Visitors to Yellowstone National Park go to see the world-famous Old Faithful Geyser and to view wildlife in America’s first national park. It is easy to work up an appetite after a morning hike and meditative, mesmerizing geyser watching experience. Until I dined at the Old Faithful Inn, my perception of National Park eats was visitors packing their own picnic or some over-priced grab-and-go, less than healthy choices.
Wow! Was I wrong! In fact, I wasn’t just wrong, I was overwhelmed with culinary enthusiasm over the commitment to locally sourced food, farm-to-table focus, gluten-free options, and a suggestion on the menu to speak with your server about your allergies to learn the best options to meet the diner’s needs.
Location: 3200 Old Faithful Inn Road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Menu: The feature on the lunch menu is the Western Buffet. The Inn serves a lot of guests each day, and the fastest way to get everyone served is with the buffet.
If you wish to enjoy a hearty local meal featuring farm-raised trout, pulled pork, Elk or Bison sausage, and wild game chili, then the buffet is a good choice. The buffet is completed with lots of American favorites like baked beans, macaroni and cheese, green salad, cornbread muffins, and coleslaw. Brownies du Jour is the dessert included with the buffet. Non-alcoholic beverages are also included with this fixed-price option.
A nice selection of sandwiches and salads make up most of the lunch menu, with a few side attractions that are interesting enough to explore some unique options.
The deep-fried smoked trout ravioli with sweet corn and farro caught my eye. It is served with tomato and palapeno salsa cruda, chipotle lime sour cream, and cilantro. The leaf next to the menu item indicates it is made with sustainable and organic ingredients. The roasted carrot fries served with sriracha aioli and pepperoncini can work as a nice side to a sandwich, or as a complete meal for a vegetarian.
The soups are familiar enough to be comforting, yet unique enough to be special. The organic golden quinoa and kale soup is vegan-friendly, while the roasted red pepper smoked gouda soup is vegetarian. Geyser watching on a cool day commands a bowl of soup. Cups of soup are also available if you are just curious enough to want to get a taste of these delicious combinations.
Many of the sandwiches are branded with the name of the ranch where the meat was raised. The Montana Ranch Brand beef burger is a local, one-third pound beef burger served with lettuce, tomato, and onion. This is a “have it your way” burger, with options to add green pepper, bacon, mushrooms, and a variety of cheeses. Lettuce, tomato, and onion are standard, and a variety of choices for a side dish comes with the burger.
If you want to break out of your cow-comfort zone and have the true Western experience, then the West Thumb bison burger might fit the bill. At a half-pound, it is shareable. Or, just plan a long hike after lunch. You’re already in one of the best places in the world for that. The sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, and swiss cheese give a nice flavor to the lean bison meat.
A roasted vegetable quesadilla is the vegetarian sandwich option. It comes with sour cream, salsa, and a side.
Salads go from mainstream American to on-trend. There is a traditional house salad and Caesar salad, as you would expect on most American menus. The spinach salad with dried cranberries, candied walnuts, red onion, bleu cheese, croutons, and poppy seed dressing looked delicious.
The vegetarian exotic grains and kale salad with grape tomatoes, roasted vegetables, and red onion tossed with Italian vinaigrette wins my vote for the most special, trendy salad. Salads can be topped with shrimp, chicken, or Gardein, a chicken substitute made with soy, wheat and pea proteins.
Huckleberries are an impossible to cultivate, wildberry that must be harvested by hand. It is indigenous to the area. So, anything made with huckleberries is worth trying. A huckleberry fat-free vinaigrette dressing is on the menu. Many more items made with huckleberries are available to take home from the gift shop.
Thoughts: Lunch is a great option, and perhaps the only option for those who haven’t made advanced plans. Dinner reservations open May 1st each year for the following year, as this is when overnight guests at the Inn reserve their rooms. If you aren’t spending the night at the Inn, dinner reservations are accepted 60 days in advance. After that, you are relying on a cancellation in order to eat dinner at the Inn.
There are no reservations taken for lunch, and guests are seated on a first-come, first-serve basis. The line is longest immediately after the geyser stops erupting, so plan lunch around the eruptions, which occur approximately every 60-90 minutes, as Old Faithful isn’t quite as accurate as her name indicates.
You can’t actually see the Geyser from the restaurant. The best views of the geyser are outside or on the beautiful deck of the Inn. There is a stunning picture window at the back of the restaurant with spectacular views of the park.
Prices are quite reasonable, considering the quality of this full-service option and the quality and variety of the food. Transportation is a major consideration because of the size of the park and the number of people the park feeds each day. So, locally sustainable can mean the food is sourced from farms up to 500 miles away.
After lunch, be sure to walk around the Inn. It is full of history, cherished rocking chairs and other furniture made from local wood. Artists and authors are often in the lobby with books about the park and art inspired by the picturesque environment.
Price Range: Lunch Buffet, Adults $18 Children $8. Sandwiches $10-$17. Salads $6-$12.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of Xanterra Resorts during her visit to Yellowstone National Park.
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