When you think Tahoe, and, more specifically, South Lake Tahoe, what immediately comes to mind? Certainly the most obvious answer is Lake Tahoe itself, which is the largest alpine lake in North America and second-deepest lake in America (following Crater Lake in Oregon).
But for most travelers, Tahoe is most noted for its ski slopes that overlook the lake, such as Northstar and Heavenly Mountain Resort. But what about its food and drinks? Did you know that South Lake Tahoe is home to microbreweries and numerous international restaurants? I didn’t either, until my most recent snowboarding trip to the area.
You’ve no doubt heard the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” Well in South Lake Tahoe, the early bird gets a seat at breakfast without a wait. There are a couple stand-out breakfast joints in South Lake Tahoe and they fill up quickly on weekend mornings. The first, Red Hut Café, dates back several decades and is just what the name presumes: a small red hut. The eatery especially is known for its waffles, though you won’t talk this Southern boy out of ordering the biscuits and gravy.
What waffles are to Red Hut, pancakes are to Heidi’s Pancake House (surprise, surprise). When you go, I hope the charming waitress greets you with the same three Tahoe rules she greeted my friends and me: “Don’t speed, carry your own chains with you, and don’t speed.” The restaurant has a pretty extensive breakfast menu, with quite a bit of it devoted to crepes and breakfast burritos alone.
Viewfinder Tip: Even during the off-season, plan to arrive early for breakfast in Tahoe, as the most popular spots fill up quickly.
As you probably assumed from some of my South Lake Tahoe breakfast descriptions, there’s no shortage of greasy spoons in the area, especially in the way of burger joints. Among my favorites are Burger Lounge (pesto fries anyone?) and Sno-Flake Drive-In. The Sno-Flake in particular left an impression because a) it’s a drive-in and b) it serves a KitKat milkshake. In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I did dip my fries in my milkshake. And I’d do it again.
For the healthy eaters in the crowd, Sprouts Café is a natural foods café that has been serving South Lake Tahoe for years. Order a smoothie and one of the cafe’s specialty dishes, such as a rice bowl. My favorite, the Rice Bowl Cadillac, costs just a couple quarters more than their standard rice bowl, but it has the added bonuses of guacamole and tortilla chips.
After a long day on the mountain, few things taste better than beer. That beer tastes even better when it’s Happy-Hour beer. And that’s what you’ll find at Stateline Brewery, which brews its beer on-site. Options here include pilsner, pale ale, wheat, and IPA. Happy hour prices are $4 for pints, well drinks, and wine. The eatery also has food specials, including $1.50 sliders.
Still hungry? The door of the gondola at Heavenly nearly opens at Base Camp Pizza in the Heavenly Village. This is your best option for pizza in South Lake Tahoe; the food is great and the outdoor patio is a great place to listen to live music (which they schedule for every night of the year). A little further outside of South Lake, toward Meyers, is The Divided Sky, a small bar that is popular among locals who live nearby. On tap you’ll find a variety of West Coast brews, along with a small menu of sandwiches and appetizers.
Dinner in South Lake Tahoe is an event. Jimmy’s Restaurant, one of the area’s newest restaurants, is located in South Lake Tahoe’s first and only five-star hotel, The Landing, which makes it a great spot for you and your boo. Jimmy’s menu changes frequently, since it uses locally sourced ingredients; depending on when you visit, entrees might include Wagyu steak, pork belly, or roasted mussels. The restaurant also has a 2,000-bottle wine vault and a custom cocktail menu that features local ingredients.
What I found most interesting about the food scene in South Lake Tahoe was the international presence. Of course the region has international staples. For these I recommend Cafe Fiore, a small, candle-lit Italian restaurant for which you’ll want to make reservations. There also are several sushi options, including Sushi Pier Tahoe, Off the Hook California Sushi Bar, and Kalani’s, which is actually billed as a Hawaiian restaurant and features a Puka Lounge with a cocktail menu inspired by flavors of the Pacific.
Last but not least is Himmel Haus, located across from Heavenly’s California main lodge. This eatery is one part German restaurant, one part bierhaus. It also has its own twist: It features special wild game offerings.
For a different type of dining experience, The Ridge Tahoe offers a creative, hands-on cooking class every Tuesday from 4-9 p.m. at the Hungry Bear. The price is US$99 per guest; you get to eat the meal you’ve prepared and drink wine with each course. Here, you truly can have your steak and eat it, too.
What sorts of restaurants do you seek out while on vacation?