Mouthing Off

'Tis the season to eat tacos: Speaking of old favorites, a busboy (busman? busdude?) called to say that his employer, the Mexico City Lounge, at 2115 Larimer Street, is now open until 4 p.m. daily--and that means Mondays, too, when the place used to be closed. That also means that after I've digested a lunch of steak tacos, I can return in the late afternoon for more steak tacos. That is good news.

Z-news: It's been open for only a little over a month, but Z'Tejas Grill (8345 Park Meadows Center Drive in Littleton, at Park Meadows) has already managed to make a name for itself. Poor Z-Teca, the Colorado-grown "fresh Mexican grill" that had to change its name from Zuma when it went national last year to avoid confusion with another company of the same name: Z-Teca and Z'Tejas sound very similar. Their food isn't, though. Z-Teca serves enormous, inexpensive, freshly assembled burritos; Z'Tejas serves normal-sized, medium-priced portions of catfish beignets, seared ahi loin and gumbo. Viva Z difference.

Open-and-shut cases: Mediterra, at 1475 Lawrence Street, has opened its floodgates to the Mediterranean. The latest concept from the Momo family's Teresa II corporation--which has brought us, among other places, Pizza Colore, Cucina Colore and Teresa's Cafe, the restaurant that previously occupied Mediterra's space--Mediterra is distancing itself somewhat from its eatery siblings. "I'm running this show," says Mediterra general manager Salvatore Galati, who moved to the U.S. five months ago from Venice. "Along with chef Scott Anderson, we've assembled a menu of dishes from all 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean." And so, of course, the menu includes tapas. You can never have enough tapas in a town, eh?

A few weeks ago, Allison Cantrall decided to improve her neighborhood by opening the West City Perk coffeehouse at 1426 East 22nd Avenue. "We took over a grungy T-shirt shop and renovated it," Cantrall says. "This area has been ignored economically, so we thought it would be good to put something positive in." Already, Cantrall says, there's been a noticeable decline in the amount of drug trafficking in the area right around the coffee shop. "It's been interesting introducing coffee to an inner-city neighborhood," she adds. "And so far, no one's used the chess tables." But Cantrall's specialty would be rare in any neighborhood: It's millionaire shortbread, with a toffee center and chocolate top, made according to her mom's recipe from Scotland. "It's not even common there," Cantrall says. "And my mom thinks it's pretty exclusive to Denver." In addition to the usual coffee drinks, the Perk also offers Cantrall's homemade cheesecake, cinnamon rolls and scones.

In a much swankier area, Ginza Express opened recently at 140 Steele Street in Cherry Creek, where it offers a roster of healthy Japanese fast foods; the buzz is good on this one. I haven't heard anything yet about the new Marrakesh (1951 South Havana in Aurora), but the menu looks promising: a blend of Berber, Arabic, Jewish and European ingredients, with an admirable children's menu of beef brochette and kefta.

Happy fourteenth anniversary to the Pearl Street Grill, at 1477 South Pearl Street, which will celebrate by throwing a New Year's Eve party. Call 778-6475 for information.

More holiday stuff: Heading for the mountains this coming week? The Garden Room, Keystone Ranch, the Ski Tip Lodge, the Alpenglow Stube and Der Fondue Chessel (a really cool place to get raclette, by the way), all at Keystone Resort, will offer special meals on Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Eve, as will the Game Creek Club at Vail Resort. For reservations, call 970-496-4386--and call immediately. Ditto for Winter Park Resort, which will serve holiday dinners every night from December 24 to 31 at the Lodge at Sunspot; call 970-726-1446.

Still searching for last-minute gift ideas? Rock Bottom Restaurants again offers its "gift card," a gift certificate in the form of a credit card. Gift-givers "charge" the card with the amount, and the recipient then uses it down to the last penny for food at any Rock Bottom, Walnut Brewery or Old Chicago location, or at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery and Sing Sing (both at 1735 19th Street).

For more immediate gratification, cookie fans can't help but appreciate a gift from the Colorado Cookie Company (1525 Market Street), which makes incredible cookies (the butterscotch white chocolate is soooo sweet) and wraps them up in gift baskets--if you can stand to give them away, that is. The coolest wrapping scheme is the cookie rose box ($17.95), a long-stem-sized box filled with cookies. The store will deliver, too; call 436-9726.

The best way to satisfy someone's sweet tooth, however, is to send them a one-pound box of Enstrom Candies' almond toffee ($11.50, plus $4.50 for shipping), which the company has been making in Grand Junction since 1929. If you've never tried this stuff, get ready: It's the butteriest toffee ever, sweet and nutty, and it'll drive you nutty if it's sitting in the refrigerator. (Especially if you haven't eaten anything in a while and consuming a pound of almond toffee suddenly seems like a really good idea. Trust me--I've been there.) Since we're getting close to Christmas, stop by the Denver store, at 201 University Boulevard, and pick some up. It makes a great hostess present.

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