Out and About: Durango, CO

While Durango is a pretty small town, home to around 20,000 people, they’ve got a pretty solid food and drink scene. With a handful of breweries as well as dozens of cute cafes and eateries lining historic Main Ave, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a nice spot to check out the local cuisine.

Because our month-long stay in Durango coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, we limited our dining experiences to carry-out only. That said, we were very impressed with all of the local establishments for diligently following CDC and state guidelines. When we visited, a city-wide mask ordinance was in effect for any public space, and we were pleased to see virtually every person in town respecting this order. It made us feel very comfortable supporting Durango’s local businesses. We’ve listed our favorites below, and we’d highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in town:


Himalayan Kitchen

https://www.himkitchen.com/

In the heart of Durango’s downtown at the corner of 10th and Main, Himalayan Kitchen serves up a host of traditional dishes from Nepal, Tibet, and India. I can’t express how excited I was to find this restaurant. Back in NC, Stephan and I would go on a lunch date every couple weeks to this awesome South Indian restaurant, Udupi Cafe, for their all-vegetarian (and largely vegan) lunch buffet. Our last taste of Indian food had been back in June (COVID-driven carry-out, of course), and I was seriously craving a plate of aloo gobi or a crispy masala dosa.

We ordered a massive spread for take-out through Himalayan Kitchen’s convenient online ordering system, and had ourselves an amazing Friday night feast at our condo. The food was quite good, and I was shocked at how delicious the samosas were – light, flaky, and bursting with filling. My favorite, though, was easily the tse phing – a Tibetan dish of mung bean noodles stir-fried with ginger and seasonal vegetables. The restaurant offered a large selection of vegetarian options, and a number of those were vegan. Overall, we were both super pleased with our meal, and ended up ordering again before we left Durango.


Fired Up Pizzeria

https://fireduppizzeria.com/

Like our quest for some good Indian food, Stephan was similarly longing for a pizza. He hadn’t had pizza in four months, and was determined to find a decent one to pair with a football game. I did a quick search online, and found Fired Up Pizzeria – an artisanal pizza shop right on Main Ave serving up wood-fired, Neapolitan pizzas.

Fired Up had an extensive menu that included some 20 specialty pizzas as well as options to build your own. Several of their signatures sounded pretty unique, such as the Lemon Rucola with arugula, parm, and lemon on a margherita base, and the Sweet & Salty, a margherita base with figs and prosciutto. Stephan tried two of their pizzas during our stay – the Bacon Green Chili and the Southwest. He was particularly fond of the Southwest, which included house-made fennel sausage and a spicy oil. If you’re looking for a really good pizza while you’re in town, Stephan said this was one of the best he’s ever eaten – and it pairs nicely with the Buffalo Bills.


Cream Bean Berry

https://creambeanberry.com/

This was hands down my favorite place in Durango. Growing up, I was never really been the biggest ice cream aficionado on the planet. And as an adult, trying to find a place that serves any type of vegan ice cream, let alone an amazing one, is not always the easiest endeavor. However, Cream Bean Berry exceeded all my expectations. Not only did they offer several flavors of vegan ice cream, but all of their baked goods and cones were vegan! The shop uses locally sourced, organic, seasonal ingredients for their frozen creations, and the owner is committed to sustainability and community outreach.

We ended up making several trips to Cream Bean Berry while we were in town. Not only were Stephan and I truly impressed with their scratch-made ice creams, but Sanchez was also a big fan. How this little Thai pup ever survived without vanilla ice cream, I’ll never understand. Wanting to visit during off-peak hours to maintain the greatest level of social distancing as we ordered inside, our trips to the ice cream parlor were usually mid-afternoon on a weekday. This meant we typically spoiled our appetites for dinner, but hey… this is why kids can’t wait to be adults, right?

Each time we visited, they had about a dozen flavors to choose from – typically eight dairy-based and four vegan. In addition to their standard scoops/cones, they also offered a variety of malts and shakes as well as ice cream sandwiches (with homemade cookies) and cakes. Stephan was also pleased to see that they topped his chocolate malt with homemade whipped cream. As for flavors, Stephan tried the honey whiskey, coffee chocolate chip, and salted caramel. The first couple times we visited, I ordered the vegan chocolate, although I remained intrigued by the vegan peanut butter fudge. When I finally decided to give it a shot, it was undoubtedly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten. The peanut butter base had swirls of fudge and whole peanuts, and it was seriously to die for! Even Stephan, who raved about the salted caramel and typically shuns dairy-free ice creams, said it was probably his favorite flavor. Moreover, as soon as Sanchez caught a whiff, she completely rejected her vanilla bean, instead crawling up my leg and begging to share my double scoop of peanut butter. Never in a million years did I think she’d refuse her own bowl of ice cream.

Bottom line: you need to stop here if you are in Durango. If you are just cruising through town on your way to the mountains or Mesa Verde, you still need to stop here. It’s seriously amazing. Order at least a double scoop of the vegan peanut butter fudge (they also sell pints), and be prepared to be blown away. For someone who never craves ice cream, it’s pretty much all I’ve thought about for the last month since we left Durango.


Animas Chocolate & Coffee

https://animaschocolatecompany.com/

Animas Chocolate & Coffee is an adorable little café downtown that crafts chocolate confections and bean-to-bar chocolates from fair-trade, organic cacao beans. They also offer a coffee and drinking chocolate bar. Additionally, ACC has a pretty impressive collection of truffles that they rate from Class I–V. Like whitewater classes, their ‘chocolate adventure’ takes you from more mellow flavors (think cookies and cream or hazelnut) to bolder profiles like absinthe and chile. Moreover, most of the truffles have names paying homage to the region – Ironton, Snowdon Peak, Cascade Canyon, Gold Mine, and Snakebite.

We grabbed a 9-piece box of truffles to go, as well as a couple bags of ‘River Bottom,’ ACC’s interpretation of chocolate bark. Stephan was impressed with the dark chocolate/salted toffee bark, while I enjoyed the dark chocolate with cayenne (vegan). I think sometimes chocolatiers are a bit too judicious with the spice, but this one had some pretty intense lingering heat at the end. ACC’s truffles were like beautiful little works of art and also had some nice flavors. For both of us, surprisingly, the clear winner was the Colorado Cache, a whiskey caramel truffle. The silky center is infused with local Honeyville raw honey and Honeyville Distillery’s honey whiskey. Apparently the confection even earned a bronze medal at the International Chocolate Awards. If you’re a chocoholic or someone looking for a unique, local gift, Animas Chocolate & Coffee won’t disappoint.


Pet Haus

http://pethaus.net/

This is Sanchez’s pick for best Durango business – although, as a human, I have to say it is a pretty awesome pet store. Pet Haus has a huge selection of toys, treats, grooming products, and foods, and even offers a selection of locally made pet products (we grabbed Sanchez some Coloradoan elk jerky for Christmas… shhh). They also have a basket of assorted food samples (one for dogs, one for cats), so you can grab a free one if you’re looking to rotate or change your pet’s food – a really nice little touch. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, and Sanchez made herself right at home in the raw chew section. Luckily, they carried some of her favorites. Every trip she was able to walk out wagging with a coveted piece of beef gullet. During one of our visits, I thought she was going to unexpectedly choose a duck head, which was pretty disturbing once I realized what exactly was in the plastic bucket she was sniffing around. Luckily, though, she spared me that agony and walked away instead with a giant slab of jerky.

Note: We were constantly so excited at Pet Haus that I stupidly forgot to take a pic. I did grab a sticker with their logo, though. Check them out at 1444 Main Ave, Durango.


The next two places are not technically in Durango, but they were good enough that we thought they were worth mentioning. If you’re out exploring the San Juan Mountains – perhaps taking a journey up the San Juan Skyway – consider checking out these locations:

Rocky Mountain Funnel Cake Factory (Silverton)

https://www.facebook.com/Rockymountainfunnelcakefactory/

A bit quirky and whimsical, this small shop serves unique funnel cakes in Silverton’s diminutive downtown. The Rocky Mountain Funnel Cake Factory adds a bit of flair to the traditional fair food, offering unique fried creations that include caramel apple, pineapple upside down, strawberry cheesecake, and black forest flavors. The shop is only open seasonally, from mid-spring through early fall, so call or check their website if you’re visiting in the shoulder season.

Wanting to try something you can’t find every day, Stephan ordered a caramel apple funnel cake for carry-out. Conveniently, the shop serves them in small pizza boxes for easy transport. Stephan was surprisingly impressed with the fried dough, which he said was light and airy and not overly greasy. Topped with fresh apples, caramel, and cinnamon powdered sugar, he thought the whole thing was pretty brilliant. Sanchez may have even snuck a few bites, and she was beyond impressed with this crazy creation.


Aemono Fine Foods & Catering (Telluride)

https://www.aemonofinefoods.com/

For us, Telluride’s Aemono Fine Foods turned out to be a nice little surprise at the end of a long day on the trails. After hiking up to Blue Lakes Pass, just outside of Ouray, we decided to drive back to Durango via Telluride to check out the other half of the San Juan Skyway and to make a quick stop at Telluride Brewing Company. Having spent nearly twelve hours either driving or on the trail – and being still over two hours from home – we were pretty friggin’ hungry by the time we got to the brewery. Luckily, it was right next door to a small restaurant that, shockingly, served fresh vegan and vegetarian selections.

Though the address is in Telluride, the restaurant and adjacent brewery are actually in Lawson Hill, a small community right off Highway 145 just a few miles outside Telluride and Mountain Village. Aemono and Telluride Brewing seemingly cooperated to set up a fantastic, pandemic-safe, outdoor space right in the parking lot. You could order a pint or cans to-go at the brewery, then stroll over to Aemono’s small walk-up window and order something from their menu of hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, and salads.

As someone who can rarely find something fresh and vegan, I was shocked when Stephan returned to my far-flung table (I take this social distancing shit very seriously) with their gorgeous ‘Falamus’ pita wrap. Stuffed with falafel, hummus, kalamata olives, tomato, red onion, and greens, it was an extraordinarily delicious sandwich. I’ve never had a falafel/hummus wrap with kalamata olives, but those really made it exceptional. Stephan opted for their hot Bacon Brie & Apple sandwich, and was equally impressed with his meal of honey peppered bacon, brie, and Granny Smith apples served on focaccia with a miso parmesan aioli. Unfortunately, I have no photos as it was freezing and I scarfed down my wrap in near-record time. But trust us, it’s definitely worth a stop.


Final thoughts

We were really impressed with Durango’s restaurant scene. For such a rural town, we were excited to find such a diverse selection of small, local cafes and shops. While we came to Durango for its outdoor recreation and fall foliage, we ended up kind of falling in love with the quaint downtown and several of the eateries. And while I’m not sure we’ll be settling down in the immediate future, Durango had just enough to offer that I would seriously consider setting down some roots there.

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