I made the 45-minute drive from downtown Denver to Longmont one weekend simply to try a slice of pizza. Hours later, my boyfriend and I were still there, sipping cocktails at a small restaurant and bar in a residential neighborhood while I looked up houses in the area on Zillow.
Just one afternoon in the town had me hooked — and very full.
For a long time, it was Longmont's neighbor, Boulder, that got the most culinary buzz for its fine-dining scene. Over the past decade, however, metro Denver's food and drink options have grown in many exciting ways, with local chefs and restaurants nabbing big-name awards and landing on major national lists. And Longmont, with its laid-back, small-town feel, has quietly become a culinary destination in its own right, particularly for those who enjoy delicious eats at low-key spots where you're likely to make a new friend.
When we'd walked into Rosalee's Pizza, at 461 Main Street, we were immediately greeted by an energetic woman behind the bar who poured me a glass of Prosecco. It turned out to be Amy Ross, who opened this popular spot with her husband, James, in 2014 after the two met and fell in love while attending culinary school in Denver.
As we ate sausage rolls swimming in garlic butter, a Rosalee's regular sitting near us at the bar began offering recommendations for other must-visit spots for food and drinks in Longmont — and I quickly began taking notes. Several slices of the best East Coast-style pizza I've had in the state later (which landed Rosalee's a bonus spot on our recent list of the best places to get pizza in metro Denver), James Ross offered up a recommendation of his own — for another standout pizzeria nearby, Urban Field Pizza and Market, which opened last year.
Too full to tackle another round of pizza, we headed out on a different mission suggested by our new pal. "Have you been to the cheese shop?" she'd asked. Cheese Importers, at 103 Main Street, located inside the building that once held the city’s first electric power utility service. Cheese Importers moved into the space in 2012, after being founded by Lyman and Linda White back in 1976. "They started the business five blocks from where we are now, out of our home with a VW pickup bus and six types of cheese from Wisconsin," explains Clara White, their daughter. "They were also the first to bring Brie to Colorado. ... My parents were always incredibly progressive."
Back then, the company only sold wholesale, supplying restaurants, shops and neighborhood groups with bulk cheese at a time when the market was dominated by Velveeta and other processed products.
While her father passed away in 2010, Clara, her brother Samm and their mother still run Cheese Importers, which remains primarily focused on its wholesale business, sourcing cheeses locally and from around the world for many of the region's top eateries, specialty shops and grocery stores.
But the retail location is a must-visit for many reasons. "We like to feed your soul — that's our goal as a company," Clara notes. The large and open space is filled to the brim with gourmet goodies. Dried pasta, olive oil, vinegar, candy, cookware and much, much more line the sprawling market, but the best part of this stop is the refrigerated cheese room.
You'll want to layer up before stepping inside: Getting chilly is no excuse for cutting your fromage expedition short. The cases are loaded with more than 600 varieties of cheese from around the world, as well as packaged charcuterie and an olive bar.
The shop also has a small cafe that shut down during the pandemic and remains closed. Clara says that food costs and staffing both continue to be a challenge, but she hopes the cafe can make a comeback in the future. Despite the setbacks of the pandemic, and even as Longmont itself grows and evolves, Cheese Importers remains a mainstay in the town. "It's a huge blessing to still be alive and thriving," Clara says. "It's from the community support and the love. Longmont is really a little gem."
After loading up on way more cheese than we could possibly consume in a weekend, we headed off to the Primitive Beer taproom. It's located at 2025 Ionosphere Street, in Longmont's Prospect New Town neighborhood, a quirky area filled with brightly colored housing and funky street names like 100 Year Party Court and Neon Forest Circle. Here you can sip some of the most interesting options in an area packed with breweries, as it specializes in 100 percent spontaneously fermented brews. Originally, Primitive only served beer in boxes, but since the pandemic, it's begun finding a new groove, adding more beers on tap as well as a selection of vintage barleywines from England and authentic Belgian lambics.
West Side Tavern, at 1283 3rd Avenue, which is surrounded by homes, including that of owner Wes Isbutt, who opened this eclectic gastropub in 2017. We arrived in the early evening as a small drove of people made their way toward the entrance, seemingly appearing out of nowhere all at once.
Inside, vintage films played on screens above the bar, while the patio was decked out with tents for heated dining in the colder months and a small tiki bar. With no reservations, that's where we ended up sitting, nice and warm under heat lamps as I sipped a drink dubbed the Bada Bing, a vodka-based libation with cherry balsamic shrub, lemon and rosemary syrup, served in an extra-large martini glass.
An older couple cozied up next to us, and soon we were sharing bites and sips with our new friends as Isbutt appeared behind the bar to serve an off-the-menu drink to another regular a few seats down. The couple even paid for our second round of drinks, refusing to take no for an answer and insisting that next time we visited town, we should try their other favorite Longmont eatery, Martini's Bistro.
And there will certainly be a next time. We still have plenty of other Longmont recommendations to test out — and apparently, many more new friends to meet. On the short list: tiki drinks and island-inspired eats at Swaylo's; the namesake items at Blue Corn Tacos, which come on homemade blue corn tortillas; Jefe's for margaritas; flights at Küper Wine Bar; Marcos Hot Dogs and Tacos, a stand where you can get a hot dog wrapped in a tortilla, dubbed the Burro Dog; and Landline Donuts, which specializes in coffee, soft serve and potato doughnuts made using a family recipe from the 1930s — and is outfitted with working retro landline phones and a neon reminder to "Call your mom."
You shouldn't need any reminders to put Longmont on your day-trip list, though. Just be sure to arrive hungry — and to bring along a cooler for your cheese haul.