Utah—Best Restaurants at Alta and Snowbird

Snowbird / Chris Segal

Utah takes pride in “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” And of all the glittery flakes, those that fall in Little Cottonwood Canyon may be the fluffiest of all.

A winding chasm in the Wasatch Range, Little Cottonwood Canyon was gnashed by a glacier some 20,000 years ago. The road dead-ends at two legendary ski resorts: Alta and Snowbird. Both average 500-plus inches of snow annually, drawing powder hounds from around the world. The two share a ridgeline and friendly rivalry (and dual lift pass, if you choose), with the important difference that Alta is one of the three U.S. mountain resorts that does not allow snowboarding.

Alta and “The Bird” offer some of the most challenging in-bounds terrain in North America. Pretty much anything you can see you can ski: couloirs, cirques… heck, you can even head up and over into Brighton in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The vibe at Snowbird tends to be edgier and more hard-core, with hulking concrete architecture and a 120-passenger tram that runs base to summit. Alta feels laid back and throw-back. A rope-tow on the semi-flats trundles skiers between the different bases, and two of the lifts are old-school doubles. Loyalties run long: one mountain host has skied Alta since the mid-1940s.

Peter Schroeder

Sure, you want to stay slopeside, but accommodations in Little Cottonwood Canyon have limited capacity. Also consider hotels in towns like Sandy, Cottonwood Heights, and Holladay close to the mouths of both Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. It’s about a 20-minute drive to the slopes and you’re also near some additional great restaurants.

Collins Grill / Peter Schroeder

Collins Grill [Alta] Haute cuisine at 9,300 feet. That’s the specialty at Alta’s mid-mountain Collins Grill. Windows showcase vistas of jagged summits while bright paintings depict larger-than-life skiers like Alf Engen, who helped develop the resort.

Unbuckle your boots and ease into slippers as you peruse the menu, which emphasizes Utah-sourced ingredients, from cheese and vegetables to organic and free-range beef, pork, and elk. Many dishes lend themselves to sharing, such as bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers and shrimp that swoon into butter-turmeric sauce.

Eclectic choices pique appetites. Arugula salad topped by an oozy poached egg. Crisp-on-the-outside crab cakes (practically all crab, I’ll note). A foray to the Middle East for chicken skewers and mujadara (lentils and rice).

Never, ever skip dessert—the chocolatey bliss of the Heart of Darkness molten cake or super-rich crème brûlée (methinks an extra yolk or two does the trick).

Swen’s / Peter Schroeder

Swen’s [Snowpine Lodge, Alta] Set in one of Alta’s oldest structures, Snowpine Lodge has been reborn as one of the newest—and swankiest.

Originally an 1860s mining office, the building was subsequently repurposed into a general store, post office, and then 1940s, bare-bones skier accommodations. Reimagined as a chic mountain lodge, the hotel reopened in 2019 after a grand $50 million reconstruction.

Named for a 19th-century silver miner who is also the great-great-grandfather of current owner Brett Pratt, Swen’s Restaurant focuses on cozy mountain cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients. Dinner choices range from elegantly executed pizzas and burgers to hearty favorites like braised short rib and almond-crusted Utah trout.

Floor-to-ceiling windows bring in views of the legendary chutes and bowls off High Traverse, and the displays of old mining equipment seem more like art than artifact. They’re open for breakfast (great huevos rancheros), dinner and weekend brunch.

Tuscany / Peter Schroeder

Tuscany [Holladay] Nestled in a woodsy landscape, Tuscany recreates the feel of a Northern Italian alpine chalet. Each nook has its own nuance, adorned by murals, stained glass, wrought irony, stone walls, and a huge, corkscrew-y glass chandelier that looks like it was crafted by Dale Chihuly (but wasn’t).

The food lives up to the gorgeous setting. Fall into the Italianate mood with appetizers like the crispy calamari or pear salad partnered with arugula, radicchio, gorgonzola, endive, pine nuts and a champagne vinaigrette.

Classics like the shrimp linguini earn extra verve from the housemade pastas. Other favorite entrees include the double-cut pork chop with Marsala reduction, and the dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye, which weighs in at a hefty 22 ounces. The wine list dives deep, with notable bottlings from Italy (of course) as well as France, Germany, Spain, California, South America, Australia, and more.

It’s a place for special occasions, especially romantic ones. Ask me about the Valentine’s Day when I saw a man dining with his three wives at the next table.

Franck’s Restaurant

Franck’s [Holladay] If awesome skiing isn’t enough to persuade you to move to Utah, maybe the stellar cuisine at Franck’s will. French elegance melds with American comfort-food friendliness at this petite (50-seat) restaurant that occupies a restored brick home.

Although items on the menu (which changes often) may sound familiar, they get global gourmet spin. Signature meatloaf comes with blueberry-lavender sauce and confit blueberries, while the “Kinda Hot” fried chicken beds down with kimchi potato salad and chili-infused local honey.

More adventuresome offerings also enthrall, with layers of flavors in the tamari-glazed Kurobuta pork paired with (I’ll list it all) ramen cacio e pepe, chili-charred shallot, pickled carrot, 160-degree egg, shaved jalapeño, sweet herbs, lime, smoked cotton candy dashi.

Expect the unexpected in dessert too, such as flourishes of miso and crystalized corn flakes in the apple pot de crème.

La Caille [Sandy] Imagine a French château transplanted to the Utah desert. That describes La Caille, ensconced on a 20-acre estate at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. That acreage contributes to the excellence of the cuisine, which highlights fresh, organically grown ingredients from the property—the largest farm-to-table garden in Utah.

The menu heeds sumptuous French tradition from the get-go, with appetizers like escargots à la bourguignonne, smoked foraged mushrooms, and lobster bisque. Main courses cruise in the luxe lane, with choices such as potato-crusted sea bass napped with Pernod-tarragon sauce, and herb-crusted rack of lamb.

Also a must-try: one of La Caille’s white wines made from Seyval blanc grapes grown in their estate vineyards at 5,350 feet in Salt Lake Valley.

The Summit / Peter Schroeder

The Summit [Snowbird] Yes, you carry a tray and clomp around to food stations. But calling The Summit a cafeteria is like saying the Hahnenkammrennen is just another ski race. Located at 11,000 feet atop Hidden Peak and just steps from the Aerial Tram, the eatery unites inspired cuisine and wrap-around views—windows are the size of two IMAX screens.

Taking its cue from French rotisserie and high-country barbecue pitmasters, the menu offers selections such as roast chicken accompanied by asparagus and a cheesy risotto. The soup du jour might be lobster bisque, and chefs hand-carve a different specialty meat each day.

Choices also include wraps, salads, protein bowls, pizzas, and panini (including an admirable Reuben on marble rye). In nice weather, you can lunch on the deck. If the 100-mile views aren’t enough, Utahn microbrews on draft add to the sense of place.