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Dec 7, 2008 07:48 PM

Larkburger - Edwards, CO

West of Denver up into the Rockies, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the food scene appears to be dominated by Chef Thomas Salamunovic. He is the chef/owner at Restaurant Avondale (Avon), Larkspur Restaurant & Market (Vail) and Larkburger (Edwards).

Salamunovich is both a graduate of and instructor at the California Culinary Academy. He started his career in San Francisco under the leadership of Jeremiah Tower at Stars and Wolfgang Puck at Postrio. On a year-long French tour he worked and learned in the kitchens of Michelin rated three-star restaurants Paul Bocuse in Lyon and Lucas Carton in Paris, two-star restaurant Elysee Lenôtre in Paris, and world-famous Poilane Boulangerie.

In 1993, Salamunovich moved to Vail to become the Executive Chef of Sweet Basil. He designed and opened Zino Ristorante in Edwards a few years later. In 1999, he and his wife, Nancy Sweeney, opened Larkspur at the base of Vail Mountain and just a few months ago, he opened Restaurant Avondale.

Larkburger, which opened in 2006, puts Salamunovich on a long list of fine dining chefs making the move toward more casual food. Hubert Keller's burger joint in Las Vegas arguably started the trend. The chef of the high end Fleur de Lys in San Francisco opened Burger Bar at the Mandalay Bay in 2004 and hasn't looked back. And the trend isn't showing any signs of stopping. Fine Dining overlord Thomas Keller is in the process of opening two burger joints, both named Burgers and Half-Bottles, in Napa and Vegas at the same time (look for them by the end of 2009).

Larkburger's decor is very simple and clean. It is after all a fast food restaurant. It does however have a very pleasing design aesthetic. Monterey cypress wood panels, reclaimed by Live Edge from urban forests in the San Francisco Bay Area, line the walls of the restaurant. There is a similar emphasis on green eating. All frying oil is recycled and used as automotive oil. The paper products are made with unbleached pulp. The cups and salad containers are 100% biodegradable and the utensils are made from potato and corn starch.

The menu is very simple. Diners have a choice between black angus beef, turkey or a portabella mushroom burger. There is also a grilled cheese option. On the day we were there, the restaurant was offering a tuna burger and chili as well. A few limited sides round out the list - fries and truffle fries, edamame, and a garden salad. Salamunovich also offers up a $5 milkshake made with Breyer's ice cream, sodas, beer and wine.

For photos of the restaurant, decor and food, click here:

We started our meal with an order of the day's special, a bowl of chili. For a fast food joint, they put some real love into their chili. It is too bad it isn't served every day. There is a real depth that you just don't get at most other restaurants. This "bowl of red" must be "scratch" made.

Both the burger and the tuna burger are excellent. To put the beef burger in proper context, you have to think of it more like fast food than fine dining. For example, David Myers' burger here in LA at Comme Ça is fine dining, which is why it comes with a $16 price tag. The Larkburger ($5.75), on the other hand, is better judged against, say, a double-double from In-n-Out. Both Comme Ça's burger and the In-n-Out burger have legions of fans, rightly so. They just should be judged on the same level.

The tuna burger wasn't really a "burger." It was more a tuna steak sandwich, but that doesn't take away from the flavor. The tuna steak is served rare on a fresh baked roll with a wasabi-ginger aioli (I think), red onion and fresh greens. I didn't taste it so I can't vouch for the flavor, but the coworker who ordered the tuna burger said it was the "best she ever had."

Let me come right out and say that the truffle fries are worth the extra dollar. The regular fries are very good, but the truffle fries are even better. Fried with the skin on, tossed ever so lightly in truffle oil and then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, the fries come out crispy, earthy and delicious. A note about the size, since we had the chili, one order of fries was enough to split between the two of us. On any other day, however, I am sure that I wouldn't have any problem throwing back an entire order of these fresh, hand cut Idaho potato fries along with a burger.

What really impresses me about this place is the pricing. Giving Salamunovich's reputation in the Eagle Valley, he could get away with charging much, much more. I mean regular fast food burgers like the Carl's Jr. $6.00 series are almost as expensive as the offerings at Larkburger. For $5.75, you get a 1/3 lb. cooked to order (rare if you want it) hamburger made with Coleman Black Angus beef served on a fresh baked roll with lettuce, tomato, onion and a house-made special sauce. There is no excuse not to try this place. Unlike Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur, Larkburger isn't out of anybody's price range.

With this successful launch under his belt, Salamunovich is looking to expand the Larkburger brand out onto the Front Range. The Vail Daily reports that a Boulder Larkburger will open just after the first of the year and another could open at the Tech Center in Denver as early as March. And for what it is worth, the manager on duty that day at the Larkburger in Edwards said Salamunovich was looking to eventually expand all the way to LA. Here's looking out.

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  1. Great report! I really love Larkburger and it's my fast food of choice in the Vail Valley. I usually get it to go and head back to the family home there and the scent of the truffles in my car is almost irresistible while I drive the 10 minutes home. I live in the DTC so I'm excited for that one to open. Although my waistline isn't so happy about it.

    1. Thanks for the report. We also love Larkburger. We also love Avondale and Larkspur is our absolute favorite in the Valley. Salamunovich is very talented.

      We also liked Zino when it was open. Why did it go away? It was always busy when we were there.

      14 Replies
      1. re: ddavis

        DD, we've had dinner twice at Avondale. The food was outstanding, the service enthusiastic (I think they hired servers on personality, not experience, which is a good thing) and the menu layout makes it easy to"have it your way".

        The story on Zinos was it was owned by the same folks who had Sweet Basil and they were disappointed that they were not taking $1M a year out of the business so they closed it when the lease was up.

        1. re: BlueOx

          Too bad. We had some good meals there.

          Have you heard how Rick & Kelly's is doing? We stopped there one Sunday a couple of weeks ago for lunch on the way to the airport. We were wanting to watch Green Bay and had to find a TV with satellite TV. Sat at a two-top up near the bar and had burgers. Great fun. We liked it and will be back.

          1. re: BlueOx

            "I think they hired servers on personality, not experience, which is a good thing"

            Amen. People don't emphasize that enough. Experience is gained; personality never is.

            1. re: tatamagouche

              Does anyone know when the Boulder Larkburger is opening? I originally heard from one of the employees in Edwards in May of 2007 that they were scouting for real estate in Boulder and then read an article earlier this year saying it could be open by October of '08. Their website still says nada. Mr. rlm indicated that he had an excellent turkey burger at the Edwards locale recently so I'm even more intrigued now that beef burger inhalation isn't such a great idea for me.

              1. re: rlm

                Last I heard, the Larkburger in Boulder is supposed to open in early 2009 in the Village Shopping Center (the McGuckin's center), between Folsom and 28th, and Canyon and Arapahoe. I seem to remember that it is slated for one of the storefronts on the Arapahoe Ave side. .

                  1. re: rlm

                    Larkspur opened in Boulder 6 months ago, and I finally got there. Good burgers. Tasty but limp fries. Close to 7 p.m., but several families with very small, very loud children. Words and pix at

            2. re: ddavis

              Larkburger is fabulous, and Zino will be back in its old location this summer, so come on back!

              105 Edwards Village Blvd, Edwards, CO 81632

              1. re: aimala

                Really? Great. Guess Rick and Kelly's is out?

                1. re: ddavis

                  DD, according to the Vail Daily, the owner of the building in Edwards also owns part of Sweet Basil. He offered to cancel R&K's lease and restart Zino's. Looks like Zino's will open within the next 6 weeks, they have been hiring staff. Don't forget it was Thomas S that made Zino's work last time.

                  Mud season deals are in full swing. However, we haven't had mud season yet, its still snowing every night. Old timers can't remember winter lasting this long in the past.

                  1. re: BlueOx

                    I think Zino reopening is great. Hope it's like last time.

                    I've been seeing the mud season deals in the Daily that we get by mail. Is Larkspur doing the 50% wine deal yet?

                    Don't know when we'll get out there before July. Lots going on that keeps us from making it now.

                    Is Dish still doing well?

                    1. re: ddavis

                      Dish closed for "sprucing up" on the 2nd of May and will re-open this Wednesday the 19th. I am hoping to get there again soon.

                      1. re: rlm

                        Dish is open again and the entire check is 35% off right now!

                        1. re: NannyMin

                          Had dinner there last night, what a deal. Started with a nice bottle of Sancerre for $34 and went up from there. Good local crowd, food was terrific, the prawns and short ribs were perfect. The table next to us was surprised the "small" plate was the small plate, not the large.