We investigated whether ghrelin action at the level of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a key node in the mesolimbic reward system, is important for the rewarding and motivational aspects of the consumption of rewarding/palatable food. Mice with a disrupted gene encoding the ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) and rats treated peripherally with a GHS-R1A antagonist both show suppressed intake of rewarding food in a free choice (chow/rewarding food) paradigm. Moreover, accumbal dopamine release induced by rewarding food was absent in GHS-R1A knockout mice. Acute bilateral intra-VTA administration of ghrelin increased 1-hour consumption of rewarding food but not standard chow. In comparison with sham rats, VTA-lesioned rats had normal intracerebroventricular ghrelin-induced chow intake, although both intake of and time spent exploring rewarding food was decreased. Finally, the ability of rewarding food to condition a place preference was suppressed by the GHS-R1A antagonist in rats. Our data support the hypothesis that central ghrelin signaling at the level of the VTA is important for the incentive value of rewarding food.