1. Brother Luck’s Street Eats, Colorado Springs
Yea, his name is really Brother Luck, and let me tell you, Brother can cook. Sit under the mural of Fred the Pig and try to identify what parts of Fred’s relatives are currently twerking on your taste buds. Cheap specials on Taco/Tequila Tuesday, a killer Sunday Brunch and underground theme dinners featuring culinary theatrics like glowing dishes plated under blacklight and desserts laced with Pop Rocks.
2. Snarf’s, Multiple Denver/Boulder locations (but the DU location has a full bar!)
I’m fairly certain the best way to become friends with someone is to give them homemade pastrami. That sounds like a fact I probably learned in kindergarten. Luckily the folks at Snarf’s got the same lesson, but they decided to take it up a notch by stuffing that briny, meaty goodness in between daily-baked bread jammed full of fresh veggies and pickled hot peppers. Don’t miss out on sopping up the Snarf juice that drips out onto the wrapper — if you could somehow bottle that magic concoction, you’d never need to work again a day in your life.
3. The George, Vail
Sick of pretentious, overpriced mediocrity in Vail Village? Head down to the basement near the covered bridge to find relaxing couch seating, elevated but affordable pub food ranging from duck quesadillas to surf and turf and drinks cheap enough that lifties can actually afford a few post-shift pints. Oh, and bonus points for some of the best wings this former Buffalo resident has found in all of Colorado.
4. Secret Stash, Crested Butte
Sit at the bar and watch the pizza maestro with bulging Popeye forearms performing a solo symphony of pie slinging into the blazing oven. Order the Notorious F.I.G. for prosciutto and figs with a decadent white truffle sauce. Or maybe go for my personal favorite — the Woodward — topped with sautéed spinach, garlic butter, prosciutto and a few over-easy eggs. And if you’re feeling frisky, you can pair it all with a Mickey’s 40, served in a paper bag. #stayclassy
5. Ivywild School, Colorado Springs
What do you get when you renovate an abandoned elementary school into a brewery tasting room (Bristol Brewing), craft coffee and cocktail bar (The Principal’s Office), artisan bakery (Old School Bakery), and charcuterie shop (Meat Locker)? Basically, heaven. Especially when you add in concerts and movies in the wood floor gymnasium, a bike shop and art studio in the basement, two oversized patios with fire pits and lawn games, and summer farmer’s markets in the front parking lot. If actual school was this cool, Ferris Bueller would never have needed a day off.
6. Beau Jo’s Pizza, Idaho Springs
Skip the Denver-area or Ft. Collins locations and head right to the original institution on your next I-70 road trip to find “mountain pies” that are ordered by the pound. Sure they’d make a Chicago or New York enthusiast cringe, but with a cold Tommyknocker (brewed a block away), they taste pretty damn satisfying after a day on the Loveland slopes or Torreys trails. The overstuffed, braided crust becomes your desert when paired with squeeze bottles of Colorado honey that sit on every table.
7. Izzy’s, Crested Butte
Get there early, get in line and thank me later. Breakfast at Izzy’s means potato latkes, homemade bagels and buttermilk pancakes the size of a baby goat. Is there anything better than a baby goat? Did I mention they have homemade bagels?
8. The Pantry, Green Mountain Falls
Proper, from-scratch breakfast in a beautiful lakeside setting for over 60 years. The lake is not only pretty, but becomes a useful place to be thrown into, should you deny to smother your plate in their glorious homemade pork green chili.
9. New Saigon Bakery, Denver
I spent time in Vietnam and basically survived on a diet of Saigon Beer, thicker-than-Mekong-mud Vietnamese coffee and banh mi sandwiches. So trust me when I say the banh mi lineup at New Saigon is more than legit. You’ll have at least twenty options, most full of porky delight, and all with cilantro, jalapeño and pickled veg stuffed into a crispy-chewy baguette baked on site. Might as well get three or four…you’ll want the leftovers.
10. Milagros Coffee House, Alamosa
Who knew that not-exactly-trendy Alamosa would be educating us “civilized” Front Rangers to the wonders of the London Fog? I’d certainly never heard of an Earl Gray Latte before stopping by Milagros on a road trip back in 2011. It’s been on my regular route ever since thanks to fantastic coffee, from-scratch baked goods and a great community vibe. A billion bonus points for all profits supporting La Puenta, a charity organization and shelter that helps poor families and migrant workers throughout the San Luis Valley.
11. K’s Dairy Delite, Buena Vista
It’s usually on about day two of a backcountry excursion that I start thinking about my first meal when I get out. After a few more days of calorie-burning climbs and dinners of rehydrated turkey tetrazzini, all I can think of is a bacon cheeseburger, fries and a peanut butter shake. If I’m anywhere near the Sawatch, that means I’m heading straight to K’s for some caloric rejuvenation therapy with a side of 50’s nostalgia. Wait in line, order up and listen for your assigned celebrity name — “James Dean, your order’s ready!” — then wolf it down before the grease eats through the bag.
12. Fruition, Denver
I’m still baffled how the best piece of fish I’ve ever eaten was here — in landlocked Colorado, 1000 miles from the nearest coast. Chef Alex Seidel is clearly some kind of wizard — or maybe it’s just the ridiculous attention to detail and farm-to-table veggies, sheep’s milk cheese and honey sourced from the restaurant’s farm just south of the city in Larkspur.
13. The Gunnysack, Gunnison
A self-described “Cowboy Bistro” right near Gunny’s main intersection that does classic from-scratch comfort food. I don’t really know what a cowboy bistro is, but if it means baked mac and cheese oozing with homemade cheddar sauce, topped with panko, bacon and a side of house made “ornery” hot sauce, I think I’d like one immediately installed in my basement.
14. The Last Dollar Saloon, Telluride
Telluride ain’t cheap and this century-old dive bar locally known as “The Buck” is about the only place non-mansion-owning residents can afford to drink. Order at the bar, head to the rear and up the stairs to the balcony. Settle in under the oversized painting of Johnny Cash flipping off the world and watch regulars try to hook up with tourists over PBRs and pitchers of ridiculously strong margaritas.
15. Sweeties Sandwich Shop, Salida
Ignore the miles of fast food chains on US-50 and head north on F Street towards downtown Salida. I’m pretty sure F stands for “fresh” because that’s about all you need to know about Sweeties. High-quality meat, cheese and veggies layered tenderly between slices of just-baked bread so fresh it’s still steaming. A sandwich is easy to screw up and deceptively hard to get right. Sweeties freaking nails it.
16. Montanya Distillers, Crested Butte
It might seem weird that a top-notch, award-winning rum comes out of a small Colorado town, a world away from the Caribbean. Until you realize that rum is 60 percent water — and Montanya’s is lucky enough to sit above an underground aquifer of pure filtered snowmelt. Age that in discarded whiskey barrels and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect post-adventure craft cocktail. Go for the Fiery Passion Mojito with fresh lime, passionfruit puree and rum infused with habanero. If that’s not spicy enough, convince your bartender for a sample of 150 proof “hot” rum, fresh out of the upstairs still.
17. The Source, Denver
This abandoned brick foundry turned artisan food wonderland has it all. Butcher, flower shop and cheesemonger? Check. Cocktail bar? Yep. Brewery? Naturally. Coffee Roaster? Absolutely. Craft beer, wine and small-batch spirits store? Oh yea. Mexican taqueria, French bakery and wood oven bistro? But of course. All this place needs is a Tokyo-inspired capsule hotel and you’d legitimately never have to leave.
18. Steamworks Brewing Company, Durango
Add another repurposed old building-turned brewery to the list. This one a cavernous old Ford dealership, Steamworks now deals out crisp Colorado Kölsch, hoppy Third Eye P.A. and gastropub fare to a lively mix of locals, tourists and college students. Should you be anywhere in a 50 mile radius on a Thursday, you’d be wise to steer directly here — pints are $2 all day. And with free peanuts, lunch is covered (and dinner too, if you’re still upright).
19. Dorothy’s Tamales, Fairplay
Yep, you clicked right — the above link goes to a bowling alley’s website. Not typically an indicator of fine food, but throw those rules out the window when settling into this roadside utopia of steamed corn masa. Get a pork and a bison tamale, slather it in green chili and contemplate asking to lease out the parking lot for your tent.