14 Best Places To Eat And Drink In Estes Park, Colorado

In 1903, Freelan Oscar Stanley migrated to the tiny town of Estes Park, Colorado, and found a healing refuge in the valley's natural beauty. Stanley is said to have fallen so deeply in love with the community that he vowed to return every summer for the rest of his life, eventually opening the now-iconic Stanley Hotel and helping to evolve the town into a full-blown tourist destination. Nowadays, millions of other folks still flock to this mountain oasis to hike in the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and to visit Stanley's namesake hotel, a temple of such lore that it inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.

Beyond the mountains and mythos, though, Estes Park's magnetism is becoming just as fueled by its food scene. Despite the town's diminutive size, which pales in comparison to other Colorado dining destinations, Estes Park has emerged as an underrated gem for restaurants and bars, each with its own wildly distinct ambiance and flavor — because where else are you going to find "redrum"-themed cocktails with a side of wild game meatloaf? 

Beyond the dizzying array of taffy and fudge shops that dot the adorable downtown corridors, the town's restaurants offer true-blue mountain cuisine, like elk and bison, alongside masterful Manhattans, fried chicken, raspberry-soaked biscuits, and much more. We found the best places to eat and drink in Estes Park.

Cascades Restaurant & Lounge

Looming over Estes Park like some kind of benevolent Hill House, The Stanley Hotel is not only the quintessential place to stay in the Rocky Mountains, but it's become the quintessential place to dine. It's where Stephen King once spent a single spooky night; now, guests come from near and far to reside in decadent style and dine at the likes of Cascades Restaurant & Lounge, a handsome American restaurant and steakhouse replete with dark wood, a polished whiskey bar, and requisite mountain cuisine.

Emphasizing seasonal, sustainable, and local ingredients, the always-bustling restaurant toes the line between classic and contemporary, offering staples like bacon-wrapped dates and charcuterie alongside pappardelle with lamb bolognese, bison rib-eye with foie butter, and meatloaf made from elk meat, bison, and wild boar. Don't sleep on the drinks either: The attached Whiskey Bar has a sterling selection of top-shelf Scotches and whiskeys, along with a deep wine list. Don't miss the pitch-perfect Dunraven Manhattan or "The Shining"-inspired Redrum Punch made with rum, Framboise raspberry beer, blackberry liqueur, lime, pineapple, and agave.

Bird & Jim

Nestled right outside the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, it's only fitting that one of Estes Park's most popular restaurants is a veritable palace of modern mountain cuisine. Bird & Jim, so named for two mountain-loving pioneers Isabella Bird and Mountain Jim, is an ode to the fertile region and its hearty, soulful cuisine — all served up in a cozy, rustic-chic restaurant that feels like a posh cabin.

Using ingredients plucked from the front range of Colorado, the menus hew rigorously local and farm-fresh as much as possible. This means smoked pheasant chowder with wild rice, buffalo burgers laced with tomato-bacon jam, trout with tomato-olive puttanesca and lemony brown butter, and cast-iron roasted chicken with Cognac-cherry Brussels sprouts. That ethos extends to the drink list, which highlights biodynamic wines from small producers as well as burly mixed drinks like smoked mezcal old fashioneds and the Bear Lake Manhattan with rye, amaro, bitters, and Luxardo cherry.

Kind Coffee

Perched at the end of Elkhorn Avenue, the main thoroughfare that meanders through downtown Estes Park, and past a spree of taffy shops and souvenir stores, Kind Coffee is the type of enduring cornerstone cafe that feels heartwarming as it caffeinates. Cute, cozy, and funky, bedecked in cottage-like wood paneling and outfitted with a smattering of laptop-lined tables with views of the nearby riverwalk, this long-running fixture features quality drinks, quality snacks, and quality people. As the name implies, baristas here are notably kind.

Along with single-origin coffees and warming teas, the cafe peddles expert espresso drinks, summertime refreshers like Arnold Palmers and Italian sodas, kombucha on tap, and seasonal latte specials. To snack, Kind offers the kind of food that's made to fuel a hike; think hot sandwiches, egg-stuffed breakfast burritos, wholesome oatmeal bowls, and buttery brioche toasts loaded with the likes of avocado, peanut butter, or hummus.

The Post Chicken & Beer

It's all about the all-American comfort food and comfort quaffs — namely, chicken and beer — at The Post Chicken & Beer, a cool brewpub-style eatery on the grounds of The Stanley Hotel. Along with a few other locations throughout Colorado, the Estes Park outpost is a comfy and cool haven for family-style dining, and hulking portions at modest prices.

The bread and butter of the menu is the chicken, made with all-natural humanely raised birds that are dipped in buttermilk, dredged in gluten-free flour, and pressure-fried until it achieves a crackly golden-brown sheen. After a heady seasoning, platters head out adjoined by pickles and slaw. Chicken also comes in tender form, ideally dunked in house ranch, as well as on sandwiches or atop waffles with cherry chutney, country gravy, pumpkin seed butter, and maple syrup. 

Along with other contemporary American bites, like fried cauliflower slathered in hot honey chile sauce and curried shrimp toast, the beer aspect of the menu offers all manner of craft styles, plus boilermakers and ciders. The cocktails aren't to be overlooked, either, especially the luminous Red Rum, an ode to The Shining-inspired Stanley Hotel, made with blackberry whiskey, rum, cinnamon syrup, lemon, lime, and blackberry juice.

Mountain Home Cafe

A veritable blast from the nostalgic past, they don't make diners like Mountain Home Cafe anymore. As real-deal and authentic as diners come, charming restaurants like this one are a rare breed anymore — the kind of frills-free place where mugs of coffee are never empty, where thick wedges of French toast come soaked in syrup, and where cinnamon rolls are the size of pizzas.

A longtime standby in the Stanley Village shopping center, Mountain Home Cafe commands a steady queue for travelers looking to bulk up on hearty and filling breakfast and lunch dishes. As legit as diners come, the menus offer all the requisites, like buttermilk pancakes and Denver omelets, along with French banana pancakes with brown sugar sauce, baked oatmeal cakes with vanilla yogurt and pureed strawberries, and skillet breakfasts layered with potatoes, eggs, cheese, and pork green chili. Lunch, meanwhile, adds more pleasant surprises to the mix, like Southwestern tofu salad, grilled torta sandwiches, and chile rellenos oozing with cheese and chili.

Mama Rose's

If Mama Rose's was any more classic of an Italian restaurant, you'd expect to see Lady slurping spaghetti with the Tramp. Instead, you'll just be tempted to save every last saucy strand of pasta for yourself. That's because this homey Italian restaurant, perched along with picturesque Estes Park Riverwalk typifies the notion of a quaint, cozy Italian joint awash in marinara, eschewing pomp, circumstance, and modernity for a refreshingly pared-down approach to quality pasta — with some clever menu twists along the way.

Dining inside this warm, wine-filled restaurant, the kitchen specializes in high-quality takes on Italian — and Italian-American — classics. This includes caprese salads, fried zucchini, minestrone soup, and, of course, spaghetti aplenty, whether topped with red wine marinara or meat sauce. Mixed in, though, you'll find ricotta rollups, seafood-baked pasta, and "angry eggplant," a breaded eggplant dish that adds some heat from the spicy arrabbiata sauce.

Brunch & Co.

When most people think of brunch, they think of mimosas, eggs Benedict, and biscuits and gravy. But, blood-red mimosas splashed with rum and custard-soaked biscuits slathered in raspberry sauce? Not unless you're dining at The Stanley Hotel. It's all the order of the day at Brunch & Co., a chef-driven brunch concept that puts its singular stamp on the morning meal with a dizzying array of exciting, photogenic, and crafty dishes and drinks.

The menu at Brunch & Co. is as delicious as it is quirky and unique. As evidenced by the faux-blood splatter all over the pages, it quickly becomes clear that much of the fodder is inspired by "The Shining," the book famously envisioned by Stephen King. You've got The Grady Twins (avocado crab cake Benedict with tarragon hollandaise), the Here's Johnny (biscuit heaped with ham, golden raisin mostarda, egg, cheese, hollandaise, and maple-bourbon gastrique), and the Room 217 named after the Stephen King Suite (a custard-soaked biscuit slathered in bloody-good raspberry jam and a "redrum" gastrique). The drinks are just as fun, like the boozy Caretaker coffee drinks, the Snow Fizz with gin and coconut milk, and The Overlook made with rum, peach Schnapps, and orange Curaçao.

Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co.

Craft beer is king in Colorado, and beyond the confines of brewery-filled Denver, that love for suds extends into smaller communities like Estes Park. Here, Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. reigns as one of the coolest craft breweries in the Rockies — and not just because the funky taproom is housed in a former gas station.

This dog- and kid-friendly brewpub has a welcoming, "come one and all" vibe and atmosphere, complete with patio and a rotating roster of food trucks. The star of the show, of course, is the beer, whereas numerous styles and fresh flavors line the draft list. These include Winter Breeze Coconut Lagers, Bomba! Margarita Sours, and Cool Runnings, a Caribbean-style stout brewed with Busey Brews out of nearby Nederland. The brewery also does periodic specialty releases, like a pale ale made for Frozen Dead Guy Days (via Estes Park Trail Gazette), a one-of-a-kind winter festival that moves to Estes Park in 2023.

Inkwell & Brew

Writing and coffee have a long history together. Whether fueling writers with stimulating caffeine or providing a WiFi haven for laptop-toters, the two go together like espresso and steamed milk. Which is what makes Inkwell & Brew such a seamless sensation. An impossibly charming cafe on the Estes Park Riverwalk downtown, this is a coffee shop that doubles as a twee literary gift shop, stocked with all sorts of writing ephemera, souvenirs, books, hand-painted cards, artsy posters, and pens.

In the rear of the shop, friendly baristas man a fully stocked slow bar, where pour-over coffee and cappuccinos share menu space with quenching cold-brew, loose-leaf tea, and seasonally rotating lattes, including those flavored with the likes of eggnog, pistachios, and chai. You'll also find assorted pastries, parfaits, sandwiches, and other snacks, all ideally consumed while writing in the table-filled nook upstairs, or on the patio overlooking the river.

Elevations Eatery & Bar

A newer addition to the downtown dining scene, nestled amidst a sea of ice cream and fudge on Elkhorn Avenue, Elevations Eatery & Bar does as the name suggests — it raises the bar on local mountain cuisine, serving up locally inspired dishes with some boldly interesting flavors and riffs.

The restaurant sports an industrial-chic motif with an elongated modern dining room and bar fronted by a sun-soaked area that provides a front-row seat to all the shopping action outside. Like other Colorado-rooted restaurants in town, the menu features staple ingredients like elk and root vegetables, albeit thoroughly reinvented and presented in fresh new ways. Elk stew is a hearty starter served over root mash, while roasted beetroot salad comes with orange, arugula, avocado, and hazelnuts. Truffle avohummus is an avocado hummus drizzled with truffle oil, and chicken wings come glazed with a sweet and spicy jalapeño-berry combination. For entrees, Norwegian-style deep-fried fish is a tempura-battered treat while roasted squash bowls come outfitted with quinoa, cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado.

The Bird's Nest

From morning through noon and night, The Bird's Nest is the kind of all-day multi-tasker that does it all — and does it all well. From the same minds as Bird & Jim, a locally famed restaurant specializing in sustainable mountain cuisine, The Bird's Nest is a stunningly modern and lofty cafe and restaurant featuring breakfast in the morning along with a bevy of snacks and pastries, then later in the day, exemplary pizzas.

To start, rise and shine with foods worth fueling a hike in the nearby national park. Wholesome eats and sips include smoothies, breakfast burritos, ham-filled croissants, quiche, and granola with honey yogurt. Later, the menu expands to include muffulettas, Alpine cheese panini, and some of the best pizza in town — try the Why the Fig Not with fig jam, caramelized onions, chèvre, gouda, prosciutto, and arugula. Don't skip the desserts either, including banana bread pudding, fig and berry clafouti, and chewy mochi in flavors like black sesame and green tea.

Coffee on the Rocks

It's caffeine with a pastoral view at Coffee on the Rocks, a picture-perfect cafe on the outskirts of downtown with a deck that overlooks a shimmering duck pond. It's not just the view that makes this coffee shop stand out, either — from the booze-infused lattes to its adorable cottage-like facade — there's a lot to swoon over at Coffee on the Rocks.

Funky and eclectic, this is the kind of cornerstone cafe that brings in just as many locals as visitors, all of whom flock here for their a.m. java, as well as hot cider, seasonal lattes, and alcohol aplenty, from the occasional green beer and Christmasy lattes to sangria and buttered bourbon cider. In addition to feeding the ducks, there are also activities to do here, as Coffee on the Rocks routinely hosts quirky events and festivals, including the Polar Plunge as part of the Frozen Dead Guy Days.

The Wapiti Colorado Pub

If you've ever wondered what Rocky Mountain oysters are, The Wapiti Colorado Pub is the place to scratch that curious itch. A haven of rustic kitsch and quintessential Colorado cuisine, this downtown staple ticks all the boxes. For must-try mountain dishes, this includes the infamous Rocky Mountain oysters, which are not so much literal oysters as they are bull testicles. Don't worry, though, especially when sliced, breaded, and fried, as they are here, they taste more like meaty nuggets — and they go great with cocktail sauce.

It's all run-of-the-mill at this whimsical Estes Park fixture. The austere lodge-like restaurant is filled with beer signs and wood fixtures. The rest of the menu is just as meaty and, potentially, less daunting. Elk and bison burgers are on offer, alongside brisket sandwiches, beef stroganoff pasta, sloppy Joe tacos, and shepherd's pie made with beef, elk, and bison. To drink, wash it all down with a cold beer off the lengthy draft line, or try a house cocktail, like the Bourbon Milk Punch.

The Vault

Estes Park's iconic Stanley Hotel is filled with so many restaurants, bars, and cafes at this point that it's basically an ornate food hall in its own right — which would make this one of the more haunted food halls. Either way, the latest addition to the Stanley's culinary and potable roster is The Vault, an intimate nook of a space dedicated to all things barrel-aged and intoxicating.

Located in the basement of the hotel, amidst a sea of historic movie posters and memorabilia, The Vault features a curated lineup of proprietary and rare spirits — as in, the kind of spirits that get you tipsy, not the kind that haunt you at night. Whiskey is the star of the show and The Vault stocks bottles that can only be found at the hotel, available in tastings or however you'd like to sip it. Some of the bottles are so rare, in fact, that there are less than 200 of them in existence. As if you needed any other reason to add The Stanley Hotel to your bucket list.