Whether you want to hit the hot springs, raft the Arkansas River, or bike Monarch or Marshall Pass, all outdoor activities are close at hand in Poncha Springs, a small enclave about five miles from Salida. in Chaffee County. But those in the know are pumping the brakes at this point on the highway to take advantage of the collection of locally organized pit stops for fuel or a post-trail drink. Here, seven must-visit places to eat and drink in Poncha Springs.
Don’t let the shabby structure put you off. Once you find Tony’s in the Shell gas station parking lot, head up the creaky wooden ramp and discover fresh tacos made to order. You can get everything from shrimp enchiladas ($14) to sizzling Philly cheese steak ($12) at Tony’s. But we recommend keeping it old school with an order of four carne asada street tacos ($12). The Mexican seasoned beef piled on toasted corn tortillas with a handful of diced white onions, a lime spritz and generous slivers of cilantro hit the mark. 11346 US-50, Poncha Springs
Look for the wacky, waving, and dancing pickle in the air on the side of Highway 50 to find the Poncha Pub. Inside the chunky blue building, you’ll find locals occupying the five bar stools and sipping four beers on tap. The no-frills sandwich joint features the logo of a pickle with paddles, so you know these hearty hoagies are built for the rafters to pound after a long day in Arkansas. Grab a dry erase board to fill out your order and let your stomach guide the marker. We love the Pickle Club ($13) stacked with honey-smoked ham, smoked turkey, crispy bacon and cheddar cheese on soft parmesan bread. And load it up — the messier, the better — by ticking all the boxes for lettuce, tomato, onion, banana peppers, pickles, and cracked pepper. For the full experience, add a huge dill pickle ($2). 10238 US-50, Poncha Springs
Elevation Beer Co. & Mangia Food Truck
On the edge of Salida, Elevation Beer Company is set in its own barren grounds overlooking the Collegiate Peaks. It’s hard to choose just one pint from more than 20 recently brewed temptations: the misty milkshake IPA, the bourbon-aged imperial stout and a salty lime lager with a hint of Bloody Mary each caught our eye. . Try a flight of five and take your time sipping them on the dog-friendly patio while on-site food truck Mangia builds your basket of vegetarian nachos ($13) topped with whole roasted garlic cloves, carrots and radishes, then drizzled with creamy oh-so-queso and crumbly cojita. 115 Pahlone Pkwy., Poncha Springs
Red Pizza Co truck.
Red Truck Pizza Co.’s legit Neapolitan-style pizza got its start via a wood-fired oven built out of the back of a 1959 Chevy truck. The rusty red pickup now sits outside the humble pizzeria where a new wood-fired oven replicates that original crispy crust with hints of char. Browse the list of New School Island BBQ Pizzas ($15) and dive into 12 inches of oven-roasted chicken, hickory-smoked bacon, tangy BBQ sauce, red onion, pineapple , jalapeños and divine chunks of mozzarella that melt into beautiful gooey cheese pearls. We return for the crab rangoon pizza with sweet chili sauce. 10015 US-50, Salida
Mini Thai Coffee
The vintage wooden ice cream cone and burger sign on the dated building in a lonely dirt lot might not scream “authentic Thai food here,” but regulars know the Thai Mini Café is the place to be. place you go for green curry and pad thai. Faded posters of Thailand and beautiful fans adorn the wall alongside a shelf of coconut milk, jars of red curry paste, jasmine rice and other non-perishable goods for sale. The years show through the scuffed floors and drab walls, but it’s not about the decor at the Thai Mini Café—it’s about the food. Order the pad thai ($13) loaded with small slices of cabbage, scallions, chopped roasted peanuts and steamed rice noodles; and choose your spice level (medium packs some heat). Sweet-salty-spicy green curry ($13); Bangkok Special fried shrimp and steamed vegetables ($16); and the green tea ice cream ($3.50) are also standouts. The other side of the menu is full of American classics in case the kids want a cheeseburger or a chili cheese dog with fries. 11150 US-50, Poncha Springs
FlaminGo breakfast place
Poncha Springs is next to zero on breakfast options, but that’s about to change. The FlaminGo food trailer opens in May, rolling out a full take-out menu for early risers. Wake up to a rich dark roast from nearby Westcliffe’s Peregrine Coffee Roasters and dig into a portable ricotta-parmesan-lemon-spinach omelet ($6) with a side of sausage rolls in puff pastry ($5). Or grab a vegan breakfast bowl filled with quinoa, spinach, green chili salsa and chipotle cream ($9.50). And a slice of homemade pie ($5), of course. Because who doesn’t love pie and coffee in the morning? 10538 US-50, Poncha Springs
The hut of hunger
Sharing the same parking lot as the FlaminGo trailer, Hunger Shack is a summertime draw for roadside barbecues, burgers and soft drinks. Lunchtime fills picnic tables with locals who keep coming back for the famous smoked Rueben ($16) with a special sauce on marbled rye sourdough and the daring ghost pepper galette fondant ($13 $) with sautéed onions smothered in fiery ghost pepper cheese. Cue fans will appreciate the filling barbecue plates. Back ribs are smoked on site for 10 hours and are highly recommended. 10538 US-50, Poncha Springs