A Foodie’s Guide to Mountain Town Dining
by Emily Krempholtz
The mountains are synonymous with Colorado, and the many mountain towns throughout the state—with their historic architecture, ski resorts, hiking trails, unique atmosphere, and of course, breathtaking views—are an integral part of what makes Colorado so great. Mountain towns provide entertainment year-round, from kooky festivals to all the action on the slopes, and make a great destination for a weekend getaway, a day trip, or a longer stay. But no matter how long you’re visiting the mountains, even if you’re just passing through, chances are at some point you’re going to get hungry, and it just so happens you’re in luck, because mountain town dining is some of the best around. Whether you’re a foodie in search of your next fix, or just plain starving, Colorado’s mountain towns have got some great grub to satisfy whatever you’re in the mood for.
Deep in the San Juans, Silverton is located fairly close to Telluride, which is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Colorado, so you know you’re going to get some great views while you’re there. Unlike a lot of the other, more polished mountain towns of Summit County and the I-70 corridor, Silverton’s charm doesn’t lie in its luxe vibes and swanky boutiques or galleries, but rather in it’s rough, independent atmosphere. Going to Silverton feels like stepping into an old Wild West mining town—because that’s exactly what it is—and dining there can feel like that a bit as well. For a fantastic meal in a rustic saloon atmosphere, surrounded by taxidermied elk, antique rifles, and old railroad signs, check out Handlebars Food & Saloon, which is open from May through October. They’re known for their massive “Handlebars-sized” sandwiches and award-winning buffalo green chili, as well as their homemade BBQ sauce, which they purport to be the highest-made BBQ in the world.
Other incredible dining options in Silverton include The Shady Lady, located at the site of the last operating brothel in Silverton, the Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant, which still feels like an old-timey saloon, and the Grand Imperial Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon. Any and all of these stops will make you feel like you’ve stepped out of the 21st century and into the 19th, into a time of shootouts and whiskey and jaunty tunes on the player piano.
For those visiting from out of state, or who are spending most of their time in the Front Range, Estes Park is one of the most popular and accessible mountain towns in the area, not just because of proximity, but also because of its reputation as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park has an adorable downtown area that is supremely walkable, filled with candy shops, art galleries, souvenir boutiques, and of course, restaurants and dining options. If you’re not terribly hungry, but are looking to wet your whistle, make sure to stop by Snowy Peaks Winery, a boutique winery that makes delicious wines that really personify the wild, adventurous Colorado spirit. Snowy Peaks also serves light snacks like chocolates and artisan cheese selections to complement their wines, but if you’re a little hungrier than that, you can find Snowy Peaks’ products at several restaurants around town. The wine at Snowy Peaks pairs perfectly with the steaks at Twin Owls Steakhouse, as well as with the artisan, locally-sourced Colorado cuisine of popular eatery Bird & Jim.
The quaint little mountain town of Georgetown is located just off I-70. Tucked into Guanella Pass, the town is full of beautiful Victorian architecture and a well-reserved historic atmosphere. It’s well known as the home of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, as well as a start or end point for a lovely drive along Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. (Recently, Georgetown made national news when it elected a Bernese Mountain Dog called Parker the Snow Dog as its honorary mayor.) When you stop through Georgetown, you’ll find a few cafes, a brewery (where you can drink a beer named after its canine mayor), and some great restaurants like The Alpine Restaurant and Bar, a laid-back spot that serves great pizzas and other Italian food in a comfortable setting, often with live music, and both indoor and patio seating options.
A haven for skiers in the winter, and with plenty of views and trails for hiking and camping in the summer, Winter Park is gorgeous and a fun place to visit. When you get hungry from a long day of outdoor activity, be sure to check out Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Resort & Spa for an all-inclusive experience with an expansive list of options to suit any palette. Whether or not you’re staying in their accommodations, Devil’s Thumb is home to heck’s Tavern, a casual setting for appetizers and craft beers, Hallowed Ground Coffee Shop, which serves amazing coffee drinks, pastries, and sandwiches for guests on the go, and The Ranch House Restaurant and Saloon, which is well known throughout the region as the best place to go for special occasions and fine dining, and serves “New American Mountain Cuisine,” including Wagyu beef from their own herd of cattle, raised right there on the ranch.
Okay, so we’re cheating a little on this one, but a lot of the towns and cities of Summit County—like Breckenridge, Frisco, Silverthorne, and Dillon—are all lumped pretty close together, and between them they have enough spectacular dining establishments to keep you busy for a long time. Summit County is home to some of the most popular ski resorts in a state that’s packed to bursting with ski resorts, and so it stands to reason that these gorgeous little mountain towns, with their beautiful architecture and scenic streets nestled amongst some of the tallest mountains in the Rockies, should have a lot of places for you to whet your appetite after a long day on the slopes. Dining options in Summit County range from delicious ethnic cuisine—like PHO REAL in Breckenridge—to FlipSide Burger, also located in Breck, where you’ll find locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone-free beef as well as a killer happy hour menu and some delicious craft beer and cocktails. For something a little more upscale, check out Timberline Craft Kitchen, which serves everything from brunch—with award-winning Bloody Marys, of course—to shareable plates, fresh salads, and mouthwatering desserts, as well as a wide variety of handcrafted cocktails and local beers.