The seasonal, variable, and landlocked nature of Colorado makes eating fresh and local produce a challenge. Most restaurants in Colorado Springs, therefore, import food from out of state to satisfy the ever-expanding craving for variety that restaurant-goers possess. 503W, a restaurant and bar located at 503 W. Colorado Ave., however, manages to satisfy the craving for fresh and local produce while also creating a menu of a unique and extensive variety.
Hanging lights illuminate the restaurant space, creating an orange glow that floods the room with warmth. A long community table surrounded by tall yellow stools sits in the center of the room, characterizing the local bar vibe and aesthetic of 503W. The back wall holds a display of craft beers and local liquors organized in line with a wooden bar top, which matches the freshly waxed wooden floors.
Four years ago, Nina Lee and her fiancé, Rollie Ortiz, bought the restaurant building from Lee’s mother after moving back to Colorado, their home state, from Hawaii. Lee describes life in Hawaii as the inspiration for the menu and mission statement at 503W.
“Growing up in Colorado Springs, I felt like there was a need for diversity,” Lee said, identifying the restaurant’s focus on creating a strong sense of variety in food and beverage. Not only does the menu feature an assortment of cuisines, flavors, and styles, but each dish seems to represent a kind of mixture of influence and culture in itself.
30 years in the restaurant industry and five years in Hawaii allowed Lee and Ortiz a strong and idiosyncratic approach to the design of 503W. Lee and Ortiz work with around 17 vendors, all from Colorado, that supply both the drinks and produce that fill the menu.
“Spices come directly from local distributors, to our liquor, to our beer, to our beef,” said Lee, as she talked about the local food influence they adopted during time in Hawaii. “That’s where we get that fusion twist to everything.”
The attention to locally sourced food and drink, alongside a variety that is uncommon in other Colorado Springs dining establishments, characterizes the experience at 503W. Lee talked about how her partner, Ortiz, designed “a menu that has that blend,” and the way in which their time in Hawaii “really turned us on to Thai food [and] really turned us onto Korean food.”
This Asian influence and flavor comes to life in several of the menu items at 503W. The most frequently ordered dish is called the “Little Seoul Bowl,” which consists of Korean beef or sriracha chicken with steamed jasmine rice, kimchi, cucumber salad, spun carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, and topped with a fried egg. This Asian influence is evident in other items on the menu also, such as the food truck satay, Korean tacos, a poke bowl, and a Thai noodle bowl. Each item on the menu reveals a healthy mixture of raw and cooked ingredients of significant quantity that leave the stomach feeling full, and the body remaining light and energized.
“We focus on new American fusion as well as craft libation … [to] bring in that sense of community,” said Lee. 503W attracts a fusion of people through a well-crafted menu that touches the taste buds of customers with a range of preferences and cultural backgrounds, and that supports a variety of local food and drink businesses throughout Colorado.