AOL PICK from our Editors
For years, ski resorts were famous for a dearth of fine dining and creative fare. This lack of culinary inspiration has dissipated, though, and Vail is a prime example of a small town with big tastes. Why’s that? Many chefs and restaurateurs moved to Vail for the lifestyle and blessed hungry patrons with the fruits of their labor. Vail chefs have been featured on the national stage with appearances on the ‘Today’ show, ‘Iron Chef America,’ ‘Top Chef’ and at the James Beard Foundation
in New York. Many restaurants focus on seasonal and local produce, allowing diners to sample elk, bison, antelope and other wild game. While there are many options for those looking to splurge, there are also deals to be had just by looking in the Vail Daily, the local free newspaper. Après ski (literally, “after ski”) is a popular option in many restaurants, offering special prices on drinks and appetizers. And, during the shoulder season, many restaurants offer two-for-one specials and other deals.
Neighborhood: Vail Village Price: Expensive
Rising star Kelly Liken opened her eponymous restaurant in 2004, creating cocktails and dishes that reflect her passion for seasonal cuisine and local flavors (she sources many of her ingredients from local farms). The restaurant itself is on the small side, which lends itself to the cozy atmosphere and almost zealous attention from the staff. The potato-crusted trout filets are one of the signature dishes, with the potato designed to mimic the scales of the fish; the sticky bun sundae is a dessert worth consuming twice. If you’re working on a budget, visit the restaurant for a cocktail, which are created with as much attention to detail as the menu. Our current favorite is the Clementine Kicker made with fresh ginger and jalapeño peppers muddled with agave nectar, Svedka Clementine Vodka and fresh lime juice. You can also catch Kelly on the current season of Top Chef D.C.
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Neighborhood: Golden Peak Price: Expensive
Larkspur, named for the wildflowers that dot the mountainside, is one of Vail’s most lauded restaurants. Focusing on clean flavors, Larkspur takes American cuisine to the level of an impressionist painting: It looks simple on the outside, until you take a bite. The menu changes weekly, allowing sommelier Kevin Furtado to run amok in his extensive wine cellar. We love the foie gras as an appetizer, in any preparation. The chicken entrée, while good, is not as interesting as some other options, such as the bacon-wrapped elk loin. Larkspur’s homemade burgers and truffle fries were so popular that chef/owner Thomas Salamunovich opened Larkburger in Edwards to satisfy the demand (Larkburger now has a location in Boulder and another one opening in Fort Collins). For a special occasion, gather a group and dine at the chef’s table for an inside peek at the kitchen.
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Neighborhood: Beaver Creek Price: Expensive
Sometimes, getting there is half the fun. Beano’s Cabin, located on Beaver Creek Mountain, is accessed by snowcat in the wintertime (about a 20-30 minute ride) and by an hour-long horseback ride in the summertime. A diesel-pulled wagon and shuttle van are also available and take 20 minutes and 10 minutes, respectively. Your transportation to the restaurant is included in the meal price. The décor is mountain rustic—antlers and large wooden beams dominate the space. Make sure to skip lunch if you’re dining at Beano’s, as the portions are generous and it’s a prix fixe dinner (depending on the time of your reservation, you get a three- or five-course meal) that will take a pretty significant hit on your wallet. Try the Elk Wellington or Buffalo osso buco for new takes on classic dishes. Be prepared to spend an evening at Beano’s, as dinner is usually a three- or four-hour affair.
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Neighborhood: Vail Village Price: Moderate
Featuring a large wood-burning pizza oven, La Bottega is a popular spot for both lunch and dinner with traditional Italian fare. The atmosphere is that of a classic trattoria, with the bustle of the open kitchen and mouth-watering smell from the pizza oven flavoring the conversations. While the paninis are good, opt for a classic margherita or quattro stagione (four seasons) pizza—the crust is delicate and crisp with the tell-tale bubbles and slightly charred places that impart the lovely wood-fire taste. During the summer, lunch can get crowded and a seat—on the deck or otherwise—can be hard to find. However, if you want to meet the people that make Vail run, this is a hot spot for Town Council members, business owners and decision makers. Dinner portions of the homemade pasta are generous. For lunch on the go, head straight for the bar and ask for the “bus stop,” consisting of a rotating sandwich selection, potato chips and a drink.
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Neighborhood: Lionshead Price: Moderate
Crafted from what started as part of Centre V, Tavern on the Square is a much better use of the space in The Arrabelle. With large flat-screen TVs and a nice selection of beer (La Fin Du Monde is a Belgian-style brew that is hard to find on most Vail menus), the Tavern is a popular après ski spot in the winter for hotel patrons and locals alike. While the crowds at the tables tend to skew older, you can still get a line on the secret stashes from the younger folk hanging at the bar. The patio is perfect in the summer and equipped with heaters in the winter to enjoy the views of the slopes. The menu consists of hearty comfort food: fish n’ chips, meatloaf and a decadent lobster mac n’ cheese. Avoid the calamari, which is on the heavy side and greasy.
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Neighborhood: Vail Village Price: Moderate
Located on the banks of Gore Creek, Up the Creek has charmed locals and visitors alike with its eclectic menu of fish and wild game. The prices are reasonable (by Vail’s standards) and the view is unmatched; you enjoy your meal with the lyric styling of Gore Creek in the background. While the more adventurous eaters can try the ostrich tenderloin (enhanced with sweet accompaniments such as cider demi-glaze), the Harris Ranch tenderloin is a reliable choice for the meat-and-potatoes crowd.
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Neighborhood: Red Cliff Price: Moderate
Perched in the small, funky town of Red Cliff, just past Minturn, Mango’s consists of three levels full of interesting folks and the best fish tacos in the area (the mahi mahi is perfectly cooked and the sauce recipe is a secret). With live music, pinball machines, pool tables and darts, it’s easy to make friends with the bikers that frequent the place: both road bikers and motorcyclists. The road to Red Cliff can be daunting (think seriously twisty mountain roads), but not to worry—Mango’s has two shuttle pick-up spots so that you can enjoy yourself safely.
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Neighborhood: Vail Village Price: Moderate
Let’s get one thing straight—if you’re heading to Los Amigos, you’re not really going for the food, though it’s of generous size and well-sauced. Instead, you’re probably headed to the deck for a pitcher of margaritas in the sunshine, watching skiers slide down Pepi’s Face, the ski run that leads toward the Vista Bahn. The audience at Los Amigos serves as judge for skiing performances, cheering or booing, catcalling anyone who face-plants in the snow. Los Amigos is famous for its deck and après ski scene; watch your step as helmets, goggles and gloves litter the railing.
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Neighborhood: Vail Village Price: Budget
Don’t let the skeleton décor and David Bowie videos deter you: Pazzo’s Pizzeria is a Vail institution, known for its massive calzones and late-night slices. The staff is friendly enough, ringing a large bell when tipped. The hand-tossed pizza ranges from classic (the supreme) to the creative (the Cabo Pazzo’s, topped with shrimp, jalapeno, garlic and pineapple). The place fills up after the free Street Beat and Hot Summer Nights concerts, but the wait is worth it.
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Neighborhood: Lionshead Price: Budget
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It’s hard to believe that you can find authentic Southern barbecue in a place like Vail, but it’s true—these ‘Bama boys know what they’re doing. Learning to barbecue in Tuscaloosa, the owners started with a small carry-out joint in Lionshead. They smoke all of the meats (chicken, pork, turkey and ribs) daily, and, when they run out, the place closes. While some of the sides dishes are menu mainstays (baked beans, coleslaw), check to see if black-eyed peas or collard greens are offered. Finish up with banana puddin’ (the ‘Nilla Wafer is on the bottom) and a PBR and you’ve had a true taste of the South in the Rocky Mountains.
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