Best of the High Country 2023

Rick Langenberg and Trevor Phipps


Fire off the cannons, as it’s time again to party, celebrate and have fun; and yes, enjoy The Best of What the Teller and Pikes Peak High Country offers.


With the COVID-19 epidemic reaching a more definite conclusion, TMJ readers, online viewers, residents, gaming and history enthusiasts, and many visitors came out in force to voice their favorite picks in the last few months. The voting this year (done completely online) crashed all previous records with close to 10,000 ballots carded. Amazing.


While Hollywood may have recently had their annual Academy Awards competition, Cripple Creek, Woodland Park, Teller County and the entire Pikes Peak region boasts of the infamous “Best Of Championship,” sponsored by TMJ News (The Mountain Jackpot) newspaper over the last few decades. And not to be too bias, our contest is way more objective than that of the egotistical stars from Hollywood, who had their recent night in the spotlight


Once again, readers and TMJ Best Of voters declared their favorite places to gamble, play slots, grumble at politicians, bureaucrats and journalists (yes, a rare concept in our land of enlightenment.) And with the end of COVID, the good or bad times (depending on your view) are back.


In addition, voters were not shy about announcing their top  picks for public servants, casino employees, local personalities, bartenders, politicians and more. In a heavily contested Best Of the High Country 2023 contest, TMJ readers and Best Of participants dealt a few upsets and surprises, as well as making obvious choices for the region’s high and low points. For the sixth year in a row, we continued to add more categories for Best Of competitions.


We have strived to encompass a much wider area than Cripple Creek, Victor and southern Teller (Contrary to public opinion, there is a world beyond the CC/V district. But we must give the southern Teller folks credit, as their strong interest and enthusiasm in the Best Of showdown three decades ago really led to this annual edition. Don’t every say people in Cripple Creek and Victor aren’t competitive and don’t have opinions.


For this week, we are unveiling the bulk of Best Of winners and finalists for the heavily competitive casino, business and regional categories. Much more will come during our March 21 issue, as we focus more on individual winners and other key business contests.


And in the near future, more articles and social media posts will appear, celebrating the accomplishments of some of the grand winners. And best of all, thanks to the many people who participated in this year’s contest. You are the Best of The Best.


Now, with no more delays, here are the 2023 TMJ Best Of winners and top finishers.

Area-Wide Winners


Retail, Restaurants Food and Specialty Businesses


Best Cripple Creek Retail Store

Gold – Colorado Trade and Transfer

Silver – Creations Everlasting

Bronze –  Maudie’s Incredible Emporium

Last year’s champ –  Creations Everlasting

When in Cripple Creek, many opt for taking a break from the casinos or exploring the town past.  As a result, many spend their time inside the Colorado Trade and Transfer Company Gift Shop located inside the Cripple Creek District Museum. Shoppers can find many gifts from the area including a selection of local history books. Creations Everlasting took the silver due to their unique gifts offered including NFL merchandise and a variety of rare items. Creations, headed by the ever personable Edie Smith, is on the verge of celebrating their 15th anniversary in town.  Maudie’s is a shop, sporting some great art co-up art collections.

Best Woodland Park Retail Store

Gold – The Cowhand

Silver –  315 Survival

Bronze – Tweeds

Last year’s champ: The Cowhand

In Woodland Park, shoppers tend to like one of the city’s staples, The Cowhand located downtown. The Cowhand specializes in Western wear. They recently gained some new items like jewelry and cowboy hats. 315 Survival, located in the Safeway shopping center, is probably one of the newest retail stores in town and customers like their selection of survival gear, skis, outdoor supplies, and a wide smorgasbord of  equipment.  One of the more interesting stores on The Mountain. Tweeds made the list once again and locals seem to like the large selection of mountain-style home décor and furniture.

Best Specialty Shop

Gold: Creations Everlasting

Silver: Colorado Trade and Transfer

Bronze: The Mercantile

Last year’s champ:  Creations Everlasting

Creations Everlasting once again took the Gold with the unique items they carry. This retail location also has an area where folks can enjoy a great cup of java, tea, hang out and converse about the latest rumor to hit the region, or shopping tidbits.

The Colorado Trade and Transfer Company which specializes in selling items related to local history also received many votes. The Mercantile, one of the newer businesses in Cripple Creek, made the list with their selection of Colorado-based items of a huge variety.

Best Cripple Creek/Victor Event

Gold – Ice Festival

Silver – Oddities Alley

Bronze – Donkey Derby Days

When it comes to events in Southern Teller County, readers seem to be thrilled about the big return of the Ice Fest. Crowds were good for the first year back after taking a two-year hiatus. The Oddities Alley in Victor also proved to have many fans.  Donkey Derby Days also made another impressive showing, with the Two Mile High Club and the entire community coming together under a noble cause:  preserving and helping the donkey herd.


Best Area-Wide Event

Gold: Salute to American Veterans Rally

Silver: Ol’ Fashion 4th of July

Bronze: WP Christmas Parade

Last year’s champ: Salute to American Veterans Rally

The famous veterans’ rally won the hearts of the majority of the voters this year, as its new location in Woodland Park turned into another big bonus, putting an end to previous controversies in Cripple Creek.  The event always brings out thousands of people to take some time to appreciate those who have served in the military and for the sometimes forgotten prisoners of war. The ceremonies at Memorial Park were outstanding.

Woodland Park’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July event, however,  was also chosen as a favorite for many. During the winter, Woodland Park’s Lighter Side of Christmas Parade shined big time.

Best Hotel

Gold – Country Lodge

Silver – Wildwood Hotel & Casino

Bronze – Little Beaver Inn

Last year’s champ: Microtel

This year one of the longest running hotels in the area snagged the Gold as area’s top hotel, with the Country Lodge in Woodland Park, ending on top of the lodging favorite chart.  The Woodland Country Lodge is the only hotel in town with a bar and restaurant which could have been what set it apart from others.

The Wildwood’s brand new casino also struck a favorable cord with many voters  local favorite. The Little Beaver Inn in Green Mountain Falls also seemed to be a hot spot for those who wish to stay a night away from home in a unique setting.

Best Waitstaff

Gold – McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub

Silver – Russ’ Place

Bronze – The Creek

Last year’s champ: Peak View BBQ

McGinty’s recaptured its former title  this year when it comes to the contest of the restaurant which features the best service. The eatery has a good menu of culinary dishes, coupled with a unique Irish fare; and best of all, a friendly and attentive staff to serve these great food and drink offerings.

Russ’ Place took the silver in this category due to the servers working hard to serve all of their patrons even when the place is loaded with demanding customers, like Trevor from TMJ. The Creek also proved to have a stellar wait staff to serve its highly diverse menu, especially following meetings of importance in the community.

Best BBQ

Gold: Peak View BBQ

Silver: Russ’ Place

Bronze: Crystola Roadhouse

Last year’s champ: Peak View BBQ

When it comes to yummy barbecued food, Woodland Park’s Peak View BBQ took the top spot for the second year in a row  The eatery has hand-made cocktails and a large menu of barbecued treats. Russ’ Place not only serves good burgers but their barbecued pulled pork and brisket seem to be reader favorites, as they snagged the Silver.  Crystola also know how to barbecue some food and they have specials like lemon smoked chicken and pork ribs.

Best Local Hangout

Gold – The Creek

Silver – Russ’ Place

Bronze -The Blue Moose

Talk about a landslide victory. When it comes to kicking back and relaxing, locals enjoy having a cold one at The Creek in Cripple Creek.  John and Miki Freeman have done an amazing job in reviving this historic gem.  The place has an upstairs area with a giant TV that they set up for Broncos and Avalanche games. And then there are the post city council and county commission analysis sessions at The Creek, which almost require beverages of choice to maintain a good level of sanity.  Russ’ Place always seems to be rather full at happy hour earning them second place on the list. The Blue Moose in Green Mountain Falls is also a favorite place for locals to socialize and relax, and even to check out great live music at times.

Best Woodland Park Bar

Gold -Thai Good Eats

Silver – 110 Reserve

Bronze – Peak View BBQ

Last year’s champ: Peak View BBQ

Even though Thai Good Eats is rather new, voters heavily praised the homey pool bar.  Patrons can watch their favorite sports matches on a big screen TV or play a friend pool. 110 Reserve also received a lot of votes as people really enjoy the beer garden, outdoor atmosphere in the summertime.  Peak View BBQ’s tap room is also a favorite place where people can enjoy craft beer or hand-crafted cocktails.

Best Area Sports Bar

Gold –  McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub

Silver – The Creek

Bronze – Russ’ Place

When it comes to watching a professional or college game or athletic contest, the sports bar side at McGinty’s has won the hearts of locals. During football season the bar side sports a number of screens,  so people can watch the game of their choice; and yes, they can avoid a debacle called The Denver Broncos.  In fact, their huge network of televisions screens and sports options can’t really be rivaled, except by some of the casinos..

With their upstairs area, The Creek also received many votes for serving as best places to watch a game. Russ’ Place also has several screens that are always displaying some type of sports action

Best Area Breakfast

Gold – The Pantry

Silver – Grandmother’s Kitchen

Bronze – Woody’s

Last year’s champ: The Pantry

For the first meal of the day, TMJ Best of participants always favor The Pantry in Green Mountain Falls which has been around for decades. The Pantry is well-known to be one of the best breakfast spots in the region, with visitors from the Springs and Pueblo on the weekends.

Grandmother’s Kitchen just got new owners and they added a dinner menu to their delicious lunch and breakfast selections. Woody’s Bar and Grill inside the Wildwood casino was also a favorite place to stop for the first meal of the day.

Best Area Lunch

Gold – Joanie’s Deli

Silver –  El Burro Loco at The Mercantile

Bronze – Creations Everlasting

When needing to stop for lunch, the scrumptious sandwiches at Joanie’s Deli in Woodland Park took the top prize. Their menu features several delicious options and fresh baked goods, and they even gained one of the top awards during the Chamber of Commerce award ceremony in 2022

The new Cripple Creek Mexican-grill eatery, El Burro Loco at  The Mercantile,  is also a top favorite with their authentic, Mexican-style take-out dishes. Check out their stellar reviews.  Creations Everlasting is also a favorite place for some good food, and a place to get away from the summer crowds, and a limited amount of indoor seating.

Best Steak

Gold – The Steakhouse at  Bronco Billy’s

Silver – The Creek

Bronze – Wines of Colorado

Last year’s champ: The Steakhouse

When it comes to steak, the Steakhouse inside the Bronco Billy’s Casino is the reigning champion, again and again. The discussion is over.   The fine dining establishment offers steaks to appease that craving and other delicious items in a rather fancy setting. But The Creek and Wines of Colorado, located in Cascade, made good showings.

Best Seafood

Gold – Wines of Colorado

Silver – Thai Good Eats

Bronze – The Mayflower

Even though Colorado is not necessarily known as a  top spot for seafood, TMJ voters are raving about the renovation changes made by the owners of the Wines of Colorado in Cascade,  not to mention their culinary enhancements.  Locals say that their trout and salmon are top notch items, and their steady hours of operation. Wines of Colorado has emerged as an amazing success story,

The new eatery, Thai Good Eats, also won many votes, with their salmon, lobster, and shrimp choices. The Mayflower snagged the Bronze, with their selection of Chinese-style seafood. The Mayflower also has recently done some interior improvements, making it very inviting.

Best Burger

Gold – Russ’ Place

Silver – McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub

Bronze – Iron Tree

The best burger competition winner came as no surprise to anyone as Russ’ Place took the top prize once again. Their meat is locally sourced from the Woodland Butcher Block and readers love their renditions of giant burgers.

McGinty’s uses meat from a ranch across the highway. In fact, their burgers are so genuine, as you get the feeling you know the cow where they came from. The Iron Tree in Florissant was also high on the list with their hand-patted burgers and freshly made buns.

Best Summer Time Burger

Gold – Iron Tree

Silver – Russ’ Place

Bronze – McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub

During the summer, TMJ News ran a special contest just for burgers, and to the surprise of no one, the Iron Tree earned the top spot. People enjoy stopping in Florissant for a delicious hand-made burger when out for a cruise in the sunshine.

Russ’ Place always seems to make the top of the list when it comes to burgers and last summer they received a multitude of votes. McGinty’s was also in the winner’s circle with their delicious locally raised meat.

Best Pizza

Gold: Blue Moose

Silver: AJ’s Pizzeria

Bronze: Holy Pizza at Paradox Brewery

Last year’s champ: Blue Moose

The Blue Moose seems to always take the cake with their pizzas. Their Mountain Man that comes with nothing but meat is a local favorite, and one devoured by TMJ staff members during regular gatherings at The Moose.

AJ’s recently moved to a new location in the mold Pizza Hut building and locals still enjoy their pies. Holy Pizza was a new arrival on the list as locals must enjoy the unique sourdough crust their pizzas are made with.

Best Oriental Food

Gold: Thai Good Eats

Silver: Fortune Dragon

Bronze: Fusion Japan

When it comes to Asian food, the new Thai Good Eats took the top prize. They first entered the area in ma food truck and now that they have a brick and mortar location, voters still seemed to love their food.

The Fortune Dragon also picked up many tallies with their selection of Chinese dishes. The sushi at Fusion Japan was probably what put the Japanese eatery on the list.

Best Brewhouse

Gold: Paradox Brewery

Silver: BierWerks

Bronze: Bristol Brewing

When it comes to hand-crafted brews, Paradox Brewery once again took the top spot. The brewery has a unique take on beers that voters seemed to appreciate.

BierWerks recently added a roof top area to the venue and many love to sit by the fire pit and enjoy a brew. Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs also got plenty of votes as people enjoy the brewery and buying their brews at liquor stores

Best Fine Dining

Gold –  Swiss Chalet

Silver – The Creek

Bronze – Mucky Duck

When it comes to enjoying a fancy meal, locals have always favored the iconic Swiss Chalet. The eatery has new owners that have expanded the menu and slightly changed the business in a good way. The Creek with their famous elk tenderloins also got many votes for serving as atop-notch place to eat. The Mucky Duck in Green Mountain Falls was also chosen as a top fine dining spot in the area with a great atmosphere.

Best Weekend Eatery

Gold – Russ’ Place

Silver: The Pantry

Bronze – Blue Moose

Last year’s champ: The Pantry

On the weekends people tend to enjoy taking the cruise up to Divide. Russ’ Place nailed number one this year for the best place to eat on weekends.

The Pantry was another gem where people like to stop while on a weekend cruise. The Blue Moose was another place people enjoy while checking out the small town of Green Mountain falls on the weekend.

Best Area Restaurant

Gold – McGinty’s Wood Oven Pub

Silver –  The Creek

Bronze – Peak View BBQ

 McGinty’s won again as the best restaurant in the area, and offer a great reason to spend some time in Divide, the infamous Center of the Known Universe. With the combination of their friendly staff and delicious food, locals love this Irish-style pub. With the work of head chef Lorissa Vendola and the steady hand of proprietor Tracy McGinty for years, McGinty’s has practically become a culinary institution in Divide.

The Creek is another restaurant that has won over the hearts of locals with their menu of yummy items. Peak View BBQ was also voted as an all-around favorite and it may sport the best view of Pikes Peak in the area.

Best Woodland Park Coffee Shop

Gold: Righteous Grounds

Silver: Java Haus

Bronze: Human Bean

Teller County has become a coffee paradise, which forced us to divide this competition into two sections due to the explosion of entries and tallies. When it comes to enjoying a cup of Joe, people absolutely love the new Righteous Grounds Coffee shop. The fact that the roast their own coffee beans could have been the key to making it to the top. The only downside is you may run into someone from the  TMJ there, like Rick or Trevor

Locals also tend to enjoy the Java Haus, also located downtown, with their great coffee, muffins and amazing facility.  Again, you may encounter folks from TMJ there, who are becoming addicted to Woodland Park, prize-award winning java. The Human Bean is also a local favorite place to stop while people are on the go.

Best Cripple Creek Coffee Shop

Gold – Creations Everlasting

Silver –  Gold Camp Cafe

Bronze – Wildwood Casino

Last year’s champ:  Creations Everlasting

Creations Everlasting repeated again as the favorite spot in Cripple Creek for coffee, as many enjoy their amazing java and conversing with owner Edie Smith, one of the more infamous personalities in town.

The new Gold Camp Café proved to be another top place for coffee in the gambling town. Every morning the place is packed with people enjoying some coffee and breakfast. The Wildwood Casino also received votes for a good place to get a caffeine fix.

Best Area To-Go Food

Gold: Russ’ Place

Silver: El Burro Loco

Bronze: Thai Good Eats

When on the run, voters chose Russ’ Place for getting food to take out. The eatery has a good selection of burgers, sandwiches and appetizers that are sure to please the whole family.

El Burro Loco at The Mercantile is the newest place that gained special  notoriety with their authentic,  Mexican dishes, for take-out buffs.  Thai Good Eats is also another place where people can make a quick stop and get chicken/prok on a stick and other items.

Best Veterinarian

Gold – Woodland Veterinary Clinic

Silver – Compassion

Bronze – WP Animal Medical Center

Teller County is dog and animal country, with folks have a special affinity for their four-legged best friends. As a result, the area bustled with a variety of dog and cat docs. But the votes are in and the Woodland Veterinary Clinic, headed by long-time vet Dr. Kevin Conrad, snagged the gold. Dr. Conrad  last year moved to a new and much bigger location, in a mainstay location right off Hwy. 24, and he has more capacity to help locals with their animals a lot more and offer more specialized services.

Compassion Animal Hospital has also been around for decades and many like the medical care they offer to pets. The Woodland Park Animal Medical Center was also picked by several people, many that they are ano0ther place that is trusted by the community.

Best Pet Groomer

Gold – Clearwater Pet Grooming

Silver – Woodland Pet Salon

Bronze – Barking Sisters

Last year’s champ: Clearwater Pet Grooming

Clearwater Pet Grooming took the gold for another consecutive year, as the best place to go to keep your pets looking good and heathy.  Their new downtown location and personable staff is also a big boost. The business also sports a variety of additional services, such as pet sitting and nutritional help.      Woodland Pet Salon and barking Sisters were also picked as places locals like to choose.

Best Dentist

Gold –  Forest Edge Dental

Silver – Stephenie Kaufmann

Bronze – Rampart Dental

Last year’s champ: Stephenie Kaufmann

Forest Edge Dental Care has always been a favorite hub for teeth mending, and captured the Gold in this highly competitive contest.  Their win is attributed to their affordable prices, and ability to accept a variety of insurance plans and offer special packages of their own, not to mention their wide variety of specialized services and highly staffed operation. They won this same title several years ago , and have reigned as one of the bigger dental operations to come to Woodland Park. Other top favorites include Dr.  Stephenie Kaufmann, a mainstay in the community for years and highly regarded for her dedicated staff; and Rampart Family  Dental Center, under the helm of Dr. Morrill.