Vail’s Vibrant Dining Scene
Jun 13, 2022 at 8:00 AM in Where to Eat by
An old college friend recently posted a link on my Facebook timeline that featured a story about how Vail, Colorado had been cited among the country’s best ‘small town food scenes’ by USA Today. Huh, I thought, in a most affirming manner. (Not to be confused with huh?) I realized that I concurred with that distinction, and so I’ve decided to share some of my favorite Vail dining experiences with my Discovery Map readers.
As a resident of Colorado for over twenty years, I have had many opportunities to go to Vail–typically at least once a year for at least a few days and then sometimes also just passing through. Each time I have enjoyed exceptional dining experiences, often in the company of my partner, Steve, who happens to be the general manager of a big lodge in Colorado. Between the two of us, we have lots of street cred. So much so, in fact, that I would go so far as to say that the combinations of these culinary adventures have surpassed ones we’ve had in Aspen. (Note, however, that that’s not to say that Aspen doesn’t also rank high on foodies’ hit lists.)
Steve, my Italian man of almost fourteen years, will likely not appreciate me sharing our favorite places to eat Italian in Vail (that’s what we most like to do there) but since he rarely reads my stories, I feel like what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. (I may be eating my words when it comes to trying to secure a reservation in one of our favorite places because, like so many of our mountain towns and resort areas in general, Vail has become increasingly busy.)
Steve, my Italian man of almost fourteen years, will likely not appreciate me sharing our favorite Italian places in Vail, but since he rarely reads my stories, I feel like what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him (I may be eating my words when it comes to trying to secure a reservation in one of our favorite places because, like so many of our mountain towns and resort areas in general, Vail has become increasingly busy).
Fortunately, Ti Amo, our longtime favorite, has opened a second location in nearby Eagle, Colorado. Steve (AKA Stefano) discovered this authentic Italian restaurant totally by chance ages ago when he spotted its sign from I-70. Its location–in a strip mall of sorts–is quite surprising, but once inside its cozy interior, you’ll feel like you’re back in the Old Country. Here you’ll savor classic dishes such as linguine alle vongole and ravioli con funghi among those-in-the-know in Vail. Sure there are tourists here but not surprisingly, it’s a favorite of the locals albeit of the well-heeled kind. Photos of illustrious peeps, such as Gerald and Bette Ford, who have dined here throughout the decades, adorn the walls of the restaurant, supplying plenty of evidence that Ti Amo has long attracted the “it crowd.” I have not tried the new Ti Amo in Eagle but look forward to doing so on my next trip to Vail–or maybe even as an elegant pitstop on a ride to or from Denver.
La Bottega has become another of our favorites. I actually discovered it ages ago before I even moved to Colorado. Centrally located in Vail Village, it’s easy to walk to from many places of lodging. During the summer season, it’s lovely to sit on their patio, and sip an aperol spritz, and do some excellent people watching before you become consumed with the yummy plate of pasta or pizza that will likely make up the main attraction of your meal here. Save room for their tiramisu, a real winner by this Italian food aficionado’s standards.
Our most recent discovery was La Nonna Ristorante, just a few steps from Bottega. Start out with some prosciutto e parmigiano and olives accompanied by a crisp pinot grigio and you’ll swear that you’ve just landed in Italy. The service here–just like at Ti Amo and La Bottega–is tops, something that’s harder and harder to find in many of our resort locales.
Vail exudes a Bavarian spirit that enchants visitors by its architecture (think alpine chalet), its flower boxes brimming with cascading flowers and its hearty food and drink. A visit to Sonnenalp is a must and even if you’re not lucky enough to be staying at this glorious family-owned resort, you can experience one of their many restaurants, most of which feature the cuisine and décor of the Faessler family’s native Germany. For five generations this family has showcased the finest traditions of European hospitality within their Sonnenalp Resorts in Ofterschwang, Germany and Vail, Colorado. For a quintessential alpine meal, go to their Swiss Chalet to gobble up some fondue or schnitzel, the perfect antidote to a day well spent in the mountains.
Pepi’s Restaurant and Bar is another beloved Vail favorite that also offers a few different dining and drinking options within their property. SteveMy guy and I have snuggled up together on Pepi’s Covered Patio (open summer and winter) savoring apfelstrudels and coffee, and also partied hard in Pepi’s Bar where they often have live music. There you can soak up an après ski scene just like those of the good ‘ole days.
For a more quaint dining experience, go to Alpenrose, a darling of a restaurant where you may munch on pretzels, bratwurst, one of their homemade cakes and pastries and more along with all kinds of tasty beverages from the Alps. We had one of our more memorable brunches here on a lovely April day; like the other aforementioned Bavarian-inspired restaurants, Alpenrose boasts a terrace that’s situated on a (primarily) pedestrian-only street, another delightful aspect of dining out in Vail.
Speaking of brunch, we love Vintage, a French brasserie-styled restaurant that serves a champagne brunch Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Since I lived in Paris for eleven years, you can bet that I revel in the French touches in their décor and menu that includes buttery croissants, beignets and salades au chèvre chaud, to name a few. We haven’t yet tried dinner here but I imagine their filet mignon with béarnaise is vraiment délicieux. I’ll take a glass of pinot noir with that, s’il vous plaît.
We’re big on brunch, since mid day in Vail we’re typically skiing, hiking or lounging by one of the beautiful pools attached to one of the many beautiful resorts in the area. We have also once reveled in a more high-brow brunch at Sweet Basil, one of Vail’s top restaurants. Here, you’ll enjoy sophisticated cuisine that will surely wow you big time at dinner.
For casual brunches, we love Westside Café & Market, which we usually hit when we’re headed out of Vail. Just off of I-70 on the North Frontage Road, not surprisingly this establishment ranks as a real local’s favorite. I’m talking local as in a lifty’s splurge, or a second home owner’s meal out with the family. The down-home cooking here satisfies in both quantity, quality and price point. Since Steve is always the one to drive, I’ve enjoyed many a mimosa at Westside Café to accompany my eggs Benedict. I bet dinner rocks here as well.
Wine and Dine!
Looking to wine, dine and maybe do a little dancing? Vail Chophouse in Lionshead at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola rates high in the food and fun department. They specialize in fresh seafood and steaks that rival the terrific cocktails and jazz that are served up in equal measure here as well. You can also just soak up the scene at their expansive outdoor terrace, a hotspot on a summer’s night. (Steve and I, however, enjoyed the ambiance inside and yes, we even danced.)
There’s also a Beaver Creek Chophouse that I imagine is equally as fine. In Beaver Creek (well actually Avon, which is at the base of Beaver Creek), I’m most familiar with the dining scene at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Maya, a colorful restaurant that features the Latin American cuisine of Chef Richard Sandoval, will dazzle you with fabulous offerings such as tableside guacamole, shrimp ceviche, pork carnitas–all with the innovative flair of this renowned chef. And if you’re a connoisseur of tequila (or maybe just like a delicious margarita), you’ll be over the moon–or the mountain–with the offerings here.
For lunch, you must score a table at LAPS Pool Bar & Grill, also at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. Steve and I have spent many hours and a few margs at this terrific spot, fortunately after having done some laps in their pool, one of the most magnificent saltwater pools in the country. Oh, and did I mention the views? Situated alongside the river facing Beaver Creek Resort, the setting here ranks supreme as well.
It’s no wonder that a new restaurant, also by the acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval, is slated to open in the summer of 2022 at this Westin property. Named Stoke & Rye, this contemporary American grill is sure to become the next much-talked-about dining and drinking establishment within the Vail Valley.
They just keep it coming, don’t they? No wonder Vail has garnered such national recognition. Lucky for me–and Steve–that we often manage to find our way there whether it’s just passing through or for a more extended stay. I hope you’ll be able to check out Vail as well!