As we approached Aspen, Ruth and I discussed a challenge. Can we eat for $50, and only $50, each day for a week in a town of $20,000,000 homes? We did, with assistance. Our first stop was the visitor center in the Wheeler Opera House where we enlisted the help of ladies who lunch. Told of our mission, they became engaged in the subject and immediately began making recommendations. Each time we stopped in after that, they had at least one more place to tell us about. So…you can eat in Aspen for about $50 a day if you’re willing to eat your main meal before 3 pm, fill in with snacks from the market before and after that, and aren’t missing $100 restaurant fare.
Our favorite place to eat during this week was the Meat & Cheese Restaurant/Farm Shop, which was always crowded but accommodating and specialized in body-filling Boards, served all day. Appropriately, Meat and Cheese is owned by Avalanche Cheese and prides itself on using local products. Ruth & I ate there on our anniversary. When our server realized this, he made sure that our drinks were on the house. He also told me that he had been working in restaurants for many years, and this was the 1st one that served excellent food.
#2 is a venerable rib joint called Hickory House. This is one of those places that serves so much food so cheaply that you have trouble walking after dining there. This year we learned to order one pulled pork sandwich to share and 2 sides, get comfortably full, and spend way less than $50. “Best Ribs in Colorado,” Hickory House proclaims without anyone challenging. Like Meat & Cheese, this unpretentious eatery is usually crowded but easy to get in.
#3 is an Aspen Institution that is improving but not yet sensational. When Little Annie’s Eating House closed 2 years ago, the Red Onion, established in 1892 during a silver boom, seemed a worthy substitute. It does have charm, atmosphere, a chef who’s trying his best to please the customer, and dining there judiciously can result in a bill under $50, but it’s still not a memorable experience.
#4 is in Explore Bookstore, a genuine institution in an old house that has a restaurant on its 2nd floor called Pyramid Bistro. It’s a great place to sample several delicious small dishes and promises “Nutrition-focused cuisine with vegetarian options”. It’s the kind of place that probably won’t meet your food needs for 24 hours but will definitely satisfy temporarily.
#5 is the last place the VC ladies recommended. It was nearby, down some stairs, and a bit hard to find–The French Alpine Bistro, subtitled the Creperie du Village. Ruth & I both liked the food, but she fussily thought it could be cleaner. I found it a bit museum-like, stuffed with antique-looking decor that no one has time to wipe. It does have the advantage of staying opened for long hours in a town where most restaurants have only evening hours. The crepes were sensational. I did not see the kitchen they were prepared in.
#6 was the deli in Clark Market. Aspen has 2 full-service grocery stores. A couple of years ago, Clark underwent a complete remodel that includes a pleasing number of deli specialties.
Our favorite over $50 evening restaurant in Aspen is Jimmy’s upstairs, not his newer bodega across the street from the Wheeler, which is fine but specializes in seafood instead of American comfort food like meatloaf. Last year we were mourning the demise of Little Annie’s when we discovered Jour de Fete, a worthy successor except for the fact that it’s only opened for breakfast and lunch. We also like the Japanese restaurant Maru, but it would not be easy to dine there for $50 so we had to skip it in 2018. We’ve heard good things about the food in the relatively new Aspen Art Museum but still haven’t tried it. I suspect it can be a $50-or-less kind of place.