled an appetite for reading. "I've always been a big reader," Harris said. "I remember reading chapter books in the corner of the classroom. Reading is one of my passions.

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