One of the delights of traveling – in Colorado or anywhere – is finding great local restaurants. They don’t need to be the fanciest, or most expensive – and often they’re not. What they do offer is good food at good prices or something unique that sets them apart from the predictable mediocrity of fast-food and chain restaurants.
During the past 30 or so years of traveling our state, I’ve found a few that are must-visit venues when we’re on the road. I’ll even time my lunch stop to coincide with them – even if lunch has to be at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m.
Here are some of my favorites, worth a stop if you’re headed to or from a ski area in winter or a park or other destination in summer.
Columbine Café, a tiny bistro in a tiny strip mall in tiny Avon, just off I-70 and right before you enter the posh Beaver Creek resort and ski area, is probably on the top of my list. Once, years ago, I found it by accident – and what a happy accident it turned out to be. On my first visit, the lunch special was boeuf bourguinon, which I love. It was excellent and came with a salad dressed with real French vinaigrette, some of the softest, chewiest, tastiest French bread I’d ever eaten -- and a dessert of my choice from their bakery case. For less than 10 bucks.
I have since had their homemade soups, stews, sandwiches and other goodies and keep telling people about it. Last summer, I took visiting relatives there and lunch was everything I’d promised them – and the daily special was still 10 bucks! Hint: Be sure to get a pastry to go for noshing later.
We’re fans of Pueblo-style Mexican food, so on any trip to the Steel City, we plan to have lunch or dinner at Nacho’s downtown. They have yummy enchiladas, burritos and tacos, but I confess I’m addicted to their chicken flautas – more like little chimichangas than the traditional flute-like ones. And we usually get the “half and half” chile – tasty, but not hot enough to blow your head off.
In the unimposing town of Salida, in south central Colorado, is a restaurant whimsically named Laughing Ladies. Old brick walls and modern American cuisine blend to make a homey atmosphere with delectable eats. Everything is so fresh here. That’s not always easy to do in Salida, but they seem to manage it most of the time.
The menu has a definite Southwestern flair, with chiles sneaking into a lot of dishes – such as the appetizer of duck and wild mushroom eggrolls with jalapeno dipping sauce, or the honey and red chile grilled pork chop with roasted sweet potatoes. But they also have simpler fare, like grilled Colorado beef steaks -- and they don’t dare take their crispy fried chicken off the menu. It’s a staple and locals love it.
The place is small, so it doesn’t hurt to stop in early or late for lunch or early for dinner if you happen to be nearby. You’ll have better luck getting a table!
Note that they’re closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and that they do a great Sunday brunch with new takes on the traditional eggs Benedict.
A unique Colorado restaurant is actually the Metate Room at the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park. The food is nothing like you’ve ever had in a park before. It’s expensive, but worth it. The menu revolves around foods eaten by the Ancestral Pueblo Indians a thousand years ago -- corn, beans and squash, nuts and herbs, and wild game. But with a gourmet twist. On my last visit, I had a tasty stuffed quail with a red chile glaze. Deeelicious!
I can’t tell you what’s on the menu, because it changes a little bit every year. Note that they are only open mid-April to mid-October and don’t take reservations. It’s first-come, first-seated. Get there early.
So skip the chains and fast-food places. You can get a fine meal at a local restaurant in almost any town in Colorado. Whether you’re looking for a great German restaurant, a terrific Mexican cantina, or a fine little bakery, you just might find them in the most unexpected places.
IF YOU GO – and want to see a menu first.
Nacho’s – web site in progress
Linda DuVal is the former travel editor for The Gazette, a freelance travel writer and winner of several Lowell Thomas awards. She is the co-author of Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs and writes a local Web site, Pikes Peak on the Cheap (www.pikespeakonthecheap.com).
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