After living on the east coast for the last 16 years, Emily Arden Wells, founder of Gastronomista.com, recently decided to move back to her hometown in Colorado. “The heart of Vail is Vail Mountain, the world-class skiing destination and its sister mountain, Beaver Creek,” she says. “It seems everyone has a favorite seasonal recreational activity here: skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing,” which makes for a great place to visit year-round. But in terms of the best food and drink, Arden Wells recommends thinking outside the heart of town to find the best spots. “Much of the food and drink options in the town of Vail tend to be pricy and mediocre at best, so my husband and I, like many locals, venture down valley for more affordable and, frankly, better options.”
Here, in her own words, are some of her favorite places in the Upper Eagle River Valley (which includes the towns of Vail, East Vail, West Vail, Eagle-Vail, Avon, Edwards and Eagle). “It’s a community that unrolls along the I-70 highway corridor, the artery that connects the state from East to West,” she says. “It’s been exciting to see how much the valley has changed since the last time I lived there”
Coffee: Color Coffee
Eagle is about 35 minutes west of Vail and it’s where almost all the young professionals live with their families. Coffee roasting has become trendy in Colorado in recent years, and fortunately for us, one of Western Colorado’s best roasters is in Eagle. Color Coffee sources single-origin beans from some of the world’s best coffee-producing regions, roasts all its beans in-house, and creates their own seasonal blends. One of my favorites is the Ghost Army blend that supports a Burton-sponsored snowboarding group that encourages people to get out on the mountain. Color Coffee also serves a mean avocado toast, fresh pastries every day, and transforms into a wine and beer bar after dark. It’s the only place in the valley where I have found Stillwater beer, making it a mainstay in our weekly rotation.
Beers & Tacos: Vail Brewing Co.
Colorado is famous for its craft beer, and even the sleepiest of mountain towns have their own local brewery. Vail is lucky to have the award-winning Vail Brewing Company located in the industrial spine of town, Eagle Vail, an establishment owned by self-proclaimed ski bums. Many of the beers are named after infamous runs on Vail Mountain, and my personal favorite, Tourist Trap, is a delightfully hoppy and juicy double IPA. Be warned, the Tourist Trap comes in at 8.5 percent ABV and the booze hits twice as hard at altitude. After all, Vail sits at 8,000 feet above sea level. The artfully designed cans are available in almost all the local liquor stores, but summers at the brewery are a locals’ favorite. The patio is lined with old skis, local’s cruiser bikes, rugged-looking mountain dogs, and the line for the taco truck is always three or four deep. Don’t skip over the vegetarian taco, it’s one of the best around.
Aprés Ski: Remedy Bar
Beer and bad margaritas (somehow) dominate the scene for aprés ski at Vail Mountain, but if you’re looking for a more sophisticated libation head over to the Remedy Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel. The cocktail bar is flanked by long fireplaces and comfortable sofas that are the perfect retreat after a long day on the mountain. Order a Manhattan with extra cherries or a pour-over hot chocolate for a warm non-boozy treat. Alternatively, more adventurous skiers take the “Minturn Mile” to Minturn’s Saloon, a locals’ favorite watering hole that still feels like the Wild West. The walls are covered in taxidermy, World Cup relics, and signed portraits of many of the famous clientele that have sat in their weathered bar stools. We always order a pitcher of Natural Margaritas (sans sour mix), and a plate of their famous ribs for a filling aprés ski snack.
Cocktail Hour: The Rose
Nestled into the Riverwalk commercial district in Edwards is The Rose, one of Vail Valley’s best-kept secrets for good food and drink. Belly up to the bar and order one of their seasonal cocktails, or if you happen to be there on a Tuesday, ask for their tiki menu (who says mountain towns can’t do tiki?!). Whatever you do, do not skip the food at The Rose. Their buffalo cauliflower is a great treat for naughty vegetarians, and they make amazing rotating specials like their kale caesar salad made with fried lemon slices. My favorite cocktail on the menu is the Botanist made with gin, basil and loads of cucumber.
Dinner & Drinks: Craftsman
About five minutes away is Craftsman, a casual lunch and dinner spot that serves some of the most experimental food in the valley. Settle in with a pint of craft beer or one of their cocktails, such as the Hell Flower made with tequila, elderflower liqueur, lime and habanero bitters. The menu at Craftsman changes seasonally, but the mainstays are their fried chicken bahn mi, and their weekly ramen night on Tuesdays. I’m personally inclined towards their seasonal soups paired with the kale salad made with avocado, soft boiled eggs, bacon, and topped with green goddess dressing.
Day Trip: Bread Bar
Some of my favorite days off are spent at Bread Bar, the 1800s bread shop turned cocktail bar in Silver Plume, Colorado. The bar is about half-way between Denver and Vail and is a charming, tiny bar that feels more like a perfect house party than a legitimate establishment. Look out for some of Denver’s best bartenders doing guest shifts, and rotating chefs who cook on camping equipment in the bar’s backyard. Inside, acoustic live music harks to a different era, and on the back deck there’s usually a campfire, giving reason for patrons to squeeze closer together on the chilliest of nights. The bar attracts people from the front range, the mountains, and many of the town’s eclectic locals—an entertaining tribe who love a cocktail or three and are sure to tell meandering stories to anyone who will listen. Plan accordingly: drinking and driving never mix, so designate a driver early in the evening or plan to stay in one of the town’s creaky B&Bs.
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