As a regular reviewer of restaurants on TripAdvisor* and other sites, I cannot leave the story of our Rocky Mountain excursion without mentioning the food. First, hat’s off to my long-time friend and Rocky Mountain regular, Scott Windham.
Scott made a couple of recommendations that were spot on excellent, one within walking distance of our cabin. Thanks to Scott and two other folks, we had gustatory experiences that were almost as memorable as some of the sights.
First up, the Dunraven Inn. Scott let me know the Dunraven had “the best Italian food in Estes Park.” I hope Scott can forgive my skepticism, but my first thought when he made that statement was, “Oh, sure.” I cannot swear to his assertion, because I did not try Italian food anywhere else. On the other hand, I can say the Italian part of the menu was top notch. Also, the place has been decorated by past patrons in a way some will find familiar.
We consumed, or sampled, three entrees, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, and baked ziti. All were excellent and large. We split the ziti, and half of the meatball dish came home with me for consumption in the future. I know eggplant parm does not travel well, so we regretfully left some of that on the plate.
Scott’s next suggestion was a place called Notchtop Bakery and Café.** It was the first breakfast and lunch only place I can remember with a full bar and specialty drinks. We enjoyed lunch/brunch there twice, and it was extraordinary from the service to the pancakes to the Bloody Mary served in a Mason jar. Unfortunately, we did not have time or belt notch room to sample any of the baked goods.
While these places were good to great, our favorite spot turned out to be one recommended by the lady managing our cabin. When asked about a place with decent soup, she remarked the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern had a diverse menu. As it turned out, that did not include soup, but everything about the place seemed to click with us.
More than the food, it was the vibe of the place that got our attention. However, the Devils on Horseback (above) appetizer was one dish that matched the vibe to a T. For the record, the Rock Inn does not take reservations, and wait times could get lengthy, but we did not have any problems. On both visits, we found space at the bar to kill time, and on the second visit, we dined at the bar. In both cases, the food was good, the service was friendly and professional, and there was decent live music.
I will also mention Ed’s Cantina, and Bird and Jim Restaurant. I say mention because we only hit them once, and there were minor issues with both due to how busy they were more than anything else. Ed’s is downtown and was just up the street from the Elk Fest. We were seated quickly, but the location was not prime. Still, the food and service were grand. The only real complaint a Texan might have is paying for chips and salsa. To us, that’s as bad as charging for tap water.
Bird and Jim was packed, and even with reservations, we had to wait. The menu was pricey, and we were not big dollar hungry. We settled for sandwiches, which were good, but nothing fantastic. Still, there are some things about the place that would make me give it a second chance, or tell someone else to give it a shot.
In wrapping up, I must mention one place that is not technically a restaurant. Nevertheless, it is well worth checking out, after you’ve eaten a light meal. That would be Hayley’s Ice Cream, home of some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
Okay, final thoughts! We did not have one bad experience with the places we ate. All are worth considering if you’re in the area. Keep in mind, even when there is nothing special going on, parking may be at a premium. Reservations or early arrival are always something to consider.
The best news to report, from a personal standpoint, is the altitude must have made us burn a lot of calories. Small meals do not seem to be part of the menu plans at any place we visited or considered, but neither one of us put on weight.
Thanks for hanging with me on my reminiscing about our Colorado experience, and I hope your travel plans turn out just as grand on your next adventure.
**If you are like me, the name of this restaurant will haunt you until you find out what it means. So, to save you a bit of grief, here’s the answer. From their website: Notchtop Café originally opened in 1993 and was named after Notchtop Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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