You can always find friends at Los Amigos |

You can always find friends at Los Amigos

Greg T. Spielberg
Special to the Daily/Greg T. SpielbergSmiles are always part of the menu at Los Amigos. From left are Los Amigos General Manger Tim Curran, Lisa Guzman, John Donovan and Head chef Todd Purse.

VAIL ” You’ve seen it from the mountain or walking up Bridge Street. More than likely, you’ve initiated an apres-ski buzz on Los Amigos’s deck.

With Vail Village’s best view of the slopes, it’s not surprising that in the winter the wooden planks are always packed and an anxious mob eyes the green chairs in anticipation of margaritas or just some afternoon sun.

The Los Amigos deck is a Vail celebrity. The Mexican restaurant, which has been anchored at the top of Bridge Street since 1972, has been drawing regulars for just as long, and not in small part to the view it affords tired skiers trying one last plunge down Pepi’s Face and Head First.

Location makes the first impression, but the food and character keeps locals and tourists coming back. Though the kitchen is small and the prep room is two flights of stairs or a slow elevator ride away, Los Amigos draws inspiration from employees and patrons in a constantly evolving menu.

In a valley packed with Mexican food choices, the one overlooking Seibert Circle succeeds in part because of its fare’s versatility.

“It’s not the same old burrito and taco,” Head Chef Todd Purse said.

The menu is mosaic created by a multitude of influences. The torta ” a sub sandwich with ham or pork ” is a specialty of Mexican vendors brought to Vail by the Hispanic kitchen staff. Provo’s Best Shot ” burritos with ground beef, mixed cheese, brown sauce, sour cream, lettuce, pico de gallo, rice and beans ” is named for a former kitchen manager.

When President Ford visited Vail, his security detail would often come into Los Amigos for drinks and food, and the head of the detail always wanted something a little customized. His jalapeno and habanero puree became known as SS (Secret Service) Sauce.

Purse, who has lived in Vail for 20 years and came to Colorado after graduating from culinary school in Illinois, is open to redefining the boundaries of Mexican food: camarones en bolsa features gulf shrimp with garlic lime butter. There’s also the Highline burger, and the the children’s menu has root beer floats, chicken fingers, popsicles and french fries.

During the offseason, the head chef was grilling a Cornish hen on a spit at his home and thought, “Why not put it on the menu?” The hen appears as a special, along with grilled scallops and portabello mushrooms as surprises for a patron expecting standard fare.

But even with classical Mexican dishes, Purse likes to experiment. Rather than use a typical egg batter for his chile relleno, Purse uses a tempura recipe based in beer batter so the chile keeps its shape after it hits the plate.

The blend of Mexican and American fare is one of the reasons Los Amigos does 350 lunches a day in the winter. The layout is the other. Before the 1995 reconstruction of the building at the top of Bridge Street, Los Amigos had a bigger deck, but it did not allow the free flow of people between the outdoor and indoor seating areas. After renovation, large doors were installed to reduce traffic up front. In the back, overlooking Seibert Circle, open-air windows were installed so the section has the feel of being outside.

General Manager Tim Curran has been with Los Amigos since 1972 and has been general manager since 1992. He takes pride in the fact that his restaurant is a local’s favorite and drew many returnees for its reunion celebration.

Curran also says Los Amigos is interested in expanding its deck to pre-’95 size and provide live entertainment.

“We want to give Phil Long a little run for his money,” he said jokingly.

Until September, Los Amigos will be open five days a week for lunch and dinner. Happy hour ” featuring Dos Equis Lager, Bud Light and Fat Tire on tap as well as 35 tequila varieties ” is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Lunch specials are yours for $5.95 daily and dinner is served until 10 p.m. or until the crowd dies down.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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