Every Sunday, the elegantly rustic Cucina Rustica, located in the Lodge at Vail, unveils the brunch buffet blowout of all blowouts. You'll find the usual suspects -- made-to-order waffles and omelettes, eggs Benedict, housemade breads and pastries, a carving station that alternates between spit-roasted whole salmon, lamb, turkey and sirloin -- but since this restaurant specializes in Tuscan-style fare, it also serves up Italian specialties you'll never spy at any other brunch spreads, including gnocchi, homemade ravioli and gourmet pizzas. Cucina Rustica also puts out over twenty salads, including a superb Caesar, and several kinds of seafood; the desserts are drop-dead delicious, too. Champagne is included in the price of the buffet, which varies from $27 to $32, depending on the season. And if you're dining during one of the warmer seasons, you can enjoy your meal out on the deck, feasting your eyes on the gorgeous view at the same time you stuff your stomach. If you aren't staying here, you can digest on the long -- but worth it -- drive home.


When it comes to innovation, most Sunday sit-down brunches lay an egg. But at Piscos, you won't find the same old, same old. The cuisine here is South American, which on Sundays translates into a half-dozen interesting dishes you won't find anywhere else in town. Check out the Chilean scramble, which stirs things up by mixing eggs with spinach, onions, garlic and a spicy salsa; the puffy, mushroom-topped chorizo soufflé; or the salmone y capers, smoked salmon with well-poached eggs, a chipotle-fired cream cheese, capers and grilled tomatoes on toast points. Each entree includes a visit to the "intercontinental table," a buffet set with cheeses, yogurt, pastries and fresh fruit. The atmosphere at Piscos is so low-key that you can sit and read the Sunday paper, while Latin music playing in the background will perk you up for the rest of the day.


Decisions is the best-kept secret on East Colfax, which could be why serious decision-makers decide to hold their power breakfasts here, away from prying eyes. The restaurant is close enough to the Capitol to appeal to lawmakers and right on the way to work for downtown types; stop by any morning and you'll see power brokers wolfing down eggs Benedict and breakfast bagels while they quietly divide the world among themselves. But the space is right for a peaceful early a.m. repast, too, with soothing, squash-colored walls, just enough light streaming in from the high windows, and strategically placed tables to give you privacy. Go for the Big Breakfast, which offers a choice of pancakes, waffle or French toast with eggs, hashbrowns and meat: If you clean your plate, all those movers and shakers will know that you're a big shot, too.


At Sam's No. 3, a wonderfully kitschy diner, the Kitchen Sink Skillet will either kill you or keep you fueled for an entire day. Two eggs, done your way, are placed on top of a skilletful of grill-crisped home fries that have been mixed with melted cheddar, grilled onions, bell peppers, diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms and pieces of ham, bacon, sausage and gyros meat; Sam's then smothers the whole damn pan with its "kickin' green chili," a medium-spicy, tomatoey, pork-packed green chile. With a side of toast to sponge up every crumb, this is a powerful way to start -- or end -- your day.


Power to the businesspeople who cram into this authoritatively noisy spot for lunch, eager to see who else is there and ciao down on innovative, new-wave Italian fare. The bright, bustling Campo de Fiori is so noisy that no one can eavesdrop on your conversation, and the menu alone will give you plenty to talk about -- from bold gnocchi al funghi for middle- management types who're strong enough to be seen eating dumplings to a buffalo mozzarella salad that says, "I haven't lost everything to the stock market yet." Liquid- lunchers who have lost a bundle sit at the bar downing limoncellos like Jolly Ranchers. Control your intake, though, because you can't risk a restroom stop: You might miss something.


Those who frequent the Monaco outpost of the multi-site Colorado Athletic Club have an extra incentive to get a good workout: an in-house cafe that serves up better chicken wings and savvier Caesar salads than you'll find in most regular restaurants. Set up behind the check-in desk at this large workout facility, Café Monaco boasts a dozen wooden tables and a view of the indoor tennis courts (which can sometimes be inspirational in a different way). The kitchen specializes in healthy items, including a veggie sandwich, salads, homemade soups and a "Body for Life" salad, described as "the right mix of protein, vegetable and carbohydrates." Not everything here is good for you: For starters, there's that cheese-packed quesadilla and the deep-fried popcorn shrimp served over French fries. But you've earned it, right?


Don't you know we're riding high on the Marrakesh express, an all-you-can eat buffet lunch featuring the best this restaurant has to offer? For $5.95, a diner can sample four Middle Eastern entrees, including a heavenly chicken dish, in addition to sides, salads and gooey sticky buns so sweet they'd make the gods weep. Although the meal itself is a real deal, you also get to enjoy it in sumptuous surroundings, complete with silky patterned fabrics hanging from the ceiling and chairs you can sink into for a restful midday retreat.


Sidle up to the bar at Tamayo between 5 and 7 p.m. weekdays and prepare to get happy. Very happy. The jazzy, snazzy atmosphere at this upscale Mexican restaurant is enough to make you feel upbeat, but the happy-hour deal is guaranteed to elevate your attitude. During Hora Feliz, what is already one of the best margaritas in town comes with an extra half-shot of tequila, as well as botanas -- free little tidbits that go down just as smoothly. The offerings change daily; we've supped our way through little bowls of poblano-packed soup, dipped tortilla chips into a zesty black bean dip, munched on chicken-filled tamales and tucked into authentic ceviche. ¡Salud!


Fishing for an inexpensive way to unwind after work? Cast your lot with the rest of the downtowners who head to Del Mar Crab House, an inviting, below-street-level eatery in Larimer Square. There's no bait-and-switch here: Look for the $2 appetizers offered Monday through Thursday, and you could net a cup of soup, mussels, peel-and-eat shrimp, crabcakes or steamed clams (oysters are 75 cents each). And on Fridays, the snacks are on the house: The happy-hour buffet includes shrimp, hot wings, chips and salsa, jalapeño poppers and quesadillas. With well drinks, beer and wine all priced at $3.50, you can raise your glass to reeling in a real catch.
The Park Meadows outlet of the Rock Bottom Brewery features a friendly deal on select Thursday evenings: Between 6 and 6:30 p.m., you can stop in and enjoy a free beer whenever a new brew is tapped. And since this offer is only one per customer, please, let us suggest a glass of Catcher in the Rye ale, the specialty of this location and a Great American Beer Festival bronze award winner. Sip and savor the flavor; you'll still have time to get home and warm up the TV for Friends.


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