The El Tovar Dining Room is located in the historic El Tovar Hotel, a beautiful lodging choice located just 20 feet from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although the dining room is gorgeous, the menu is a bit limited and service could be improved.
As far as a nice dining experience at the Grand Canyon's South Rim, El Tovar is probably your best bet.
El Tovar serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is open to guests not staying at the hotel. It is the only higher end dining option at the South Rim, however, the quality of food, presentation, and service are a bit lacking for a high end restaurant.
The El Tovar menu is limited, especially if you have special dietary preferences such as the need to eat gluten and/or dairy-free. Most high end and/or tourist restaurants do a very good job with handling guests special dietary preferences, unfortunately, we were limited to one sandwich or a salad as our only choices.
The Mediterranean Salad was a huge disappointment as the veggies were severely limited (1 tiny piece of avocado even though I asked for extra since I omitted the feta and peppers) and way too heavy on the onions.
The salad could have been great if not for the need to be cheap and skimp on the ingredients (spinach and romaine, kalamata olives, onions, peppers, feta, avocado, and balsamic vinaigrette) were supposed to comprise the salad, however, it was mainly just lettuce.
You have the option of adding smoked salmon, fried tofu, grilled chicken, or shrimp, however, it will cost you an extra $5-7. It's just not a good deal, whether or not you add the extras. I was still hungry after paying $10 for a salad. And, because there were no sides I could eat, the salad was it.
The Santa Fe sandwich, served on gluten-free bread, and topped with hummus, grilled portobello mushrooms, avocado, red peppers, red onion, cucumbers was decent, although a tad overpriced.
As another downside, the fries were off limit due to cross contamination. Most higher end restaurants have a separate fryer for gluten-free guests or at least try to accommodate with some other type of cooking method, however, El Tovar only offered a simple side salad as a substitute. El Tovar should invest in a dedicated fryer to open up more options for their gluten-free guests.
The fact that they do not label the menu is another concern. Simply labeling gluten-free and vegan options on the menu would give guests with concerns the opportunity to scan the menu in advance. This would avoid the disappointment of finding out that you have no options once you arrive at the restaurant.
Had I been informed of our limited choices beforehand, I would not have visited this restaurant. Being forced to question an unaccommodating, rude waitress over food allergies was not a fun experience.
Listed below is a brief sampling of breakfast and lunch options.
Breakfast includes standards like waffles, omelettes, french toast, quiche, and pancakes. You will find that a large number of items have a Southwestern influence such as Prickly Pear syrup for the pancakes, Southwestern style burritos and quesadillas, and Prickly Pear Pistachio butter with the Polenta Corncakes.
Lunch includes soups, salads, sandwiches, and a handful of entrees (Navajo Tacos, Pan Seared Salmon, and Quiche to name a few).
A full wine menu is available, although I do not recommend over drinking in a dry, high altitude area due to dehydration concerns.
A tempting display of desserts greets you as you enter the dining room, unfortunately, we did not get to try any out due to the limited gluten-free options.
Our waitress had a bit of a bad attitude and seemed to be inconvenienced.. This is surprising for such a huge tourist area like the Grand Canyon as service is typically exceptional in tourist areas. Sadly, this is not the case at El Tovar or any other South Rim restaurant I have visited.
El Tovar's dining room is quite beautiful. We were lucky enough to get a window seat with nice views of the canyon. We even got to experience a summer monsoon from the safety of the dry dining room.
El Tovar was sort of a disappointment, especially being located in the premier hotel at the South Rim. The unfriendly service, overpriced meals, and lack of gluten and dairy free options was truly surprising for a high end restaurant.
In terms of Grand Canyon dining, your options are pretty limited. Despite all the setbacks, if you plan on dining out during your time at the South Rim, the beautiful decor and views of the canyon make El Tovar the best option out of the limited choices available.
Update: On our second visit, the service was much better.
Based on several experiences, I say you are better off skipping dining out at the South Rim and packing your own lunch.