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

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