Destination Food: A ‘Foodie’ tour around Lake Tahoe

Sage Leaf’s French Toast. (Rob Galloway
Tahoe Daily Tribune)

So you want to take a day and drive around the lake. Great. Depending on where you’re starting from (and which way you’re going) combined with the stops you make along the way, you really can’t go wrong if you plan your trip around great food.

There are plenty of short hikes and sights to take in when driving around the 72-miles of shoreline, but this trip is designed to give food lovers a way to plan their day based on delicious destinations. You can fill in the gaps based on your own interests, but for now, it’s all about the food.

I think it’s important to note that being a “foodie,” at least to me, doesn’t mean that you only enjoy high-priced fare at fancy restaurants or Instagramming dishes with ingredients that half of society has no idea what they are.

Good food is good food — no matter what kind of place it is or what the price point might be. It’s a passion about food and being open to an experience while not being afraid to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.

Don’t worry. We’re not going off the rails here. These places have great food and drink options with an atmosphere to match. Stick to the plan and you’ll be rewarded with a great experience that your taste buds (and belly) will thank you for.

Starting Point: South Tahoe (heading north via East Shore)

Morning Fuel: A Cup of Cherries (South Lake Tahoe)

A collision of Asian and French cuisines is what sets this place apart. You can start your day with European-style crepes, gourmet omelet quesadillas, or their top sweet seller: island pancakes.

These pancakes are bursting with flavor. Banana buttermilk pancakes topped with toasted coconut and maple-glazed macadamia nuts then topped with a house made coconut syrup – even your kids will destroy these. They also specialize in breakfast hoagies and French toast, so you’re bound to find your new Tahoe favorite.

They also have you covered when it comes to coffee options. Using local Blind Dog Coffee, you can get all your favorite staple drinks, but don’t sleep on the banana mocha – it’s killer.

Mid-Day Munchies: Morgan’s Lobster Shack (Truckee)

Strolling around downtown Truckee is a great way to burn through an afternoon. While you’re there, you can catch some of the freshest seafood in the entire basin. Serving up classic East Coast fare like lobster rolls and fried clams, you also get some western twists.

One of the more unique things at Morgan’s is you can choose your own adventure and build your own dish. Choose from an array of fresh fish (or chicken), how you want it cooked, what seasoning you prefer, and whether you want it as a sandwich, wrap or salad.

Or, go with one of my favorites: the wicked burger. A Nieman Ranch beef patty is combined with garlic-poached lobster, bacon, avocado, and cheese. Yeah, it’s every bit as wicked as the name might suggest.

Aperitifs and Appetizers: The Cocktail Corner (South Lake Tahoe)

If you hit Emerald Bay and your stomach starts to rumble, you’re in luck. The Cocktail Corner is not far and has the perfect blend of small plates and creative cocktails.

Live music in the afternoons, blended with signature cocktails like their cucumber splash, Kentucky style old fashioned, or espresso martini, it’s the perfect place to chill. Another cocktail, the salty raccoon, which consists of tequila, rosemary oleo, lemon juice, and a salt rim also comes with a little flair: fresh smoked rosemary.

Their elevated comfort food ranges from dueling sliders (portobello mushroom sliders served on pretzel buns and bison sliders with whiskey caramelized onions) to Ahi Tuna Poke, which kicks in that fifth sense of delicious umami.

The Dinner Dojo: Friday’s Station (Stateline)

Since you spent the whole day driving around it, why not go to a place that gives you one of the best views of the lake? Located on the 18th floor of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Friday’s Station has been serving the South Shore for decades.

If you want to build on that pre-game buzz, you can try their strawberry lemon drop (made with fresh strawberries), or sazerac and boulevardier cocktails. If wine is more your style, their game is strong with 250 selections to choose from.

Best-selling dishes range from a blackened shrimp appetizer (served with pineapple rum butter sauce), to a thick-cut prime, bone-in ribeye. Oh, and don’t miss out on the seafood broil, either. It includes lobster tail, crab leg, shrimp and scallops with an accouterment of pappardelle Alfredo pasta and veggies.

Starting Point: North Tahoe (heading south via east shore)

Morning Fuel: Sage Leaf (Incline Village)

Innovation and great tastes are what fuel this fantastic breakfast option. Using local and sustainable products, combined with a relaxed but elevated atmosphere, the Sage Leaf is passionate about their food.

They also have great lunch options, but their breakfast menu also shines. Whether it’s their biscuits and chorizo-and-coffee gravy or their braised bacon tacos served with scrambled eggs, black beans, bacon, and cheddar, they don’t lack creativity – or taste.

If you require a touch of sweetness in your morning, you have to tackle their Tahoe blue French toast. Caramelized sourdough (dredged in a bath of crème brulee batter) with a blueberry compote, whipped orange mascarpone, glazed raspberries, and toasted almonds is supremely balanced and to die for. Get a bite with all the ingredients together and you’ll know what Heaven feels like.

Mid-Day Munchies: Verde Mexican Rotisserie (South Lake Tahoe)

A family restaurant with both owners born and raised in Tahoe, Verde focuses on the healthier side of food with local ingredients, non-processed oils and sustainable meats. That focus leads to some great and flavorful food options.

Their twist on Mexican food starts with the rotisserie, which makes sense because it’s in their name. But, whether chicken or tri-tip, when it’s marinated and put on that sweet rotisserie, there’s something magical that comes from it. You get juicy meat with the perfect amount of char and any menu item that has it gets an immediate bump in flavor.

If you need to grab and go, they also have a great selection of burritos that can easily be transported and consumed on a beach or trail (just keep track of your trash). Their salad or tacos – especially the chipotle shrimp tacos – are also on point. If you want something unique, hit up their torta burger – a mixture of beef and chorizo patty with all kinds of flavor fireworks.

Aperitifs and Appetizers: Pioneer Cocktail Club (Tahoe City)

The best part about this suggestion is that it’s right across the street from the dinner recommendation. But if you’re starting here, then the drinks take center stage. Each one is expertly crafted and effortlessly delicious.

Yes, you can go classic and they’ll have you covered, but if you want to go outside the box try and try something with a twist: the Oaxacan old fashioned. A blend of mescal, chocolate bitters, and orange might have you rethinking what an old fashioned can be.

They have a great selection of pizzas, but if focused on the smaller plates, we have to mention the Vietnamese lemongrass chicken wings and that damn chips and dip (yes, that’s actually what it’s called). Hand sliced potato chips tossed in a combination of salt and jalapeno powder and served with a side of fancy ranch, you might want to take it easy on these if planning for a big dinner.

The Dinner Dojo: Christy Hill (Tahoe City)

Sporting one of the best lake-view decks, Christy Hill is one of the premiere modern American dining establishments in Tahoe. Catching a sunset while enjoying fresh and seasonal fare is what makes a Christy Hill experience so unique.

An extensive wine list makes it so you can find the perfect pairing with any dish you choose. So if you prefer a white wine to start, you may want to pair that with their grilled octopus, which gives you fennel and fine herbs in a tomato saffron broth. If you start drooling now, I’ll understand.

Or, if you want something deeper and richer to pair with a hearty red, you might turn to the Madeira braised rabbit. Served with fresh pappardelle pasta, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, picholine olives, and a natural jus. If that doesn’t whet your whistle, go with one of my favorites: pan roasted Alaskan halibut.

Starting Point: Truckee (heading south via west shore)

Morning Fuel: Squeeze In

With a hole-in-the-wall hippie vibe, the O.G. location opened in Truckee in 1974. Local, fresh ingredients are paired with large comfort food portions, making this place a great option to start your day. The food is fun and the atmosphere matches.

You can try a peanut butter omelet (weird, yes – delicious, also yes), or their number one selling omelet, the Racy Tracy, which battled Bobby Flay in “Throwdown” and features sautéed mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, Monterey Jack cheese and avocado.

If you need a little hair of the dog, their Hail Mary signature Bloody Mary is a full liter (a.k.a. insanely large) and is topped with strips of bacon and a garlic bread grilled cheese. Yes, you need to try.

Tahoe Tavern’s Jay’s Cubano. (Rob Galloway
Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Mid-Day Munchies: Tahoe Tavern & Grill (Stateline)

One of the newer restaurants on the south shore tucked away outside the casino corridor and up Kingsbury Grade. Creative appetizers like popcorn cauliflower dredged in amber beer batter, flash fried, and tossed in a sweet hot cause are what makes this place unique. Speaking of apps, I have to mention the gumbo poutine – you’re welcome.

As a lunch destination, they have everything from pizzas to salads to larger plates like amber braised beef short ribs and brick fired flat iron steak. But, for me, the best part about this place in between two buns. Whether a burger or a sandwich, they have some of the best in the basin. My favorite? Jay’s Cubano.

Starting with a supremely braised slice of juicy ham steak, it’s hammed up to DEFCON 1 by adding another layer of smoky pulled pork then topped with melted aged Swiss. The spicy honey mustard (yes, they make their own mustard) and crunchy zing from the pickles sends it directly over Mt. Tallac.

Aperitifs & Appetizers: Bite (Incline Village)

Just like the name might suggest, the love for Spanish tapas is what drove this restaurant to open in 2007. That love of sharing food and getting a bite of this and a bite of that, along with specialty cocktails from a fully stocked bar, make for a great option to start your evening.

Small plate favorites include bacon-wrapped dates w/blue cheese, Spanish piquillo peppers piped with goat cheese and herbs, and lobster sliders. Yes, lobster sliders. It’s poached in butter with crispy bacon and served with slow roasted tomatoes and lettuce for a decadent dish that you might want to order a second round of.

On the drink front, their dire wolf is something they cannot take off the menu due to its popularity. Bourbon, allspice liqueur, apricot liqueur, Amaro, fresh lemon, and mint is the lineup that continues to crush. The bar carries a lot of specialty liqueurs and focuses on making all the classic drinks correctly with great ingredients. They also carry a substantial mix of old and new world wines.

The Dinner Dojo: Moody’s Bistro (Truckee)

Open since 2002, Moody’s serves up from-scratch California cuisine (with a dash of France) to give you an urban restaurant in a mountain environment. There are over 100 whiskeys to keep you rolling and feature classic cocktails with new twists.

Everything from their pasta dough to their duck pate is made in-house. They hand grind their own meat for their burgers (a mixture of brisket and chuck) and are even cranking out their own buns.

Their hanger steak frites has been on their menu since they opened — served with hand-cut (of course they are) Kennebec fries and béarnaise. In addition, you can enjoy tomahawk pork chops, aged rib eyes, or special in the summer, they have a commercial fishing connection that brings them fresh salmon out of Bodega Bay — but you have to catch it at the right time because they go quick.

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