A hole-in-the-wall is “a small and often unpretentious out-of-the-way place (such as a restaurant),” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. By definition, that tells you right away that you’ll probably have to head downvalley to find a dining spot that lives up to all three criteria. But, hey, it’s summer and Highway 82 beckons. Now’s your chance to eat some seriously delicious food you won’t find in Aspen, mingle with real locals, and even occasionally brush up on your Spanish. Just don’t expect white tablecloths—or, in some cases, even tables. And yes, only one of them has a website.
BLT & Taqueria
With all due respect to the overstuffed sandwiches of the world—your meatball hoagies, deli monsters, and Dagwoods—a great sandwich is about balance and finesse, where the maker recognizes that sometimes less is more. Now consider the beauties served at BLT, tucked right next to the Phillips 66 gas station in the center of Basalt. The counter-service hot spot merged with the adjacent two-table Mexican bodega a few years ago (hence the conjoined name) but fortunately kept intact its long menu of variations on the trifecta of bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Most start with a soft roll split and toasted on the inside, then slathered with mayo or more piquant sauce and topped with a substantial helping of crispy bacon, shredded lettuce, and flavorful tomato. My favorite riff is the Tex-Mex, which adds avocado and chipotle mayo, but other options offer BBQ sauce, turkey, and even provolone. And don’t overlook the non-bacon sandwiches—the shrimp po’boy is addictive, with beer-battered shrimp, pico de gallo, and avocado. 130 Basalt Center Cir., Basalt, 970-927-6774
Panaderia San Miguel
“Fresh bread every day, rich pupusas, and much more,” reads the business card of this popular Salvadorian bakery and micro-restaurant. The “much more” includes a quick lesson in the differences between the foods of Mexico and El Salvador, the latter of which accounts for a substantial number of Latinos in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“The Panaderia has the most authentic Salvadorian food in the valley,” says Elmer Mira, a chef at Carbondale’s Town and Phat Thai restaurants who hails from El Salvador. “Our food is not as spicy as Mexican. We don’t use so many fresh or dried peppers.” With obvious pride in his native foods, he recommends the pupusas loroco here—thick, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with aromatic flowers—as well as the fried yucca and plantains. He also touts the tamales, a signature Salvadorian dish, here made memorably fluffy and soft with the sweet corn known as elote. 60 El Jebel Rd., El Jebel, 970-704-1291
Slope and Hatch
“Chef-driven hole-in-the-wall” sounds like a premise for a bad reality food show, but Slope and Hatch takes that notion and runs with it, to considerable acclaim. Hunkered down in the shadow of the under-construction Grand Avenue Bridge over the Colorado River, this tall, skinny room is perpetually packed with diners chowing down on soft flour tortillas with an eclectic assortment of fillings, snappy foot-long hot dogs, and an appealing selection of cocktails and craft beers.
I’ve been having trouble lately deciding between the curried lamb tacos made from ground local meat and the Chicago-style dog, topped with the requisite sport peppers, mustard, dill slices, and neon-green relish. So I try to come with friends, which gives the chance to also sample such daily taco specials as the recent pork belly hash fried in duck fat, with deviled egg slaw. Parking may be hell until the new bridge is completed, but these tacos are worth the trip. 208 Seventh St., Glenwood Springs, 970-230-9652
Talk about exceeding expectations. At first glance, Silo seems to aspire to nothing more than simple food using local ingredients, all served in a rustic-hip dining room tucked so far back off Highway 133 that you’ll definitely need your GPS to find it. (Hint: keep going past the NAPA auto parts store, then look for the Double Diamond moving vans.)
The breakfast-all-day and lunch/dinner menu, chalked up on the walls, may initially seem kind of homestyle—except most home cooks don’t make their own sandwich buns or smear blueberry saba on a turkey club. The Blue Plate is a Silo classic: crispy kale and ricotta on thick toast with a fried egg and a shower of Parmigiano on top. This is also a great place for a burger or a Cubano. And the pancakes with house-made raspberry compote are dinner plate-size and fluffy.
By now you won’t be surprised to learn that chef/owner Lacy Hughes trained at the Culinary Institute of America and cooked in Napa Valley. Don’t leave without a slice of her moist pumpkin cake or a freshly baked muffin for the drive back upvalley. 1909 Dolores Way, Carbondale, 970-963-1909, silocarbondale.com
Señor Taco Show
Carbondalians take their restaurants personally—every local seems to be on a first-name basis at the most popular joints. And fewer places are more beloved than Señor Taco Show, a family enterprise in the purest, most heart-warming sense. Since the doors opened four years ago, chef Francisco Curiel; his wife, Muriel; their son, Manny; and their three daughters have brought down-home Mexican flavors to downtown Bonedale.
On First Friday in June, the line extended out the door on Fourth Street and halfway to Main as locals and visitors willingly waited a half hour for a shot at palm-size tacos with fillings like grilled steak, spicy pineapple pork, or juicy mahi mahi with grilled onions and tomato. An array of homemade salsas and toppings, ranging from tangy to fiery, provided the finishing touch. The entire family ran plates of food to the hungry hordes gathered at the restaurant’s new streetside dining pavilion. When things are calmer, ask about the legendary–and unlisted—chile relleno soup. 46 N. Fourth St., Carbondale, 970-510-9363