Some days I wish I were one of those svelte folks who treat food as fuel, but I probably wouldn’t be doing this job. If I were one of those people, I’d be climbing mountains in the Himalayas, but alas, I love food; the taste, the texture and the regional differences. So, therefore, I am not climbing mountains but I am covering festivals around the Rocky Mountain West and finding all the best places to eat along the way.
At the beginning of February, I covered Snowdown in Durango. This is the city’s long-running winter festival and it brings out the crazy in everyone from college kids to grandmas.
I have been to Durango many times before but this was my first time visiting the city during winter and while they’ve gotten even more snow since we left, the region was blanketed in a beautiful layer of white during our visit.
We always have the best time in Durango, and this trip was no exception. We skied Purgatory, went dog sledding, visited almost every brewery in town, attended a parade, saw a fireworks show, watched hot air balloons, and we ate.
First, this is a great brewery town and thanks to being home to Fort Lewis College, Durango has an active bar scene too. We never visit without having a beer at Ska Brewing and I always order the Modis Hoperandi because it tastes so good at the source. This trip was no exception and it’s worth the short trek out of downtown to visit this brewery.
For the first time, we made a stop at Animas Brewing where Snowdown human foosball was in full swing. Despite the festival crowds, this brewing has a comfy sort of feel. We also went to Carvers Brewing Company (I love their patio with swings) and Steamworks Brewing Company, a place we usually eat. Ryan recommends their blue cheese burger with their chili ale.
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During this trip, we visited many new places, but we also hit a tried and true breakfast favorite. There are two of us and it’s weekends, so we always sit at the counter at Oscar’s Cafe. This is a true Southwest Colorado diner, so nearly everything either comes smothered or has the option of being smothered in their delicious, homemade pork green chile. Trust me, smother it.
We also had breakfast at Jean-Pierre Bakery & Restaurant. I have a friend from the Front Range who grew up in the nearby town of Mancos. On her way to visit family she always stops for a croissant at Jean-Pierre’s.
Breakfast here isn’t inexpensive and you should expect to pay around $40 for a morning meal for two people at Jean-Pierre’s. However, we sat in front of a roaring fireplace while snow fell outside so it was worth it. I had a stuffed croissant and Ryan had Instagram-worthy French Toast. Everything was scrumptious but the standout was the side of breakfast potatoes.
After a day of playing on the slopes at Purgatory Resort, about 30 minutes outside of Durango, we had an early dinner at Zia Taqueria. It’s conveniently located on the way back from the resort and much to my happiness they had posole. This hearty Mexican soup is hard to find on Colorado’s Front Range but it isn’t hard to find in Durango. In fact, The Strater Hotel always has a kettle of posole on the boil, even during their buffet breakfast.
Zia Taqueria is like a locally owned fast food Mexican restaurant with fresh food. I got a bowl of the delicious, hot, hominy-filled posole and Ryan had nachos. We were truly sated and this is the perfect kind of post-skiing meal.
On the first night in town, we bellied up to the bar at 11th Street Station at Ernie’s Bar. This is a bar with multiple food trucks outside that provide meals to hungry revelers and believe me, on the Thursday night of Snowdown, the locals were quite merry.
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The bartenders were super nice at 11th Street Station and we each went outside separately to order at various food trucks. I got the pho from Mariana’s Authentic Cuisine. The website says the meal is $10 but the sign says $12 and that’s what I paid. That’s kind of pricey for pho but the soup was chockablock with ingredients.
Ryan got two gorgeous sliders from Backcountry Gourmet; a tri-tip slider and pork belly slider. Both were melty-deliciousness on a bun. The tang of the arugula is the perfect compliment to the pork belly and the steak they use is top-notch.
This place works well in Durango, even on a cold night. I’d go once a week if this food truck collective was located near my home. They even have a truck selling sushi burritos.
We had another dinner at El Moro Tavern. This place is owned by the same people as Steamworks Brewing and both restaurants put out some of the best food in Durango. It has a sort of steampunk feel and always suits the occasion.
In the past, I’ve had a memorable salmon sandwich at El Moro but on this trip, I ordered a hamburger because I had a craving. Ryan ordered the roasted poblano and cheddar sausage and nearly licked his plate clean. I had the El Moro Burger with Tillamook sharp white cheddar, a personal favorite. Cooked to a perfect medium, even the leftovers were yummy.
On the slope at Purgatory Resort, Ryan had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Dante’s. He claims this is one of the best on-mountain meals he’s eaten. Be sure to check out the handwritten beer specials at Purgy’s Slopeside. I had a couple of Steamworks brews for $4 per beer. An unheard of beer price at any other Colorado ski resort.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the chili cook-off and Bloody Mary competition. This event on Saturday is a popular part of Snowdown. It also acted as our lunch that day, and I recommend this tasty cook-off be part of your Snowdown plans.
I made it a point to try all the green chile. We were in Southwest Colorado, so there was a lot of it and it was all top-notch. We got to vote for our favorite red and green chile and favorite Bloody Mary so there was a lot riding on these tastes.
We drank at too many places to count, but everywhere we went people were festive and happy. We were lucky to get into several Snowdown events like the cross-dressing dance-off at El Rancho Tavern and weird Snowdown games at The Irish Embassy Pub. We also visited Down the Rabbit Hole, which we remember as Lady Falconburgh’s Barley. We ended up at Balcony Bar several times because the drinks were well-priced and the bartenders were nice.
We had grown-up drinks at Eulos Bar & Dining and the new speakeasy that used to be a bookstore. We managed to get right in at the Bookcase & Barber for outstanding fancy cocktails but when we left around 11 p.m., the wait to get in was over an hour. If you can get a seat, this Durango speakeasy is an ideal place to “adult” for a while.
Snowdown is a super fun time to be in Durango but any visit can result in a good time with lots of flavorful food and stiff drinks. The city has a laid back vibe and is genuinely friendly, and not just during Snowdown. In this way, Durango is a bit old-fashioned and that’s why I love it.
This was a hosted trip.