Owner Martha Koch took over Bear Creek Tavern in 1980, when it was still a country-fried roadhouse and bona fide biker bar. Today, their locals' clubhouse is a full-on restaurant. There's still plenty of character, but the Koches have upped the quality of what comes out of their kitchen. Look for hearty breakfasts, good steaks and a real surprise: Royal Red shrimp. Bear Creek is the only spot west of the Mississippi that serves these deep-water monsters.
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There's a method -- rigorously tested and refined by my friend Andy, an old kitchen buddy -- for determining the quality of a Mexican restaurant before you even sit down. It's quick, scientific and nearly foolproof, and it simply ca...