Telluride may be known as a ski destination, but this tiny mountain town is also a hideaway culinary hot spot. Whether you want to catch a casual après-ski bite or a multicourse fine-dining meal, Telluride puts the lie to the idea that food can’t taste great at high altitudes. Here are 10 reasons why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think that Telluride should be on foodies’ travel lists:
1. Alpino Vino. To get to North America’s highest restaurant, you have to take a gondola and then a snowcat almost 12,000 feet up Gold Hill mountain. Your efforts will be rewarded with one of Telluride’s most spectacular culinary experiences: a five-course Northern Italian dinner in a cozy 27-seat hut with a stone fireplace. You’ll be welcomed with a glass of prosecco, but splurge on the wine pairings to enhance dishes like housemade crab ravioli in a saffron cream sauce and pan-seared wild sea bass with roasted potatoes and olives. If you can’t nab a reservation for one of the coveted two nightly seatings, ski in for lunch on the heated deck to take in a fantastic view of the Wilson Range along with a prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, salsa aurora and arugula panino or some antipasti.
2. Allred’s. Perched 10,551 feet at the top of the San Sophia gondola station, Allred’s provides breathtaking views from its floor-to-ceiling windows. Be sure to arrive in the early evening to catch a glimpse of the sunset over the snowy surrounding mountains. The small bar swells with crowds, but you’ll have plenty of room in the rustic dining room with antler chandeliers, stone columns, light wood exposed beams, brown leather chairs with bark-like arms, and an open kitchen. While you soak in the vista, nosh on crispy potato croutons, breaded and fried potato squares sprinkled with Parmesan and chives and served with a truffle aioli. Then move onto a meaty entrée, like the tender elk with a red wine reduction or the Colorado lamb with warm tomato-eggplant jam, shaved fennel, watercress, olives and a goat cheese espuma.
3. The Little Bar. Set on the fourth floor of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Lumière Telluride, The Little Bar looks like a casual lounge filled with dark brown wooden banquette seating, cream couches in front of a fireplace and some board games tucked in the corner. But you’ll find fine cuisine on the menu that goes beyond mere bar food. One-man team chef Eamonn O’Hara puts out impressive dishes like gorgonzola-crusted angus beef fillet with potato puree, trumpet mushrooms, asparagus and a red wine demi-glace or the orecchiette with spicy beef tenderloin, spinach, tomato, basil and ricotta cream.
4. The Cosmopolitan. At The Cosmo, chef Chad Scothorn whips up upscale contemporary American fusion fare that brings in the crowds (especially during the daily happy hour when sushi is the draw). Start with the fresh Chilean salmon sashimi, which sits on a bed of onions and avocado and is topped with jalapeño, salmon roe and sesame sauce. It arrives at the table in a plume of oak wood smoke, which gives it added flavor. Order anything with the succulent lobster, like the surf and turf, a filet with peppercorn sauce and a grilled lobster tail, or the seafood stew, a tomato-saffron broth with prawns, halibut, capellini, crab, scallops, roasted peppers, fennel and a split lobster tail crowning it all. End with the warm blueberry pie—it resembles a mini tart—accompanied by a large almond tuile cookie holding a scoop of complementary sour cream ice cream.
5. New Sheridan Chop House. Anchoring Colorado Avenue, Telluride’s version of Main Street, the restaurant in the New Sheridan Hotel (which is neither new—it’s been open since 1891—nor part of the well-known Sheridan chain) is a local favorite. The dining room, with its white coffered ceiling, red and gray damask banquettes and distressed mirrored columns, fills up nightly. People come for the pretzel-crusted blue crab cake with achiote aioli and, of course, the steaks. The New York strip bears a flavorful seasoning, but we’re partial to the juicy filet mignon topped with a bacon-shallot-Madeira mix that lent some smokiness. Don’t leave without indulging in the cinnamon- and nutmeg-dusted housemade doughnuts. More like beignets, the piping-hot treats come with addictive chocolate and caramel dipping sauces. Aside from the food, the steakhouse has big plans: It will debut a new rooftop bar, The Roof, this summer and The New Sheridan Coffee Bar will open in June in an adjacent space.
6. Brown Dog Pizza. This Telluride eatery throws a wrench in the New York vs. Chicago debate by adding a new regional contender: Detroit. The square pizza is reminiscent of Sicilian, but less bready and with a crispy lattice cheese crust. The pizzeria offers a solid introduction to the Detroit style by using top-notch ingredients. We couldn’t get enough of the Brooklyn Bridge, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, chopped garlic, pecorino romano, mozzarella and brick cheeses, and dollops of creamy ricotta. Pies like this cement Brown Dog as one of the country’s best pizza spots.
7. Siam’s Talay Grille. Locals have packed Siam Telluride for authentic Thai food for more than a decade, so they were happy when another outpost opened in 2013. Siam’s Talay Grille sits slopeside near the Mountain Village gondola inside The Inn at Lost Creek. The ski-in, ski-out restaurant’s prime location makes it a good après-ski spot for cocktails like the sweet basil-tini (house-infused basil vodka, fresh lime, basil and cucumber) or Asian beers (Tsingtao, Lucky Buddha) and appetizers like steamed buns stuffed with everything from elk to duck. At dinner, peruse the fusion menu of shrimp drunken noodles, pad Thai, bulgogi (a Korean dish of marinated, grilled New York strip and housemade rice noodles) and Thai shepherd’s pie (panang braised beef short rib, sweet corn and red curry mashed potatoes).
8. Bon Vivant. Ski to Bon Vivant’s huge deck to sit under the 39-foot umbrella with heaters and savor country French cuisine, such as a Nutella and berry compote crepe with Chantilly cream, a cassoulet with wild boar sausage and duck confit, and a croque madame with rosemary ham, Gruyère, mustard, Mornay sauce, black truffles and quail eggs. You’ll also want to pick one of the French wines to accompany your meal, or warm up with a hot beverage, like a French press or the Courvoisier Toddy (Courvoisier VSOP, truffle nectar, grapefruit bitters and lemon zest) before returning to the slopes.
9. The Butcher & Baker Café. Owners Megan Ossola (the butcher) and Cinda Simons (the baker) reopened this local mainstay in a larger space in January 2015. The light-filled eatery is the place to grab breakfast and lunch in downtown Telluride, though dinner is now part of the menu, too. Diners snatch up the Cinda buns—the café’s popular version of cinnamon buns—and lattes and espressos. But if you need something heartier, try a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheddar, salsa, corn, black beans and sweet potatoes or the chilaquiles, which is closer to morning nachos than the traditional Mexican dish but still delicious nonetheless with eggs, beans, cheese, crema, tomatoes, avocado, scallions, radish rounds and green chiles piled on a heap of tortilla chips. If you can’t save room for the thick bread pudding (ask for a drizzle of chocolate), bring it home for later. In the summer, you’ll be able to enjoy the bread pudding from a new patio.
10. 221 South Oak. Wander along a side street to find this fine-dining restaurant, which resides in one of Telluride’s quaint homes. Chef-owner Eliza Gavin, who starred in the 10th season of Bravo’s Top Chef, crafts a daily changing menu that can include items like grilled lamb T bones with mint-pecan chimichurri with a sweet potato cake and manchego-roasted broccolini, or peanut, scallion and brown sugar scallops with truffled celery root, cider-pickled carrots and herb oil. Don’t be thrown off by the meat- and seafood-heavy offerings; the restaurant boasts that it’s the only one in the carnivorous town with a wide and varied vegetarian menu (featuring dishes like the braised kale with thyme and lavender roasted sunchokes). When the weather warms up, take your meal outside to the leafy private patio.