Since we're on the road for this week's cover story package, we figured it'd be apropos to feature some more far-flung restaurants here as well.
Were you to venture southward toward Taos, N.M. (see here), you'd surely be heading through Pueblo anyway. Many folks then opt to hang a right in Walsenburg onto U.S. Highway 160, where you can soon pick up State Highway 12, the scenic Highway of Legends, through La Veta and Cuchara.
With the Spanish Peaks as a stunning backdrop, the area makes a lovely day-drive and great hiking and camping destination. Thankfully, there are also some rather decent snack spots along the way. I recently tried three worth your consideration. — Matthew Schniper
Gray's Coors Tavern
515 W. Fourth St., Pueblo, 719/544-0455
Gray's didn't need the Travel Channel's Food Wars to make it famous: After 75 years, it already was, at least locally. Still, owner Don Gray says business "exploded" after last year's episode (which repeats fairly regularly.)
In to sample the hoopla, I order a regular slopper ($5.99), the most basic of white hamburger buns and two American cheese-topped patties, with fries on top ($1.25) and red and green chile (called a Stop-and-Go). An 18-ounce schooner (a cheap $3.75) of Alaskan Amber Ale pairs wonderfully, but for being served nearly warm.
The slopper bowl is gut-bomb bar-food bliss, wet and soggy with raw onion bite, salt, starch and mild chile heat. It's far from gourmet, just damn satisfying and tasty, even on a 100-degree day.
30 Cuchara Ave. East, Cuchara, 303/829-7755
Only operational from mid-June to around Labor Day, and closed Tuesdays through Thursdays, Creekside Café dishes breakfast and lunch to daytripping bikers and tourists while maintaining a tavern by night for those lodging in tiny Cuchara. Littleton-based high school English teacher Bernard Small has run the spot for eight years, and hopes to expand his season and menu soon.
A solid lunch option in the interim is the elk bratwurst ($7.95 with chips and a pickle), served halved and grilled with sautéed green bell peppers and onions on a buttery grilled hoagie roll. The elk's natural (no hormones, etc.) with a nice added spice edge, and though all the sandwich's components come from "one of the major distributors" Small doesn't care to disclose, they taste top-dollar and are well-prepared, making for an all-out bangin' brat.
101 Central Plaza, Pueblo, 719/225-8363, bingoburger.com
It's a personal culinary neurosis, but I can't venture near Pueblo without picking up one of the specialty Bingo Burger varieties, usually one with bacon and some sweet potato fries.
This time, I force room for the special blueberry milkshake (12 ounces, $3.95; 20 ounces, $4.95), made like all the house shakes with a homemade ice cream base from sister operation Hopscotch Bakery. Co-owner Mary Oreskovich makes special flavors for weekends, like lavender, pistachio and Country Roots Farm lemon basil. For the blueberry, she creates a purée from fresh berries and adds kosher salt and vanilla to the heavy cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks. At Bingo, the ice cream's blended with more whole milk for a looser milkshake body, and the deep purple result is not mind-blowingly amazing, but expectedly yummy and natural-tasting.