ASPEN " Aspen may be known for its world-class skiing and exciting nightlife, but the culinary side of things in the Roaring Fork Valley is beyond most visitors' expectations.
From Aspen to Glenwood, there's so much from which to choose, the biggest challenge, aside from getting a table when things are hopping, is deciding which restaurant to choose to satisfy one's palate. The following is a run-down of some local favorites.
If it's sushi you want there are three options in Aspen. All are good and range from very expensive to moderately priced. Matsuhisa, located on Main Street, is the primo place to go. Kenichi, a popular local's hangout with plenty of specials, is located at 533 Hopkins Ave. The favorite sushi place among locals is Takah Sushi, downstairs at the corner of the Mill Street and Hyman Avenue malls.
In Aspen, the fine-dining options start with the critically acclaimed and locally renowned Pinons restaurant (105 S. Mill St.) for traditional American cuisine. The setting and atmosphere are casual mountain elegance, and even the most discerning palates will walk away wanting to come back.
Another established restaurant for American cuisine is Elevation (304 E. Hopkins Ave.) where Chef Drew Scott comes up with innovative and tasty dishes like the wasabi caesar salad and the pistachio gnocchi.
Two of the most popular places are Cache-Cache (205 S. Mill St.) for French cuisine or its neighbor, Campo de Fiori (205 S. Mill St.) for Italian. Both restaurants offer expansive wine lists and difficult decisions on the menu. Cache-Cache has a killer bar menu.
Gusto Ristorante, 415 E. Main St., has revamped its menu for the winter season and has a new executive chef. The result is more fine dining Italian on the expensive side.
New this year on the Aspen scene is Social, above Elevation on a stretch of Hopkins Avenue known as Restaurant Row, (between Mill and Monarch streets). Social will serve up global tapas, otherwise known as small plates.
Other credible options in the neighborhood " Jimmy's an American Restaurant and Bar, Lu Lu Wilson, Rustique and the Steak Pit.
For something a bit more casual/less expensive, try Blue Maize at 308 Hunter St. or the Double Dog Brew Pub, which is connected to the Steak Pit and offers both a pub menu and the full steakhouse menu.
Other options in Aspen include the world-famous Little Annie's Eating House (517 E. Hyman Ave.) where you can enjoy a burger and a beer in one of the few establishments that has survived since the "good ol' days." For many years, The Hickory House (730 Main St.) has been known for its barbecued ribs, but the pulled-pork sandwiches are worthy of consideration. Breakfast there also is popular.
For a great deal, grab a slice at New York Pizza (409 E Hyman Ave.) on the mall or head to the Big Wrap (520 E. Durant Ave.) for loaded wraps. Order anything, you won't be disappointed.
A venerable Aspen dining experience that's not technically in Aspen can be found off a snow-covered road high in the Castle Creek Valley, south of town. The experience starts before you even get to the Pine Creek Cook House (11399 Castle Creek Road). You can either strap on a pair of cross-country skis and work for your dinner or take a horse-drawn sleigh for a more relaxed and intimate escort to the restaurant, tucked away at the base of the Elk Mountain Range. The Cook House is open for lunch and dinner; reservations are wise and as a dinner option, its pricey.
A similar outdoor experience can be had at Krabloonik in Snowmass Village (4250 Divide Road), where you have the option of taking a guided dogsled ride through aspen groves and pine forests before sitting down to your gourmet meal.
Basalt has really come into its own in the past couple of years as far as its culinary offerings.
Ask any local where to get a good meal, and they will probably send you to the Bistro Basalt (202 Midland Ave.) where American food is served with a French flair (it's on the pricey side) or Tempranillo (165 Midland Ave.), a relative newcomer that quickly wowed Basalt's lunch and dinner crowd. Tempranillo owner Javier Gonzalez-Bringas, from Madrid, lines up a menu filled with food from Spain and the Mediterranean. The menu overflows with choices of more than 40 cold and warm tapas, unique entrees, daily specials and 100 wines from Spain and Italy.
Cuvee World Cuisine (305 Gold Rivers Ct.) has become a popular, hip spot with its pairing food, wine and atmosphere. The food, prepared by chef and co-owner Mitch Levy, who once worked at The Little Nell under Richard Chamberlain and then did a lengthy stint at the Snowmass Club, is big, bold and flavorful.
Smoke Modern Barbecue has opened in the Willits Town Center (technically, it's in Basalt, but locals think of it as El Jebel) and it's gaining a following. Consistently packed is its next-door neighbor, the relocated El Korita.
Basalt's Taqueria el Nopal (22826 Hwy. 82) is an excellent choice for authentic and savory Mexican food. It's a great stop for lunch, and afterward, you'll likely want to return for dinner. The same could be said of the Ho Palace (123 Emma Road) if Chinese is what you crave. The Riverside Grill (181 Basalt Center Circle) has a great patio overlooking the Fryingpan River for summer dining, reasonable prices and a menu for everyone.
In Carbondale the food critics would tell you to go to SIX89 (689 Main St.)" and for good reason. It is an innovative and sophisticated restaurant, which deserves all the accolades it has received. Russet's (225 Main St.) is another good bet with a wide-ranging menu with everything from filet mignon to pan-seared Mexican white shrimp, a personal favorite.
White House Pizza (801 Main St.) is a must for any and all pizza lovers and no mention of dining in Carbondale would be complete without a respectful nod to Phat Thai (343 Main St.). The food is light and refreshing, and the communal tables are a great place to get a feel for the heart and soul of Carbondale.
Glenwood Springs essentially marks the opposite end of the Roaring Fork Valley from Aspen. Here you will find all your favorite fast-food joints as well as some incredible finds. The Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company (402 Seventh St.), aka the Brewpub, has been a longtime favorite. Nearby, Juicy Lucy's (308 Seventh St.) serves the best steak around but its roasted chicken dishes collect raves, as well. And check it its extensive wine list.
Expect to wait for a table at the Italian Underground (715 Grand Ave.), which doesn't take reservations for what may just be the best homestyle Italian fare in the valley. It's open for dinner only.
A Cuban restaurant, Mojitos (1023 Grand Ave.), recently opened up and has since thrived with repeat customers. The namesake drink is made with fresh mint and comes in several tropical varieties. The menu is ample and the portions generous.
Wherever you go in the Roaring Fork Valley, the best thing to do is show up hungry.