Season's Eatings

A Diner's Guide to cold-weather hot spots that serve up the essence of winter

By Amanda Rae November 1, 2013 Published in the Holiday 2013/2014 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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Short of the North Pole, few holiday backdrops scream “Winter!” more loudly than the Vail Valley. From the rime-crusted peaks of the Gore Range to the snowcapped gables of Vail Village to the mufflered skaters orbiting the outdoor rink at Beaver Creek, we’ve got scenery in spades.

And the cafeteria at Santa’s Workshop—one can only presume—can’t hold a holiday candle to the valley’s prolific dining scene. Be it a ride over the river and through the woods (in a one-snowcat-open sleigh) or five courses including bone-marrow ravioli, our seasonal dining guide will whet your appetite for the most captivating, comforting winter meals this side of Bedford Falls, complete with our It’s a Wonderful Life (IAWL) scorecard rating each venue’s cinema-worthy cheer. Fans of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic may recall that George Bailey once told his Uncle Billy that the three most exciting sounds in the world were anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. But for the bespectacled, bumbling Billy? “Breakfast is served! Lunch is served! Dinner...”

Is served!   


Who says winter is the bleakest time of year? Not these venerable white-tablecloth establishments. 

At Juniper, a homey respite from the Riverwalk’s Main Street bustle with a frosty-paned, glass-enclosed dining room overlooking the Eagle River, the place to linger is at the bar beside the open kitchen. While line chefs assiduously compose plates of melt-in-your-mouth braised short rib and minted green pea ravioli, barkeep Doug Russell warms your heart with his signature Thinmintini, a wintry concoction of vanilla vodka, dark chocolate liqueur, Rumple Minze, and, naturally, Bailey’s.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas and New Year’s Eve regular menu with specials
RSVP: Recommended
97 Main St., E101, Edwards; 970-926-7001; juniperrestaurant.com

Come December, Golden Peak’s Larkspur Restaurant morphs into a Christmas-card scene replete with cool aspen branches and sparkling baubles. Embark on an individualized, nine-course Chef’s Table dining adventure with chef-owner Thomas Salamunovich ($145), or splurge on a six-course tasting menu ($75), then linger over cocktails such as the Gingerbread Mule, a spicy riff on the Moscow classic, or the après-favorite Benni Whip, a hot toddy modified with spiced pear vodka and Benedictine foam.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas regular menu; New Year’s Eve early family seating at 6:30 p.m. (includes patio access during Golden Peak fireworks show)
RSVP: Recommended. Tables for two flanking the fireplace are the best seats in the house.
458 Vail Valley Drive, Vail; 970-754-8050; larkspurvail.com

At La Tour, the airy, glass-front dining room and bar area with blond banquettes epitomize European yuletide chic; dishes eschew the traditional heft of butter and cream for lighter, avant-garde preparations, like Hawaiian kampachi with Asian pear or show-stopping hibachi barbecued oysters, presented on a miniature charcoal grill. Holiday meals always end luxuriously with complimentary house-made drinking chocolate.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Thanksgiving three-course traditional menu; Christmas regular menu; New Year’s Eve four-course prix-fixe (5–5:30 p.m.), six-course prix-fixe (7:15–7:45 or 9:30–10:15)
RSVP: Strongly suggested
122 E Meadow Drive, Vail

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Originally emphasizing traditional European cuisine when it opened in 1986, Ludwig’s at the sonnenalp—the Vail branch of the famed Austrian chalet—has evolved over the years. Now the focus is on fresh seafood flown in daily from Hawaii to Maine, as well as Continental classics with a modern twist, enjoyed in an intimate, eighty-seat dining room paneled in hand-carved wood or a glass-enclosed, radiant-heated terrace, where snowflakes mingle with the stars.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Open for Thanksgiving, four- or five-course prix-fixe, then re-opens for the season on Dec. 13; Christmas Eve and Day prix-fixe; New Year’s Eve regular menu 5–7 p.m., gala dinner at 8:30 p.m.
RSVP: Strongly recommended, at least a few days in advance
20 Vail Road, Vail; 970-479-5429; ludwigsrestaurant.com

Since its opening in December 2012, Mountain Standard, located just steps from the banks of Gore Creek, has been on fire, literally. An open kitchen flaunts a massive wood-fired grill and rotisserie, which sear a dizzying array of heritage meats and seafood to pair with an impressive raw bar and small plates. (Try the braised pork belly with pineapple, molasses-rubbed quail, and piquant shrimp and grits.) For the holidays, cozy booth seating and handsome walnut, oak, and reclaimed wood lend the air of a lost-in-the-forest woodsman’s lounge.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas regular menu; New Year’s specials
RSVP: Encouraged. Early birds have the best shot; a third of tables are reserved for walk-ins.
193 Gore Creek Drive, Vail; 970-476-0123; mtnstandard.com

On the western edge of Vail Village, away from the throngs on Bridge Street, Restaurant Kelly Liken is not usually stumbled upon. For first-timers who do, it’s a thrilling discovery, like a bonus gift lost in the shadows beneath a Christmas tree. The intimate spot, opened a decade ago by the celebrated restaurant’s namesake Top Chef alumna, is a destination for diners seeking an ultimate, three-course prix-fixe ($74) that is “butter-kissed” and “shallot-studded.” Liken puts a creative spin on ingredients in the prime of their flavor: seasonal Colorado lamb and Rocky Mountain trout mingle with skate wing, squab, and sturgeon on the nightly three-course menu. And for an encore, in place of figgy pudding, dive into a whimsical sticky bun sundae with toffee sauce and toasted pecans. 

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; open Christmas; New Year’s Eve first seating four-course tasting menu (5:30–6:30 p.m.), adult-only seating at 8:30 p.m. with five-course tasting menu and live music by Harry Baxter Band
RSVP: Required; sixty-five seats fill up fast. Otherwise, nab one of thirteen seats at the bar and get on the waiting list.
12 Vail Road #100, Vail; 970-479-0175; kellyliken.com

Long hailed as one of the most exquisite dining experiences in the valley, a visit to Splendido at the Chateau is steeped in luxury: white-tablecloth dining and a menu of rustic American comforts in a snow-swept private-residence manse summon the post-Christmas spirit of Henry F. Potter. France-trained executive chef David Walford opened the romantic spot in 1994, following nine years at Sweet Basil. Robust, Colorado-inspired dishes might include sashimi of local striped bass, La Bella Farms foie gras with fresh corn blini and pinecone syrup, and homemade cavatelli with chanterelles—plus a full raw bar—while the restaurant’s famed piano bar boasts in-house musicians nightly, playing classical, jazz, and rock. 

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Thanksgiving prix-fixe menu; Christmas regular menu; New Year’s Eve prix-fixe menu in two seatings
RSVP: Required, and book early: 100 were on the waiting list of the 300-seat space last Christmas. 
17 Chateau Lane, Beaver Creek; 970-845-8808; splendidobeavercreek.com

A Vail culinary landmark since 1977, Sweet Basil is still the place to be seen celebrating the most wonderful time of year. In the consistently packed contemporary dining room, which shares the vibe with Vail’s buzziest bar, revelers start with courses of ceviche, sweetbreads, or handmade bone-marrow ravioli, followed by plates of Alaskan cod, grilled Muscovy duck, or Colorado lamb T-bones. One tip: when you’re here, splurge. The hype is worth every penny.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; open Christmas; New Year’s Eve five-course menu in two seatings
RSVP: Strongly suggested. Full-service bar seats are first-come and fill up early.
193 Gore Creek Drive #201, Vail; 970-476-0125; sweetbasilvail.com

Sustainable whole foods in clever, nourishing preparations shine at Terra Bistro, a favorite among health-conscious locals for two decades. The red-and-green-bedecked, high-ceilinged dining room offers a soothing, ever-so-slightly steamy respite on a dry winter’s night. Globally influenced cuisine favors earthy, complex flavors, with grilled kale salad, sweet-potato ravioli, ahi tartare, and a top-notch wine list matching the bistro’s warm ambience.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Traditional Thanksgiving buffet 4–9 p.m.; open Christmas with specials; New Year’s Eve four-course prix-fixe (5:30–6:30 p.m.), Grand Seating with five courses and Champagne toast (8:30–10 p.m,)
RSVP: Required. A few tables are set aside for walk-ins, but not promised over the phone.
Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa; 352 E Meadow Drive, Vail; 970-476-6836; terrabistrovail.com 

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Old World traditions—and ambience—are on full display at these venues.

Let the weather vane atop the Alpenrose—an original building of Vail Village—guide you away from the restaurant du jour to a charming, split-level bar and dining room that has been crowded with fans of authentic German, Austrian, and French cuisine nearly nonstop since 1974. Beer-and-a-brat lunch specials are popular among skiers with cheeks still rosy from the slopes, best paired with a frosty mug of imported Trumer Pilsner or Paulaner Oktoberfest. Flaky, raisin-studded apfelstrudel will have you humming, Still, Still, Still ...

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Thanksgiving prix-fixe turkey dinner at 2 p.m.; Christmas and New Year’s Eve regular menu plus goose special
RSVP: Suggested. Alpenrose is prime real estate, so seventy-five seats fill up with early-bird walk-ins.
100 E Meadow Drive, Vail; 970-476-8899; alpenrosevail.com 

In the dimly lit dining room of La Bottega, you’ll find yourself transported to a Northern Italian trattoria, where, beginning mid-December, a blizzard of shaved white and black truffles falls over Kobe beef cheesesteak, duck eggs Benedict, risotto with veal sweetbreads, and fresh tagliatelle. Stock up on gifts galore—Iberico ham, Grecian olives, and house-made sauces and gelato—at the new deliZioso food emporium next door.

IAWL Factor: *** Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas; New Year’s Eve first seating regular menu, second seating with five courses and Champagne
RSVP: Required; waiting list available
100 E Meadow Drive #37, Vail; 970-476-0280; labottegavail.com 

Grenoble-native chef Jean-Michel Chelain lovingly crafts dishes reminiscent of his homeland at the Left Bank, an authentic French haunt for more than forty-four years. Fresh oysters, filet tartare, lobster bisque, homemade duck liver pâté with Sauternes, imported golden Caspian Ossetra caviar—that’s just to start. Linger over vol au vent (a flaky pastry filled with meat or fish), seafood bouillabaisse, duo of duck (breast in port reduction sauce and leg confit), and côte de veau (veal chops with demi-glace and asparagus). Or bring the Left Bank home for the holidays: gourmet to-go foods include pâté, lobster bisque, coq au vin, beef Wellington, and roasted Christmas goose.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Thanksgiving regular menu plus traditional prix-fixe; Christmas Eve and Day specials; New Year’s Eve first seating regular menu at 6 p.m., seven-course tasting menu at 9 p.m. with live piano duo
RSVP: Holiday reservations are taken a week before Thanksgiving.
183 Gore Creek Drive, Vail; 970-476-3696; leftbankvail.com

Step into Pepi’s Restaurant in the family-owned Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer at the heart of Vail Village, and enter an authentic Austrian home during the holidays. The namesake (and residence, since 1964) of Pepi Gramshammer, an international racer and member of the famed Austrian Super Ski Team (1955–1960), Pepi’s churns out hale portions of Old World cuisine. Wintertime game specialties in the local-history-steeped, seventy-seat Antler’s Room are fit for celebration: Canadian caribou for two, flambéed elk steak, and Dover sole, all carved tableside.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Traditional Thanksgiving turkey; Christmas Eve goose with trimmings; Christmas regular menu; New Year’s Eve special menu with live music in bar
RSVP: Recommended; waiting list
231 Gore Creek Drive, Vail; 970-476-5626; pepis.com

With a dining room that seems like it was summoned from a fairy tale, the 100-seat Swiss Chalet at Sonnenalp is one of the busiest spots in Vail over the holidays, and for good reason: ambience aside, it’s the only restaurant serving a multicourse meal of fondue and raclette, the do-it-yourself hibachi-style grill topped with potatoes, meat, and cheese. Three courses of fondue, from cheese to oil or broth to chocolate? You earned it bucking moguls on Riva Ridge! Diners not up for cooking their eats at the table may order from an à la carte menu of German specialties, including kids’ portions of classic Wiener schnitzel.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Thanksgiving plate special; Christmas and New Year’s Eve regular menu
RSVP: Required; one month advance booking
20 Vail Road, Vail; 970-479-5429; swisschalet-restaurant.com

For Romantics

From candle-kissed tables for two to fireside jazz, enchantment abounds at these cozy hideaways.

Grouse Mountain Grill, the landmark eatery at the Pines Lodge since 1993, may have a new, modern look with warm stone walls and inviting banquettes, but the inspirational views of Beaver Creek Mountain haven’t changed a bit. Sit by a three-way fireplace fit for Saint Nick, and tuck into hearty yet refined preparations of Colorado meats—elk, duck, lamb, buffalo, venison, braised short ribs, and the restaurant’s famous pretzel-crusted pork chops—and fresh seafood. Since 1995, jazz pianist/vocalist Tony Gulizia has performed five nights a week; request a spirited Christmas carol serenade.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Thanksgiving prix-fixe four-course at 4 p.m.; Christmas regular menu with holiday specials; New Year’s Eve five-course prix-fixe early fireworks seating with special kids’ menu, seven-course adult seating includes dancing
RSVP: Essential; private rooms for 6 to 150
141 Scott Hill Road, Avon; 970-949-0600; grousemountaingrill.com

Occupying a historic farmhouse—once the home of the Nottingham ranching family—in a wooded alley behind the gatehouse at Beaver Creek, Mirabelle is a quaint, windswept gem reminiscent of a meringue-frosted gingerbread house on a cold winter’s night. Belgian-born master chef Daniel Joly, who purchased the property in 1999 and lives upstairs with wife, Nathalie, satisfies innermost desires through a daily menu of elegant yet unpretentious dishes: Colorado rack of lamb, elk, Dover sole, foie gras with caramelized pears, and on New Year’s Eve, caviar and truffles galore. With 100 seats spread over three dining rooms, guests have the privacy to soak up the Rockwell vibe, yet nobody will mind if you kick off your shoes under the table—this is the chef’s home, after all.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas Eve and Day regular four-course tasting menu; New Year’s Eve à la carte menu for families at 5:30 p.m., second seating five-course menu (7:45–9 p.m.) includes glass of Champagne
RSVP: Required; beginning in November
55 Village Road, Beaver Creek; 970-949-7728; mirabelle1.com

Forty-foot vaulted ceilings and wrought-iron candelabra in three timbered dining rooms at SaddleRidge at Beaver Creek suggest extravagant Christmases past. Once an over-the-top private retreat for Wall Street titans, SaddleRidge, now owned by Vail Resorts, is open to the public as a contemporary steak house showcasing rib-sticking cuisine. Order from the Bible-long wine list, and feel like a tycoon; scope frontier artifacts (Geronimo’s tomahawk, General Custer’s hat and canteen, and a nightcap rumored to be Ebenezer’s), and toast the ghost of Scrooge.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Open Christmas Eve and Day; New Year’s Eve buyout possible
RSVP: Reservations for holidays beginning November 15; seats by the massive stone fireplace are the best in the house.
Eastern slope of Beaver Creek; 970-754-5456; saddleridgebeavercreek.com

Snow-drifted skylights and views of Gore Creek bring the winter wonderland (but not the cold) indoors at local hideaway Up The Creek Bar & Grill. Linger in the glass-enclosed dining room over contemporary dishes made with local, organic ingredients: sesame-crusted calamari, pan-roasted ruby trout, cioppino, seared Maine diver scallops, braised short ribs with smoked-Gouda mac-and-cheese, and Harris Ranch strip steak. Accompanied by a festive backdrop of rushing water and meandering Dickens carolers.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Thanksgiving multicourse meal; Christmas Eve and Day regular menu; New Year’s Eve special à la carte menu
RSVP: Recommended, starting in December; waiting list available
223 Gore Creek Drive #103, Vail; 970-476-8141; vailupthecreek.com

Don’t be intimidated by the gated entrance and imposing exterior: inside at Vista at Arrowhead a grand stone fireplace and stately decorated Christmas tree await. Tuscan-influenced regional dishes include Colorado lamb and trout, Berkshire pork osso bucco, and rare yellowfin tuna. Mingle with live jazz musicians in the center of the L-shaped dining room, or request a table further away for sultry background music, compliments of piano man Micky Poage on select evenings from 6 to 9 p.m.

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; open Christmas; New Year’s Eve first seating 5–8 p.m. with live music, second seating already sold out
RSVP: Required; last seating at 9 p.m.
676 Sawatch Drive, Edwards; 970-926-2111; vista-arrowhead.com  

For Adventurers

These on-mountain escapes aren’t for the faint of heart—or light of appetite. 

Though usually a group-only venue, Allie’s Cabin, tucked in a quiet aspen grove between Assay and Hay Mountain trails on Beaver Creek Mountain, will begin hosting a series of wine dinners on select Thursday evenings this season to coincide with the resort’s Thursday Night Lights fireworks show. Guests travel via snowcat-pulled sleigh to the quaint, 100-seat rustic cabin—named for the nineteenth-century widow of George Townsend, the first settler of Beaver Creek—to enjoy a selection of worldly wines paired with a prix-fixe menu of warming, contemporary regional cuisine. Later, sated diners can ski down the mountain with glow sticks beneath the stars and fireworks.

IAWL Factor: *****
RSVP: Required
Beaver Creek Mountain; 970-754-5762; beavercreek.com 

Call it the original. Beano’s Cabin, 9,000 feet up on the flanks of Larkspur Bowl at the peak of Beaver Creek, was one of the first mountainside fine-dining restaurants to open in the western US, nearly thirty years ago. Embark on a snowcat-pulled sleigh to the slopeside retreat, then forgo coats and shoes for slippers. Dine beneath antler chandeliers in a 150-seat dining room with a soaring ceiling and expansive windows overlooking a snow-covered deck above the valley beyond; if your reservation coincides with a stormy night, you’ll feel like you’re dining in a snow globe.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Open Christmas Eve and Day; New Year’s Eve special menus
Bonus: Live entertainment
RSVP: Required
Beaver Creek Mountain; 970-754-3463; beanoscabinbeavercreek.com

Seated at the cozy chef’s table at Game Creek Restaurant, an impressive European chalet at 10,300 feet atop Vail Mountain’s Game Creek Bowl, you’ll feel as satisfied as Sean Connery after shirking the Soviet agents on the Austrian slopes in The Spy Who Loved Me. Accessible only via snowcat by way of Eagle Bahn Gondola—blankets are supplied for the sometimes-snowy journey—the exotic lodge, originally a private club founded by a member of the 10th Mountain Division, offers a multicourse menu of American cuisine with global influences, an award-winning wine list, and martinis shaken, not stirred.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; Christmas Eve and Day regular and four-course tasting menus; New Year’s Eve five-course tasting menu
RSVP: Required; family seatings start at 6 p.m., three- or four-course menu, final seating at 8:30 p.m.
Eagle’s Nest, snowcat to Game Creek Bowl

Strap on a pair of skis or snowshoes (a snowmobile is also available) and trek one mile over a groomed trail and through the woods to Tennessee Pass Cookhouse, a thirty-eight-seat rustic cabin heated by a well-stoked woodstove and lit with candles and propane lamps. You’ve worked up an appetite getting yourself up to 10,800 feet, so indulge in a lunch of à la carte fare, such as soups, burgers, and pasta, or a four-course dinner of grilled elk with blueberry port reduction, Colorado rack of lamb with Grand Marnier sauce, or cedar-planked wild Alaskan sockeye. Leave the cell phone behind, cherish the off-the-grid experience, and party like it’s 1959.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Open Thu–Sat and select weekdays during Christmas season
RSVP: Required; choose meal in advance. Lunch seatings at noon and 1:30 p.m.; one dinner seating, arrive at the Nordic Center at 5:30 p.m.
Tennessee Pass Nordic Center
Base of Ski Cooper, Route 24, Leadville

Built in tribute to the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division who established Vail, The 10th is a contemporary mountaintop oasis serving upscale lunch, hot après drinks, and gourmet meals after dark. Modern Alpine cuisine—France, Switzerland, and Italy meet the Rockies—showcases meats and fish in playful combinations, like elk Bolognese, grilled tuna with crispy pork belly, lobster and Brie bisque, and foie gras with banana bread (but not figgy) pudding.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Open Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve; Christmas Eve and Day featured special dishes
RSVP: Encouraged; lunch daily, dinner Tue–Sat
Top of Gondola One, Vail Mountain

Those who want to take a holiday from the ski crowd should hitch a ride aboard an open-air sleigh to Zach’s Cabin, nestled on Beaver Creek Mountain high above Bachelor Gulch. Choose from a refined menu of appetizers, including roasted chestnut soup and scallop and pork belly sandwich, before digging into composed plates of Angus, elk, salmon, duck, and lobster. A wide-ranging wine list recently won the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence for the eighth consecutive year.

IAWL Factor: *****
Holidays: Open Christmas Eve and Day; New Year’s Eve special menus
RSVP: Required
Beaver Creek Mountan

For Kids/Families

Festive restaurants to ferry your sugarplum

Bistro 14 at Eagle’s Nest caters especially to families during lunch, après, and early dinner. Children are greeted with veggies and dip, followed by options from a special $10 three-course menu. Adults enjoy creative, casual American classics—burgers, pork chops, Rocky Mountain trout, lobster risotto—and seasonal microbrews, followed by postmeal runs on the tubing course at nearby Adventure Ridge, open Tue–Sat until 7 p.m. and Sun–Mon until 4 p.m.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Bar service only on Thanksgiving; Christmas and New Year’s Eve regular menu
RSVP: Not necessary
Eagle’s Nest, top of Eagle Bahn Gondola

Step through the saloon doors of Bully Ranch at the Sonnenalp, a cheeky western-themed tavern boasting beat-up wood walls decorated with vintage wagon wheels and waiters whirling in denim tuxedos, where Plastic Bavaria meets Frontierland. A selection of burgers, sandwiches, and prairie specialties like steak, chicken potpie, and Kansas City ribs are staples at this fun joint, as are happy-hour drink specials and moderately priced wine selections. 

IAWL Factor: ***
Holidays: Annual Thanksgiving buffet featuring roasted turkey and beef tenderloin (11:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m.); Christmas and New Year’s Eve regular menu
RSVP: None, except Thanksgiving
20 Vail Road, Vail

Flame Restaurant at Four Seasons Resort focuses on fun preparations of American steak-house classics in its dramatic, vaulted-ceiling dining room. Go big with a thirty-two-ounce, dry-aged Waygu rib eye: a well-marbled slab of 7X beef from Japanese cattle raised on ranchland near Paonia, it’s cooked beneath a 1,800-degree custom broiler, paired with house-made sauces, and carved tableside. Holiday activities abound, and the Fireside Lounge is a sweet spot to sip signature “Haut Chocolate” by a roaring fire or indulge in an after-dinner nightcap while the kids play.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Thanksgiving buffet and turkey to-go (noon–8.30 p.m.); Christmas Eve and Day prix-fixe with live pianist and carolers (5:30–10 p.m.); New Year’s Eve family seating three courses with choice of entrée (6–6:30 p.m.), adult-only second seating five courses with live music (8–9:30 p.m.)
Bonus: New Year’s Kids Gala: face painting, movies, DJ, dance floor, and a special dinner buffet in two chaperoned ballrooms, for kids ages 4–16
RSVP: Required for holiday events
1 Vail Road, Vail; 970-477-8650; flamerestaurantvail.com

The fact that Lancelot happens to be adjacent to the Children’s Fountain at the heart of Vail Village speaks volumes. This culinary landmark has been a destination for families since 1969, and for good reason. The revamped stone-and-wood-accented dining room resembles a knight’s chambers, where diners enjoy feasts of meats and fish—the house specialty may be prime rib, but try the standout coconut-crusted Chilean sea bass with pineapple spinach—in a relaxed atmosphere that can be as raucous as the opening scene in A Knight’s Tale or as calm as “Silent Night.”

IAWL Factor: **
Holidays: Thanksgiving traditional prix-fixe menu; Christmas Eve and Day regular menu; New Year’s Eve early seating regular menu, late-night adult seating four-course prix-fixe at 9:30 p.m. with Champagne and live music well past midnight
RSVP: Suggested two weeks in advance; required for New Year’s Eve
201 E Gore Creek Drive, Vail

At Leonora, the Sebastian Hotel’s dramatic sixty-five-seat anchor restaurant, executive chef Sergio Howland (who learned his craft in France and Spain) demonstrates his culinary pedigree with shareable tapas, crudo, and Alpine bistro fare; holiday and winter menu items include suckling pig, Maine lobster, Colorado lamb duo, and duck à l’orange. He’s also a kid at heart: witness his Chocolate Sphere, a cocoa shell garnished with Pop Rocks that melts and crackles when drizzled tableside with warm passion-fruit sauce.

IAWL Factor: ****
Holidays: Closed Thanksgiving; open Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve
Bonus: Weekly family movie night with comfort food buffet
RSVP: Strongly suggested
16 Vail Road, Vail; 970-477-8000; thesebastianvail.com/dining/leonora

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