Eating in Vail: what is “best,” anyway?

Just back from an anniversary trip to Vail, Colorado, where we skied at one of North America’s greatest resorts, and dined at one of Vail’s premier restaurants (Sweet Basil). But we also ate lots of cheap Mexican, and slept at what might nicely be called a private Motel 6. Not that I have anything against The Roost–it did offer clean bedding, easy parking, and a decent hot tub–but it occurred to me (and my husband) that the ability to mix schwank and ghetto is something we’d like to hold on to.

I did love the deep-fried scallop that Alison Gunter sent down as an amuse bouche, and the Pinot Steven Mier set us up with was more interesting with every sip (cola, anyone?). Sweet Basil was every bit as much of a scene as it was when I worked there in 2001. But our best meal was undoubtedly the messy late lunch we had at the smokehouse atop Wildwood (just at the top of Chair 3 at Vail, at about 11,000 feet). The pulled pork sandwiches were oozing with a slightly spicy sauce and ubertender pork with just enough smoke to make us remember how many Texans live in Colorado. The sauce’s mellow heat revved up our oxygen-depleted muscles, so the experience was much more physically renewing than any fine dining experience could be.

So here’s the question: why are we simultaneously attracted to the cheapest and most expensive food options? And have those that definitely prefer one to the other simply trained themselves? Given another night in Vail, and the choice between returning to La Cantina, the Mexican joint inside the bus station, or to Sweet Basil, I wouldn’t be able to choose easily. They’re equally delicious, but for different reasons.

I hope that as the years go by, I retain the ability to be as pleased with the less expensive route through life as I am by the pricey one.

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