February 1, 2024 7:49 pm

Duane L. Coker

Gunnison and Crested Butte, Colorado, are not just havens for outdoor enthusiasts – hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders, splitboarders, and all manner of backcountry enthusiasts – both towns also boast a vibrant culinary scene that’s a delight for foodies like us! Here’s a roundup of a few must-visit culinary gems of Gunnison and Crested Butte that will tantalize your taste buds the next time you find yourself in the Gunnison Valley!


A double rainbow over Gunnison

Gunnison is more of a ranching and college town than what a lot of people would consider a mountain or ski town, but, nestled in the high alpine desert at the foot of the Gunnison Valley, it is developing a tourist scene all its own.  This is becoming completely independent from the bustling ski town of Crested Butte, only 25 miles up the valley. Gunnison offers amazing mountain biking trails, fly fishing, salmon fishing on Blue Mesa Reservoir, and acts as home base for elk and mule deer hunters each year.

Gunnison also has some really great dining options!  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Anejo’s Bistro and Bar:  Anejo’s is our favorite Mexican food restaurant in the Gunnison Valley.  Authentic and delicious food, an amazing Tequila and Mezcal selection, and some of the best margaritas anywhere.  The house margs are great and very, very strong.  Or, pick your tequila and get upgraded marg with fresh lime juice and just a hint of triple sec . . .  perfection in a glass!!!
  • Mario’s Pizza & Pasta: A gem in Gunnison, this Italian-American spot is known for its hearty Chicago-style pizzas, smothered in rich toppings like pepperoni, mushrooms, and green olives. The bustling ambiance and friendly service add to the charm of this local favorite​​.  Mario’s changes hours frequently, so check the website or Google for current opening times.  They deliver all over Gunnison.
  • High Alpine Brewing Company: This mountain town brew pub is fantastic for those who appreciate a good beer with their meal. The appetizers are all great and the bratwurst at High Alpine is highly recommended.  Everyone  pairs well with their selection of craft beers, but the wood-fired pizzas are my favorite.
    Photo courtesy of High Alpine

    Try the Mountaineer Pizza if you’re looking for red sauce and the High Alpine totally hits the marks if you’re looking for something a bit different.  The beers are absolutely top notch!  I love the Gunny Gold on a warm summer day (try sitting out on the upstairs deck to sip a beer and watch a small mountain town go by) and the Green Gate IPA totally rocks if you’re a hophead looking for a fix. Be sure to check the daily specials as they often have some really cool cocktails that incorporate their beers.  The vibe is relaxed and noisy, making it an easy place to meet or make friends, but, especially during the summer on the outdoor patio, it’s a one of the very best spot sto unwind after a day of exploring​​.

  • W Cafe: The “W” as locals call it, along with its close neighbor Back Country Cafe, both serve up an amazing breakfast.  I usually hit the Back Country to dine in since they serve some amazing, and strong, breakfast/brunch cocktails, and, because they deliver breakfast to your door, the W is our go-to for those lazy Sunday mornings in bed. Both restaurants ​​serve amazing breakfast burritos and juevos rancheros.  My can’t miss at each location?  Order the “Morty Stacker” at the W Cafe and go for the San Juan Benedict at Back Country Cafe.  You can’t go wrong with either and both will leave you needing a cozy, after-breakfast nap!
  • Garlic Mike’s Italian Cuisine: For a taste of Italy in Colorado, head to Garlic Mike’s​, a Gunnison “must try” located about 3 miles north of town.  Too many great recipes to list here, but I really love the meatballs and
    On the way to Garlic Mikes aboard the Three Rivers Resort Float and Dine!

    the Flat Iron Fettuccini.  You can’t go wrong with either, but, frankly, I’ve never had a bad meal there.  Michael, the chef owner, has totally upped his wine game over the last couple years supporting staff, who have sought out high-level wine education.  It really shows in their astute wine recommendations and the constantly improving cellar.  Finally, and definitely last but not least, if you find yourself in Gunnison Valley during the summer, you have to go early for dinner and have a few drinks at the River Bar.  Garlic Mike’s sits right next to the Gunnison River and has an amazingly beautiful outdoor area and bar.  You can literally sip an Aperol Spritz with your toes soaking in the gorgeous mountain waters.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even raft down from Almont, put ashore at the River Bar, and have dinner through Three River Resort’s Float and Dine.  We’ve done it 4 times and it’s been awesome every time!  On the last trip, we saw bald eagles, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.  It’s a true Gunnison Valley Experience!

  • 1880 Tapas+Spirits: For a truly special night out, hit up 1880 Tapas, a cozy restaurant right on Main Street..  The cocktails (a list often updated by their in-house mixologist) are not to be missed, but the real stars are all of the shareable small plates.  The amazing food, including some of my favorites like house made pickles and olives, marinated goat cheese,  drunken port, and bacon-wrapped dates, could easily be served in any 5 Star fine dining establishment and will transport you to your favorite restaurant in Madrid or Bilbao!
  • The Saag is to die for; add paneer for an extra treat. Photo from Sherpa Cafe.

    Sherpa Cafe: Offering a unique Himalayan/Nepalese experience, the Sherpa Cafe is a must-try. The cafe is cute and loaded with maps and pictures from the Nepalese Himalaya.  Their Sherpa Stew and Saag are exceptional, with perfectly cooked meats and rich, flavorful spices. It’s a delightful change of pace from the usual mountain fare​​ and not something you’d find in most mountain towns (except for those in Nepal, of course 😉 ).  I often order the Saag with paneer, which is a delight and a full meal in its own right.  Other favorites include the vegetable samosas, the chicken tikka masala, and all of the varieties of naan.  And, to wash it down, they have a nice selection of Indian beer.

Each of these places offers something unique, whether it’s the ambiance, the specialty dishes, or the warm hospitality. Gunnison’s food scene is as diverse and inviting as its landscapes, making it a perfect destination for food lovers.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte, in my opinion, is a true culinary treasure nestled in the heart of the Rockies!

This charming mountain town is a haven for foodies, offering an eclectic mix of delightful eateries. Here are five top spots that are a must-visit on your gastronomic adventure:

  • The Secret Stash: Voted Crested Butte’s best pizza and chicken wings since 2000, The Secret Stash is
    Secret Stash is almost universally agreed to be one of the culinary gems of Gunnison and Crested Butte
    Photo from secretstash.com

    renowned for its varied pizza menu, including specialty meat and veggie pies. For most people, who have been coming to the valley for years, or even decades, The Secret Stash is the one restaurant they “HAVE” to visit before they leave.  It’s a hip, cool spot and the relaxed environment makes it an ideal après-ski spot. Their thick-crust pizza with large crusts offers a unique twist on traditional styles​​ and is a truly filling meal after working for that 25,000 feet of vert!  Must tries for me include: Crack Fries, the Texas Biggin’ Pizza, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the Booty Call, which is a Chef’s choice, according to the menu, of “meat and cheese and then more meat and more cheese and then more meat and more cheese and more meat!”  I’ve tried it at least 10 times, have never had the same combo yet, and it’s been delish every time!

  • The Slogar: If the Secret Stash is a crowd favorite in Crested Butte, The Slogar is an absolute institution.  It’s housed in the second oldest building in Crested Butte, which was built in 1882. The Slogar offers a unique
    Another empty plate and happy customer at The Slogar

    dining experience, specializing in family-style meals that are generous and hearty. The menu primarily features American cuisine, but, let’s face it, it’s all about the skillet-fried chicken. If it’s your first trip, order one of their amazing cocktails, or two, and just get the chicken.  No other decisions required and you are guaranteed to leave full and happy.  The restaurant’s atmosphere is cozy and welcoming, contributing to its popularity among locals and visitors alike.  It’s a spot well-known for its delightful comfort food and charming ambiance.  Ask anyone who has been to Crested Butte a few times and you’re likely to start a full on debate about what the one restaurant you MUST visit is in CB, but, regardless of the outcome,  it will always be between two establishments: The Slogar and The Secret Stash.

  • Soupcon: This charming little spot is known for its exquisite and altogether excellent cuisine. Soupcon is 5 star, high end dining all the way and the quality of food is on par with any fine dining restaurant you might find in a big city.  The atmosphere is comfortable, and the rotating, and seasonal, five-course tasting menu, often features dishes like mussels, Colorado lamb chops, elk medallions, and oh-so-delicious desserts. Dining here is a delight. Their wine list, focusing on new and old-world wines, complements the meal perfectly​​.  They offer a Wine Pairing course, too, and, as a trained sommelier, I have to say that it is just about as good as it gets.  The restaurant is small, so reservations are a must.  It is also a bit pricey (around $200 for dinner and an additional $125 for the wine pairings), but not at all out of line considering the food, setting, and, if you choose it, the quality of the wine pairings.
    • Teocalli Tamale: Established in 1997, Teocalli Tamale is a fun, local favorite for fast, filling Mexican food.  The
      Photo from teocallitamale.com

      tamales are good, but, honestly, the burritos are what  bring me in again and again.  ​They are absolutely delicious and GIGANTIC.  I’m a huge fan and love nothing better than picking up my favorite burrito, backcountry skiing or hiking to somewhere with an amazing view and wolfing down a Teocalli burrito with a few good friends.  If a cold beer or two finds its way into one of our backpacks, even better!​  If you’re tired of sitting down for a long meal, and looking for a bit of Crested Butte spice, give it a try!  And, if you go with my favorite, the burrito, you definitely won’t leave hungry!

  • Izakaya Cabin: For sushi in CB, Izakaya Cabin is the place to go. This restaurant has been hailed as the best sushi spot in Crested Butte for a reason. The quality of their sushi is comparable to high-end sushi places in larger cities, making it a must-visit for sushi lovers​​. The cocktails are amazing, too.  They have a super cool hand-operated shaved ice machine on the bar, which makes snow cone-style ice, and they have a number of craft cocktails that incorporate it.  Really different and fun, especially if you’re sitting at their bar, chatting up the locals, and watching as the bartender builds a boozy snow cone right in front of you.  If you are going to Izakaya, sign up on their website as a “Local” and you can take advantage of their impressive “Local Happy Hour” from 4 – 5 p.m. every day.  And, be sure to check out their website for other specials and events.

Each of these culinary gems of Gunnison and Crested Butte offers a unique dining experience, adding to the rich culinary tapestry of the entire Gunnison Valley. Whether you’re in the mood for amazing pizza, gourmet fine dining, cozy American classics, flavorful Mexican dishes, or exquisite sushi, Gunnison Valley has something to satisfy every palate.

About the Author

Avid backcountry splitboarder, camper, overlander, traveler, foodie, trained sommelier, and lover of tech and gadgets!

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