#VailBen Ongoing Dispatch: The Best Food I’ve Eaten in Vail.

Jun. 17, 2014

Benjamin showing off his Rocky Mountain Trout at Terra Bistro.
Benjamin showing off his Rocky Mountain Trout at Terra Bistro.

My summer in Vail hasn’t been all rivers, and mountains, and slackline lessons. Part of having America’s Best Summer Job means experiencing all Vail has to offer—and that includes the food. In fact, dining out in Vail might be one of the best perks of the job.

Coming from Brooklyn, I’ve experienced some of the most exciting restaurants in the world. So I have high foodie standards. But Vail didn’t let me down. From juicy steaks to authentic BBQ, Vail has impressed me with the variety of cuisines and the quality of ingredients. And I am happy to report that, as a long-time Jersey Shore-goer, the seafood in town more than satisfies my summer-long craving.

Best of all? Off-season means killer deals, from 25% off entrees to half-priced cocktails. It’s a great way to sample some of Vail’s high-end dining without breaking the bank. Here now are my favorite dishes from the first two weeks of America’s Best Summer Job. And be sure to stay tuned throughout the summer as I update this list!

 

The Tavern Burger at Tavern on the Gore On a Tuesday night in June, Tavern on the Gore is a great spot to grab a bite and watch the Whitewater Series. Be sure to order their signature burger. The slaw is just spicy enough, the bacon nice and thick, and the whole thing manages to stick together despite its imposing size.

Fried Dark Plate at Yellowbelly Chicken

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Co-owner Barry Davis personally served up a plate of his juicy GMO-free fried chicken on my first night in town. He claims it is better than Brooklyn-fave Pies & Thighs. And it just might be.

Panini with Italian Meats, Pesto and a Fried Egg at La Bottega The second our waiter read off this lunch special at the prime people-watching spot I knew what I was ordering. And the large sandwich, whose runny egg broke just right over the salty salami and thick focaccia bread, didn’t disappoint.

Pulled Pork Sandwich at Moe’s Original BBQ

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If you ask a Vail local where you should eat, Moe’s is bound to come up. So after a long morning of rafting, I could think of nothing better. The pork was tender and the sauce was super flavorful.

El Gordo Grande Burrito at La Cantina I was actually too much of a wimp to order this King-Sized Mexican meal that’s covered in ranchero and enchilada sauces. But when my friend went for it, I just had to sample. The regret was instantaneous.

22 oz Bone-in Ribeye Steak at Elway’s

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I’ll admit: I was wary about a restaurant named after a football star. But even I shocked myself when I ate every last bite of this massive cut of meat. It’s made with a killer rub and has just the right amount of char.

Kumamoto Oysters at Yama Sushi

It wasn’t the traditional sushi rolls that stood out at this Checkpoint Charlie restaurant, but rather a delectable yuzu-topped Japanese oyster starter.

Belly Benedict at Leonora

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I enjoyed a wonderful birthday breakfast at The Sebastian’s in-house restaurant. The highlight was this Latin play on eggs benedict that features chorizo, manchego cheese biscuits, sautéed spinach, pork belly, and lemon hollandaise. It was a savory culinary gift.

W.V.A. at Vendetta’s After the Vail Symposium’s summer kick-off last week, I was starving. But with dining options limited late-nite I was directed to the low-key liftie hang Vendetta’s. After several beers (and maybe a few early-birthday tequila shots) this basil pesto, grilled chicken, and artichoke heart pizza hit the spot.

The Pearson at Big Bear Bistro

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My Venture Sports biking guide Jacob swears by this tiny sandwich shop on Bridge Street. This turkey and pesto sandwich—pickle included—was the perfect pick-me-up after our ride down Vail Pass.

Rocky Mountain Trout at Terra Bistro  When my boyfriend came to town last weekend we headed to this local favorite for a romantic—and healthy—date. This cornmeal crusted trout over grilled kale and chipotle aïoli was a light entree that wasn’t stingy on flavor.

Breakfast Chimi at Westside Cafe

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While the Bloody Marys may have made this weekend brunch spot a local must, the real monster is this massive fried chorizo and hash brown-stuffed burrito topped with green chile. Perfect after a taxing hike—or as a hangover cure!

 

— UPDATE: July 1, 2014 —-

Fried Chicken and Waffles Burger at Back of House Burger Bar

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The somewhat secret little dining experience in the sprawling kitchen of the Four Seasons Vail is a real treat. And you can only score chef Jason Harrison one-of-a-kind burgers while sitting on the BOH Burger Bar’s stools. You definitely don’t want to miss this indulgent spin on the Southern classic. I was afraid to order it at first, but I was so glad I did; it’s balance of salty and sweet a thrill unique to Vail.

Spring Lamb Stew at Mountain Standard

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When you think refreshing summer cuisine, stew doesn’t usually come to mind. But this delicate and flavorful dish hit the spot while sitting on Mountain Standard serene riverside patio. My decadent starter was also awesome: Southern Pimento Cheese Bacon and cider jam, pickled celery and grilled bread.

Chophouse Cold Seafood Tower at Vail Chophouse

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I was skeptical about finding decent seafood in the mountains before I ordered this ocean spread. It includes everything you could possible want from the salty depths—including one dozen oysters, four jumbo shrimp, and 1/2 a Maine lobster! And, best of all, this personal raw bar was as fresh as if they had caught it yesterday.

Wood Roasted Pork Loin BLT at Sweet Basil

Sometimes it’s the simple things that stand out on a menu as creative as the one at this long-time Vail favorite. Thick focaccia, slab bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and smoked aioli all balanced perfectly. Add a Pimm’s Cup and you have a perfect summer lunch.

Apple Strudel at Alpenrose

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It was a beautiful day when we retired to this Austrian bakery for dessert. The World Cup was playing at the bar while we went for Gold on a big serving of this Viennese delight paired with a side of coffee and a pint of beer.

Slow Braised Heritage Pork Cheeks at Flame

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Nothing is predictable at the Four Seasons’ inventive steak house. And though they specialize in gourmet cuts of meat and fish—like the Loch Etive Steelhead Trout, whose pink interior resembles salmon!—it was the fun starters, like Watermelon-Jalapeno Gazpacho, Rocky Mountain Elk “Corn Dogs”, and Crispy Brussel Sprout Kim Chi, that showcased chef Jason Harrison flare for fun. So for me, this bite of pork was the perfect synthesis of the restaurant’s playfulness and elegance.

Fun Guy Flatbread at Bol

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The hip, casual atmosphere of this eatery-cum-bowling alley is a nice change of pace from the steak-heavy focus of Vail Village. And, in keeping with that charm, this rather large pizza with two runny egg toppers kept my meal flirtatious and filling.

Grilled Beef Coulotte at Kelly Liken

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Every Sunday, the cooks at Kelly Liken descend on the Vail Farmer’s Market to highlight the season’s offerings on their weekly Sunday Harvest Menu. It is one of the most fun summer dining experiences in town. On the night I dined—which also featured live jazz—the cooks highlighted zucchini, spring onion and rainbow chard wonderfully on this refined main.

Broiled Black Cod with Miso at Matsuhisa

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When I ask locals what I should eat while in town, this signature dish from the Vail outpost of the Nobu Matsuhisa empire, almost always comes up. Man, did it live up to the hype. Somewhere between adult candy and sushi-grade fish lies this crowd-pleasing creation. My only gripe was, that with a party of six, I only got one bite! Maybe we should have ordered a second plate.

Jamaican Platter at Crazy Mountain Brewery 

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The local brewer of choice for much of Vail also has a great tasting room in Edwards where you can sample one of their dozen-or-so beers. And since the Brewery can’t technically sell food, the owners have invested in a food truck that parks out back and serves a rotating menu of comfort dishes. After a long day of rafting, the Crazy Wagon Food Truck’s Jamaican platter, with its juicy roast pork, fried shrimp, and plantains, was a more accomplished meal than we expected or even needed.

Spicy Tuna Sandwich at The George 

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It surprised me when a respected member of one of the town’s prestigious hotel kitchens enthusiastically recommended seafood at this windowless, subterranean pub. And what a delight it was when the bartender plopped down a massive slice of tuna on a croissant bun, whose salty-spicy rub makes it worthy of a repeat visit. Oh, and their fries might be the best in town.

Laurel Infused Rocky Chicken at Larkspur

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Dinner at this high-end restaurant in Golden Peak is rare now that it is only open for special occasions. So I was glad I could attend one of their Bravo! afterparties. My entire meal was superb, but I licked my plate on this roast chicken dish with artichoke ravioli and carrot jus.

— UPDATE: August 1, 2014 —-

Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly at Tavern on the Square

This slopeside restaurant’s play on bacon and eggs was a wonderful surprise. Three small pieces of pork belly are wrapped in bacon and topped with a tiny quail egg. It’s the perfect excuse to enjoy breakfast for dinner.

Shrimp and Crab Legs at Game Creek Restaurant

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The last thing I expected from this appointed restaurant 2,000 vertical feet above Vail was a raw bar. But what a raw bar! Shrimp and crab legs as far as the eye could see. I should have enjoyed the majestic views from the deck more, but I just had to keep going back for seconds!

Swiss Hot Dog at The Blü Cow

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Philly has their cheesesteak. Chicago has their deep dish. Vail has its Swiss Hotdog. I didn’t really get what was so appealing about the pork and veal hotdog topped with mustard and sprouts. And then I visited the brand new Blu Cow, run by the daughter of the original Swiss Hotdog owner, and it all made sense. The addictive combination of flavors is everything you love about Vail on a french baguette.

Pork Green Chili at The Little Diner

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It took me a few tries just to get a seat at this appropriately named breakfast spot in Lionshead. But I was glad I kept trying as I got a chance to sample a great Colorado staple: pork green chili. There really is no better breakfast than some eggs, potatoes, and a heaping serving of this Mexican-American goodness.

Steak Burger at Gerald R Ford Pavilion

When you’re hosting acts like the New York Philharmonic and American Ballet Theater, you can’t get by serving stadium food. And I had heard from several locals that the Ford Amphitheatre served the best burger in town. Now I’m not sure if it takes the title, but damn if it isn’t 10-times better than it needs to be. And for under $10 to boot!

Green Monster Juice at Cucina Rustica

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You might be asking: Juice? Why, that’s not really a dish. But I beg to differ in this case. This little glass packs a mean punch of veggies—kale, spinach, and just a little pineapple for sweetness. I was addicted to it during my stay at the Lodge at Vail and think they’re an excellent way to start off any day on the mountain.

Brisket Sandwich at Talon’s Deck Outdoor Grill

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Vail takes its on-mountain BBQ very seriously. And while the famous Wildwood might not be open in summer, the brisket served at Eagle’s Nest is just as fine. Tender, juicy, with just the right amount of tang, Talon’s brisket sandwich is worth the trip to the top.

Corn Soup at The 10th

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Vail’s high-end on-mountain resturant comes with killer views and refined food. And though it is only open for lunch in the summer, my meal was still as exquisite as the surroundings. After starting off with a watermelon jalapeno margarita, I cooled things down with a seasonal corn soup. The topping of popcorn provided just the right amount of texture and playful flare.

Insalata Gamberi at Campo de Fiore

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You’d never know that this towering Italian trattoria lies in the second floor of this Vail Village building. But step inside and warm frescos transport you to the Italian Alps. It was an atmospheric spot to enjoy a solid Italian meal highlighted by this fresh summer dish of grilled shrimp, olives, capers, fennel, and grapefruit vinaigrette.

Colorado Lamb Lollipops at Bistro Fourteen

This unassuming mountain dining spot might not look like much (the interior is a little in need of updating) but don’t let that speak for the food, which is equal parts playful and mouthwatering. I was addicted to their starters, specifically the Lamb Lollipops which came with a jalapeno jelly that I must have licked the plate clean of.

Jager Schnitzel at Pepi’s

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I couldn’t leave Vail without dining at one of their oldest establishments. After getting a prime spot on their expansive deck, the waiter served up one of their specialties: Jager Schnitzel. It doesn’t get more bavarian than pork medallions sautéed in a wild mushroom sauce and served with spätzle and red cabbage. If that doesn’t keep you warm on a cold night, I don’t know what will!


*** Do you have a favorite dish in Vail? Let me know on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook by using the hashtag #VailBen and I’ll try to eat it! ***


Vail America's Best Summer Job BenBenjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Benjamin has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.