I've been working in Fort Collins lately, and there are over fifty restaurants within a three-block radius of my office. So, I decided to try them all, and then figure out which ones are the bests. here are some places I'd make the 60-mile trek up from Denver just for a meal:

Brother Mel's Southern Style B.B.Q.
It's in the *back* of a mostly-abandoned strip mall, which gives it an odd, death-mall feeling. It doesn't help that it's usually empty and looks as of the boots and kitchen have been borrowed from some earlier closed restaurant. But if it's quick fast-food style BBQ that you want, you could do worse. Solid 'Q using good meat, though the sauce is the runny Kansas-City style vinegar-based stuff. There are some fun details: aluminum can sodas in paper cups, and fresh sweet potato pie, black eyed peas, and candied yams. I wouldn't hit Mel's for dinner, but if you want a quick lunch, there won't be a line. 4 out of 10

Hog Wild BBQ
Ah, now *this* is more like it. There an honest-to-god smoker out in the front parking lot, and the place is full of dirt-stained good ol' boys taking a lunch break. Again, you have to add the sauce yourself, but it's a sweeter thicker blend that went well with the fresh brisket and bitchin' hot links. Too bad the potato salad, runny "cowboy" beans, and pecan pie were nothing special. Plus, it's tucked away across from the strip club, or I'd eat there more often. 6 out of 10

I'd given up on Italian food. The bland Olive Garden sameness has even affected the mom 'n' pop places near where I live in North Denver. Why does *everyone* have to have the same ten items on their menu? C'mon guys, there has to be traditional Italian dishes I haven't tried. I guess it's my own fault... I always order the lasagna anyway. It's how I judge an Italian restaurant. And it's good here, but what sets this place apart is the details: the interior is funky and memorable, with personalized wine bottles hanging from the roof. The bread came right away, and was fresh and hot wrapped in a cloh napkin accompanied by basil butter... a nice and surprising touch. I could fault them for being *too* authentic - the lasagna was a little too spicy from sausage and the spumoni had a real licorice tang - but I'm just impressed this place is so unique. 9 out of 10

A candy store, not really a place to eat lunch, but what the hey. They've got tables, though I've never seen anyone use them. So why does this place feel so stuffy? The truffles are a bit pricey, but the ice cream is first rate and they do some things other candy stones don't, like cashew brittle. With the faded posters on the wall, it looks like a chain that never caught on. It feels like a place I'd bring my mom... in about 1974. 4 out of 10

Starry Night coffeehouse
They have lunch, which is surprising for a coffee bar. Even more shocking is that it's pretty good. A ham and *apple* sandwich with curry spread... when's the last time you had that? The chicken salad was mediocre, but if you want a sweet gooey latte with your sandwich, it's better than Starbucks. 8 out of 10

Fiona's European delicatessen
It's a sandwich place. The only thing interesting is the odd menu that gives cutesy names for each item, and the fact that the sandwiches are HUGE. The bland chicken salad on white bread definitely isn't the selling point. Not sure how this place stays in business, unless it's sales of all the other weird gourmet item that makes this place feel like a grocery store. 4 out of 10

Starbucks Coffee
It's a Starbucks, and not even a really good one. The really good Starbucks have toffee bars and snickerdoodles and comfy chairs. This one just has an expensive location on a busy corner. I should go to Starry Night instead, but when I'm really in the mood for a mocha latte, I find myself here. And I don't know why. 2 out of 10

Ben & Jerry's ice cream
It's a Ben & Jerry's. Whenever I go there, I keep thinking, "You know, for the same amount of money, I could have bought a full pint at the store." There's nothing special here, but they have fresh chocolate-chip cookies that I buy sometimes. When the smell of the freshly-baked cones drifts into my workplace nearby, I just *gotta* go buy something. 3 out of 10

Mary's Mountain Cookies
Can a place really survive just by selling cookies? I hope so, because these are pretty good cookies. Best of all, they're only 94 cents... a buck after tax. There's something beautiful and pure about buying something for exactly one dollar. There's a pizza joint in Boulder, Colorado called "Fatty J's" that has a-buck-a-slice. When it's crowded, just throw a dollar on the counter, grab a pepperoni, and walk away. Unfortunately, Mary's isn't that busy. The unoccupied sofas in the corner suggest an unthought-through business plan where people would lounge around eating cookies. In this economy, I hope this place survives. 5 out of 10

Walrus ice cream
This place is well-loved by locals, though the ice cream doesn't deserve it. Instead it thrives on being quirky, from the stuffed walruses (walri?) you can buy, to the "joke" flavors of ice cream you can buy made out of jalapenos or spam (really!) My favorite detail is the chocolate-dipped PINEcone hanging over the register. The ice cream is merely ok, but the place must be a blast to work at. 6 out of 10

It's a Subway. They're all alike, down to the yellow booths and the odd wallpaper. At what Home Depot from hell do they buy that stuff? They must order it by the truckload. I haven't been impressed by the new honey-Dijon-southwest-teriyaki selections or the new choice of bread. But occasionally, I'll get a craving for some fake seafood on a doughy bun. Remember when Subway had *two* kinds of seafood rolls to choose from, with the lobster more expensive than the crab? Well, now they're down to just a generic "seafood", and I hate to think which part of the fish this came off of. 1 out of 10.

There's a sub shop in Minneapolis that I think about when I'm hungry called "Big 10". It was perfect. A video game room in back, and on Tuesday nights, quarter pitchers. On that night, all your friends would be there. Underaged drinkers could sneak in past the video games. They were local, but had a little mini-chain set up all over campus. And the subs! Heaping pastrami, ham, or whatever. Lots (ok, *too* much) of lettuce, and Italian dressing that made your hands stink. Quizno's has the toasting part down, but everything else about the place is bland. But when I'm homesick for a Big 10 sub, I'll hit them over Subway any day. 3 out of 10

Taipan chinese
It would be yet another non-descript Chinese restaurant with expensive lunches and slow service, except for one item on their menu: Red pepper chicken with crispy spinach. How do they do it? The spinach comes out slightly greasy and transparant, like a potato chip. Combined with the mediocre chicken, it turns into heaven. I think it's freeze-dried, but my boyfriend thinks it's flash-fried. Whatever it is, it's wonderful. 10 out of 10

Rio Grande
I'm not a big fan of Mexican food, but this is one of my favorite places when I have to eat that kind of stuff. Mainly because they have KILLER margaritas. I was told by bartender (on the "qt") that they were made with everclear. I don't know if that's true, but there *is* a 2 per person limit, although sometimes the waitron won't enforce that rule. If you get lucky/ unlucky on that score, you can get *really* blitzed at this restaurant. 3 out of 10

Taco Johns
It's strange to have an attachment to a bad fast food place, but a have a soft spot for White Castle, Dairy Queen, and Taco Johns. Their Mexican food is just like Taco Bell's, but they have something the "Smell" doesn't: the "apple grande". It's merely a tortilla covered in pre-packaged apple spread and some strange red cinnamon powder, but it's a perfect end to the meal. While the "other place" flounders around with bad flavorless "churitto" "desserts", I can always go see John for a sweet fix. That is, if I can find one - they're all almost out of business. 4 out of 10

Suehiro Japanese restaurant
My boss loves this place. But surely he's well-traveled enough to recognize bad sushi served in a basement. I was a little put off by the cramped tables and the limited choices on the lunch menu. This place always wins the Best of Fort Collins, and that's really embarrassing if this is the best this cowtown can do. I have higher hopes for Sushi Jeju, opening soon. 5 out of 10

Silver Grill cafe
This place is *always* packed. And that's a tough thing to do in this economy. I don't know why: it's a standard diner, with bored waitresses and blue plate specials. Maybe the locals like it because it's familiar and comforting. Or, maybe it's because they do everything so right: the price was good, the variety on the menu outstanding, and the food was hot. Sometimes, that's all you can ask for. 6 out of 10

Spoons soup & salad
I don't know why this place works. It's merely overpriced soup served in a crowded setting. However, I find myself coming back regularly, and even subscribe to the daily email newsletter. I think what helps is that there are at least eight different soups each day, and three salads, and they change all the time. This can be a problem, when I have a soup in mind (like the excellent beer cheese, or potato chowder) and that variety doesn't appear for a week. I don't usually go back until I get the email that it's "on" for that day, but the important thing is that I always eventually come back. 9 out of 10

Lucky Joe's
Here's something I hate: bars that want to be Irish, and then don't make even a half-assed attempt. This place had the lamest Irish stew I've ever eaten, and no hard cider. The wait staff was incredibly incompetent, refusing the simplest substitutions and huddling around the cash machine three at a time trying to punch the buttons monkey-style. It would make a man embarrassed to be Irish. 2 out of 10

Boomer's Beef
This is the third of fourth busy place in Fort Collins that I can't understand. Their food is overpriced and underwhelming. Badly cooked meat on a soggy bun. I don't know why this town puts up with it - there are plenty of better places to eat. Maybe it's because this place is next to the really fun Academy Gaming Center. It's the only reason I went there. 2 out of 10

Linden's Brewing Co.
To be honest, I never ate here. It closed in October 2003. But they had great music, and a lot of chutzpah... when they knew they were going under, they decided to throw a series of free concerts in November to pay back all of their patrons over the years. *Instead* of paying their creditors. When the city heard of this they shut them down right away. Pretty stupid to print up fliers for the concert series, but I have to say I like the spirit. 8 out of 10

Seli's Deli at Zydeco's
I made the mistake of going here for lunch during the workweek. Not because the food was bad (it was ok), but because I decided I would have something to drink with my sandwich. A hurricane... didn't that sound fruity and refreshing? Well it knocked me off my bar stool. I didn't see straight until hours later, and I had to go back to work later that afternoon. The mufelleta sandwich, what I remember of it, was really dry and desperately needed to be heated in order to melt the cheese. But I really had that New Orleans feeling, like I had been slipped a mickey finn, hit over the head, robbed, and left lying in a wet gutter after Mardi Gras. 5 out of 10

Buddha Brothers
I think this greasy, sleazy place should be moved closer to campus in order to cater to the unwashed hippie crowd. Then again, I don't know many college students who would pay $7 for two slices of tasteless frozen-dough pizza. That was the only thing on their special menu, and it took 10 minutes for the one-topping slab to get slapped on my table. Sure, the menu had lots of other things listed, but I didn't feel like waiting around for a half-hour while the stinky stoner behind the counter tried to remember how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. None out of 10

Ciao Vino
I can't really evaluate this place, since it closed before I started working in Fort Collins. However, the note on the door was ominous: "X". I guess they forgot that people go to bars to drink, and to restaurants to eat food. I wish them luck on their reopening, but next time, order a valid business plan with that Chianti. None out of 10

BeauJo's pizza
Here's a gimmick: they give you honey to put on your crusts after the pizza is gone. It may not sound like a good idea, but sometimes I'm in the mood for some starch and sugar. One thing that works is the large variety of sauces you can get: BBQ, garlic, and spicy, for example. And if you don't order your pizza by the pound (instead of by size - with a reward for finishing the 10 pounder), I recommend the excellent and affordable buffet. Maybe this place is a little overrated when Denver skiers *have* to stop at the BeauJo's in Idaho Springs after every ski trip, but a place that lets you draw on a napkin and post it on the wall certainly has that quirky Colorado charm. 7 out of 10

Taj Mahal
Oh god, I can't go to "all-you-can-eat" places anymore. Because I tend to eat all I can, and then a little more. I judge an Indian restaurant by the Nan bread, and this place is pretty good at it, though the buffet had none when I arrived. In fact, almost everything in the buffet was almost gone, although it was only 12:30. And what items that were there were pretty boring: beef curry, tandoori chicken, etc. Where was the lentils? Rogan gosh? Even the sauces and chutney were bland from a can. However, even though I didn't have anything to dip my Nan into, I still ate more than my fill. 5 out of 10

CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing
I love it when a place surpasses my expectations. Maybe since I worked in an office right above them, I wrote them off as a greasy diner. While the place *is* dark and dirty (sticky tables, old wood), the food goes above and beyond what they had to do. For example, they toast the homemade bread for their sandwiches, and instead of fries, you can get applesauce. Those little touches and the friendly pool-table atmosphere make me overlook the fact that the place needs a really good cleaning. 8 out of 10

LaLuz mexican grill
Of all the bad food chains for a local restaurant to copy, why Chipotle? Because it's easy to slap together a boring burrito? Because idiots will pay $8 for a lunch with no side items? There's nothing to make me recommend this place, except that it isn't owned by McDonald's. 3 out of 10

Good Times
XXXX. 3 out of 10

Rasta Pasta
XXXX. 3 out of 10

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
XXXX. 3 out of 10

The Armadillo
XXXX. 3 out of 10

XXXX. 3 out of 10

Fort Collins Restaurants I Never Tried

Old Chicago
Charco Broiler restaurant
Sushi Jeju
Spicy Pickle sub shop
The Crown Pub
The Avenue
Olive Street Bakery
7 Surfside
Mountain Cafe
China Palace
Nico's Catacobs
Austin's American Grill
Hauf Brau
Carl's Jr.
Steak Out Saloon
Trail Head Tavern
Ca' Pellegrino's
The Vault
Oak Street Cafe
Los Tarascos (Mariscos)
Turkish Kebab House
College Cafe
Deja Vu coffeehouse
Big City Burrito
Sanford's Grub & Pub
Cozolla's Pizza

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