Great dining can be found outside of big cities, including in the small mountain towns of Colorado. These towns have seen a quiet, steady growth of talented chefs who’ve cut their teeth in the world’s best restaurants, then packed their knives and Larousse Gastronomique for the hills of Aspen and Vail. Food festivals, a ski season that lasts into spring, a plethora of elite businesspeople and celebrities every which way equals a killer clientele, but when the high season winds down, the crowds disappear overnight.
This brutal reality has led many chefs to repack their cookbooks and move on in search of steadier, more predictable business. But the ones who stay have figured out a way to survive, thrive and create a reputation that extends far beyond their small communities.
Woody Creek Tavern, Woody Creek
Just outside of Aspen, this local favorite is quirky, funky, kind of strange and damn good. Best margaritas, period. Bring cash—they won’t take anything else.
Hickory House Ribs, Aspen
Winner of numerous awards for its barbecue, this restaurant dishes out generous portions and great quality in a casual rib joint atmosphere. The housemade onion rings are a must.
Fine dining at its finest. Owner Thomas Salamunovich masterfully delivers an incredible dining experience with no detail unattended. You will need a reservation, and plan to spend some time here taking it all in. The twice-baked potatoes served with the veal are possibly the best potatoes on Earth.
Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen
Perched at 11,000 feet, with mind-blowing views, Cloud Nine specializes in old-school European classics like raclette, fondue, schnitzel and strudel.
The Minturn Saloon, Minturn
Many people access the restaurant (circa 1901) by skiing out of bounds off the backside of Vail’s famous “Minturn mile.” Come for a special style of Colorado cuisine, mixing Mexican favorites, game birds, steaks and ribs.
Grind, Glenwood Springs
Located between Aspen and Vail, this spot is easy to miss unless you’re in the know. Come for freshly ground burgers and don’t forget to enjoy at least one of the eight local beers on tap from nearby Rifle Brewing Co.
Scott McCurdy is a Food Fanatics chef for US Foods who lives in and enjoys the Colorado mountains.