Beyond burritos and burgers
Foodie 'fanboy' vows to debunk myths, uplift Durango's restaurant scene

Beyond burritos and burgers

Sinjin Eberle

Sinjin Eberle - 10/07/2021

Since moving to Durango from Denver in 2013, I have often overheard comments like “the only good food you can get in Durango is either a burrito or a burger,” which has always surprised me, since from where I sit, Durango has quite the vibrant restaurant and local food scene. Even through the turmoil of the past 18 months, it continues to thrive and grow and evolve, especially when factoring in the challenges of shutdowns, social distancing and the increasingly difficult struggle to find and retain employees. These shifts have impacted both tourists and locals alike, and the restaurants have far and away taken the brunt of these impacts.

When I left Denver, the city’s restaurant and cocktail scene was bustling. I was fortunate to have had abundant knowledge of classic cocktails and spirits from people like Sean Kenyon, of Williams & Graham; Bryan Dayton, of Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder; Randy Layman, of Steubens; and Kevin Burke, of Colt & Gray. Through their patient guidance, I learned about cocktail history, flavor combinations, spirits profiles and the best techniques to make better cocktails. I understood how fewer yet higher-quality ingredients make a better drink, and most importantly, how being grounded in the basics behind drinks like the Manhattan or daiquiri can be a launching pad to new and interesting creations.

But maybe the most important lesson was about balance, which relates to the food side of hospitality as well. In recipes, if something is too sweet, balance it with a bit of acid. If something is too spicy, cool it with a cream or fat like sour cream or yogurt. If a steak or vegetables hit too salty, tone down the briny punch with a savory pesto. This is what makes food exciting – unexpected combinations that are more than piles on a plate, but a framed, composed, well-executed meal that brings joy and excitement from the first bite to the last. And let’s not overlook the pairings. A well-chosen cocktail is a perfect prelude with a round of appetizers; the right wine assists and supports a main dish; and a dessert sipper or amaro to finish rounds out all the elements.

Now that may all sound a bit highbrow, but what is also in balance is the blend of restaurants across Durango – from cheap to chic. I have often heard that Durango has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. So no doubt, we got options for burgers and burritos (and let’s not forget the brews, with how many local breweries now? Six? Seven?) We also have at least a half dozen sit-down breakfast spots, foods from Asia and the Far East, multiple pizza joints, a selection of Mexican and taco places, handmade pasta at extremely reasonable prices, multiple sushi options, a speakeasy behind a barber shop, an old gas station packed with food trucks, and fine dining that provides upscale choices for celebrations or a fancy date night. Does Telluride have this much diversity? Not a chance.

While the restaurant industry was hammered in the depths of shutdowns, with federal aid lagging, most Durango restaurateurs – with some creativity and support from the city and locals – figured out a path forward. In some ways, it forced new thinking about restaurants and created opportunities for what people seek from the local food scene. We should be proud of this triumph and lift the people who worked hard to make that happen.

Consider this new column a new take on Durango’s food and restaurant scene. As a fanboy for the Durango culinary scene, where this column goes is anybody’s guess. But I can certainly tell you what it won’t be – it won’t be condescendingly critical of individual establishments or chefs. It won’t have recipes or detailed instruction, unless given as an example of what some place is doing that is new or different to advance our food culture. It might be critical now and then of opportunities we might be missing, or a gap in our food and drink culture, but this column is intended to elevate and spotlight the restaurant community that works so hard and gives back so much to help make Durango the best place ever.

In my day job, I am the communications director with American Rivers, a nonprofit river conservation organization. While based in Washington, D.C., we have quite a presence in the West, most notably working to protect big rivers like the Colorado and the Rio Grande, but also tributaries like the Gila and Chama. I am also a mountain biker, rafter, hiker, backpacker, and yes, a bit of a food, wine and cocktail junkie. Hence my enthusiasm for this new column.

Join me in exploring our community through these pages, and tell me what interests you, what is missing, what you wish we had, and who is doing it better. How do we stack up against other cities and mountain towns? All of that is fair game in my mind. I am stoked about where Durango is headed, the trends and what is coming along with what everyone around here knows is a growing and evolving Durango. You can bet your Bellini on that.

We have so much to talk about, so let’s pull up a chair, shake out our napkins, take a sip of wine and dig in. ?


Beyond burritos and burgers

Durango's restaurant scene has a lot to offer, and the new column "Let's Dig In" plans to tell you why./ Photo by Sinjin Eberle

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