Dining at the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon

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My family and I just came back from a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon. It’s a must-do trip for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors and America’s fabulous national parks. While on vacation, my husband Paul and I love to treat ourselves to a fancy meal like the time we went had dinner at RM Seafood in Vegas. I wondered if we could do the same on our trip to the Grand Canyon.

Fine dining at the El Tovar

After looking over the dining choices at the Grand Canyon on the Grand Canyon Lodges website, I knew that a meal at the El Tovar dining room at the El Tovar Hotel would fit the bill. Most of the entrees are in the $20-30 range and are made with organic and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. The El Tovar even features a sustainable wine list as well as a conventional one.

You need to have dinner reservations as walkup service is nearly impossible to get. You can call 28.638.2631, ext. 6432 or send an e-mail to eltovar-dinner-res-gcsr@xanterra.com. Dinner reservations can be made six months in advance with El Tovar room reservations and 30 days in advance without El Tovar room reservations. I made my reservation via email and had to change it. The staff replied back quickly to my requests and were very helpful. 

Dining with the kids

However, after looking over the dinner menu, I was concerned that a meal there would be too fancy – or too large – for our children, Nathan (11) and Lucie (8). Then I saw that children 12 and under may enjoy half portion entrees at a discounted price. Also, many of the dining rooms at Grand Canyon lodges have a children’s menu, which we found out about when we got there. It contains the usual things like mac ‘n’ cheese and hamburgers.

Nathan’s a pretty big eater, so Paul and I figured that the Natural Veal Wiener Schnitzel Served with Dijon Spaetzle and Seasonal Vegetables ($28.60) would appeal to him. I thought we could help him finish his veal if necessary, but it wasn’t since he hadn’t eaten lunch that day. Nathan ate the whole thing except for a few bites stolen by his dad.

Lucie, on the other hand, doesn’t eat much. So a big bowl of soup – her favorite, the Chicken Noodle Soup du Jour ($6.35) – and some dinner rolls were perfect.

Paul had the French Onion Soup Gratinée ($7) and I had a the El Tovar House Salad ($7.60). It comes with baby organic greens, vine-ripened tomatoes (really fresh and tasty), Kalamata olives, sliced red onion, and is topped with toasted pine nuts, goat cheese and served with an excellent balsamic vinaigrette. Since I’m avoiding dairy, I asked them to serve it without the goat cheese. No problem!

Paul and I both had a hard time deciding what to order for our main entrees. Paul ended up ordering the Grilled Buffalo New York Strip with Fig Purée ($27) served with parslied mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. It was cooked to perfection and he loved the sauce. I had a the Pork Chops with Bourbon Chipotle Cream ($23.85) served with mashed red and sweet potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The pork was cooked just right (succulent and not dried out!) and I loved the mix of potatoes. Since I have a food sensitivity to broccoli, I gave mine to Paul.

A woman whom we had met on our bus tour came over to say hi before we had ordered. She had just finished up her meal and told us how much she and her family enjoyed it. Like the piano player we met upstairs, she recommended the Vegan Stuffed Portabella Mushroom ($19.95) stuffed with spinach, onion, artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, bell peppers and mushrooms. It’s served with red pepper coulis and quinoa.

Great service

Don’t worry about bringing a dress or a jacket and tie. The dress code is casual, but the waitstaff’s attitude is not. We had a fantastic waiter who worked very hard to find us just the right wine to enjoy with our meal. We ordered a bottle of wine and after sampling it, neither Paul and I liked it – too acidic. Instead, I wanted more of whatever Paul had bought me at the bar to enjoy while the kids and I listened to the piano music upstairs. (He had asked for a full bodied red wine and didn’t get the name of the vintage.) After doing some investigating, our waiter brought us a bottle of the Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah, which was lovely.

I also noticed that the menu featured a vegan dish that’s gluten free. Also, several of the desserts appeared to be gluten free like the Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Walnut Crust. If you have any special dietary needs, call ahead and make arrangements. I’m sure the staff at the El Tovar would be happy to work with you. After all they’re used to serving the likes of Paul McCartney, Kevin Costner and several American presidents.

Back for lunch

We stayed overnight at the Masswick Lodge, whose cafeteria is currently under constructions and reopens April 15, 2011. (I took a sneak peak and the facility is large and very attractive.)  We ended up having breakfast at the Bright Angel lodge, which has a more reasonably priced menu.

But we couldn’t resist going back to the El Tovar for our last meal at the Grand Canyon. After enjoying drinks on the deck after our hike around the rim, we went inside and were seated by the windows. Wonderful!

Lucie had a quesadilla off the kids’ menu. Nathan had the Navajo Taco with Vegetarian Chili ($10.50), which was much larger than we thought it would be. We should have ordered him the half portion instead, especially since he had a big breakfast. I had the Pistachio Dusted Natural Porkloin Roast, which had more pork on it than my dinner entree ($14.80)! Paul had the Fettuccini Pomodoro ($10). The lunch adult portions were very large, so plan on eating there only if you had a light breakfast or don’t plan to eat dinner until very late in the evening.

Our delicious meals at the El Tovar made our trip to the Grand Canyon even more wonderful. If you can, plan to treat yourself to a meal there when you visit the park!


Anne-Marie Nichols is the Managing Editor of the Mom Central blogs. You can also find her cooking up some healthy recipes at This Mama Cooks! On a Diet.

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Anne-Marie Nichols
Anne-Marie Nichols
Anne-Marie Nichols