There’s no question that Aspen brings the glamour. And when it’s ski season, it’s all about the scene. Where else can you get a little too much champagne sprayed in your hair at Cloud 9? But as much of a scene as Aspen is, there are parts that make it still the same small town. Add restaurant Ellina to what keeps Aspen real, even in the heart of the season. And don’t get us started on the pasta. Ellina is easily the best Italian restaurant in Aspen.
If there’s one restaurant that the locals in Aspen and the Aspen weekenders agree on, it’s Ellina. Ellina has been around since 2009, and while there are trendier places in Aspen, this is where you go to get an authentic Aspen experience. There’s no pretension whatsoever; just solid food, good atmosphere, and low-key people who have nothing to prove.
You may think Ellina’s name is inspired by its owner (it’s not, her name is actually Jill). Ellina is short for Valtellina, a valley in Northern Italy. The food therefore trends on the heartier side, which is perfect after a day on the slopes. Ellina is decisively an Italian restaurant in Aspen, but executive chef Miguel Diaz brings influences from his Mexican heritage to the menu. It explains why the rotating taco specials are a solid choice, and one of the more popular dishes on the menu.
Ellina is a place where you want to become a regular. Jill is also the sommelier, as well as a native New Yorker. So she knows both her wine from her extensive travels around the world, and her food because of her Italian and New York heritage. At the scene spots like Cloud 9 and Catch, you can burn out on the intense crowd that comes into town during season. Ellina is a favorite spot to eat at the bar and hang with the other unpretentious people over glasses of unique wine and decent cocktails. Friends and I have come dressed up for dinner, or in our ski clothes, and are welcomed either way.
The food is one of the strongest points of Ellina. It’s easily the best Italian restaurant in Aspen, and it certainly has the best fresh pasta. You earned your carbs, so at least one pasta should be on the menu. One of my favorites is the black pepper fettuccini, where the egg, parmesan, and cream emulsifies to make a rich and decadent sauce. But every meal here should start with the tacos of the day. The short rib is another hearty favorite, and the lamb chop and chicken Milanese also shine. In short, the meat dishes stand out; the fish is good, but comes behind the tacos, pasta, and carnivore options.
A big part of what makes the Ellina experience special is not just that it’s the best Italian restaurant in Aspen; it’s also the service. Jill works the room, and is a big reason that Ellina is such a favorite. The staff likes to make everyone feel like they’re family, making Ellina one of the friendliest and most sincere places in town.
Q: What are Ellina’s hours?
Q: Is Ellina open all year round?
A: Yes, but like many restaurants in Aspen, it closes for a few weeks in April and November to recharge.
Q: Is Ellina good for families?
A: Ellina welcomes everyone, including your kids. It’s best to dine earlier with the kids, or in the summer when all can enjoy the nice weather.
Address: 430 East Hyman Avenue Downstairs, Aspen, CO 81611