Something Old World, Something New – Sun Valley Restaurants

downtown Ketchum looking at Sun Valley Ski Resort

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Let’s be brutally honest. A lot of ski towns may say they have good cuisine, but it isn’t true. A decent cheeseburger and one Thai restaurant doesn’t make you world-class or international for that matter. To truly round out an amazing experience, you need watering holes that are older than the 1970s. Food that you’d expect in a big metropolitan city. Sun Valley Restaurants are the creme de la creme of ski town cuisine.

A Destination For All

Unpretentious but refined. Classy but comfy. Out of the seventy ski resorts we’ve visited over the years, nothing compares to Ketchum. There might be better places for powder in the winter and tacky singletrack in the summer, but none comes close to combining the list of things to do and metropolitan experiences so seamlessly. From being a dark sky community to the perfect vertical pitch on its steeps, it’s no wonder that Sun Valley Never Goes Out Of Style.

Apple’s Bar & Grill

Les Chamois in Palisades Tahoe. Hellroaring Salloon at Whitefish. The Village Idiot in Revelstoke. Iconic ski town bars are a shot of the local ski town culture with a cold brew of affordability. For Sun Valley Resort, it’s Apple’s.

apples bar and grill sun valley restaurants ketchum idaho
Apple’s Bar & Grill; Photo: Local Freshies®

It’s What Inside That Counts

Tucked away in the quiet Warm Springs neighborhood, flanked by multi-million dollar homes and the Challenger lift on its backside. From the outside, it doesn’t seem special. Like everything in Ketchum, it doesn’t need to show off… it’s what inside that counts.

Free Beer For Life

And what you’ll find is a cozy narrow space decked out with about a dozen tables. On one side, a long bar where you order up your food as well as drinks. Everywhere you look you’ll see ski history in all its glory. On the ceiling, signed race jerseys cover every inch. The TVs are either showing classic ski flicks or more likely ski racing. Walls are decked out in advertisements from yesteryear to stickers. Heck, Olympians who win a medal and donate it to the bar get to drink free beer for LIFE!

ahi salad apples bar and grill ketchum idaho
Ahi Salad; Photo: Local Freshies®

Get The Scorpion

Although the menu is short and concise, you can tell they made sure to include a full spectrum of options from the cost conscious to the health eaters. Their offerings include flatbread pizza, sandwiches, salads, and burgers. Our local guide said her go to is the Scorpion burger. And we have to agree. It had that classic char flavor you want in a budget friendly burger. Spicy, grilled to perfection, and didn’t leave you feeling sluggish. Rather energized and ready to hit the slopes.

The Kneadery

From both locals and friends, they said we HAD to go to the Kneadery for breakfast. One friend told us, “The pancakes made it into the British Airways mag because they’re THAT good.” A little skeptical, we decided to see if they were THAT good or was it hype.

The Kneadery sun valley restaurants ketchum idaho
The Kneadery; Photo: Local Freshies®

Uncle Chet Would Be Happy Here

The interior is a country motif. The walls are a raw-cut wood that you’d expect in a cabin. Adorned on them you’ll find fly-fishing gear, animal mounts, and skiing memorabilia. It reminded me of a northern Wisconsin lodge. You could imagine Chet Ripley from the Great Outdoors walking in with his family. Cozy and comfortable. Welcoming and warm.

Pancakes at the Kneadery Sun Valley
The infamous pancakes of the Kneadery – one pictured is the oatmeal pancake; Photo: Local Freshies®

Not Your Average Breakfast Spot

Now the food. Oh the food. Breakfast spots typically lean on the basics and call it a day. I mean, how could you go wrong with eggs, hash browns, and a side of toast. The Kneadery takes these staples and turns up the volume to 11. Locally baked organic breads for their toast. Cage-free eggs and mouth-watering meats. And everything is executed to perfection and quickly. The sausage was juicy and flavorful. Hash browns were crispy and not greasy. The rumors were true about the pancakes. I tried their oatmeal and it was beyond words. It was moist and hearty like fresh wholewheat bread. Almost like French Toast and a pancake had a child, and it was this amazing concoction. Being so dense, one is more than enough to fill you. For a lighter / fluffier version we suggest the standard buttermilk version. You won’t go wrong whichever you choose.

Rickshaw

If you have one night to experience one of the Sun Valley restaurants, head to Rickshaw. Being categorized as “Asian Fusion” doesn’t do it justice. Yet another example of a restaurant that’s tucked away on a quiet neighborhood street in Ketchum.

Are We In Ketchum?!?

But as soon as you step into this cozy quaint restaurant, you’ll feel less like you’re in Ketchum and more in some BIG city like LA, NYC, or Chicago. It’s that hot spot that your friend put you on to. A calm, relaxing beat quietly plays over the speakers from artists such as DJ Shadow. There are less than a dozen seats with hip dressed individuals chatting. Small floating shelves contain knick knacks like a tiny bronze decorated elephant. Past it all in the tiny kitchen, the sights, sounds, and smells of culinary art being performed at a high level makes your mouth water.

Japchae, Kimchi, Chiang Oh Mai!

Japchae dish at Rickshaw Ketchum Idaho
Japchae; Photo: Local Freshies®

You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the Chiang Mai noodles are mind-altering. Tender yet firm. Combined with chili aioli, veggies, and beef in a coconut curry dish, I wanted to drink every last drop it was so good. Jaime is a Kimchi addict so she got the Japchae. Served with glass noodles, the stir fry concoction was orgasmic. She could’ve eaten here every day for our entire trip and been happy. If you’re a fan of tea (or just a unique experience), order some. This isn’t American tea dust but real honest to goodness tea leaves.

Village Station

Less than a three-minute walk from the newly renovated Sun Valley Lodge, you’ll find this charming restaurant. A great option to catch a game, enjoy a casual meal, or a comfy spot for families to meet up.

Village Station Sun Valley Idaho
Village Station; Photo: Local Freshies®

All Aboard!

As the name suggests, the décor inside is a nod to the ski resort’s humble beginnings as a destination via the Union Pacific Railroad line. The entrance features marble floors with a compass-like symbol that is reminiscent of something you’d see in Penn or Union Stations. Chrome lettering and puffy leather booths harken back to the 40’s carriage stylings. Walls are adorned with the “1st’s” of the region such as the architectural plans for the 1st chairlift.

Dinner Is Served

Out of any Sun Valley Ketchum restaurant in the Wood River Valley we’ve visited, the service here was unparalleled. For example, since Jaime has a gluten intolerance, she requested to have their homemade croutons plated separately for me to enjoy. The Expediter stopped the waitstaff at the entrance of the kitchen because it had the croutons on it. From food presentation to their knowledge of the menu, you can tell they were trained well. Ski towns are notorious for low quality customer service. This was the best place we’ve been to in ANY ski town.

spaghetti bolognese at village station sun valley restaurants
Spaghetti Bolognese; Photo: Local Freshies®

What About The Cuisine?

Even with impeccable customer service, you’re there to eat. And Village Station doesn’t skip a step there either. The waitress guides us to enjoy the meatballs and she was right. They were ground so fine that they had a silky velvety texture. Accompanied with mince polenta and red sauce, it was some of the best Italian I’ve had outside of Chicago. It can either be enjoyed as an appetizer or a main course. I had it as part of the Spaghetti Bolognese and the pasta was firm yet chewy. Speaking of appetizers, the salads come with house made croutons. They were unlike any other ones I’ve ever had. The fresh pieces of cornbread were fried to a crisp and combined well with the chicken and avocado salad.

Konditorei

Dessert is one of those things that is an afterthought by chefs or restauranteurs. They serve up an uncreative concoction just to have something sweet on the menu. Not so at this cathedral of baking. This might be the closest bakery I’ve found in the United States to an authentic German pastry shop outside of Dusseldorf or Hamburg.

konditorei bakery sun valley idaho
Konditorei; Photo: Local Freshies®

Open And Inviting

For starters, the large dining room with oak tables and marble tile floors can be kept clean easily and yet comfortable. The ambience is airy and open to the daylight. You get to peruse the vast selection of cakes, cookies, and breads before ordering at the register.

close up shot of cake at Konditorei Sun Valley
The marzipan we cake we enjoyed – Photo by: Local Freshies®

Old World Flavors

What really caught our eye was a Marzipan cake. Instead of the exterior being coated in fondant, it’s done with Marzipan. The opposite of tasteless fondant. The ingredients in Marzipan are simple – almond paste, confectioner’s sugar, and honey. But to do it well is a challenge. Most versions I’ve had in North America overdose you in sugar and reduce the percent of almonds. At Konditorei, it’s done the Old World Way. The butter cream was perfection and the cake batter inside was light and airy. Combined, each forkful transported me back to Germany.

Casino

A healthy ski town needs a dive bar just as much as a fancy wine bar. The Casino isn’t just a dive bar either. It’s an institution. A time capsule. Like a well-worn pair of slippers, it just feels right. It’s Ketchum’s lively late-night spot where locals and visitors hang out.

Casino bar ketchum idaho sun valley
Casino; Photo: Local Freshies®

From Fisherman Pit Stop To Casino

Originally constructed in the 1920’s with logs from the iconic Bald Mountain, you can still see the log-frame structure from Main Street. When it first opened, it was the opposite of a bar. Rather, it was where fisherman would stop for an early-morning breakfast. By the 40’s, it transitioned to the Ketchum Kamp Hotel and Casino.

If The Walls Could Talk

Since Sun Valley Resort opened its doors, celebrities have been visiting. And many of them would make sure to stop by the Casino bar to get a night cap. Bruce Willis had his haircut by the barber in the front of the bar before he got it routinely shaved. The famed author Ernest Hemingway was known to frequent the Casino. With décor as it was, I can imagine him saddling up to the bar and ordering a Scotch & Soda. There’re even rumors that it’s haunted. Expect big pours and the best prices in town. Fondly called by names such as “The Casbah,” “the Cash Bar”, or “the Can’t Say No”, the one thing for certain is you’ll feel right at home.

Sawtooth Club

To us, Sawtooth felt like the yin to the Casino’s yang. Instead of a pair of comfy slippers, this is more like a shearling jacket. A fashion piece that always looks good and never goes out of style. Formerly known as the “Yacht Club” and where Steve McQueen was known to hop behind the bar, pour libations to patrons, and tell stories. It was also one of Ernest Hemingway’s haunts as well.

sawtooth club ketchum idaho sun valley
Bourbon Furnace at the Sawtooth Club

Kiss The Moose

Although it opened its doors in the thirties, it’s been as well maintained as a classic car in a show n’ shine. The bricks on the exterior are cared for. The deep mahogany on the bar still glistens. Even with all this character, it still is known to let loose. Go ahead and “Kiss the Moose” and enjoy the legendary Sawtooth Club’s shot ski. Listen to the stories from the bartender.

Better With Age

And yet through it all, it’s somehow gotten even better with age. Steaks, seafood, wild-game and more are now cooked over a live mesquite-wood fire. Its wine list is on par with any fine dining establishment. A good assortment of Scotches, Bourbons, and brews. It’s no wonder that locals have voted this classic American Steakhouse one of the Wood River Valley’s best in five different years.

Additional Spots We Didn’t Get To

We tried our best to sample all the Sun Valley restaurants and Ketchum saloons as possible but alas there were just too many. Both our livers and stomachs could only take so much. Here’s a few more that will be in our Things To Do In Ketchum Idaho list.

Pioneer Saloon

You could say that the two cornerstones of the Sun Valley – Ketchum region are the Casino and the “PIO.” Yet another establishment that was originally a casino in the 40s. The present version that you see today dates back to 1972 – hence where the three day “Where were you in ’72?” party got its name from and still serves as an annual reunion for locals in November.

Duchin Lounge

For hotel bars, one can argue that the Duchin Lounge is one of the most quintessential. Since the 1930’s, Hollywood celebs have graced this watering hole. Even to this day, you may see Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood enjoying a “Stumbling Islander” or a “Hemingway’s Margarita.” The dark wood and moody deep red cavern have been transformed into a more airy atmosphere as part of the multi-million dollar restoration of Sun Valley Lodge.

Leroy’s Ice Cream

As the days get longer and temps begin to increase, the Town Square becomes alive with summer fun. And there is nothing more of a family tradition than getting some ice cream and that means Leroy’s Ice Cream. This tiny little shack is open until 10 pm and serves up locally made CloverLeaf Ice Cream, Milkshakes, Sorbets, and Fresh squeezed lemonade.

Trail Creek Cabin

If romance is in the air, there’s no better place to get a reservation than here. As you would expect from an old hunting cabin built in 1937, there is A LOT of history in between its cozy confines. Supposedly both Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway celebrated birthdays here in front of a roaring fire. Situated on the bubbling Trail Creek overlooking Bald Mountain, the scenery is just as mouthwatering as its dishes. Trail Creek stays true to its hearty Western heritage which may include menu items such as Bison Short Ribs, Rocky Mountain Elk or even their take on Idaho Trout. One thing to note is it’s ONLY open in winter.

The list could keep going and going on places to eat, drink, and be merry at. You have Grumpy’s which serves as one bartender said it “everyone from Tom Hanks to the Town Drunk” as well as Lefty’s for killer burger, hand cut fries, and barely pops. The Warfield Distillery and Brewery and the Cellar Pub which has the look and feel of the TV Show “Cheers.” The population may read just under four thousand, but the Sun Valley restaurants scene swings above its weight that many big cities couldn’t keep up. Regardless if you’re a skier, mountain biker, or just a foodie, you won’t go hungry or thirsty with a trip to Ketchum.

14 thoughts on “Something Old World, Something New – Sun Valley Restaurants

  1. This article lost all credibility for me. I lived in Ketchum and worked at the Yacht Club. Steve McQueen did eat there, but never “hopped” behind the bar and told stories. He was sick with cancer and was quiet and polite.

    1. A current book on Steve McQueen by Greg Laurie has been published.
      Steve started going to church in Ventura CA near his home where he had an Amazing encounter that was just in time for him.
      Check it out,
      Sheldon

  2. You totally missed that Indian Place behind the Tamarack Lodge. It’s called Saffron Indian Cuisine! Go to their Google profile and you’ll understand What you really missed!

    1. Hey Jhon,

      I know where we’re going next when we visit Ketchum. Thanks for giving us the scoop on this spot. Yet another example why Ketchum’s food scene is on point! 🙂

  3. Enoteca. Where is Enoteca on this list? I know a list must limit the number of restaurants – or it loses credibility. But swing and a miss on Enoteca. The duck is amazing!

    1. Bobbo, blame the locals we spoke to. 😉 They gave us the list of spots we needed to hit up on our trip.

      I will admit though since my wife is 100% Italian and so we NEVER eat Italian in the United States unless we cook it ourselves. She’s always underwhelmed by what is considered Italian. I’m not saying Enoteca does this, but a good example is that it’s sacrilege in Italy to serve Olive Oil on a plate (invented in SF). You would NEVER waste good olive that way. Rather, you should brush it on the bread and toast it.

  4. No Lodge Dining Room? What year did they close it? Table side prepping with a great menu and waiters in tux with tales and white gloves. Worked there when it reopened in the 80’s.

  5. What about Smoky Mountain Pizza and Grill? They serve more than just pizza, they have steaks, salmon, pastas burgers and sandwiches, and great salads.

  6. The Cellar Pub! Off Sun Valley Road, behind the Big Chair. Downstairs “Cheers” vibe, 30+ Signed ski memorabilia. Best Fish & Chips around, big local crowd, and free shuffleboard.

  7. And of course, you missed Irving’s. The best hot dog stand in skiing, five bucks for a Chicago with all the trimmings across the street from Warm Springs. And no visit to Sun Valley is authentic without the fondue at The Ram Restaurant, best food and service in town. Take another trip….

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