Most mountain towns are known for gorgeous ski slopes in the winter and copious fly fishing and hiking spots in the summer. And when it comes to food, most think of mountain grub as wild game, heavy stews and skillet cornbread.
When I arrived in Vail, Colorado, I was pleasantly surprised to not only find stick-to-your-ribs eats, but scrumptious seafood pastas, fresh avocado toasts that rival California’s best, authentic German and Asian cuisine, and so much more. How is it all possible? Modern-day overnight shipping and the ability to work with local purveyors. Matt Morgan, owner of local restaurants Mountain Standard and Sweet Basil, says his restaurants have fish flown in daily, and with speedy options of overnight delivery services, his establishments are able to work with small suppliers and boutique fishing operations from around the world.
The same is true for produce and non-seafood items as well. “Although our growing season is shorter than most, we are able to work with local farmers within a 150-mile radius of Vail to obtain items like the world-famous Olathe sweet corn, Palisade peaches, heirloom tomatoes, beans, squash, and cucumbers,” says Morgan.
Appetite sharpened? Then, here’s a guide to some of the best eats in Vail.
Start your day at Vintage, a French brasserie-style restaurant that serves a killer breakfast beginning at 8:30 a.m. For a starter, try the avocado toast with fresh avocado, chopped bacon, cherry tomatoes, honey mustard cream cheese, and a balsamic reduction on toasted baguette bread. The avocados are so fresh, you feel as if you’re eating this divine toast at a Southern California café or on a patio in Mexico steps from where the avocados were harvested. Looking for more protein? For the main course, try the American galette: an egg in a flaky puff pastry with smoked bacon, Vermont cheddar cheese, heirloom tomato and – yes – avocado. When it’s this fresh, it’s best to take advantage.
Head over to Lionshead, a short bike, bus ride, or walk from Vail Village and take in the views from Vail Chophouse, located right next to ski slopes. Grab a table on the outdoor patio and start with crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, or ceviche. All of their seafood is incredibly fresh, and the mahi fish tacos with jalepeño sour cream as a main dish won’t disappoint. Non-seafood lovers will enjoy the hearty nachos or the fresh caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes.
Unwind in the heart of Vail at Sweet Basil, a 40-year-old establishment that serves modern American cuisine along the bank of Gore Creek. Their wine list is extensive and highly impressive, featuring wines from around the world served by the glass, bottle, and half bottle. The King crab spring rolls with dashi lime aioli and the sweet corn chowder with poached shrimp, cotija cheese, and a green chili relish are delicious options for appetizers. For the main course, the saffron linguine has been a hit for decades.
For something a little more relaxed, head to Mountain Standard, where the majority of dishes are made over an open fire. The hanger steak with creamed greens, a crispy Hasselback potato and house-made sauce is a local favorite, and shareable sides like charred shishito peppers leave taste buds happy. Leave room for dessert here and try the to-die-for roasted banana bread pudding with coconut butterscotch, wafers and toasted coconut ice cream.
It’s easy to find happy hour in Vail. Follow locals to the Four Seasons Vail’s Remedy Bar and enjoy the signature Medicine Cabinet, a twist on a Manhattan, served on tap. In Vail Village, the Vail Brewing Company tasting room serves various brews on tap, including pale ales, IPAs, porters, sours and more. Bonus points for a dog-friendly patio.
For specialty cocktails that are personalized to each guest, check out Root & Flower, a wine and craft cocktail bar where co-owner and sommelier Jeremy Campbell would rather talk to patrons about what they like to drink than have them look at a menu. For a sip of the hard stuff, Tenth Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company has a tasting room available for samples of their bourbon, rye whiskey, cordial, vodka, and moonshine.
Amanda Ogle is a freelance writer/editor based in Fort Worth. Cover photo courtesy Colorado Tourism Office/Matt Inden/Miles