Well the votes are in! After recently reevaluating what I feel are the 3 best places for Mexican/Southwestern Food in Colorado Springs (The Loop in Manitou, Senior Manuels, and El Palenque on Academy) I felt all 3 performed very well. However, if I had to make a choice right now I would go with El Palenque on Academy Blvd just north of Constitution.
The Green, Yellow & Red building is hard to miss and the atmosphere is comfortable with a courteous staff. I found the Mole' to be a little sweeter and spicier than what I had in other restaurants...very nice. Good portion sizes and, what is so important these days, very reasonable prices with a good selection of beverages. The food appeared carefully prepared and tasted that way. All around a nice evening for a decent price. The only drawback I could find was when several people had their fajitas arrive around the same time...the hanging smoke got pretty thick *Laugh*
The Loop has suffered because of the ongoing construction in Manitou that has at different times both flooded the floor and left them with out water. Judging just on food quality they come in a very close second. The quality of their margaritas has slipped in recent years becoming like mass produced/fast food shadows of their former selves, but still tasty enough to enjoy. Their menu is still the same list of favorites and mostly well prepared, however I have noticed that their food is better in the off tourist season dining the weekdays when you only have locals who come in. This may be due to a change in cook staff or that they are just so busy during tourist season and weekends that the quality of the preparation suffers. The wait staff is usually pretty courteous and efficient. The Loop is sometimes understaffed and also suffers from a lack of space and, while quaint, can often result in inordinately long and inconvenient wait times...especially given the very limited seating at the bar.
Family owned Senior Manuels has always been a favorite of mine since my days in the Army, however the uncertainty of it's future at the corner of Nevada and Garden of the Gods combined with the growth out east seems to have taken it's toll. The atmosphere is still comfortable and the menu is still varied, however there seems to be an almost palpable gloom hanging in the air. The staff, while still courteous, just doesn't seem as friendly and jocular as they used to and I cannot tell if the seeming decline in the taste of the food was the result of a fall off in the care of the cooking staff or just the result of my comparison of fond memories to the present. In by best objective attempt I would say that Senior Manuels is still above and beyond the standard Mexican/Southwestern fare but, having a choice, I would choose El Palenque or the Loop for an evening out first.