One doesn’t visit the Grand Canyon thinking about food, but a meal at El Tovar changed my opinion. If you are going to the Grand Canyon (and you must), you owe yourself the pleasure of a meal in the El Tovar Hotel. The name comes from Spanish explorer Don Pedro de Tovar, who reported the existence of the Grand Canyon to fellow explorers in 1540.
The historic El Tovar Hotel is 109 years old, but a visitor from 1905 would have no trouble recognizing it. “The area no longer has a greenhouse or herd of cows, but we think the architect, Charles Whittlesey, would be pleased that the hotel is much the same as when he designed it,” said Jon Streit, general manager of Xanterra South Rim, operator of lodges, restaurants and activities at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. “The major change – reducing the number of guest rooms to accommodate private bathrooms – was completed long ago, so now all major renovations are intended to maintain and enhance, not change, the hotel’s ambiance.”
The dark timbered structure beckoned me and I could palpably feel the past as soon as I entered. The dimly lit lobby was richly festooned with moose, deer and buffalo heads plus large paintings of the Canyon. You want to linger here.
Rustic, Classic Dining
Walk down a short hallway and you’ll find the El Tovar Dining Room, constructed of native stone and Oregon pine. The murals on the walls reflect the customs of four Native American Tribes – the Hopi, the Apache, the Mojave and the Navajo. The ambiance is rustic, but classic and traditional. The dining room can seat up to 210 persons and the bar accommodates 60. The dress code is casual, although some guests dress fancier. You can imagine the countless number of intriguing characters that have dined here in the past, including Teddy Roosevelt, President Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney.
The menu offers top-notch gourmet dining and the staff are real pros. Some have been working in the restaurant and living in the Grand Canyon more than 25 years. They are a great resource if you have questions. I happen to appreciate a lovely table setting and the china was particularly pleasing. The elegant black-rimmed plates carry the El Tovar crest.
The most famous appetizer, French onion soup gratinee, sounded and looked fabulous, but I chose the soup of the day, creamy potato bisque. For my entrée, I decided on the broiled lamb chop with roasted garlic jus. The portion size was overwhelming, but I managed more than I needed because the lamb was so tender and absolutely divine. Honestly, this was one of the best meals I’ve ever been served.
The El Tovar Dining Room wine list features 100 varieties produced from prominent domestic wineries, including some from the emerging Arizona wine industry as well as varietals from California, Oregon and Washington. More than 70% of the winemakers utilize organic and sustainable farming practices. The El Tovar wine list received the Award of Excellence in 2012 & 2013 from Wine Spectator magazine.
If you are unable to obtain dinner reservations, go for breakfast. I also had the great fortune to return in the morning and ordered the Sonoran Style Eggs with Chorizo. Once again, the dish was a tasty treat and would keep a hiker full for many hours.
Another fine dining option is located within the Bright Angel Lodge, also on the South Rim. “The Arizona Room” is not just the name of the restaurant, but the inspiration behind its cuisine.Here you can dine on aged, hand-cut steaks, BBQ ribs, chicken and fish inspired by local ingredients. I rarely chose beef, but since I was in the cattle belt, I ordered a steak…a wise decision. The Arizona Room also serves beer and wine from local artisan brewers and vintners.
The view from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim declares and defines nature’s power and beauty about as profoundly as possible. It filled my soul with wonder. Trust me, no one leaves disappointed. I won’t forget my memorable meal at El Tovar either. — by Debi Lander, RFT Contributor
El Tovar Hotel guests can make dinner reservations 6 months in advance.
Guests and/or visitors not staying in the hotel can make a dinner reservation 30 days in advance. www.grandcanyonlodges.com