$$ (average entrée about $15)
5:30-9 p.m. weekdays in winter
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends in winter, and daily in summer
There are those who dream of robust, homemade enchilada sauce from a few favored places in northern New Mexico, a land teeming with chefs who craft red and green sauces that hum with depth and nuance. To these chefs, flagrant use of jalapenos is an abomination – there must be flavor with that heat.
The Buen Tiempo restaurant in Ouray has a kindred spirit in its chef, Jon Kosh. Not everything about this lofty Main Street fixture, affectionately known as the Bean Temple to locals, is nuanced – not the dollar bills dangling way up on the ceiling, nor the pulsating Curtis Mayfield soundtrack one recent evening – but Kosh’s understanding of the chili pepper is. An alumnus of Buen Tiempo’s former sister restaurant, Bon Ton (which was recently sold, along with the St. Elmo Hotel) Kosh skillfully blends spiciness and smoke in his dishes, so you can appreciate more than the pop of the peppers.
The alchemy starts with something as simple as buffalo wings ($8.95). On Mondays, football nights, Kosh turns out platters of wings drenched in a sauce with one foot in barbeque-land, and another in a subtle combination of ancho, chimayo and chipotle chilies to balance the sting of cayenne. The tang and salt of the wings – and for that matter, the warmth and the salt of the tortilla chips, paired with a superb homemade salsa (neither too hot nor too mild) – are a perfect accompaniment to margaritas, in whatever form you desire. The two most popular are the J.K., a hand-shaken Herradura Anejo, Cointreau and lemon-lime juice concoction ($8) named for the restaurant’s chef, and the El Jefe (Patron Silver, Citronage and Rose’s Lime Juice, also $8). The Buen Tiempo doesn’t have a happy hour, but locals know to ask for a “Bueno” sized libation (double the tequila and triple sec for an extra $1). This makes them very happy.
The menu covers the traditional range of Mexican – burritos, soft tacos, tamales. Chili rellenos ($13.25), in a nod to the restaurant’s northern New Mexican emphasis, are made from Hatch chiles rather than poblanos. Fajitas ($16.95-$17.95), served with chicken, beef or rock shrimp, come beautifully charred, with generous accompaniments. Fish tacos ($13.95) are light and crispy in a tempura batter, with the sweet tang of slaw – perfect if you don’t want something too heavy because you’re running Imogene Pass the next day. Enchiladas with blue-corn tortillas ($11.50-$15.50) are the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and BT serves them simply with cheese, or with beef, chicken, spinach (a particular customer favorite), or spinach and blue crab. But it is what Chef Kosh does with the Chimayo chile that truly elevates these entrees. Take the Carne Adovada: thinly-sliced pork tenderloin, grilled on an open flame and enrobed in perhaps the best “red” this side of The Shed in Santa Fe ($14.95). Spanish rice, made from scratch, is fluffy and infused with the idea, rather than the bite, of garlic. Black beans are fresh, toothsome and prepared on site. The restaurant’s specials, in addition to those wings on Monday, include Wednesday night all-you-can eat beef, chicken or fish tacos ($7.95) and, on Friday, oysters flown in fresh from Maryland or Maine ($1 each). For dessert, there are flan ($5.50) and sopapillas ($5.50 for four), but get the deep-fried ice cream ($5.50), a softball-sized mound of cinnamon ice cream swimming in a sea of whipped cream and chocolate sauce that easily feeds four. Remember: you need calories to burn when you’re standing around waiting for your belay at the Ice Park.
DON’T FORGET SUMMER when you can sit in the courtyard and watch the Ampitheater above Portland Creek change colors in the late-afternoon light as you sip your margarita.
WHO GOES: Ice climbers in winter, four wheelers and hikers in summer, and locals all year. A surprising number of patrons come straight from a soak in the Hot Springs and immediately order a margarita. “They’ve just detoxed [in the Springs],” only to “pour those toxins right back in” to their systems, says manager David Turner, who tends bar.
WHY NOT TRY?: Making a $1 donation for a demonstration of how they get those dollar bills to dangle from the ceiling. Each fall, the restaurant pulls down a few thousand bills and donates them to a local charity; for the last two years, the funds have gone to the Ouray Nordic Council for Ironton Park trail maintenance.