#VailBen Ongoing Dispatch: The Best Food I’ve Eaten in Vail—So Far.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
*** 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! ***
Benjamin 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.