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If you frequent the high country, you’ve passed Idaho Springs countless times, possibly stopping for gas or coffee and hastily getting back on the road to beat westbound traffic. But as you set your fall leaf-peeping itinerary, we invite you to plan a stop in the charming Colorado mining town purely for the food factor. Here’s where to go and what to order.
Smokin’ Yards BBQ
Rivaling some of the state’s best ’cue, the flagship Smokin’ Yards BBQ rests along the roiling Clear Creek river and offers a lovely patio-on-the-riverside ambiance. The pitmasters here cover all the dry-rubbed, slow-smoked bases with a Carolina-esque style they call high-elevation barbecue. Follow your nose to pork ribs, whole chickens, brisket, links, and burnt ends ($10–$11). Side up with smoked baked beans, creamed corn, fried okra, and Southern-style green beans, and be sure to try the famous smoked hot wings ($13 for a dozen with fries). Can’t make it to the hills? Check out their second location in the Denver Art District on Santa Fe. 2736 Colorado Blvd., Idaho Springs
A mod mountain steakhouse, Mtn Prime is where ordinary dishes transcend into something layered and inventive. For example, the chefs sling bacon-wrapped shrimp dripping with honey bourbon glaze ($15) and toss their brussels in bacon vinaigrette with feta, cayenne candied pecans, dried cherries, and roasted pork belly ($14). Nachos are topped with ahi tuna poke and pineapple mango salsa ($14). Mtn Prime also serves beef and bison steaks from Colorado family ranches that are cut in-house. Try the prime-cut, boneless ribeye ($49) with cognac demi-glace ($4). Feeling indulgent? Add the garlic mashed potatoes with mushroom stout gravy. It’s worth every delicious, decadent calorie. 1600 Miner St., Idaho Springs
Clear Creek Cidery & Eatery
When a Colorado native with a hankering for hard ciders teams up with a Tucson foodie, you can expect a sweet and spicy scene. The Clear Creek Cidery & Eatery carries the largest selection of ciders in the Colorado high country and serves a stacked menu of tasty Sonoran sustenance. Build your own flight of ciders—from dry to juicy pear to hibiscus—from pros like Longmont’s Wild Cider and Penrose’s C Squared Cider. Pair tart, palate-tickling Colorado peach cider with street tacos ($13) and fiery Oh-My-Gawd green chile with serrano and jalapeño peppers ($6). 1446 Miner St., Idaho Springs
Main Street Restaurant
Settle into a timeworn booth and throw the diet out the window at Main Street Restaurant, a hometown greasy spoon we love. Navigating the hefty menu is the first task—you’ll need to parse through no less than 10 scratch-made Benedicts, seven specialty omelets, a host of skillets, and 10 variations on hubcap pancakes (12 inches in diameter). Begin with a bloody mainer breakfast cocktail ($14), made with house-infused vodka, spicy bloody Mary mix, Clamato, and a lobster claw garnish, while you decide what’s next. Indecisive eaters will love the flight options. Pick any three baby cakes (six-inch pancakes) for $13—we chose pineapple upside down, s’mores, and the blueberry-strawberry with cream cheese drizzle. The flight of Benedicts ($19) is another solid option that’s large enough to share. On your way out, pick up some house-baked jalapeño cheddar or banana nut bread for the road. 1518 Miner St., Idaho Springs
Two Bears Tap and Grill
As you approach Idaho Springs on westbound I-70, you might spy a blink-and-miss-it roadhouse from below. This no-frills American pub and burger joint is Two Bears Tap and Grill, and it’s the perfect hole-in-the-wall pit stop. Dig into fried pickle chips with spicy mayo ($9), parmesan garlic wings ($8), a tasty bison burger ($13) and the regulars’ favorite elk sausage smothered in green chile and cheese ($16). Enjoy ice-cold Colorado beer on tap from the sprawling patio snugged against the mountainside—which is also a great place to people-watch as whitewater rafters exit the river across the street. Visit on a weekend to catch local bands jamming on the patio stage starting at noon. 33295 US Hwy. 6, Idaho Springs