If you’re headed to Aspen this summer, here’s a tip: To dine like a local, you don’t need to eat in town. In recent years, countless local residents have migrated down-valley to escape escalating costs—and area chefs have followed suit. The towns of Carbondale, El Jebel, and Basalt are now home to a bounty of very good restaurants. We recently visited one of the more celebrated newcomers, Crave Kitchen, which opened last summer in the Willits Town Center, 20 miles north of Aspen.

With chefs Todd Slossberg and Rob Zack working the line every night, good food is no surprise. These award-winning Hotel Jerome alums are turning out comfort classics and family treasures, such as their tender and mild meatballs. Inspired by Zack’s Italian grandfather, the beef-and-pork meatballs are served in a rustic Sunday gravy that’s studded with house-made fennel sausage ($10). We also wanted seconds of their rotisserie chicken, a succulent, self-basted showstopper ($21). The wood-fired pizzas (from $12) with ingredients such as house-made sausage, wood-roasted mushrooms, truffle cheese, and fire-roasted peppers, and the burger ($13.50) topped with Provolone, smoked bacon, and caramelized onions, are two of Crave’s best-sellers.

While the open kitchen in the sleek, wood- and stone-finished dining room seems to be humming, at times we’ve found the service to be less reliable—slow, even rude. Perhaps that’s why it’s the more laid-back fireside bar and lounge that’s always packed with sun-kissed locals. Or maybe it’s that the three- and six-ounce pours from an ever-changing wine list put people in the mood to mingle. Either way, ask to eat at the no-reservations communal table and you’ll have one of the hottest seats in the Roaring Fork Valley. 0231 Harris St., Basalt, 970-927-2837