This Colorado travel tips article first appeared in the winter 2012 edition of GoColorado.com.
Hungry for a foodie vacation? Durango restaurants can take you on an affordable culinary journey that spans the globe. With almost as many places to eat per capita as San Francisco, you can pack for an adventure from the Himalayas to Japan, Italy to Mexico. This little mountain town has less than 20,000 residents, but the local food scene is incredibly diverse. However, that’s not really surprising considering that many locals are urban transplants whose epicurean tastes are visible in the variety of global cuisine and gourmet eateries.
Wherever you decide to begin, first, visit DurangoDowntown.com or DurangoMenu.com for a sneak preview of menus and coupon deals from nearly all local cafes and restaurants. Next, read “Dishing it Out,” the Durango Herald newspaper’s food column featuring local culinary news of the week.
For a budget-friendly meal, visit Nini’s Taqueria where you can enjoy a variety of Mexican food and salsas.
When your trip itinerary is complete, leave your car keys at home because it’s cheap and convenient to get around this relatively flat town by biking, walking or riding the Durango “T” public transit system.
Downtown Durango is clearly the heart of the community and many people refer to it as the town’s “living room.” With a strong “Shop Local” attitude by residents, independent local businesses thrive in the area’s lovingly restored historic commercial district. You can spend an entire day perusing downtown’s boutiques and art galleries, but when hunger calls, you’ll have a tough time choosing where to eat. Here are a few suggestions:
When you have more month than money left after payday, head to NiNi’s Taqueria for an affordable and tasty Mexican food experience at less than $10 an entree. Linger over the colorful mix-and-match menu options of meat, chicken, pork or fish tacos and burritos while you sip a mango margarita. Be sure to order chips and guacamole so you can taste test NiNi’s extensive salsa menu showcasing homemade blends ranging from Mango-Lime to Tomatillo-Jalapeno or Mango-Habanero.
NiNi’s also has a kid’s menu, meal-sized quesadillas and a Southwestern Fish Chowder to heat up those cold winter nights. Should you have trouble deciding what to order, just ask the friendly staff for suggestions.
Ken & Sue’s
One of Durango’s most celebrated locally-owned restaurants is Ken & Sue’s, a contemporary American bistro with an award-winning wine list and diverse menu that offers something for practically every taste and diet preference.
The restaurant’s casually elegant ambiance is the perfect setting for a romantic, candle-lit dinner for two or a festive group get-together on the charming all-season back patio, making it an extremely popular destination where reservations are highly advised for dinner-hour dining.
While it’s not the least expensive restaurant in Durango, the wide price range of dinner and lunch entrees ensures that everyone can find something in their budget to savor. Popular favorites include Ginger-Chicken Potsticker appetizers with Hoisin Sauce, Aunt Lydia’s Meatloaf and Cilantro-Crusted Halibut.
Whichever item you select, your experience is guaranteed to be in good hands by a wait staff that is personally schooled in a competitive, four-week application and training course given by owners Ken and Sue.
The Himalayan Cafe
Durango is a mecca for high-altitude climbing and recreation enthusiasts, attracting daring souls from around the globe like Karma Tenzing Bhotia.
As proprietor of the Himalayan Cafe, this former Sherpa and renowned Nepalese chef specializes in cuisine from Nepal, Tibet and India. One such meal is Himalayan’s Yak Stew, made from the meat of locally-owned yaks, and clay oven-roasted Kathmandu Sekuwa, a chicken dish featuring common Nepalese ingredients of mint, cilantro, ginger, garlic, yogurt, and lemon juice.
For one of the best ways to sample all of the best creations by Bhotia, visit during lunch hour for the daily $9.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. If you can’t make it for lunch, show up afterward when the cafe offers half-price appetizers and $2 draught beer between 3 pm and 5 pm. If you visit during the dinner hour, be prepared to linger since wait staff takes time to carefully prepare every meal fresh to order.
If you believe that it’s a bad idea to eat at a sushi bar in a landlocked state, Sushitarian will force you to reconsider that assumption. As the more casual destination of Durango’s two sushi bars, Sushitarian is also the more affordable with daily happy hour specials on food and adult beverages from their full bar.
Their creative approach is unusual in small town, as chefs work diligently to turn out favorites like the Uma-tama (Grilled Unagi and Tamago with a sweet eel sauce) and a lobster roll drizzled with eel sauce. Sushitarian is also a popular draw for the budget-oriented crowd because of regular deals like the “Lunch Punch Card,” which gives frequent diners a free lunch after the 10th one.
The Durango Diner
Fewer dining experiences are more satisfying than heaps of genuine American comfort food, which is why the Durango Diner has been feeding the heart and souls of visitors and locals for over 35 years. This old-fashioned American institution is heralded by everyone from Gourmet Magazine to the Denver Post because of its Southwestern-infused menu items like green chile burritos and kitchen sink omelette with smothered with green chili or gravy.
The Durango Diner’s formica counter top with swivel stools and self-serve coffee machine hearken back to days gone by but the restaurant’s budget prices and classic menu items are as timeless as ever.