Whether conquering the coals of a casual backyard barbeque or relaxing over a romantic four-course treat, one of life’s simple summer pleasantries is dining outdoors. Feasting on a delightful meal while lounging on a patio or deck in the warm sunshine and fresh air is nothing short of an obligatory pastime. Time seems to whisk away with sweet nonchalance into dreamy oblivion when dining outside with good-humored company. Here in Aspen, the epicurean nirvana is heightened when enjoying a tableau vivant of regional specialties like blue agave margaritas, a warm brie paired with the perfect merlot, a main entrée of fresh Colorado lamb, or a palate cleansing antipasto before dessert.
Using a little imagination, dining al fresco in Aspen’s thin Rocky Mountain air is like dining in sylvan realm of Fairyland, the fictitious setting of Shakespeare's classic romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream . Many bistros and cafes in this charming Victorian ski town pride themselves on well-appointed porches, patios, and decks in woodsy settings with postcard-perfect mountain panoramas and menus of artisan haute cuisine.
At many of downtown Aspen’s 80-some restaurants, debonair maitre'ds and well-groomed wait staff are dusting off deck chairs, polishing patio wear, firing up propane warmers, and raising colorful umbrellas for patrons to relax in the fresh air while enjoying a delicious meal. In the spirit of the summer, we’ve compiled a guide to the ten best eateries for dining al fresco in Aspen.
Jimmy’s American Restaurant & Bar
205 S Mill Street
Aspen, CO 81611
Jimmy Yeagar’s funky restaurant and bar in the downtown Aspen is one of the only restaurants located above street level. Jimmy’s veranda offers diners a birds-eye view of the sizzling Aspen street scene and vistas of mega-million dollar mansions on Red Mountain. The menu features classic American standbys like Chesapeake lump blue crab cakes, bone on rib eye, and honey and lavender pork tenderloin. At night, hipsters and culture vultures dress to impress on Jimmy’s deck and bar while sipping award-winning margaritas and premium top shelf tequila from one of the best tequila collections in the United States.
Woody Creek Tavern
2858 Woody Creek Rd.
Woody Creek, CO 81656
Cyclists know the quirky and cockeyed Woody Creek Tavern is the perfect turn around point when biking from Aspen on the Rio Grande Trail. On any given day during the summer, bikes are packed into the rack as thirsty cyclists down mugs of Flying Dog, margaritas, nachos, or the lunch on the Tavern’s famous limousine beef burger. The patio sits in the sun along Woody Creek Road, where eccentric Woody Creek characters mingle, drink, read, or all doing all three at the same time. After lunch under the looming gaze of the winged pig, bikers can opt to take the uphill ride back to town or jump on one of the hourly RFTA shuttles headed into Aspen.
205 S. Mill St.
Aspen, CO 81611
Cache Cache has been heralded by publications like the New York Times, Town and Country, and Glamour Magazine for classic French country cuisine and a posh A-list vibe. Though not a great spot for breathtaking vistas, the bistro’s flower-filled patio is a quiet refuge, making it perfect for an intimate al fresco date. Chef Lanter’s menu includes dishes like osso buco, Scottish salmon, and calf liver. Sommelier Alex Harvier has stocked Cache Cache with a 100-page, 5000 bottle wine list that will impress well-traveled bon vivants.
Atop the Silver Queen Gondola
Like a rest stop service center on a turnpike, hungry skiers know the Sundeck is the only option when it comes to grabbing a quick bite at a high altitude on a powder day. During the summer, guests can whisk up the Silver Queen Gondola to enjoy a cafeteria-style lunch of fresh sandwiches, salads, and pizza in a truly majestic setting. While dining, patrons can soak in breathtaking views of the Elk Mountain Range, the Continental Divide rising in the east, and Aspen spread out like a miniature toy town 2000 feet. On Sundays adventurous music lovers can enjoy free bluegrass concerts from the top.
624 E. Cooper Ave.
Aspen, CO 81611
Mezzaluna has been considered one of the least expensive dining experiences in downtown Aspen for almost 20 years. The deck adjacent to the Italian eatery is stylish and tends to be crowded with diners and happy hour heroes sipping signature drinks or pre-diner vino. Patrons can entertain views of Aspen Mountain, the Silver Queen Gondola, and shoppers on Cooper Street from the deck. Expect a family-friendly menu of Italian mainstays and wood-fired pizza.
305 S. Mill St.
Aspen, CO 81611
This sophisticated Nuevo Italian bistro boasts one of the largest al fresco patios on the downtown mall. D19’s central location across the street from the Wheeler Opera House makes this handsome patio tops for people watching. While the scene may scream splash and style, the cuisine is highly innovative and packs plenty of foodie appeal. Start with the charred octopus in spicy sherry salsa or prosciutto sliced and served in warm rosemary doughnuts and truffle. Move on to the Colorado elk chops or braised veal cheeks in a red wine jus over pappardelle, a long, dried egg noodle. End with caramel gelato in chilled espresso. For a nightcap, take in the sky’s spectrum of changing colors as the sunset casts shadows on Smuggler Mountain.
181 Basalt Center Circle
Basalt, CO 81621
Fly fisherman and anglers from around the country treasure the Frying Pan River in Basalt as a trout paradise. The Riverside Grill emanates the cozy charm of a rustic fishing lodge. The Grill is a celebrated summer hangout for locals in the Roaring Fork Valley, partially because of the cheap draft beer, laidback neighborhood vibe, and the capacious deck secluded in a shady grove next to the Frying Pan’s gushing cascades. Mouthwatering lunch specialties include the Frying Pan Fish Tacos – blackened ono strips, Asian slaw, cilantro aioli, papaya salsa, black beans, and guacamole in a flour tortilla – and a grilled trout fillet sandwich. The dinner menu features a generous selection of reasonably priced fresh fish dishes like a red chili encrusted wahoo and a shrimp noodle bowl in red curry coconut sauce.
Aspen Meadows Resort
845 Meadows Rd.
Aspen, CO 81611
Despite its beautiful location and crowd-pleasing regional fare, Plato’s often gets snubbed from in-the-know Aspen food circles. It’s location in the Aspen Meadows Resort on the far West End of town and affiliation with the Aspen Institute is probably misleading to diners refusing to venture outside of the downtown core. Yet the restaurant is open to the public during the summer and winter high seasons and boasts an appetite-satisfying menu. Purposefully designed in a modern Bauhaus-style to enhance synchronicity with nature, the sun-filled dining room delightfully unifies with a serene open-aired veranda. The panoramic views of Aspen Highlands, Maroon Bells, Buttermilk, Castle Creek, the Roaring Fork River, and down valley are the perfect backdrop for an energizing summer meal.
307 South Mill Street
Aspen, CO 81611
Next to Wagner Park
The simple fact Aspen can boast a seafood restaurant and raw bar as sexy and sophisticated as Pacifica is truly a testament to the jet-set splendor of the global era. According newspaper ads, Pacifica has knighted itself with the title of “best patio scene in Aspen.” While it hasn’t quite earned our number one spot, we agree: Pacifica holds a special place in the Aspen al fresco dining scene. Diners can perch from high-top tables and stools along the intricate brickwork of the Mill Street Mall while people watching and regaling in the dizzying view of Aspen Mountain. As for the food? It’s a splash. Chef Bryan Nelson ensures fresh seafood harvested ethically from sustainable fisheries. The extensive raw bar menu includes oysters, Dungeness crab, sashimi, and shrimp ceviche. Dinner entrees consist of tuna and Ono from Hawaii, sablefish from Alaska, and trout from the Tasmanian coast. Pacifica’s massive wine list includes a collection of refreshing white wines specially selected for sipping on the patio during the summer.
685 E. Durant Ave.
Aspen, CO 81611
Next to the Silver Queen Gondola
Almost everyone skiing or riding Aspen during the winter knows Ajax Tavern is where the party happens. Located at the base of Aspen Mountain, right next to the Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Tavern draws a rowdy crowd for its white-hot après ski. While the scene tends to mellow during the warmer months, Ajax still draws a suave and urbane designer-clad crowd. The patio views of Aspen Mountain’s steep slopes are unparalleled. Ajax Tavern is one of the best places to dine while soaking in plentiful sunshine on a bluebird summer afternoon. Under the auspices of Executive Chef Jim Butchart, Ajax offers a diverse lunch and dinner menu with outstanding gourmet pub grub like truffle fries, mouthwatering Milagro Ranch burgers, and entrée specialties like Colorado lamb bolognese.
Know of a great restaurant with a patio or deck that didn't make the list? Let us know in the comments!