Bright sunlight peeks through the latticework and casts checkerboard patterns across large patio umbrellas. Spring has brought brilliant greens to the trees, and the small patio at the Shiloh Steakhouse is a welcome refuge from Cortez’s sweltering desert climate.
In the far reaches of southwestern Colorado, Cortez is known for its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park. But should the hungry traveler need escape from an unforgiving sun, a few locally-owned restaurants offer patio dining that feels as comfortable as the neighbor’s backyard deck.
For coffee, pastries and burly breakfast burritos, follow the sun glare to the west end of town. Gigi Schwartz at the Silver Bean jumpstarts the day with coffee served in a transformed 1969 Airstream Overlander.
A white picket fence surrounds the front turf, where coffee junkies can sip creamy caramels and lounge under the awning with yard flamingos. A drive-through lane provides coffee on the go, and a 1964 Airstream Globetrotter stands parked in the
back, ready for travel to festivals and special events.
On the opposite end of town, Cortez Rotary Club members pack the Shiloh Steakhouse on Friday afternoons. Busy servers remain attentive and polite during the crowded lunch hour.
This popular locals’ spot was built in a converted house, where food is served from the original kitchen space and dishes are kept in a home-style cupboard. Inside tables fill quickly, but the large patio lures diners outdoors with its constant breeze and dripping fountain.
While the name brags of steaks, sandwiches are a better lunch option. Choose from an open-faced rib eye sandwich, a grilled chicken club or any one of the onion-, mushroom- and cheddar-topped burgers. Match that with sweet potato fries and a glass of white wine, and suddenly mid-day patio dining in the desert doesn’t seem so bad.
If one glass of wine tempts for more, try happy hour at Nero’s, an Italian restaurant Cortez-style. Southwestern pottery adorns the walls, which are decorated with the colorful works of regional artists.
The wine list stands strong and the beer selection includes the Italian lager Peroni. Cortez isn’t usually flooded with foot traffic, but the street-side tables at the covered dining area are ideal seats for orange-streaked desert sunsets.
When it’s time to carbo-load for the next day’s long hike at Mesa Verde, drive 20 minutes north to the Dolores River Brewery. One of the menu’s biggest highlights, pizza, is served to your table by the flour-dusted pizza maker himself.
Design your own or choose from a list of eclectic pies, including Thai curry, the popular chicken cordon bleu special or the Mountaineer, which comes topped with olive oil, pepperoni, apples and chipotle peppers.
Put food orders in at the bar and head outside with beers. In this town of less than 1,000, don’t be surprised if the all guests seem to know each other. But with their friendly attitude, it won’t be long before you seem to know everyone, too.
The kitchen stays open to 9 p.m., but the beer brewed on site is poured until the last person leaves (or 2 a.m., which is pretty rare.)
If the sky has given way to a black night and you’re ready to sip beers, head back to Cortez and throw on the leathers. But don’t be intimidated by the roar of Harleys. Blondie’s Pub & Grub was billed by one local website as the “friendliest biker bar in town.”
Living up to its name with a stash of mostly-blonde bartenders, the late-night dive offers pool and horseshoes. Blondie’s kitchen is open seven days a week, which can be a major save on Sundays, when many local restaurants are closed. In summer, live rock bands rouse the patio on Thursday and Sunday afternoons.
So if you schedule a Mesa Verde weekend, be sure to schedule some time in town. Show up with an empty stomach and enjoy the unexpected draw of patio dining in Cortez.
If You Go
Silver Bean, 410 1/2 W. Main St., Cortez (970) 946-4404
Shiloh Steakhouse, 5 Veach St., Cortez (970) 565-1665
Nero’s, 303 W. Main St., Cortez (970) 565-7366
Dolores River Brewery, 100 N. 4th St., Dolores (970) 882-4677
Blondie’s Pub & Grub, 332 E. Main St., Cortez (970) 565-4015
Rachel Barbara, assistant editor of goColorado.com, has a degree in film and media arts from Temple University. A former river rafting guide, she is especially keen about covering the adventurous side of Colorado.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.