After more than 1,500 miles in the car, we found our favorites: We dined on sable in Fort Collins, snacked on Kobe beef short ribs in Frisco, sipped wine in a mountain’s shadow in Edwards, and found a gourmet version of Southern shrimp ‘n’ grits in Basalt. So pack your bags, your appetite, and your sense of adventure—let’s eat.Fish: Fort Collins, 150 W. Oak St., 970-224-1188
The paper tablecloths are missing and the humid breeze absent, but a meal at Fish hangs only a lost shaker of salt away from coastal seafood perfection. Peering into the eatery’s windows off Oak Street in Old Town Fort Collins proves Fish could just as easily reside on a sandy street just minutes from the dunes in a small seaside town. Live Maine lobsters and Dungeness crabs swim in a large, briny tank, a hanging dry-erase board presents the day’s specials scrawled in green marker, and a supermarket-style glass display case glistens with an assortment of fresh jewels from the sea.Samplings: Frisco, 320 Main St., 970-668-8466
Striking. Sophisticated. Sexy. Samplings should be in New York City. But it’s not. It’s in Frisco, which is so much better. Sweetly nestled on a corner of Main Street, this urban-cool-meets-mountain-lodge restaurant draws a varied crowd of Frisco locals, tourists, and day-tripping Coloradans for après and dinner.Eat! Drink!: Edwards, 56 Edwards Village Blvd., 970-926-1393
There’s something delicious about being on the floor of a mountain valley. With the cobalt sky above and the land bowed around you, it feels like a gentle embrace. The city is suddenly long gone when you sink into a chair on Eat! Drinks!’s patio and watch the sun drop over the ridge. Just as the apricot alpenglow falters, a slow, European-style feast begins with a rectangular platter heaped with paper-thin slices of speck, finocchiona, and salami, each waiting to be wrapped around a slender breadstick and dipped into ruby-red pomegranate reduction. A sip of the vaguely tart Domaine du Salvard Cheverny is followed with bites of candylike prosciutto-fig-mascarpone bruschetta. Then a cheese plate delivers hunks of mild and goaty Humboldt Fog, creamy Robiola Due Latte, and funky Tasmanian Roaring 40s Bleu for sharing and spreading on crusty ciabatta.Dogwood Grill: Basalt, 305 Gold Rivers Court, 970-927-4000
Huge bamboo-colored fans turn slowly as if the air—so thick with humidity and heat—might break them at a faster pace. The Dogwood Grill conjures the idea that you’re vacationing someplace hot and sultry, where a barely there breeze and limey gin-and-tonics are the only refuge. A menu stocked with shrimp and creamy grits, sweet-potato fries, and free-range fried chicken furthers the lazy feeling of the Deep South. That is, until you look a little closer. The chicory salad gets tossed with julienne endive, poached pear, and artisan blue cheese, and the crispy voodoo calamari comes with a side of smoked tomato cocktail sauce and a fresh herb salad. Dogwood offers not the cozy soul food found in most Southern kitchens, but gourmet, highly creative dishes served in Basalt—some 20 miles outside of Aspen.