One of the biggest perks of living in the Mile High City is the easy access it affords to the Rocky Mountains; just jump in your car and you can be in the foothills in fifteen minutes, and in true mountain towns not much more than fifteen minutes after that. Outdoor sports tend to dominate our perception of the mountains, which is not surprising, given the abundance of ski resorts, hiking trails and bike paths. But even if you're not a sports enthusiast, Colorado's mountain towns offer plenty of allure: hot springs, scenery and, of course, restaurants and bars. In addition to our list of iconic bars outside of Denver, we've rounded up the ten best edible and drinkable reasons to pull off I-70 between Idaho Springs and Glenwood Springs, listed from east to west. All are good for a post-hike snack or sip, an escape from the traffic or an excuse to hit the hills.
Westbound & Down Brewing Company/The Buffalo
1617 Miner Street, Idaho Springs
When were growing up in Colorado, every trip to the mountains ended with a pit stop in Idaho Springs, where we'd have either a Beau Jo's pizza (with plenty of honey for the crust) or (when we turned 21) a beer at Tommyknocker. Now we're drawn to Westbound & Down, a brewpub with a solid lineup of brews, plus a serious food game, thanks to chef Scott Parker (formerly of Table 6 and several other Denver restaurants). Grab a seat at the prominent bar and consider the hot chicken, the green chile cheese fries and the macaroni and cheese.
1010 Main Street, Silver Plume
If you've lived in Colorado long enough, you might remember purchasing actual bread at the building that now holds Bread Bar. The four friends who own this charming Silver Plume watering hole pay homage to that history, and to the magic of the mining town nestled on a mountainside. Pull off on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday for a cocktail in the cozy barroom or on the sunny deck; you might also find pop-up food vendors or a little live music.
The Mint Steakhouse
347 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne
The Mint calls itself "Summit County's oldest resident," citing a history that dates back to 1862 and traces iterations of the establishment from a small mining town called Kokomo, to Frisco, to the part of Dillon that now sits under the lake, and finally to its current home in Silverthorne. But even if you didn't know anything of its storied past, this steakhouse, housed in an old depot building, is worth a stop, because there just aren't many restaurants like it. Order drinks and sides from a server and then step over to the butcher counter to pick a cut of steak that you'll tend yourself on the pool-table-sized grill. Feel intimidated? A friendly local is sure to give you both advice on cooking and tips on how to mix up the best marinade from the vats of ingredients on offer. Pro tip: Don't forget to grill thick slices of buttered white bread, retrieved from the salad bar, to make your own Texas toast.
408 Main Street, Frisco
Waits to secure a breakfast table at Frisco's Butterhorn Bakery can run long, and for good reason: The hearty, traditional breakfasts here are some of the best in Summit County, and many of the dishes are served all day. But even if you're pressed for time, it's still worth pulling over. Pop in for something from the pastry case, or do what we do, and call ahead for a takeaway breakfast sandwich. We like the Egg #3, which comes with soft scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar on a housemade croissant.
241 South Frontage Road East, Vail
Talk about a pit stop: You can be in and out of La Cantina without ever leaving the garage. This quick-service Mexican joint holds a corner of the third level of the Vail Village parking structure, from which it doles a lengthy list of burritos, nachos, enchiladas and chiles rellenos. Although it has all the ambience of a food court, the carnitas, especially, are tasty, and the price is right. Just a handful of items on the menu surpass $10, and chips and salsa are free with every order. That's why it gets packed during ski season, when frugal locals also squeeze into the auxiliary margarita bar for a drink.
Root & Flower
225 Wall Street #103 A, Vail
Imbibers and après-ski (or après-hike) seekers have a lot to choose from in Vail, where bars range from raucous dives to exclusive cocktail lounges. But none of them are quite as charming as Root & Flower, a wine bar run by some of the town's most esteemed hospitality pros. The by-the-glass list here runs more than fifty deep, with a number of geeky selections tucked among more classic pours. A robust cocktail list reveals an impressive collection of spirits also on hand, and you can pair your drinks to a nicely executed charcuterie or cheese board or avocado grilled cheese sandwich.
Northside Coffee & Kitchen and Benderz Burger
20 Nottingham Road, Avon
Serving what might be the best burger in the Vail Valley is Benderz Burger, attached to the Avon location of Northside. We're fans of the double with cheese, and we always add grilled onion. At breakfast, we're headed to the other side of the building, where Northside serves up hefty morning meals that will fuel you through whatever athletic endeavor you've planned. But the real reason to make a special stop here, or at the grab-and-go outlet in West Vail, is the doughnuts. Flavors run the gamut, from classic iced to Fruity Pebbles to maple-bacon. Cake doughnuts beat yeast-risen for us here, and we find the red velvet and the Oreo flavors particularly dangerous.
56 Edwards Village Boulevard Unit 112, Edwards
Whiskey, beer and sandwiches form the backbone of the offerings at the Craftsman, and what a glorious backbone that is. Husband-and-wife team Chris and Janelle Schmidt say they're "honoring but never imitating the classics." While their menu traipses through seemingly familiar territory, these two alumni of Mountain Standard and Sweet Basil are giving each item a fine-dining twist: Hot fried chicken and pickles bolster a banh mi; a tart vinaigrette on the Italian makes the sandwich pop; the Cuban gets a smear of good mustard and soft, porky ’nduja sausage. Don't skip the fries — which come with an addictive vadouvan mayo — or the pimento cheese.
97 Main Street, Suite W 102B, Edwards
In a valley defined by high-stakes (and high-dollar) dining, the Rose is a breath of fresh air — an unpretentious paean to the type of new American comfort food that encompasses well-executed steaming bowls of savory ramen, barbacoa tacos and crispy Buffalo cauliflower. Brian and Jessica Redniss, the couple behind the restaurant, filled their wee address with eclectic touches and a cozy vibe. Linger over a cocktail or two, which are also excellent, and don't forget the macarons, on display as you walk in.
Casey Brewing and Blending
3421 Grand Avenue, Glenwood Springs
You need a ticket to visit Casey Brewing and Blending, a small outfit built into a crook in the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs. But secure that ticket and you'll be treated to a tour and tasting at one of the most interesting beer-making facilities in the state. Owner Troy Casey draws on old-school Belgian fermentation techniques — including open-tank and wild-yeast fermentation, as well as barrel aging — to create wild and sour ales that have garnered a reverent following. See his methods up close, then taste through his saisons, sours and fruit-imbued creations.
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