Small Town: Big Dining

Most towns of 800 people are lucky to have a diner or two, let alone a full-service restaurant. But Ouray has bucked the trend of boring small-town fare.

This tiny mountain town, often called Colorado’s Little Switzerland, has 19 food and drink establishments. The restaurants and bars range in size and specialty, but most of them would do well in a big city.

Despite their remote location in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray restaurants always seem to serve fresh food. The Outlaw, at 610 Main St., is just one example. This local mainstay is known for its thick, juicy steaks and fresh seafood.

The Bonatti family has owned the location since 1937, and turned it into The Outlaw in 1967. With its old-style piano (complete with piano player on some nights) and western décor, it’s easy to imagine John Wayne pulling up a seat at the wooden bar. And indeed he did. The actor frequented The Outlaw while he was filming True Grit back in the day.

Expect a wait if you visit The Outlaw. It’s a popular place, but well worth your patience. Dinners start at $14.

The Bon Ton Restaurant has a unique location in the garden level of the St. Elmo Hotel. The atmosphere is intimate, with an Italian flair, and perfect for a romantic dinner. Though a bit pricey for Ouray (dinners average $25), the food is excellent and comes in large portions. Try the escargot & crawfish tails for a tasty appetizer. Beef Wellington is a local favorite. Reservations are recommended.

If you’d like hearty fare and a cold one after an adventure-packed day in Ouray, stop at O’Brien’s Pub. Yes, the local hangout really does serve Irish dishes. Try the bangers and mash or deep fried pickle appetizer. Both may sound a bit strange, but they are tasty.

And if you’re into house-smoked ribs and good burgers, you will want to visit Billy Goat Gruff’s Biergarten. This outdoor German-style restaurant serves up house-smoked ribs, thick burgers and traditional beer and brats. Open during the summer, the courtyard offers wonderful views of the Rocky Mountains and a casual, pet-friendly environment.

The indoor Bistro at Billy Goat Gruff’s has brasserie-style food and spirits, as well as a new game room. Billy Goat Gruff’s has 20 beers on tap on the property, and a large selection of single malt scotches and bourbons.

For local brew and a bar experience you’re unlikely to forget, stop by the Ourayle House. Owner and operator Jim Hutchinson, also known as “Hutch,” has a dry sense of humor that might catch you off guard at first. (They don’t call him “Mr. Grumpy Pants” for nothing!)

But once you get his way of thinking, you will be laughing and enjoying yourself as you sample his latest brews. Hutch has to be one of the few bar keeps in the country who serves beer suspended by a swing rigging that slides along the bar.

The Buen Tiempo Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, located on Main Street like most of Ouray’s restaurants, serves up Southwestern fare. With menu items like blue corn spinach enchiladas, carne adovada and other imaginative dishes, Buen Tiempo is a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

And from the morning rush on any given day, it’s easy to see that the Backstreet Bagel & Deli is a popular stop. Open seven days a week, Backstreet Bagel is a healthy alternative to fast food. Try it for breakfast and a strong cup of joe. Or stop in for dessert. The deli sells homemade pastries, pies and cheesecake.

A visit to Ouray would not be complete without a visit to the Beaumont Hotel. This beautiful grande dame establishment could be considered the heart of this town. Built in 1886 at the height of the gold boom, the Beaumont has been carefully restored with attention to detail. The hotel received the Inaugural Preserve America Presidential Award in 2004 and a National Preservation Award in 2003.

The Beaumont has 12 luxurious rooms, each one different from the other. But even if you can’t stay there, be sure to try one of the hotel’s two restaurants. The Tundra Restaurant provides a fine-dining experience, while Bulow’s Bistro offers a casual-with-flair type atmosphere. Both serve innovative dishes using the freshest ingredients. As restaurant hours are seasonal, be sure to phone ahead for hours of operation and a reservation.

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