Summer Outdoor Dining In Aspen
By Oliver Sharpe / August 25, 2021
Aspen abounds with spectacular restaurants that make food a focal point for any trip to the Rocky Mountain town regardless of the season, but summer here is especially scrumptious. In the Valley’s warmest months, tables spill out into the streets and chefs fill their menus with bounty from local farms, serving a variety of cuisines at a number of different price points to ensure that every meal is an elevated experience.
Elk CampLocated mid-mountain on Snowmass at the terminus of the Elk Camp Gondola, Elk Camp Restaurant is at the center of the summer action on Snowmass. It’s renowned for its epic salad bar featuring local fresh produce, but there’s also a rotisserie station and an outdoor grill with burgers and brats. It’s the ideal spot for parents to chill while kids explore the Lost Forest, or for mountain bikers to celebrate with a cocktail after bombing Valhalla. There’s also a killer Sunday brunch, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Pro Tip: Ride the Breathtaker alpine coaster before you eat.
SundeckThe aptly named Sundeck on Aspen Mountain offers numerous gourmet dining stations and dramatic views of the Elk Mountain Range. Whether you enjoyed a mellow stroll out to Richmond Ridge from the top of the Silver Queen Gondola, or skipped the gondola altogether and hiked up the whole mountain, you’ll appreciate a snack and a seat in the sun on the patio.
Pro Tip: The Robber Jays love fries and aren't shy—be warned.
At The Base
Ajax TavernA towering cone of truffle fries is the trophy to which everyone in Aspen aspires, even if the competition is just a race up the stairs to Gondola Plaza or a game of bocce at the base of Aspen Mountain. Aside from the famous frites, Ajax Tavern is known for the Wagyu Double Cheeseburger—an upscale take on the Double Double Animal-style from In-and-Out Burger—made with local wagyu beef, onion aioli, and a fresh baked bun.
Pro Tip: If you have adventurous little ones, check out the swankiest kids’ menu in town with options like gruyere mac and cheese and salmon with green beans.
Element 47The setting for a summer meal at The Little Nell’s Element 47 in Aspen, with tables overlooking a vertical garden ascending from the pool, is truly spectacular. The wine program, perennially acclaimed by the likes of the James Beard Foundation and Wine Spectator, compliments the seasonal menu from Culinary Director Matt Zubrod. Summer specialties include the mushroom risotto and Emma Farms wagyu, featuring fungi foraged from the surrounding hills.
Pro Tip: The Living Room lounge is an excellent way to experience Element 47’s bar menu in a relaxed atmosphere. The artisanal cheese plate, highlighting lords of the rind like Jumping Good Goat Dairy and Jasper Hill Farms, is perfect to share with friends on the couch.
Limelight Lounge AspenThe lobby of a hotel seems an unlikely spot to find a pizza oven, but the Lounge at the Limelight Aspen proves that it is in fact the perfect place to throw some pies. Lots of other good bites come out of the oven as well, including brussels sprouts, spinach artichoke dip with naan bread and the decadent cast iron chocolate chip cookie bake.
Pro Tip: A rotating lineup of local musicians rocks the lounge Friday through Sunday; dancing is encouraged.
Limelight Lounge SnowmassLimelight Lounge Snowmass serves up signature pizzas, cocktails and prime people watching on the lawn in Base Village. Spice things up after a day of downhilling with the chili-forward honey stung brussels sprouts and diavola pizza, then snag a seat by the firepit to toast your own s’mores.
Pro Tip: The kids room in the lobby, with foosball and arcade games, is fun for all ages. Kids, be sure to let your parents win sometimes!
Home Team BBQThe parking lot at Buttermilk mountain is a perfect staging area for a fat-tire assault on the Sky Mountain Park trail network. A favorite loop among locals is Butterline to Airline to Deadline, followed by “Wingline,” a dozen dry rubbed chicken wings at Home Team BBQ. This Aspen outpost of a Charleston, SC standout serves up a selection of perfectly smoked meats and an array of sauces to satisfy any regional taste.
Pro tip: A Gamechanger with a rum floater is the perfect post-ride painkiller.
Highlands Ale HouseA hive of activity in the otherwise quiet base area of Aspen Highlands, Highlands Ale House cranks out great pizza, salads, and sandwiches (plus some great classic rock) in a relaxed mountainside atmosphere. The lawn is an excellent spot for kids and pups to run laps while parents sample one of the many regional brews on tap.
Pro Tip: It’s a great take-out dinner option if you’re looking to avoid traffic in town.
AcquolinAAquolina delivers an authentic Italian experience in downtown Aspen with wood-fired pizzas and a lengthy list of housemade pastas. The Fornarina, a thin crust filled with fragrant robiola and white truffle oil, is always a crowd-pleaser to start, as is the grilled calamari with shrimp, chorizo sausage, arugula and heirloom cherry tomatoes.
Pro Tip: The owner, Luigi Giordani, has a serious liquor collection. For whiskey aficionados, there’s probably more Pappy Van Winkle on the bar here than anywhere else west of Kentucky.
Big WrapBig Wrap has been the go-to spot for a fast, fresh meal in Aspen for more than 20 years. The line of hungry visitors seeking wraps, tacos, salads, and smoothies typically snakes out the door by noon, but moves efficiently under the watchful eye of owner Barbara “Babs” Menendez. The wraps travel well and can be stowed in a pack for a gondola ride or mid-hike snack.
Pro Tip: Beat the crowd by going early for a breakfast burrito, or place your order by phone and skip the line to pick it up.
BetulaBetula’s breezy, chic vibe brings a hint of Saint Barth to the mountains of Aspen. The menu features a number of standouts from the sea—don’t miss the tuna tacos or pulpo anticuchero—and a number of stellar signature cocktails like the yellow paloma, which is colored by fresh bell pepper juice and served in a bird-shaped glass.
Pro Tip: When offered bread, choose the baguette, a famous recipe that was painstakingly modified to work at altitude.
Cache CacheThe heart of Aspen’s fine dining scene for three decades, Cache Cache is also the place to be seen on warm summer nights. The menu rotates seasonally based on what Executive Chef Chris Lanter is loving from nearby farms, but staples include the frisee salad with a duck egg and the 7x ribeye. The wine list is lengthy but the Somms, led by Alexandre Harvier, know their stuff and will get you into a good grape.
Pro Tip: Bar seating is first come, first served and a great option for dining alone or with a new friend.
Clark’s Oyster BarThe first foray into Aspen from Austin-based MML Hospitality, Clark’s Oyster Bar has been a hit since its arrival in the renovated space formerly occupied by Little Annie’s. Clark’s is nearly eight thousand feet above sea level, and roughly one thousand miles front the nearest coast, but if you close your eyes after a crudo plate or lobster roll, you can definitely smell the ocean. The outdoor tables here, under yellow umbrellas and surrounded by fresh flowers, are some of the best seats in town.
Pro Tip: Après is always an option; happy hour from 3pm to 5pm features some serious deals on martinis and oysters.
JÜSWith locations in Aspen and Snowmass, JÜS offers smoothies, sandwiches and fresh-pressed juices to fuel your next adventure. With pre-packaged and made to order options, it’s one of the fastest places around to grab a quick snack. The watermelon mojito is a favorite (non-alcoholic) pick-me-up, and the dinde, a turkey sandwich with brie and cranberry aioli, delivers a taste of Thanksgiving year-round.
Pro Tip: If you or a loved one is prone to get hangry, put a protein ball—a bite sized energy boost in flavors like snickerdoodle and fudge—in your pocket for emergencies.
Mi CholaOverlooking a prime corner on Main Street, Mi Chola is known for casual Mexican, margaritas and a grande selection of tequila. The jalapeno poppers are excellent, and perfect for a game of pepper roulette with your friends, but there are “no refunds for wimps.” The esquites and street tacos are also standouts for day drinking on the expansive patio.
Pro Tip: It’s the closest thing Aspen has to a sports bar, so head here to catch your team’s game.