The best on-mountain restaurants make you late for your afternoon rendezvous. Patrons of Tio Bob's in Portillo, Chile, have been known to lose entire days. Set in arguably the most dramatic ski valley on Earth, Portillo rests on the shores of Laguna del Inca, a lake formed in a hollow between soaring peaks, some reaching 19,000 feet. One ridge away, 22,841-foot Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, gazes down like an ancient Andean god. There may be no better lunch partner, save the giant condors that ride the swirling updrafts overhead.
Portillo's midmountain restaurant has operated since the 1940s, when the resort was founded and the Chilean army boot-packed its slopes. It has been Tio Bob's (Uncle Bob's) for about 20 years, named after the beloved Bob Purcell, one of the original owners of Portillo, who knew just about every guest and employee by name. That sense of community remains. The atmosphere at Tio Bob?s is relaxed. The scenery, stunning. The possibilities, like the pisco sours, endless.
Tio's is the rare self-serve restaurant where it feels like a privilege to serve yourself. The house specialty is meat-huge, barbecued hunks of it. Walk along a big open grill, point at a sizzling delight, and a cocinero piles your plate with mountains of carne de cerdo (pork), cordero (lamb) or carne de vaca (beef). As you head to the outdoor tables, you know full well that your ski day has just been irrevocably abbreviated. After a few glasses of the local wine, lunch can easily extend into dinner.
Glance around the deck, and you'll see one of skiing's intriguing paradoxes: Americans take the sport just as seriously as their global counterparts, but haven't yet fully mastered the lifestyle. So hop a plane, pull up a chair and go to school.