Death Valley National Park may only be a two-hour drive from Las Vegas, but its undulating badlands, golden sand dunes and windswept mountains that soar more than 11,000 feet above the white salt flats below give the 3.4 million-acre park an otherworldly feel. Death Valley offers a stark contrast to the neon lights of Las Vegas and makes a worthwhile journey for anyone in search of fresh desert air, starlight and solitude. Fortunately, a trip to the desert wilderness doesn’t require hikers to subsist on trail mix alone. In true desert oasis fashion, these restaurants in and around Death Valley offer cold beers and hearty meals to the weary desert traveler — and none of them are mirages.
That stop for a good beer
Located in Death Valley’s remote western edge, this tiny desert outpost offers outdoor seating with views of the distant Panamint sand dunes and a surprisingly huge craft beer selection. Visitors at Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant & Bar can choose from more than 150 selections, including locally brewed favorites from Indian Wells Brewing Co., such as the refreshing Orange Blossom Amber. Customized pizzas, Angus burgers and a 10-ounce steak smothered with barbecue sauce make the menu.
Panamint Springs Resort, 40440 CA-190, Darwin, California; 775-482-7680
The margarita and saloon stop
In the era of the California Gold Rush, stomping into a saloon in cowboy boots made sense after a long day. The Badwater Saloon, located at Stovepipe Wells in the heart of the park, hearkens back to that time with dim lighting, a mirrored bar and an oftentimes lively crowd. Diners can sip prickly pear-infused margaritas and enjoy goat cheese-stuffed dates, pulled pork quesadillas with lime crema and burgers topped with chili.
Badwater Saloon, 51880 CA-190, Death Valley, California; 760-786-2387
Fine dining in Death Valley
The Inn at Death Valley (formerly known as the Furnace Creek Inn) exudes Old Hollywood glamour from its perch on a desert slope. Located inside the 1930s treasure, The Inn Dining Room serves as a retreat from the rugged surroundings, where Death Valley explorers can savor an evening of fine dining and California wine. The menu features continental fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a focus on desert-inspired ingredients like dates, prickly pear and fresh avocado.
The Inn Dining Room, 328 Greenland Blvd., Death Valley, California; 760-786-2345
On the way to Death Valley from Vegas by way of Pahrump, the Amargosa Hotel Opera House appears like a phantom in the desert — and while it might look like a ghost town, the hotel, restaurant and opera house are very much alive. The restaurant, the Amargosa Cafe, serves a simple menu of farm-to-table meals. For breakfast, diners can find scrambled eggs, arugula and bacon on a buttermilk biscuit, while for lunch, fans adore the selection of sandwiches served on focaccia, topped with local greens and perfect for a picnic in Death Valley.
Amargosa Cafe, 608 Death Valley Junction, Death Valley, California; 760-852-4441
The spicy chili and conversation stop
The Death Valley gateway town of Beatty surprises with wild burros wandering the streets and whiskey drank out of a Mason jar. To experience it at its most authentic, desert connoisseurs should spend some time at the Happy Burro Chili & Beer. True to its name, the cash-only saloon serves cold beer and spicy chili along with burgers, hot dogs and plenty of conversation.
100 Main St., Beatty, Nevada; 775-553-9099