They call this old mining town To Hell You Ride, but there’s seriously no prettier place on earth than Telluride. This is Colorado at its absolute best. Rugged. Remote. Utterly unpretentious. And with a stronger sense of community than any other ski resort in the state. The snow hasn’t stopped falling since January, and the mountain is absolutely primed. They’ve got the highest restaurant in America and an unquenchable zest for happy hour.
Related: Photos: Scenes From Telluride
1. Alpino Vino
At 11,966 feet above sea level, this two-year-old, on-mountain chalet is America’s highest-altitude restaurant. It might also be the very best restaurant in Telluride. Only 26 seats inside (it’s a tight squeeze!). Wood-burning fireplace. Italian cuisine. Prix fixe five-course menu at dinner (extraordinary porcini consomme with mushroom biscotti; ricotta and spinach ravioli with fresh pea pesto and carbonara), accessible by snowcat. Lunch is à la carte, ski-in/ski-out: best grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup EVER. Savvy sommeliers. Sexy hostess. Take the Gold Hill Express (Lift 14); turn left off the lift and ski See Forever, which will take you to the font door. 970-728-7474
2. 221 South Oak
This ultra charming house in downtown Telluride is the perfect spot for date night. Chef Eliza Gavin makes some of the best sausage in Colorado, which doesn’t sound very glamorous, but she manages to make it just that. Rocky mountain trout is pure locavore perfection. Grilled elk chop, brilliant. Pumpkin and butterscotch custard pie? Yes please. 221 South Oak St., Telluride, 970-728-9507
3. Chop House
Come nightfall, this is the social epicenter of downtown Telluride. Excellent steaks. Wagyu carpaccio with black truffles. Frisee salad with miso-glazed pork belly. Creamed corn brûlée. Harlan Estate, Merry Edwards, Petrus… New Sheridan Hotel, 231 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride, 970-728-9100
Epic views — guaranteed to blow your mind. It’s no wonder this is the most popular sunset happy hour scene in Telluride. Located on-mountain at the gondola stop (Station Saint Sophia) midway between Telluride and Mountain Village, the restaurant is perfectly accessible without skis. Elk carpaccio. Crumb-crusted rack of Colorado lamb. Sticky toffee pudding. 970-728-7474
5. La Marmotte
Chef Mark Reggiannini serves truly excellent French bistro cuisine with a modern American twist. He stuffs quail with mushroom risotto and serves them alongside red quinoa with hedgehog mushrooms, pine nut oil and quail jus. Duck breast is roasted with vanilla and spiked with kumquats and fennel. 150 San Juan Avenue, Telluride, 970-728-6232
6. Bon Vivant
Telluride’s newest on-mountain dining is a fab little outdoor cafe (one giant umbrella outfitted with heat lamps) perched on a cliff overlooking the ski basin. Outstanding country French cuisine: mushroom soup en croute, croque madame, crepes, poached pears. Take the Polar Queen Express lift. 970-728-6900
7. Tomboy Tavern
A gastropub at the base of the mountain, just steps from the ski lift, this is Mountain Village’s newest restaurant. Killer bloody marys and monstrous burgers. Great beer selection. Mountain Village Core, 970-728-7467
Never mind the name, this is the best place in Telluride for artisanal cocktails. Lobster corn dogs. House-made burrata. Surf ‘n’ turf. Fantastic seafood stew. Coconut cream cheesecake. Blueberry pie. Impeccable service. Hotel Columbia, 300 West San Juan Avenue, 970-728-1292
9. La Pizzeria
This is the casual offshoot of the adjoining, more glamorous La Piazza. If you want frills and white tablecloths, go next door. If all you want is a really great Neapolitan-style pizza, this is the spot. Excellent homemade gelato, too. 117 Lost Creek Lane, Mountain Village, 970-728-0737
10. Amy’s Mini Donuts
Not exactly a restaurant but maybe the most important place you’ll want to visit, this mobile donut cart in the Mountain Village Core makes the most incredible donuts on the planet. Maybe that’s the snow and high-altitude exhaustion talking, but I swear you’ll agree. Keep your gloves on — they’re served straight from the deep-fryer. Hot chocolate and apple cider, too. Mountain Village Gondola Plaza.
Food and travel journalist Brad A. Johnson is the only critic in America to win both the James Beard Award and the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Award for restaurant criticism. And his blog at bradajohnson.net won the prestigious 2011 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for best travel blog in America.