Admit it: A day spent exploring Colorado's great outdoors wouldn’t be half as fun without all the stops you make for dining and drinking en route. Each within a couple hours’ drive, these six restaurants and bars more than warrant a detour when refreshment calls. (Keep in mind that many mountain-town spots close for mud season, which is imminent — but it’s also short, so if you miss them now, they’ll be back in business before you know it.)
Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant
Breckenridge’s multi-platinum distillery was road-trip worthy even before it opened an airy, casually stylish gastropub on the premises. Now it’s one of the hottest ski-town stops in the state. With a highly pedigreed talent in Top Chef alum Daniel O’Brien, BDR has been garnering kudos since its opening in December for such menu highlights as chicken liver mousse profiteroles with schmaltz caramel and pickled red onions (pictured); oyster mushroom–goat cheese Dutch babies; and a 50-day dry-aged rib-eye to share that, we’re told, sells out nightly. The bar matches the kitchen’s panache with cocktails like the Sweet Tater Cider, combining house spiced whiskey with sweet-potato shrub and apricot. And to top it all off, founder Bryan Nolt is expanding his operations to include a brewery and winery, slated to open within the next couple of years.
1925 Airport Rd., Breckenridge; 970-771 3251
In the months since we published our fall roundup of must-visits in Vail, this den of Mitteleuropean enchantment has opened to some of the most enthusiastic raves to come out of the Valley in some time. Run by a family who also operates restaurants in Germany, the dead ringer for a rustic cottage nestled in some tranquil Alpine meadow is also proving to be the very picture of country hospitality — a meal doesn’t get more convivial than, say, a family-style order of Hut essen (like an Austrian version of Korean barbecue with all the trimmings) followed by chocolate fondue and a round of schnapps. But the menu hardly ends there, as hearty classics like schweinshaxe (roast pork knuckle) and the Tyrolean pancake called kaiserschmarrn abound.
333 Bridge St., Vail; 970-470-4174
Let the tourists have Buffalo Bill's grave and Bent's Fort: This Buena Vista haunt is a day-drinking local's dream portal to the Wild West. Sarah Haughey’s atmospheric beer bar occupies the town clink circa 1880 (hence the name), and every rock, plank, cell bar and railroad spike within brings its Gold Rush–era history to life. Her rotating lineup of brews, however — heavy on cult brands like Casey and Scratch — beats the heck out of prison hooch, while the tap takeovers, concerts and other events rock too. In fact, on July 1, The Jailhouse will be presenting the first annual Rapids & Grass Beer Festival.
412 E. Main St., Buena Vista; 719-966-5544
What The Jailhouse offers beer trippers, this Silver Plume gem does for spirits trekkers, paying loving tribute to its picturesque mountain-town setting — in this case a Main Street storefront that, a century ago, housed a bakery — with a combination of antique charm and breezy comfort. The bar's short but sweet cocktail list showcases local ingredients, including house-grown herbs (it's supplemented by a few beers). And like The Jailhouse, Bread Bar brings in live music, barbecue pop-ups and more to make for a special weekend-afternoon getaway (it's open Friday–Sunday only).
As fabulous as farm-to-table dining is in Denver, there’s a lot to be said for doing it in the midst of actual farm country. Tim Payne’s hit stall in Avanti F&B now stands on its own out in Lyons as an unfussy little bistro with a New American menu that’s appealingly heavy on produce, supportive of organic agriculture and friendly to a wide range of diets — think beet-mascarpone risotto with almonds or pan-roasted salmon with carrot purée and spaghetti-squash fritters. A hike around Boulder would dovetail nicely with a weekend brunch here, or you can make a night of it at one of Payne’s frequent beer or wine dinners.
432 Main St., Lyons; 303-823-5856
Sweetie's Sandwich Shop
As a cycling mecca, Salida’s chock-full of easygoing cafes that serve up wholesome yet hearty eats to do a weary body good, and chief among them is this beloved sandwich shop. Pastry chef Sarah Gartzman’s fresh-baked loaves provide the foundation for some 40 hand-held creations, from the Chicken Salad Sammie of the Day — cilantro-lime one visit, cranberry-walnut the next — to the Sears Tower with sliced rib-eye, caramelized onions, white American cheese, house wing sauce and more on a baguette (pictured). Cookies and bars in flavors like carrot cake and Grasshopper have an equally devoted following, which is why Gartzman and her husband Rob are gearing up to open their third venture, wine and dessert bar The Biker & The Baker, later this month (they also own Mo Burrito).
124 F St., Salida; 719-539-4248