It's hard to decide which is better ― my perfectly cooked, brick-size steak at JJ’s Riverwalk Restaurant & Pub, or the sight and sound of rushing rapids and the backdrop of mountain peaks beyond.
But here’s the beauty: In Pagosa Springs, you don’t have to choose between gorgeous scenery and really good food.
Pagosa Springs’ leap from stunning mountain hamlet to culinary hot spot was hardly an overnight phenomenon. The Colorado town, about 275 miles southwest of Denver and about 25 miles north of the New Mexico border, has always been a summer playground for hikers, anglers, and those who come for the mineral-rich hot springs.
Historically, though, you’d be hard-pressed to convince even the most broad-minded, blue-plate optimist to travel here to eat. Things have changed. Now you can’t keep gastronomes like me away.
“Pagosa Springs is definitely an up-and-coming culinary town,” says Kellie Stevens, who ― along with her husband, executive chef Todd Stevens ― owns Alley House Grille, a globe-spanning food temple in a renovated Victorian home along the town’s main thoroughfare.
“We moved here because it’s so beautiful, but we also wanted to share our love and passion for great food,” says Kellie, the restaurant’s pastry chef. “We love the sense of community in Pagosa Springs; this restaurant is a dream come true for us.”
Relaxing in the dimly lit space, a glowing gas fireplace warming my back, I think that my curried Indian chicken with dried fruits, fresh mango, and fragrant basmati rice is pretty dreamy too.
That’s a good thing, because my drive into Pagosa Springs was about as relaxing as a roller coaster ride. Wolf Creek Pass (U.S. 160) turned out to be a series of punishing twists and turns that eventually leads to the 10,850-foot summit ― and guardrails are few and far between.