By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on December 2, 2014

Best eats in Vail

When people think about Vail, Colorado, a ski town about an hour from Denver, they think of the Rocky Mountains, powdery and plentiful snow, celebrity sightings, and world-class skiing and snowboarding. While Vail has all of those things and more (such as great hotels!), we fell in love with the food.

Most people measure their trips in miles, but we tend to measure ours in meals. We often joke that our photo albums have as many pictures of delectable dinners as photos of our families.

One of our favorite destinations in Vail is Vail Village. This hotspot was built around the modern alpine lifestyle, with pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets, a European vibe, and plethora of shops, bars, and restaurants. On our most recent visit, we were there for one week and didn’t use a car once!  We walked everywhere, giving us the green light to eat whatever we wanted.

On that visit, we stayed at the Arrabelle at Vail Square, a gorgeous Rock Resort property at the base of Vail Mountain, just steps from the Eagle Bahn gondola. It was the perfect location to begin our culinary crawl.


Our first stop was Tavern on the Square, located in the Arrabelle at Vail Square. Serving up new twists on classic cuisine with dishes such as buffalo meatloaf, honey-lacquered duck, grilled elk quesadilla, and build-your-own macaroni and cheese, Tavern on the Square hit the spot after a day of up and downs on the mountain. One of our favorites was the Tuscan kale salad with toasted farro, apple, and smoked gouda.

The 10th (that’s its real name) is a fine-dining restaurant on the mountain, located atop Gondola One at Mid Vail, overlooking the Gore Range. The menu is influenced by French, Swiss, Italian, and Rocky Mountain alpine cuisine, and features hardy dishes such as the elk Bolognese with hand-shaped ziti, manchego cheese, San Marzano tomatoes, and a bone marrow canoe.

Viewfinder Tip: Taste of Vail is a 4-day food and wine festiva that takes place every April. It is a great way to experience Vail’s culinary scene.

Later in our visit, we went to Cucina Rustica, at The Lodge at Vail, for a fireside drink and après ski bite. From chairs beside a roaring fire pit, we sipped homemade sangria, munched on crispy pork pot stickers and a cheese board with cave-aged morbier, gorgonzola, manchego, and brie. Best of all, we were able to use the fire to roast marshmallows and make some of the most delightful s’mores we ever have made.

Another restaurant we loved: Elway’s. Named for former John Elway, the former Denver Broncos quarterback and NFL Hall of Fame inductee, this restaurant has everything from aged USDA-prime steaks to fresh seafood and shellfish. We opted for Dungeness crab cakes and hearty lamb chop with green chile cheese fondue, Chimayo tortillas, and roasted sweet potatoes.

Sweet Basil has been a staple in Vail Village for more than 37 years. With a commitment to environmental responsibility, Sweet Basil chefs use organic ingredients and sustainable food sources. For dinner, we sampled the black truffle deviled eggs with pickled mustard seeds and dill, tuna tartare, and grilled Rocky Mountain trout. For dessert, coconut panna cotta, house-made ice cream, and sticky toffee pudding cake just about sent us into a sugar coma (the good kind).

Celebrity chef and restaurateur, Nobu Matsuhisa, has another hit in his restaurant portfolio with Matsuhisa Vail, where his signature style marries traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian and Argentine ingredients. Among the items on which we supped: shishito peppers, quail eggs, seared tuna, and king crab tempura. The delicate and delicious black cod in miso also was wonderful. This is a hip and happening place, and you never know who you might see. The night we were there, we spotted actor Michael J. Fox in the crowd.

One of our most unique Vail dining experiences came during sunset at the Game Creek Restaurant, a cozy European-style chalet. In the winter, the only way to get to the restaurant is by snowcat, those vehicles used to groom and prepare slopes for skiing and snowboarding. In addition to our chariot for the night, the five-star cuisine, award-winning wine list, and spectacular views of Game Creek Bowl made for a truly memorable evening.

What kinds of restaurants do you seek when you are traveling?