What started out as a truly miserable year for snow in Aspen (and all of Colorado) has turned out to be rather spectacular. It’s been snowing like CRAZY. Better late than never. And the après-ski? Sizzling, thank to a slew of new restaurants and hot new chefs. And these guys aren’t going away after the base melts.
Related: Photos: Scenes From Aspen, Colorado
1. Steakhouse No. 316
Best table in town. Period. Rising star chef Kathleen Crook serves enormous, outrageously fine steaks from a nearby herd, perfectly cooked and dramatically presented still sizzling in cast-iron skillets. Insanely plump mussels are steamed with jalapeños and garlic. A single serving of bread pudding is as big as your head. 316 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen, 970-920-1893
2. Justice Snow’s
The drinks might be slow in the making, but be patient. This is mixology at its finest, and the only place in town committed to the craft. Chef Jonathan Leichliter sources locally farmed eggs to be deviled with sriracha aïoli. Flat-iron steak with potato-cauliflower puree. Papardelle with Brussels sprouts. Beware the crowds letting out from the adjacent Wheeler Opera House. 328 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen, 970-429-8192.
3. Cloud Nine
Located at 10,740 feet atop Aspen Highlands mountain, with stunning views of the Maroon Bells (twin peaks in the Elk Mountains). Ski in from the Cloud Nine lift. Unbuckle the boots and feast on elk ragout with lingonberries and crème fraîche, pheasant sausages wrapped in pancetta, or the biggest Colorado lamb chops you’ll ever see. But start first with a big pot of fondue (chef Andreas Fishbacher is Austrian). Aspen Highlands, Cloud Nine lift, 970-544-3063
One of the oldest, most acclaimed spots in town has a hot new chef in the kitchen, Robert McCormick, who’s serving wildly delicious taleggio agnolotti with salsify, parsnips and black truffles, as well as perfectly roasted Columbia River sturgeon paired with housemade boudin blanc and light-as-fresh-snow dill späetzle. Extraordinary wine pairings. The dining room will undergo a total revamp and modernization between the end of ski season and the start of summer. The Little Nell, 675 E Durant Avenue, Aspen, 970-920-6330.
Not new but still one of the hottest reservations in town. And it’s probably fair to say this is the very best link in the entire Nobu Matsuhisa chain, thanks to chef Phillip Tanaka, who has clearly absorbed everything the master could possibly teach. But, wait, how is it actually possible to get such exquisite sushi in the mountains? Don’t think about it. 303 E. Main St., Aspen, 970-544-6628
6. Eight K
Low-key glamour, with a roaring fireplace in the center of the dining room. Chef Rob Zack turns out incredible Rocky Mountain trout amandine, crumb-crusted Colorado lamb and tuna carpaccio with harissa, fennel and preserved lemon. Viceroy Snowmass, 130 Wood Rd., Snowmass Village, 970-923-8000
7. Finbarr’s Irish Pub
A new, very authentic Irish pub in the middle of town. Rowdy après-ski scene, with pints of Guinness and platters of shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. 415 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen., 970-925-2719
8. Casa Tua
Chic Italian imported from Miami. Private members-only club upstairs geared toward the young, jet-set hipsters. Wonderfully simple Italian cooking downstairs. Skillet-sized veal Milanese. Heavenly burrata. Must-see art collections. 403 S. Galena St., Aspen, 970-920-7277
9. Nest at Viceroy
Adjacent to the après-ski hot tubs and pool, the other restaurant at The Viceroy serves really fantastic Vietnamese-style banh mi sandwiches and steaming-hot lobster-ball soup. Viceroy Snowmass, 130 Wood Rd., Snowmass Village, 970-923-8000
10. Above the Salt
There’s a new restaurant going into the iconic Popcorn Wagon building in the heart of town. It should be opening any day now, and thus it is still obviously untested. But the concept—Italian street food, including wood-fired pizzas—sounds like fun. And the owners are same the successful team that’s behind Steakhouse No. 316 and The Wild Fig, so the odds are stacked in their favor. 305 South Mill St., 970-925-5865
Food and travel journalist Brad A. Johnson is the only critic in America to win both the James Beard Award and the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Award for restaurant criticism. And his blog at bradajohnson.net won the prestigious 2011 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for best travel blog in America.