With world-class skiing, a beautiful, historic downtown, and a year-round lineup of A-list festivals—not to mention one of the most picturesque mountain landscapes on Earth—Telluride is a bucket-list destination. But often overlooked amongst the fanfare is the town’s vastly underrated food scene, which has made terrific strides in recent years.
The best part about exploring Telluride’s wealth of restaurants? You can experience it all by riding the town’s free gondola public transportation system. The gondola runs for most the year (it’s closed during the spring and fall mud seasons), shuttling passengers between downtown Telluride and nearby Mountain Village as the first and only such service of its kind in the U.S. So, leave your car at the hotel and pair your next culinary excursion with eye-popping mountain vistas as you ascend the gondola on a high-elevation Telluride food and drink crawl.
This low-key community gathering place is a central hub in which to kick back with a piping-hot Detroit-style pizza and regale your audience with stories from your epic day on the slopes. Brown Dog (sibling to Denver’s Blue Pan Pizza) also serves classic New York–style pizzas and Chicago deep dish, plus pastas and sandwiches (try the local-famous cheese steak sub). The comfortable space is nothing fancy and doesn’t try to be, which is just the way locals like it. 110 E. Colorado Ave.
Located just steps from the gondola, this slightly more upscale yet affable lodge-style space (formerly known as Smuggler’s Brew Pub) is a go-to for everything from elk and wild boar sausages to green chile burgers to filet mignon. Sit on the small outdoor patio and watch the action unfold along Depot Avenue, or hunker down indoors with one of the crisp, house-brewed beers, such as the award-winning Belgian ale Blond Betty. Yes, they have growlers. And yes, you can take them on the gondola with you. 225 S. Pine St.
After the gondola ride up to Mountain Village, one of the first places you’ll set your eyes on (after you’re done gaping at the mountains) is this centrally located casual American eatery with a wraparound bar and big-screen TVs. Snag a spot outside under the gondola line and dive into a menu full of creative pub-style offerings like shrimp tacos, buffalo meatloaf, and chicken pot pie. Tomboy also pours craft ales from 18 taps, 24-ounce Bloody Marys, and mules in copper mugs, so you could be there a while. 562 Mountain Village Blvd., Mountain Village
One of the most popular gathering places in Mountain Village is this bustling Asian tapas and seafood emporium, where an assortment of traditional and contemporary dishes are available. There are curries, noodles, and stir-fries, or you can dip into the hand-rolled sushi offerings. Plus, the fusion entrées, such as Maine lobster dressed in a brown butter-ponzu sauce with Frangelico parsnip purée, pair beautifully with the drink menu’s Japanese beers and sakes. It’s all best enjoyed on a table overlooking the stage in nearby Sunset Plaza, where live bands perform weekly in the summer months. 119 Lost Creek Lane, Mountain Village
Prepare yourself for the main event as you ride a second short gondola from Mountain Village up to Station St. Sophia (10,540 ft.), where you’ll find the secluded and romantic Allred’s Restaurant. The expansive panoramic views over Telluride are worth the trip in itself, but the food is worth lingering over. Options includes Alaskan halibut, elk strip lion, and if you’re in the mood to splurge, a seductively tender roasted Colorado rack of lamb that might actually be worth its $63 price tag. If you’re lucky, you might even have the chance to chat with the gregarious owner, Mario Petillo, a character who is sure to make your meal even more memorable with his charming stories. 565 Mountain Village Blvd., Mountain Village
Ride the gondola back down into town to end your night at the iconic local dive Last Dollar Saloon (or “the Buck,” as it’s known to locals). Despite a minor recent facelift, the 40-year-old watering hole is still the best place in Telluride to commiserate with grizzled old-timers and adventurous tourists alike. Offering the town’s largest beer selection with 60-plus varieties from across the world (including locals from Telluride Brewing Co.) plus $5 house margaritas, no Telluride visit is complete without spending at least a few hours soaking up the local flavor at this no-frills saloon, which is open until 2 a.m. nightly. 100 E. Colorado Ave.