With Little Annie’s gone, here’s our guide to affordable eats in Aspen
October 24, 2013
Last week's closing of Little Annie's Eating House was hard news for many to digest.
Not only was Annie's a funky little restaurant with an affordable menu, but it also was laced with memories that go back more than four decades.
While there's a dwindling number of places to grab a drink and have a decent meal without breaking the bank, Aspen still has a few spots where you can take in a good meal and drink and not leave with sticker shock.
With that, the news staff at The Aspen Times offers its picks for the remaining affordable restaurants in town. The criteria: The dining spot must be within Aspen city limits, offer lunch and dinner, and be a place where you can sit down, have a drink and take in a game. Keep in mind that this is hardly a scientific exercise but is based simply on our own experiences of living and eating in Aspen.
The Cantina will never be confused with a restaurant serving truly authentic Mexican food, but its offerings are cheap and fast. And two out of three ain't bad.
A burrito with rice and refried beans is only $10 on the lunch menu and guaranteed to tackle any appetite. The salads are pretty filling at around $12, and they give you a choice of Gringo or Mexican tacos.
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Going to the Cantina is like going to a friend's house where you know you're going to get decent food and you're almost assured of having a good time. As a fixture in the corner space at Mill and Main, it always attracts a locals crowd after work. Even if you go out alone, you're almost assured of running into someone you know at the Mexican-themed watering hole. The happy hour is from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. daily in the bar. There's a good selection of domestic and Mexican beers for only $3. Margaritas come as cheap as $15 for a pitcher.
You always can count on catching the sports action on the TVs scattered around the bar area, and the large dining rooms assures you can walk up without a reservation.
Oh, yeah, and the chips and salsa are free!
— Scott Condon
I am and always will be devoted to the Hickory House, which consistently has shown a commitment to the taste buds of local (that is, non-wealthy) diners and an absurd sensitivity to their wallets. The Hick House's food is first-rate: outstanding ribs, onion rings and au gratin potatoes without peer. (One does wonder, though, why they can only produce those au gratins every other night. And this writer wonders why his repeated urgings to upgrade the french-fry program haven't been taken to heart. But he does appreciate that the barbecue sauce recently went gluten-free.)
The service is friendly. (Jose, on the lunch shift, is an Aspen icon.) The place is without pretense. There is its wonderful Thanksgiving tradition of free meals for all — not just for the needy but for all. It makes perfect sense that, of all the town's restaurants, the House is located farthest from downtown Aspen.
Did I use the word "absurd" to refer to the Hick House's pricing schemes? I sure did. The House frequently runs specials that make no sense at all — no sense, that is, if the goal were simply to rake in dollars. The specials run as often in high season as they do in offseason. Mostly, they are take-out specials — no "Get 'em in here with a low-cost special, then push drinks at them to run up the tab." Look closely at the numbers, and you notice that the lower-priced meal specials offer the biggest discount — not the way to maximize profits. On the regular menu, they raise prices infrequently and slightly.
It's enough to make one suspect that the bottom line is not at the top of the Hick House's priorities. Let's just hope the business model is sustainable for 50 or so years.
— Stewart Oksenhorn
New York Pizza
Having three kids means I don't prowl the downtown streets like I did my first few years here. During that time, in fact, I spent a better part of my nights hunkered down in New York Pizza, pounding cold draft beers, woofing down slices and telling lies before heading to Bentley's for a half-dozen nightcaps.
The years have flown by since then, but some things hardly have changed at NYP — you can still get a slice or two and a cold beer without breaking the bank. Affordable salads, sandwiches and calzones are also for the offering, and there's a big-screen TV should you want to take in a ballgame. And, by the way, the kids love it.
There are also the things you can't put a price on — namely, the atmosphere.
Stairway to Pizza, as it's affectionately called, takes on a different identity depending on the time of day. From the regular lunch scene for the working-class crowd and tourists to the late-night shift, nothing's off the table. The music's solid, too: One minute the Dead's "Jack Straw" is playing, and moments later AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" is rocking the joint.
Owners Kevin Jones and Earl Rodgers have made New York Pizza one of Aspen's last bastions of restaurants that offer affordable sit-down meals. The tandem opened it in the early 1990s, and here's hoping this hole-in-the-wall dive, conveniently located on the Hyman Avenue mall, stays open for at least another few decades.
Pie for the people!
— Rick Carroll
First opened in 1892, Aspen's oldest restaurant and bar is the Red Onion. After a renovation to the building, it reopened in 2010 with the same saloon and restaurant style that made it successful more than 120 years ago, with affordable meals and drinks that locals and tourists alike can appreciate.
Most people I've eaten with there have stuck to bar food: a $5 basket of fries, six chicken wings for $6, a chicken quesadilla for $9. From there, the prices go up, but so do the sizes of the portions, such as the half-pound burger or the ribeye cheesesteak. The Onion also has lunch specials on weekdays — on Friday the bar area was full.
The Red Onion also has remained a popular watering hole for locals. On a Monday night, you can pretty much see everyone you know (who's out) at Open Mic Night. Or get there early and enjoy $6 all-you-can-eat wings during Monday Night Football.
They keep the party going all week with live music on Tuesdays, beer pong on Wednesdays, karaoke on Thursdays and happy hour every day. Any young person in Aspen will tell you that a stop at the Onion is usually on the itinerary on a weekend night, too.
— Jill Beathard
Ryno's Pies & Pints
Where, in a high-end town like Aspen, can you get a whole team of hockey kids, their parents and a few coaches together for a decent post-game meal that won't break the bank? Ryno's Pies & Pints.
It's nothing fancy, but it works. Tucked downstairs on Cooper Avenue, Ryno's is spacious — tables can be joined together for large groups. It's kid-friendly, with video games, pinball machines and a foosball table. And adults like it, too (read: full bar and plenty of TVs for watching sports).
The menu is straightforward: pizzas (basic and specialty), sandwiches, salads and appetizers. And the prices are moderate — a recent post-game lunch ran us about $12, with tip, for a more-than-ample meal of wings (two kinds), pizza (three different pies) and salad (for the grown-ups). Taco Tuesdays include an array of $2 offerings, and lunch specials come in at less than $10.
Plus, Ryno's rocks on Monday nights with karaoke. Rumor has it the competition is stiff, so get there early to nab a place in line.
— Jeanne McGovern
Su Casa's lunch menu offers an $8 "BIG" burrito, served with grilled chicken, carnitas or tofu. Wash it down with a $5 Dos Equis ($4 during happy hour), and you have an authentic Mexican meal for a reasonable price in Aspen. Su Casa, located at 315 E. Hyman Ave., serves lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sit inside or outside, though this time of year, you're better off grabbing a stool at the bar, where you can watch sports all weekend on three flat screens.
For dinner, choose from enchiladas, fajitas, burritos, seafood tacos and chimis for around $15. Afterward, enjoy a smoke upstairs in the Cigar Bar or play pool at Aspen Billiards, equipped with five full-size tables and two 18-foot shuffleboard tables. There's also Eric's Bar, right across the patio, where you can order reasonably priced drinks at a venue that's a cross between club and bar.
— Karl Herchenroeder
Those seeking an answer to the sudden loss of Little Annie's Eating House might want to check out Zane's Tavern, a hidden treasure of sorts (not so hidden to the sideburn-wearing locals) in terms of food quality and decent deals on suds.
I eat there around once or twice a month and nearly always come away satisfied. The menu, at first, seems like typical bar fare: Philly cheesesteak sandwiches and burgers and nachos and cheese-fries. Dig a little deeper, and you will find a lot of variations on just about everything.
Last week, I tried the Cowboy Chicken Sandwich ($10.95) for the first time. To me it was in the Southern tradition: piled high, with bacon and cheddar cheese melted into the thin chicken patty, topped with barbecue sauce, sliced onions and two crispy onion rings. It didn't matter that the patty was a little thin; all of the flavors melded together into one sloppy smorgasbord of awesomeness.
Obviously the guys in the kitchen know and care about what they do. The tater-tots that came with the sandwich were a perfect golden-brown, crispy without being crunchy. Trust me: There are few things in the lunch world worse than getting undercooked tots. One only needs to peer into the grill area, visible from the main floor, to see that the cooks are deliberate and conscientious. Their prices for entrees and appetizers are as affordable as it gets in "the new Aspen."
Off South Hunter Street in a below-street-level space, Zane's Tavern has that dank and mysterious quality I miss so much in Crescent City restaurants. I would vote it the No. 1 public place in Aspen to get past a hangover, day or night. The waitstaff is fresh-faced and friendly — perhaps a little scattered on busy days like NFL Sunday. There are a wide variety of draught beers (on this day they were serving up Shock Top, Stella, Ranger IPA, 90 Shilling, Bud and Bud Light) around the $5 range, which is in line with other local "affordable" places. Domestic bottle beer is always $4. During Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m., Budweiser draught is offered at a special price.
If I had one complaint, it may be that the music being played in there is usually forgettable. I always seem to catch an alternative-grunge-pop sound in there, kind of generic. It seems to fit the mood of the place — somehow, in a dark way — but I wonder if they'll ever start mixing things up musically from time to time. It doesn't matter, really, as long as they don't tinker with the kitchen.
Let us also not forget, Zane's has a full-service bar and a strong sports element, with several televisions wired to catch any game imaginable. Seriously, music aside, it's the closest place I've found to a bona fide neighborhood watering hole in uptown New Orleans that serves good food, fresh beer, strong cocktails — and, on occasion, a slight amount of rowdiness. Locals and visitors alike owe it to themselves — sideburns or not — to pop in for a sandwich and a beer (or three).
— Andre Salvail