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So you thought you’d escape to the mountains for a long summer weekend of hiking, camping, and soothing your soul with the sweet balm of Colorado’s great outdoors. That’s cute—so did everyone else. Now, you’re sweaty, sleepy, and probably a little bit hangry, too, and there is nothing but a wake of red taillights for miles ahead.
Instead of parking on the highway, snake through the gridlock to your nearest exit, where we’ve picked out our favorite hideaways for grub and bevvies. Replenish lost calories, wet your whistle, and kick back while you wait out the mayhem. Friendly reminder: No one enjoys you when you’re hangry.
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Best Restaurants off I-70
If you’ve found yourself coming down from Breckenridge, Dillon Lake, or even just Red Rocks, you’re not alone—and you probably know it. Here, our favorite highway escapes along the I-70 corridor from Glenwood Springs east to Golden.
You’ve got a long drive ahead, but instead of filing into the aisle of Subarus and Jeeps, channel your inner Peyton Manning and call an audible in the form of Glenwood Canyon Brewpub (402 7th Street, Glenwood Springs). Their short rib pot pie or elk jalapeño sausage mac and cheese will quickly help you forget your traffic woes, especially when washed down with a Hanging Lake light lager. Plus, the kid’s menu is the stuff of eight-year-old dreams and served on a take-home Frisbee, so the whole family can enjoy the pit stop.
Instead of fighting the crowds to leave after a weekend spent in the Gore Range, settle into a seat at El Segundo (223 Gore Creek Drive, Vail) in the Vail Village and cheers with margs and guac. The eclectic menu features everything from 24-hour-brined and slow-roasted carnitas to Korean barbecue-style wagyu beef tacos—plus more than 100 tequilas, which passengers will enjoy. Or, if that’s not quite your speed, check out the more affordable, mouthwatering Vendetta’s (291 Bridge Street, Vail) just around the corner for a thin-crust slice, a pasta dinner, or a draft while you wait for everyone to file out of the parking garages.
There’s one place you need to eat if you ambitiously choose to try to cut down to U.S. 285 from I-70 through Leadville: High Mountain Pies (115 West 4th Street, Leadville). Made in the highest incorporated city in America, these pizzas are wacky and so worth it (try the Crocodile: barbecue sauce, mozz, shrimp, jalapeños, bacon, and cream cheese). If you’re a more cautious eater, there’s always the build-your-own calzone, a sub on a baguette, or a plate of wings to tide you over before you brave the road again.
If you’re up for breakfast, a pit stop at Arapahoe Café (626 Lake Dillon Drive, Dillon) is in order. But after the sun sets, venture downstairs to Pub Down Under for the full dinner menu and $5 pours of Coors Light (or PBR tall boys). Nightly specials range from a plate of Rocky Mountain ruby red trout on Fridays to Sunday night’s burger fest. If you’re looking for something aboveground, though, the Red Mountain Grill (703 East Anemone Trail, Dillon) serves up lip-smacking-good Southwestern eats (get the queso).
Cabin Creek Brewing (577 Twenty-Second Street, Georgetown) might be the best-kept secret on I-70. Tucked in Georgetown (population: 1,000), this lakeside pub serves up killer views down Clear Creek Canyon and even more decadent delights worthy of flipping your right-hand blinker, from loaded Colorado tots (applewood bacon, green chiles, queso) to elk bratwurst cooked in Argentine amber lager. And the house-brewed beers? They’ll help you forget about the interstate altogether.
This little mining town packs a culinary punch with fan favorites like Tommyknocker Brewery (1401 Miner Street, Idaho Springs) and Beau Jo’s (1517 Miner Street, Idaho Springs)—so don’t be surprised if you hit another queue on your quest for relaxation. You might have better luck at lesser-known Westbound and Down Brewing (1617 Miner St, Idaho Springs), which dishes up a fried chicken sandwich that’s to die for, or Smokin’ Yards (2736 Colorado Boulevard, Idaho Springs), one exit later. There, it’s all about the barbecue: brisket and legendary sides like fried pickles and country-style mac and cheese.
You’re so close, we know—but if you need one more beverage to ease your traffic temper or you know there’s no food in the fridge at home, Over Yonder Brewing (18455 West Colfax Avenue #103, Golden) can turn things around. Tip back a local brewski while you browse the charcuterie boards and gourmet sandos of neighbor Launch Café, which will deliver to your table at the pub. You can also step next door to Vice Kitchen (18445 West Colfax Avenue #104, Golden) if you want something a little more upscale: wine, whiskey, and entrees like elk tenderloin, bison ribeye, and a “fig and pig” flatbread.
Best Restaurants off U.S. Highway 285
Whether you’re sneaking over from I-70 or heading back from Crested Butte or Twin Lakes, Buena Vista has the treats you need to fuel up for the ride home. Hit up Eddyline Brewery (102 Linderman Avenue, Buena Vista) for beer and wood-fired pizza (we like the Numbers, which is sprinkled with bacon, sausage, and pepperoni). Or carbo-load at the historic Lariat (206 East Main Street, Buena Vista), where green chile mac and cheese and a short-rib blend burger highlight a menu that will make you want to move to the mountains. Another option: Toast a perfect adventure with a cocktail and dessert at the Deerhammer Distillery (321 East Main Street, Buena Vista), where views of the Collegiate Peaks swallow you whole.
If the wind picks up, U.S. 285 can shut its doors at the Fairplay exit. Consider yourself lucky: Millonzi’s (501 Front Street, Fairplay) high-elevation Italian fare rivals Mile High City offerings (try the bolognese pappardelle). For a Southwest extravaganza, head to Salado (456 Front Street Suite B, Fairplay) for cactus fries with a side of sweet onion prickly pear sauce, a Navajo taco with traditional fry bread, stuffed poblano peppers, or the blue corn-crusted trout.
Add virtually no mileage to your itinerary when you stop at the Shaggy Sheep (50455 U.S. Highway 285, Grant), a roadside haunt serving breakfast and lunch during the summer season. Swing by for $4 Fat Tires and a menu of carnitas tacos, a tequila lime chicken sandwich and housemade green chile.
While you may be tempted to simply stop for gas and keep on going, Bailey offers up a scrumptious diversion if you’re weary of the two-lane traffic: the Cutthroat Cafe (50455 U.S. Highway 285, Grant). Chow down on the best down-home cooking along the 285 corridor with delicious entrees like chili dogs, country-fried steak, and loaded baked potatoes. If you’re headed back early, catch the breakfast menu until 2 p.m. on weekends—the French toast and chili relleno will have you thinking less about the road and more about the next time you can return to the Cutthroat.
You might be close to home, but don’t pass up a shrimp po’boy, Nashville hot chicken, or Philly cheesesteak pita wrap. Rocky Mountain Wraps (25997 Conifer Road Units A & B, Conifer) serves up the cure to road rage with a fast-casual menu that allows for ordering ahead. Snowpack Taproom and Pizzeria (11863 Springs Road #210, Conifer) dishes up everything from Detroit-style pan pies to a chimichurri flank steak sandwich on a rosemary roll; their bottle shop also hosts an impressive collection of boutique Colorado beers if you want to buy a celebratory drink for enjoying when you finally make it home).