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STEAK A CLAIM Dry-aged Angus top sirloin with sweet-potato hash, harissa sauce, pepitos and spinach at Downvalley Tavern

Destination Dining

by Linda Hayes | Photo by Julia Vandenoever | Aspen magazine | July 18, 2014

Sure, Aspen and Snowmass Village have a thriving restaurant scene, but those who venture past the roundabouts find that exploring the offerings in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs has a delicious payoff. Take, for example, Scott Davidson, a partner with Aspen Associates Realty Group, who favors two spots in Basalt. “El Korita has great Mexican food, and it’s a place I often see a lot of friends that live [in the area],” he says. “I also love Smoke [Modern Barbeque]. The pulled pork salad with fried okra will make me drive downvalley for brunch on the weekends.” Here, the Aspen outliers whetting our appetite.

More than just a pass-through on the way to casting a fly on the Frying Pan River, or boating at Ruedi Reservoir, Basalt is home to a handful of enduring restaurants—and some promising newcomers too.

Set on Midland Avenue amid a garden of greenery, Tempranillo (165 Midland Ave., 970.927.3342) is the place to settle in for a taste of owner-chef Javier Gonzalez-Bringas’ authentic tapas ($6-$14). This summer he’ll serve up family-style paella dinners ($25) in the garden. Pair it with one of 150 Spanish wines, including tempranillo, of course.

Across the street, Heather’s Savory Pies & Tapas Bar (166 Midland Ave., 970.927.0151) is a friendly, colorful spot for gathering on the patio and enjoying Heather Lujan’s pies and other entrees like five-spice salmon ($19). Her roasted chicken and vegetable potpie in a sublimely flakey crust ($15) is the most popular. Pair it with a Basalt Old-Fashioned: bourbon, Leopold Bros Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur and bitters.

Mitch Levy’s CuvĂ©e World Bistro (305 Gold Rivers Court, 970.927.4000) has a following of regulars who mingle inside at tables under palmetto-leaf ceiling fans, at the long bar or on the patio. His mahogany roasted duck with port cherry sauce ($21), which involves a lengthy process of salting, brining, poaching and roasting, is a favorite. A wine program features 60 wines by the glass, and the menu suggests pairings for every dish, as well as wine flights.

Next door in Midland Bakery’s former spot, Eurasia (305 Gold Rivers Court, 970.925.0225), run by Aspen local Lily Shen, offers an eclectic mix of internationally inspired dishes ($6-$19) from former private chef Glen Adamson and a sushi bar ($3-$39) overseen by chef Michael Par, who hails from New York. Nearby, Butch’s Lobster Shack has moved next to Lion’s Park downtown but still entices seafood lovers with East Coast lobsters (try the classic lobster roll), steamers, chowda and more.

El Jebel
At the neighborly Downvalley Tavern (68 El Jebel Road, 970.963.4388) chef-owner Drew Scott enhances the traditional Italian concept with dishes like roasted beet risotto ($15) and housemade sausage pizza ($10). Lately, burgers are also the buzz. Try the Coloradan ($12), with local Avalanche Cheese Cabra Blanca, bacon, red onion jam, tomato, lettuce and Fat Tire mustard. Pair it with a mojito made with fresh mint from the garden.

Willits Town Center is abuzz as well, with newcomers K’Gen Asian Cuisine (231 Harris St., 970.510.5956) and Bangkok Happy Bowl (400 E. Valley Road, 970.963.8424) joining long-standing favorites Smoke Modern Barbeque (241 Harris St., 970.927.5158) and El Korita (251 Harris St., 970.277.4500). Moving into the former Asiana space, K’Gen offers an ample selection of classic Asian fare, including a variety of noodles and dim sum ($5-$17.50), as well as an enlarged, windowside sushi bar ($4-$17.50) run by local sushi chef and co-owner Jackie Suratin. Replacing Zheng Asian Bistro, Bangkok Happy Bowl dishes up the authentic Thai recipes owner-chef Paula Rungsawang has become known for at the original Happy Bowl in Aspen.

No surprise here that Town. (348 Main St., 970.963.6328) and Phat Thai (343 Main St., 970.963.7001) are still going strong. Owner-chef Mark Fischer, who largely pioneered the slow food movement in the Roaring Fork Valley and whose former SIX89 put Carbondale on the nation’s culinary map, knows his stuff. So do his executive chefs: Bryce Orblom at Town., with its creative menu of locally sourced, contemporary fare (think spring vegetable risotto topped with a soft poached egg; Harris Ranch filet with crisp kale), and Antonio Martinez at the Asian-inspired Phat Thai.

Allegria (335 Main St., 970.963.7316) continues to shine as well, thanks to chef-owner Andreas Fischbacher. His welcoming way and taste for European bistro fare ensure that the delightfully casual restaurant is always full, and the just-added streetside patio enhances the appeal on summer evenings. Local Milagro Ranch beef tartare topped with a farm-fresh egg ($16) and traditional veal schnitzel ($22) are tops, paired with a pour of Austrian vino from the international wine list.

Since Mark Hardin, an alum of the late Fold Community Kitchen and Six89, took over the kitchen last fall at brewpub Carbondale Beer Works (647 Main St., 970.704.1216), change has been afoot. The former “wienery” menu is kaput, and local/sustainable is in. Pop open a Mason jar of housemade pickled veggies spiked with fresh hop flowers; order up a basket of sweet potato fries with rosemary salt; and tuck into the juicy Brewery BLT, made with local pork belly, jalapeno-rhubarb marmalade, arugula and tomato on Louis’ Swiss ciabatta. Dine alfresco on the side patio with its spanking-new bar.

Fans of Finbarr’s Irish Pub & Kitchen in Aspen will be happy to know that a sister spot has opened at the golf club at River Valley Ranch (303 River Valley Ranch Road, 970.963.0300). Stop in for classic Irish pub fare like bangers and mash ($14) or fish and chips ($15), along with a hefty selection of local and imported brews.

Glenwood Springs
Mark Fischer’s reign extends down to the Springs at The Pullman (330 Seventh St., 970.230.9234) by the railroad station. The trip down is well worth it for Chef du Cuisine Brett Thompson’s appealing offerings. Don’t miss the housemade pork rinds ($4), pan-seared Colorado bass ($20) or eggplant cannelloni ($13).

For a quick, decadent bite, stop by the new Sweet ColoraDough (2430 S. Glen Ave., 970.230.9056) a bakery specializing in, among other things, 160 different varieties of doughnuts. A coffee and tea counter in the back serves up local roasts from Bonfire.

Also extending its influence further downvalley is Smoke Modern Barbeque (711 Grand Ave.). By the end of the summer, Jamie Theriot and his crew will be dishing up more of the same smoky goodness (hand-pulled pork, beef brisket, pork spareribs, garlic chicken) that regularly packs the original to the rafters. Go hungry.