Idaho—Best Restaurants in Sun Valley and Ketchum

Peter Schroeder

America’s first destination ski resort (opened in 1936) remains one of its finest. Even in winter, Sun Valley basks in sunshine 80% of the days.

During the 1940s, this hideaway in the Sawtooth Mountains captivated celebrities such as Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and Ingrid Bergman. Novelist Ernest Hemingway made the area his home, writing much of For Whom the Bell Tolls in Room 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge. He is buried in the local cemetery. Today, Sun Valley continues to draw A-list luminaries, with recent sightings including Justin Timberlake and Tom Hanks. Actor/governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, a frequent visitor, has a ski trail named after him.

Visitors can experience both the resort village of Sun Valley and Ketchum, a 19th-century silver-mining center now known for shops, galleries, and restaurants.

The main ski area is 9,150-foot Bald Mountain. Affectionately called “Baldy,” it’s legendary for free-flowing bowls and fall-line cruisers that notch 3,400 feet of vertical in just one run. Setting for the original ski area, Dollar Mountain has a dual personality, nurturing novices on gentle runs while also amping adrenaline at eight terrain parks and a family-cross course.

Move over, spuds–Idaho harvests more than its trademarked potatoes. Passionately locavore, Sun Valley chefs showcase raised-in-Idaho venison, lamb, pork, and trout. Top restaurants feature wines from Idaho’s Snake River Valley–one of the newest AVAs in the country.

Peak Eats in  Sun Valley and Ketchum

Ketchum Grill In 1988, Scott and Anne Mason left San Francisco for Ketchum in a Volkswagen van seeking a small-town ambience in which to raise their family. They little dreamed their journey would launch three of Ketchum’s top restaurants. Set in a house built in 1885, Ketchum Grill reflects culinary creativity from both Scott (chef) and Anne (she oversees baked goods). Wild West décor balances sophisticated Northwest dishes.

The eclectic menu revolves around fruitwood-grilled meats, pastas, house-made breads and desserts. Perennial favorites include the rock-shrimp-cake appetizer served with grilled-corn salsa and any of the many seasonal manifestations of duck, such as a winter-appropriate grilled breast with dried-cherry chutney. Emphasizing local labels, the wine list also holds well-priced international sections. The Masons also are founders of two other top Ketchum dining establishments: Enoteca and Town Square Tavern (see below).

 

Sun Valley Resort

Trail Creek Cabin We’ll forgive you if that winter song about “Over the river and through the woods” keeps running through your head on the horse-drawn sleigh ride to dinner at Trail Creek Cabin. Built in 1937, the mountain-style log cabin served as the hunting abode of Ernest Hemingway

Set along the namesake stream, the rustic-chic restaurant has a cozy fireplace as well as awesome views of Baldy (watch the lights of the snowcat groomers prepping the trails for you tomorrow). The fixed-price menu mirrors the rugged western setting, with hearty entrées such as venison chops, bison tenderloin, and short ribs. You can also come for dinner without the sleigh ride.

Il Naso True confessions: My first night in Ketchum, I invariably reserve a table at this romantically inclined Italian restaurant just off Main Street. Wood paneling, plush linen tablecloths, candlelight, and attentive service make guests feel cosseted and special—a great way to launch a ski holiday or celebrate an occasion.

The menu focuses on classic Italian dishes, impeccably prepared and fine-tuned to seasonality. On a cold winter night, there’s something comforting about porchetta, roasted for six hours and stuffed with rosemary, sage, garlic, and citrus. Veal scaloppini is another specialty, prepared either Marsala or piccata style, along with ever-changing selections of pastas.

An extensive wine list covers Italy from Alto Adige to Sicily as well as California’s best. For dessert, s’mores become even moreish when crafted with house-made marshmallow and chocolate ganache, with a side of brown-butter ice cream.

Enoteca While Il Naso is thoroughly Old World, Enoteca teleports the past into the 21st century. Part of the Mason Family group, the restaurant occupies an 1887 building that once served as a supply store for silver miners and sheep ranchers. (“Eat More Lamb, It’s Delicious” is painted on the façade.)

Now the brick walls serve as a backdrop for an energetic bar scene, future-forward incandescent lights, and heavy curtains that screen tables in the back. The menu caters to all-size appetites and budgets, with small plates (salads, a cheese board, or bacon-wrapped dates) as well as large (such as wild-boar ragú and panko-parmesan-crusted Idaho trout).

Creativity shows in the pizzas from the wood-burning oven, like the “Mercantile” with lamb sausage, red peppers, olives, and smoky mozzarella. Everything is top notch.

Sun Valley Resort © Kevin Syms

The Ram Photos of visiting celebs from Errol Flynn to Marilyn Monroe line the hallways at Sun Valley Lodge—and you can bet that most of them dined at The Ram, the resort’s original restaurant that opened in 1937. Although recently renovated with an exhibition kitchen that gives an airier feel, the dining room preserves its historic décor of antler chandeliers, rustic booths, and collection of Swiss cowbells.

The Ram revamp included the food selection, which features meaty delights like a Wagyu New York strip as well as more exploratory dishes such as King salmon with coconut curry and forbidden rice. For a blast from the past, the nightly “Heritage Menu” revisits classic dishes such as pork tenderloin schnitzel and crab-stuffed sole.

You don’t have to be old school to appreciate The Ram’s most beloved tradition: pianist Larry Harshbarger, who can play pretty much every song ever written by heart, and has entertained at the resort for more than 40 years.

Town Square Tavern The world gathers together at Town Square Tavern: literally, because of the gleefully globetrotting menu; and figuratively, because the great food and reasonable prices ($18 to $22 for entrees) draw everyone from Silicon Valley tycoons to cheerful lifties. The similarly eclectic interior design melds reclaimed lumber with high-tech light fixtures.

Part of the Mason Family triumvirate, the restaurant offers salads, tapas, and main dishes that span the Mediterranean from the Middle East to North Africa, Italy, France, and Spain. Most dishes are great for sharing. Start off with grilled shishito peppers, Parmesan truffle fries (Idaho potatoes, of course), or charred eggplant with tahini yogurt.

Entrees often get an exotic twist, like harissa aioli that spikes a classic lamb burger, or duck confit consorting with linguine, onions, mushrooms, and sage. Pair your meal with an eclectic selection of world wines or a dozen mostly Northwestern beers on tap.

The Pioneer Saloon This place would be a cliché—if only the food weren’t so good. Native American artifacts, Western posters and sculptures, Ernest Hemingway memorabilia, and oh!-those-heads (mounted trophies of deer, moose, and their brethren) help the Pio live up to its saloon moniker. Originally opened in the 1940s as a gambling casino, the establishment was reborn as a bar/antique store, and then reincarnated into a restaurant in 1972.

The menu caters to carnivore inclinations: from filet mignon to rib eye to a house-aged bone-in prime rib that weighs in at 20 ounces, accented by blue-cheese butter or Bourbon-peppercorn sauce. You can also opt for fish, seafood, and sandwich options.

While the wine list features plenty of beef-friendly reds in the $30 to $40 range, it also includes esteemed releases like Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet and Shafer “Hillside Select” Cabernet Napa Valley.

Sun Valley Resort © Paulette Phlipot

Konditorei For après-ski, some head off for boisterous brewski and nachos. But others harken for the Euro-savvy tradition of a sweet treat—an penchant that is richly indulged at Konditorei. A first look at the display cases makes you feel like Charlie entering the Willa Wonka chocolate factory, with a belly-boggling selection of tarts, cream puffs, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, and petits-fours that can be enjoyed with locally roasted, fair trade and organic coffees, teas, or delectable hot cocoa.

Although I sometimes deviate and order apple streudel mit schlag (whipped cream), I usually am faithful to the chocolate mousse, punningly modeled after a Bullwinkle. The chalet-style dining room also serves brunch and lunch.

Also consider: Set at 7,727 feet on the slopes of Baldy, The Roundhouse is America’s first on-mountain restaurant.

Sun Valley Resort

MORE TIPS FOR FOODIES

Idaho Wine Commission

Idaho Wine Idaho isn’t small potatoes as a wine region. Home to some 60 wineries, the state has three appel-lations: Snake River Valley (centered 30 miles west of Boise), Eagle Foothills (which lies wholly within the Snake River AVA), and Lewis-Clark Valley (which crosses into Washington State).

Warm sunny days and cool nights characterize the short growing season in the high desert of the Snake River Valley, which holds more than 85% of Idaho’s vineyard acreage. In particular, growers are enthusiastic about the south-facing vineyards of Sunnyslope area. Syrah and Viognier thrive in the well-drained soils; winemakers also are experimenting with Tempranillo and other Spanish varieties. Top choices include Koenig Vineyards and Cinder Wines.

Although Lewis-Clark Valley is one of America’s newest AVAs (recognized 2016), the earliest wine grapes in the Northwest were planted in the region in 1872. Steep canyon walls, plateaus and bench lands form a “banana belt” of warmer temperatures. Leading wineries include Colter‘s Creek, Clearwater Canyon, and Basalt.

Idaho’s wines may be especially good for your health. Researchers are studying whether red-wine grapes grown at high altitudes (such as Idaho’s) carry more resveratrol, the antioxidant that protects the body from disease.

Lava Lake Lamb Look for this grass-fed and wild-range lamb on menus throughout Sun Valley/Ketchum as well as renowned restaurants around the country. Owners Kathleen and Brian Bean are ranchers and environmentalists, dedicated to producing tender, juicy meat while conserving their land just southeast of Sun Valley in the Pioneer Mountains. The meat is free of added hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and insecticides. Experienced shepherds tend the flocks, caring for them in a tradition unchanged for centuries.

Terry Sanders

Trailing of the Sheep Festival In the early 1900s, there were 2.65 million sheep in Idaho—almost six times the state’s population of humans. Much of the industry centered on the Wood River Valley, through which sheep moved to and from summer grazing in the mountains. Each October, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival celebrates this wooly heritage, culminating with a flock of 1,500 sheep parading down Ketchum’s Main Street. Events also include a crafts fair and classes, sheepdog trials, and culinary events such as lamb specials served at restaurants around town.