If you ask locals what they think Durango’s iconic dish is, you will receive varied responses. The clashing answers signal that there isn’t one representative sandwich, sauce or snack like a Philly cheesesteak, Chicago deep-dish or New York bagel that encapsulates Durango culture.
If you ask community members their opinion on the reigning Durango dish, though, there is some overlap, such as a general love of Mexican cuisine.
“My go-to food is Mexican dishes,” said Mayor Sweetie Marbury. “Durango loves green chili and burritos.”
Marbury prefers different Mexican dining destinations for specific occasions. She said eating at Griego’s on north Main Avenue is a family tradition. She mentioned that the old Francisco’s was also a pillar for family dining before they closed in 2014. Before City Council meetings, the mayor goes to Zia or CJ’s Diner for their Mexican breakfast and lunch options.
“Durango has a rich Hispanic legacy, and it lives on every day,” Marbury said. She points out that even Durango’s name comes from Mexican and Spanish origins.
City Councilman Dick White shares her sentiments, though his choices are more specific.
“In the spirit of ‘real town’ Durango, I would nominate the breakfast burrito,” White said. “My default option – when I am willing to eat that much for breakfast – is Carver’s.”
Quick grab-and-go burritos like the options from Durango Joe’s or Doughworks are a common breakfast routine for many locals. But in order to be considered iconic in the Southwest, a burrito must be smothered in green chile, like the one at Carver Brewing Co. The microbrewery’s burritos are made with scrambled eggs, black beans, a choice of avocado, grilled veggies, chorizo or tinga chicken from Sunnyside Meats, and topped with cheddar, lettuce and tomato.
White’s second choice is “your basic burger.” He suggests Carver Brewing or Olde Tymers Cafe as reliable picks.
Locals Sara Spurgeon and Heather Hinsley agree.
“Some people will fight you for Old Tymers,” Spurgeon said, but the Manna culinary student’s No. 1 pick is Eolus’ $10 happy-hour patio burger, made with James Ranch beef. She said whatever the iconic dish is, it has to be available during happy hour because that’s the only way people can afford it.
Hinsley, the culinary manager at Manna, prefers The Palace’s classic Monday night hamburger special for $7.50.
Spurgeon said a lot of locals might choose burgers because “we’re ranchy here.”
Durango Area Tourism Office Marketing Director Beth Stewart-Lueck likes the green chile cheeseburger from Gazpachos but prefers a steak.
“If I want to show off our town, I take visitors to the Ore House Restaurant,” Stewart said. “My favorite is the chateaubriand, a 21-day, wet-aged center-cut tenderloin.”
The dish is served with three sauces and a side of green chile mac and cheese. Stewart gives the Steamworks cajun boil and Michel’s Corner Crepes honorable mentions.
Sticking with steak, Strater Hotel president and CEO Rod Barker suggested a couple dishes from the hotel’s Mahogany Grille, including the Pepper Steak Herbert.
“This dish has been the top seller at the Strater for 35 years running and has often been listed as one of Durango’s best steaks,” Barker said.
The tenderloin is sautéed in butter, flavored with mango chutney and black pepper, and finished with Brandy.
Barker said “Herbert” was the maître‘d and executive chef at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in the 1960s.
Herbert often prepared this dish in a tableside presentation at the elegant Penrose Room.
“I watched him on many occasions and memorized every step of his preparation,” Barker said. “In 1983, I brought his iconic pepper steak to the Strater, where it has graced our room ever since. This is the only place that Herbert’s pepper steak can be found.”
Barker’s other choices are the corn-husked salmon fillet that is topped with a mildly spicy blend of jalapeños, pine nuts and other flavors to give the dish a Southwestern feel; or the trout and eggs breakfast dish that was inspired by Barker’s grandmother, Marion Jarvis.
“She was an extraordinary cook and enhanced simple dishes to make them memorable,” Barker said.
“The trout and eggs is a takeoff of the pioneer days when locals used what they had available.”
Southwestern-inspired dishes and beef seem to be the bites and flavors locals think represent Durango best. But based on the number of breweries in town, they’re missing a serious addition to their steaks, burgers and breakfast burritos: a cold craft beer, a Durango staple we can all agree on.