In Vail, there’s no shortage of ways to dine outside the box. You can ride a snowcat to a multicourse meal at a mountaintop chalet, or you can be whisked over snowfields in a horse-drawn sleigh to a backcountry feast in a homesteader’s cabin. Or, you (and up to seven of your friends) can simply walk into the Four Seasons (12 to 4:30 p.m. daily) and whisper the secret password (“Back of the House Burger Bar”) and a maître d’ will spirit you into the hotel’s bustling central kitchen, a culinary engine room that fulfills all orders from room service, the lobby bar and lounge area (The Remedy), and the steak house (Flame). Seated at a table in the center of all this action, an amuse-bouche of Colorado elk hushpuppies appears as if by Harry Potter magic.
The real experience begins when the hotel’s executive chef, Marcus Stewart, pulls up a chair and suggests an off-the-cuff sauce he’s happy to whip up to help you realize the burger of your dreams—that is if one of the “standard” options (e.g., the Big Mamba: a Colorado-raised Wagyu patty topped with peppers, gruyère, and a fried egg) don’t strike your fancy. Sworn off red meat? Without screaming “THEN WHY’D YOU COME TO A STEAK HOUSE?!” (or even rolling his eyes) he’ll substitute the Wagyu with salmon, chicken, or even a vegetarian black bean patty.
After orders are taken, Chef leads the table on a tour of his domain, pointing out notable highlights—like his kitchen staff’s official motto for the winter season (#NOMERCY) scrawled on a whiteboard—weaving around frenetic line cooks, porters, dishwashers, and runners, then delivering you back to your dining nook, where your Platonic burger—along with bowls overflowing with Parmesan-crusted frites, jumbo-size onion rings, bison chili cheese fries, and crispy brussels sprouts—awaits.
Stewart won’t divulge names of the meat-loving celebrity clientele (perhaps Michelle Obama? Kardashians? Taylor Swift? Lindsey—Vonn, not Lohan) who have sought refuge here from the paparazzi, but he will recommend that the Back of the House is at its most entertaining during the last seating (4:30 p.m.), when Flame and The Remedy fill with early diners and Stewart and his crew dance as one to the rhythm of orders for sizzling rib eyes and filets and chops. $45 adults, $20 kids. 970-477-8600, fourseasons.com/vail/back-of-house-burger-bar/
Why it’s great: Candied. Bacon.
What it costs: $21 (heart-healthier buffalo upgrade)
Where to get it: Bully Ranch, Sonnenalp Hotel; bullyranch
Eaton Ranch Burger
Why it’s great: The patty’s locally sourced from the Edwards ranch of Vail’s co-founder.
What it costs: $23
Where to get it: Bol, Solaris; bolvail.com (also available at Vail Brewing Company’s Solaris taproom; vailbrewingco.com)
Why it’s great: This highbrow house specialty spawned a regional fast-ish food chain.
What it costs: $23.50
Where to get it: Larkspur Restaurant, Golden Peak (lunch/après daily, Fri/Sat dinner through ski season; larkspurvail.com)