Counter service eateries thrive in the Vail Valley |

Counter service eateries thrive in the Vail Valley

John O’Neill
Special to the Daily
A roasted white whole chicken breast and wing is served with organic citrus quinoa and crunchy red slaw at Yellow Belly in West Vail. Yellow Belly specializes in all natural fried and rotisserie chicken, but also has many healthy sides and salads to choose from.
Townsend Bessent | |

Honorable Mention

Don’t forget these other great counter service-style restaurants in the Valley

La Cantina — Vail

Kirby Cosmos BBQ — Minturn

Joe’s Famous Deli — Vail

Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli — Eagle

Taqueria No Se Hagan Bolas — Avon

Avon Bakery — Avon

Columbine Café and Bakery — Avon

Bonjour Bakery — Edwards

Loaded Joe’s — Avon

Sometimes outsiders notice things that longtime locals overlook. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes their observations might be a bit inaccurate, but still drive home a good point.

When Ben Solomon, aka #VailBen, left town after his time as the winner of Vail’s America’s Best Summer Job contest, he wrote a special “hits and misses” column for this paper. One of his “misses” was a lack of counter service restaurants in Vail.

“When eating out in Vail, you have two options: cheap to-go or expensive sit down,” he wrote. “For the hundreds of workers who can’t afford $40 entrees, counter service is essential.”

Counter service, intuitively, is a restaurant strategy where customers order food at a counter rather than a table. It is a more casual and often more affordable means of dining out. Solomon was discussing Vail proper, so we’ll give him a pass on the notion that the Vail Valley collectively enjoys a vibrant counter service dining culture.

Dotting the valley, these casual restaurants are actually thriving‚ so much so that popular restaurants such as the Smiling Moose, Larkburger, Yellowbelly and Moe’s Original Bar B Que have opened locations outside of the valley and in some cases all over the country. New restaurants such as Expert Burger and Northside Coffee & Kitchen’s Grab and Go location in West Vail were quickly embraced.

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#VailBen is back in New York City now. But perhaps if he returns he can spread his wings and take in some of the following counter service style restaurants (listed heading east to west).

Moe’s Original Bar B que

Serving up: Barbecue everything.

Location: Lionshead Village.

Must order: Pulled-pork sandwich with baked beans and banana pudding.

Pay homage to Alabama football over a tallboy PBR, shot of Maker’s and plate full of mouthwatering authentic Southern barbecue. Drink enough of those tallboys and you might even forget you’re in Vail. In earnest, three guys from Alabama who shared a love for the mountains of Colorado, barbecue, blues, college football and whiskey melted it all into Moe’s. Wings, ribs, pulled pork, catfish and a revolving list of Southern sides make Moe’s a choice dining option for anyone knocking around Vail restaurants.


Serving up: Fried chicken.

Location: West Vail.

Must order: Fried mixed chicken plate with macaroni pie and Brussels slaw.

Once upon a time there was a KFC on Bridge Street in Vail. Since it closed many, many years ago, the valley’s fried chicken niche remained unfulfilled until Yellowbelly opened its doors in December of 2013. Like any good fried chicken, Yellowbelly recipes are unique, some might say chic, as their batter is gluten-free.

From their opening, locals and visitors began coming in flocks, and still do.

Sticky Fingers Cafe

Serving up: Sandwiches, breakfast burritos and coffee.

Location: Minturn.

Must order: The Perfect Turn.

It seems every Minturnite has pledged their allegiance to this small, cozy and colorful cafe. But it isn’t just for locals. Folks journey off I-70 for their assorted sandwiches, warm coffee, homemade dessert items and a vibe as delicious as the food. The cafe fits perfectly into the fabric of Minturn with artwork for purchase displayed all around the cafe and folks enjoying their food without any hurry. People seem to love Sticky Fingers and Sticky Fingers seems to love the people right back — a true local kind of place.

Nicky’s Quickie

Serving up: Fast Greek food.

Location: Minturn, Eagle.

Must order: Gyro.

You might have been lured in to a to-go gyro plate at catered events such as the Eagle Outside Festival. Their simmering Greek food gives off a staggering aroma, tempting people into line. Their brick and mortar locations in Minturn and Eagle have the same effect. They cook in pure extra-virgin olive and grapeseed oils, their tzatziki sauce is homemade and their baklava (also homemade) rounds out a meal very unique, very real and very delicious.

Northside Coffee & Kitchen

Serving up: Homestyle breakfast and lunch (dinner is sit down).

Location: Avon.

Must order: Breakfast burrito smothered in green chili for breakfast and donuts.

When you take a chef who prepares prime rib and lamb shank for a fine sit down dinner and ask him to put out affordable counter service breakfast and lunch items, you know they’re going to be top notch. So goes the story of chef Noah Bender at Northside Coffee & Kitchen. The restaurant’s breakfast and lunch atmosphere is quick, casual and comfortable before turning over to a sit-down style dinner. The food is great and they make their donuts fresh in-house. Be sure to try their new Grab and Go location in West Vail, too.


Serving up: Burgers … and more!

Location: Edwards.

Must order: Truffleburger with cheese and bacon, fries and a milkshake.

Larkspur restaurant in Vail had one problem when they put the “Larkburger” on their menu — it was all anyone ever wanted. They took that idea and ran with it, transporting the burger to its own restaurant, aptly named Larkburger, where the masses can awe at the exotic taste of the gourmet burger. They, too, have since opened locations all over Colorado after the popularity of their local Edwards restaurant.

The Bookworm of Edwards

Serving up: Crepes, salads and soups.

Location: Edwards.

Must order: A dessert crepe.

The Bookworm is like a home away from home for many people who enjoy lounging over a cup of coffee and a crepe while thumbing the pages of a new book or catching up with friends. Like any good home, life here revolves around the kitchen as The Bookworm churns out a number of salads, soups and their signature crepes to complement steaming cups of coffee.

Smiling Moose

Serving up: Hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, soups, salads, breakfast items.

Located in: Edwards.

Must order: Mighty Moe on a Monday.

People who grew up in Edwards remember when the Smiling Moose first opened in 2003. If you weren’t there before 11 a.m. or after 2 p.m., then you were waiting in line. To this day, not much has changed. The popular eatery offers a big selection of food, but their staple remains a hot, fresh sandwich perfect for lunch. Their menu has grown since 2003, and so has the restaurant, with almost 20 locations around the central United States. No matter how big they get, their first location was Edwards, and locals will long consider it their best.

Belmont Deli

Serving up: New York deli items.

Location: Edwards.

Must order: Full Empire Maker.

Like it was ripped right off of a New York City street corner and dropped in the mountains, the Belmont Deli is a unique dining experience — from the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches and Matzoh ball soup to imported-from-New-York products, the Belmont Deli does not disappoint. The owners say they are committed to serving up the food they grew up on and take that promise to authentically good heights.

Expert Burger

Serving up: Artisan burgers.

Location: Eagle.

Must order: Angel Fire Burger.

Expert burger is like the suave, friendly new kid in town that earned instant popularity. They’ve been open for almost three months and since Day 1, they’ve been sending a message — they take it a step further. Their burgers are artfully crafted from Colorado never-ever beef, meaning the beef has never been inoculated with antibiotics or hormones and is genetically certified as 100 percent heritage Angus beef. Another way they take it a step further is their soda fountain, pouring only Rocky Mountain Soda Co. craft sodas. The people like it. Three months in, and they’re banking return customers.

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