Aspen’s Best Food and Drink
August 31, 2006
There’s been plenty of banter in the Letters to the Editor recently about The Big Wrap. Some complain the service is bad and the counter help rude. Others claim it’s a great local joint with prices locals can afford. Well, our readers have spoken, and they agree with the latter. With 20 votes, to the Popcorn Wagon’s nine votes in second place, the Wrap once again ran away with award for best cheap eats. Really, who can argue with awesome salads, homemade soups, creative wraps and fountain sodas – everything for well under $10. Controversy over.
Trendy has its place, but not when it comes to good – really good – food. At least that’s the message our readers sent by voting Piñons the best pricey eats by a 4-to-1 margin. Their secret? Quality fare on a consistent basis, says one local in the know. Cases in point: the perennial favorite, Freddy salad, and the filet, which never needs to be sent back to the kitchen. Throw in a few new items each season, created by the restaurant’s culinary wizards, and it’s easy to understand why Piñons is tops. And another plus: the prix-fixe bar menu, which make those pricey eats not quite as pricey.
The battle for best breakfast is heating up, folks. While the Wienerstube is still tops with 22 votes, the Hickory House is mounting an attack with just one less, at 21 votes. Maybe it’s the barbecue ribs and eggs combo, but there’s no denying the Hick House’s growing appeal to Aspen Times readers. Still, we can’t help loving everything about “the Stube,” from the old-timers trading stories at the community table to the fresh asparagus that comes with its eggs Benedict to the early-bird breakfast discount.
There is nothing like a good burger. Hot, juicy and dripping with cheese, served with a side of fries and a frosty beer. Yummmmm … want one? Our readers say Little Annie’s is the place to go, and we’re inclined to agree. A staple of the Aspen dining scene for years, this locals’ favorite does indeed have burger that’ll make your mouth water (see accompanying picture if you don’t believe us!). And the steak fries – don’t get us talking about the steak fries.
Of course this year’s runner-up is no loser. The Grill Next Door, which burst onto the burger scene last year, has the whole package: cheap, greasy burgers served up quick and in a brown paper bag. So non-Aspen and so very perfect.On the flipside, we say oh what a difference a few years (and a new chef) can make. The J-Bar, once king of Aspen’s burger world, has fallen behind such established burger joints (yeah, right!) as the Hickory House and Woody Creek Tavern. All we can say is, thank God they still have beer!(Editorial note: It didn’t receive any official votes, but word on the burger beat is that the Double Dog Pub’s burger is out of this world. We’re guessing it’ll give Annie’s and the GND a run for their money next year.)
Aspen Mountain is legendary for many things. To the greater world, the glitz stands out; to locals, it’s the steeps and deeps. And, to readers of The Aspen Times, apparently, the eats make it top-notch.
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The Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain was once again the top vote-getter for best on-mountain restaurant, with Bonnie’s in third place. Bonnie’s selling points are easy to define: funky, old-school atmosphere, a great deck, homemade soups and to-die-for apple strudel with real whipped cream. The Sundeck serves up similarly delicious dishes, but we’re guessing it wins for the views and easy access. Of course Aspen Mountain does not boast the only on-mountain restaurants. At Highlands, tiny Cloud 9 was the winner (and in second place overall); at Snowmass, Gwyn’s stole the honor; and Bumps at Buttermilk is the place to go while skiing or boarding there.And we wonder, who are the fancy people who voted the Aspen Mountain Club the best on-mountain restaurant? Do they realize we mere mortals aren’t allowed in? Whatever.
Well, it’s official … Aspen has a lot of bars. In fact, 19 different imbiberies garnered votes in this year’s quest to be the best. But not everyone can be a winner, and this year’s honor goes to 39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel, also called the Sky Bar. It’s hip, has a great deck and in the words of one of the Times’ more outgoing types: “A lot of scantily clad women (and men) lying around the pool and plenty of alcohol.” Enough said.But for those of you who aren’t into scantily clad women – yeah, right! – or plenty of alcohol (then why are you going to a bar in the first place?), our readers offer up plenty of alternatives. We like the J-Bar (of course we do, it’s right next door to the Times); Eric’s (actually four different bars in one location, so you can’t go wrong); and Jimmy’s (tequila, tequila!). Party on …
There are so many things we miss about La Cocina: Nick (“Just five more minutes”); a No. 7 or No. 3 or No. 2, all served with garlic bread; the wait staff; and, perhaps most important, the margs. But fear not, dear drinkers, there are still plenty of place to quench your thirst for a good marg. Tops on the list, the Cantina for blended or on the rocks, salt or no salt, fruity or plan, they’re pretty refreshing. And at happy hour, they’re downright affordable. Other places to quench your taste for tequila: Su Casa, Blue Maize and Jimmy’s once again topped the list of runners-up.
Last year we said, “Time may tell a different story” about Aspen’s much anticipated ice-cream wars. This year we say, “Not yet.” Once again, Paradise Bakery is far and away the best place to get a scoop, with 35 votes. Sure, Ben & Jerry’s and Maggie Moo’s have made their presence known, with 21 and 9 votes, respectively. But history goes a long way with Aspen locals (and visitors), as do location, muffins, cookies, coffee, fresh-squeezed lemonade … you get the picture.
Local coffee connoisseurs are nearly split on who has the brews the best java, but once again Ink! Coffee came out on top. With 26 votes, the local shop edged out Zélé by a mere two votes. Both have killer beans, tasty treats and good people-watching, but there’s something about Ink! that keeps ’em coming back for more. No matter, the thing that makes us smile about the Ink vs. Zélé debate is it’s local flavor … both businesses got their start in Aspen (and a certain Seattle-based chain can’t hold a candle to that!).
We’re not sure what they’re doing different this year, but Mezzaluna has climbed its way to the top spot for outdoor dining in Aspen (Go figure, the downtown eatery didn’t even crack the top five last year). But we have to agree, the patio at Mezz is a great place to grab a wood-fired pizza and cold beer at great happy-hour prices. And in winter, it’s got great sun and is definitely a place to see and be seen.Of course last year’s winner – and this year’s runner-up – Ajax Tavern, is similarly fine for outdoor dining (and drinking). Also earning kudos from our readers: the Cantina, Takah Sushi, the Jerome and, perhaps the most scenic, the Pine Creek Cookhouse near Ashcroft.