To make dining in Aspen far more approachable than what the menus posted in front of many of the town’s restaurants might suggest, remember one key term: bar menus. While $50 plates are not uncommon, sitting in the bar and ordering off the bar menu can cut that cost down by half, depending on the establishment and the time of day you choose to dine. And while ski food doesn’t have the best rep, there is plenty of delicious food to be had in Aspen to fuel up before hitting the slopes or treat yourself to after a long day on the mountain.
Ajax Tavern — The Tavern has Aspen’s best burger, hands down. If you were too preoccupied with the patio scene here immediately after getting off the slopes, come back later, grab a table inside — where the atmosphere is more gastropub than après pub — and go to town on the Wagyu double cheeseburger. Pair it with a Bloody Mary. Don’t ask questions. Trust the system.
L’Hostaria — Aspen’s best bar menu is found at L’Hostaria, making it the place where visitors whose pockets aren’t lined with dough can savor the Aspen vibe without the bill that typically accompanies it. Sit in the bar, order a calamari fritti and crostino alla burrata, and pair with a martini.
Jour de Fete — The spot to grab a breakfast burrito on the way to the mountain. Jour de Fete also serves a wicked jersey roll and a proper cup of coffee, which, in a ski town, means in a Hydroflask to-go.
Jimmy’s — Any place that designates a section of its bar menu as “For Women Only (And a few strong men)” is already on our good side. Add the impressive list of Japanese whiskeys, and Jimmy’s is a sure shot for the best place in town to kick off an evening. The steak and Colorado ruby red trout are solid picks, especially after you’ve worked through a plate of oysters.
Bonnie’s — Summer travelers are out of luck on Aspen’s best breakfast. It’s served only in winter and only midway up Aspen Mountain. The spot is known for its apple strudel, but the move here is to get the pancakes and biscuits, which many regulars consume so frequently that their own private bottles of maple syrup await their arrival behind the counter.
Big Wrap — Even Aspen has a spot for stoned ski bums to down a giant wrap and some chips without judgment. Most wraps are under $8 and big enough that you can eat half now and take the other half with you on the mountain. Keep in mind that it’s cash only.
Meat & Cheese — This is the type of spot you’d expect to find in a hip big-city food hall. The menu features down-home specials like braised lamb and contemporary trends like Vietnamese noodle salads and Tamarind Chicken. Meat & Cheese also serves a heck of a good margarita.
White House Tavern — Ski town food should, at its core, be three things: basic, filling, and homey. White House Tavern embodies all three of these things and is located in a retrofitted miner’s cabin to boot. It’s a casual and lively spot for dinner that you’ll earn points from your crew for “discovering.”
Local Coffee House — Local Coffee House is exactly what its name suggests. The chai lattes and espresso drinks are on point, and the small shop also serves Aspen’s healthiest breakfast options. If you’re looking for a Chia Pudding Bowl or Black Rice Porridge on the cheap, at least for Aspen, this is your spot.
Snowmass Village, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk
Toro Kitchen + Lounge, Snowmass Village — Inside the Viceroy Snowmass, Toro Kitchen is where to head for date night or when you want to splurge on a plate of fresh seafood or a nice steak with a fancy cocktail. This is also a great opportunity to employ the bar menu strategy that allows you to eat in high-end restaurants for far cheaper than normal menu prices.
Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, Aspen Highlands — As the Swiss discovered long ago, there’s something about fondue and mountains that just makes sense. Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is pricey, but nowhere else in Colorado replicates the homey spirit of the Alps quite like this. Stop by for lunch or go all out with a snowcat dinner.
Cliffhouse Restaurant, Buttermilk — This is a dining option limited to monthly lunar cycles and then only in winter, but it’s worth it if you can time it right. Buttermilk’s Cliffhouse offers dinners throughout the winter season on the eve of the full moon. You’ll have to exert a bit of energy to get there — either hiking or skinning up the mountain’s Tiehack trail, but the reward is the valley’s most unique dining experience. Eat outside around the fire or inside the restaurant, with a la carte options and a full wine and cocktail menu available.