Six new Tahoe-Truckee restaurants not to miss this summer
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in 2015 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine, a product of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Reno-Truckee-Tahoe region, so be sure to pick up a copy for your go-to guide to enjoying summer at America’s greatest playground.
The thrilling adventure and mellow living of Lake Tahoe attracts people of passion, creativity and drive, and the region’s prospering restaurant industry reflects the unique stories of old and new settlers alike.
Our nationally and internationally trained chefs, skilled barmen and fervent proprietors draw visitors off the mountain and out of the waters to indulge in distinctive atmosphere and accomplished gastronomy.
Of course, Tahoe and Truckee boast landmark establishments that will continue to lure their patrons back time and time again, only to send them home with another memorable culinary experience. In fact, many of the people who help make these landmarks great have gone on to open the restaurants on this list of nearly new dining spots, while still others are brand new, at least to us.
All of them are worth checking out as you eat your way from south to north around the lake and down the river.
Restaurant: Azul Latin Kitchen
Location: 1001 Heavenly Village Way, South Lake Tahoe, in Heavenly Village
Visit South Lake Tahoe often and you’ve probably already indulged in one of Chef Mark Vaccaro’s innovative culinary creations at Base Camp Pizza Co. If not, add that to your list. The head chef and part owner returned from a 20-month world tour with a sharpened skill set and plenty of inspiration, which he promptly poured into both restaurants with bold experiments of international flavors.
Azul Latin Kitchen recreates the traditional fares of Mexico, Central and South America into a unique gastronomical experience by utilizing light and refreshing ingredients and the techniques of many cultures.
Before daybreak, fresh homemade sauces, salsas and meats are already cooking, and the results are well worth the effort. A nacho mole thickened with plantains, beef cooked in banana leaves and a Malaysian-Thai chicken curry reduction all play together in an impossibly perfect fusion of Asian and Latin-American cuisine.
“During colonization, a lot of the world’s best spices, like cumin and coriander, were adopted and shared by cultures all over, except by us,” says Mark.
He’s seeing to it that dishes like the Lomo Saltado Bowl and the Sonoma Goat Cheese and Sweet Potato Flauta are putting an end to that nonsense. Settle into a comfy booth to enjoy the funky atmosphere with a fresh juice craft cocktail, and feast on imaginative tacos and tantalizing bowls.
Restaurant: Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery
Location: 1001 Heavenly Village Way, South Lake Tahoe, in Heavenly Village
Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery is Alex Cox’s relatively recent venture following the success of Squaw’s Bistro 22. Situated beneath the gondola line with stunning views of the mountains, Gunbarrel’s large outdoor patio hosts live music and a hip social vibe. As the temperatures dip down, gather around big fire pits with a cayenne-sugar rimmed Whiskylicious Martini or a hot signature drink and shared plates.
The Old West-inspired barroom is lined with long, wooden tables knotted with character, rusted metal accents and a mural nodding to that bygone era. While the vibe is Wild West, the food is New American and there’s something for everyone.
Start with the Crispy Pork Belly appetizer with Brussels sprouts and pink lady applesauce, the Wild Boar Chili or the Signature Nachos. Meat eaters love the Durham Ranch Bison Burger and the juicy free-range PBR Beer Can Chicken, with toasted faro, mushrooms and roasted chicken jus.
For a decadent vegetarian comfort dish, try the Brie Grilled Cheese with arugula, tomato, caramelized onion and balsamic glaze on sourdough bread with house-seasoned chips.
Restaurant: Koi Sushi
Location: 874 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village, in Christmas Tree Village
Barely a beat passed before Koi Sushi swept in where Yoshimo Sushi left off. Located in the same space in Christmas Tree Village, Koi plates up decadent rolls, udon noodle bowls, teriyaki plates, salads and soups.
Koi is owned by a quiet couple who’s looking more to serve than be celebrated, and you can find them working both the front of the house and the sushi line.
While Koi has lunch specials and cooked entrees, it’s their $29 all you can eat that’s getting traction. Devour appetizers like the briney and sweet baked mussels, gyoza, edamame and giant tempura veggies before moving on to a page full of nigiri, maki and cooked and vegetarian rolls heaping with crab and wrapped up with fresh mango. Try the Carlos, High Roller and Mona Lisa Rolls while sipping sake out of unique clay cups.
Reserve a table if you have a big group because Koi’s busy on weekends and peak seasons. Even with the eager patrons and loud pop music, though, Koi is thoughtfully laid out with bamboo planters, creating intimacy between each of the private tables. The atmosphere is nothing if not fun, with beautiful, colored lanterns, cherry blossoms and painted flags.
Restaurant: Moe’s Original BBQ
Location: 120 Grove Street, Tahoe City, above Tahoe City Marina
A revival of southern soul food with good music and a laid-back atmosphere, Moe’s has become an instant favorite. Eric Pilcher, Josh Wallick and Luke Dannals opened the first Moe’s waterfront restaurant (there are 30 other “friendchise” locations) with a second-floor venue that rocks the music scene and is already nearly booked for summer private events.
Ski bums chasing the dream, these humble gentlemen can be found on the line cooking and having fun. Josh says, “Everything is made with our hands fresh every day, and we love doing it.” And you’ll love eating it. Tuscaloosa, Alabama-style roasting brings out the meat’s natural flavor, which they merely drizzle with homemade sauces and no apologies.
“We think they’re good just like that, no need to overdo the sauce,” says Josh. “We want you to taste the meat.”
When the meat is so perfectly tender, it is easy to see why. The ribs will make your eyes roll back, as will the pulled pork — make sure to get it ‘Bama Style. For the seafood lover, try the Gulf Coast-inspired blackened mahi-mahi and the Shrimp Mo-Boy. With changing sides like collard greens, jambalaya, succotash and more, vegetarians love the “Sides Platter” with three sides, plus a giant slice of jalapeno corn bread.
Restaurant: Pizza Bar
Location: 10164 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, in Brickelltown district
Pizza Bar, the little sister of Marg’s Taco Bistro, is Big Eats Restaurant Group’s second recent addition to the Truckee dining scene. Pizza Bar serves up Neapolitan-style pizza that blends authentic Italian and fresh local ingredients to create a California twist on Old Country pie.
The magic happens in an open kitchen where flour is kneaded by a two-armed dough mixer and hand stretched to order. Before tossing it into the stone oven, it’s slathered with basil pesto, white sauce or marinara and topped with everything from in-house braised pork to butternut squash to make fresh and delicious, if not always expected, pizza pies.
“The menu is designed to be shared. Whereas one hungry person can eat a whole pie and probably some garlic knots, a group or a couple can come in and enjoy a traditional three-course meal,” says Doug Caveney, general manager and part owner.
To pair with your meal, Pizza Bar offers 12 seasonal draft wines, 16 beer taps and craft cocktails with house-made simple syrups and purees, as well as in-house, barrel-aged Jack Daniels. Eat leisurely in the contemporary casual interior or out on the large patio for great people watching.
Restaurant: Truckee Tavern and Grill
Location: 10118 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, in historic downtown
In the center of historic downtown, Truckee Tavern and Grill was much anticipated. The humble gentlemen behind its doors are some longtime local favorites: co-owners Ryan Dierks and Chris St. Martin, and Executive Chef Donavon Webb. All three worked together at beloved Cottonwood and have moved on to build, by hand, their dream restaurant.
Dimly lit, the dark wood, copper tables and dainty flower vases put you in the mood to be present, speak slowly and sip decadently crafted cocktails. In honor of Truckee’s prohibition days, “when the hillsides were painted with distillery fires,” as Chris poetically promotes, the spirits list centers on whiskey and gin. Using fresh herbs and juices, Ryan artfully concocts libations with names of 1920s and ‘30s movies and their stars and serves them in gorgeous glassware.
The menu focuses on high-quality meats simply prepared on a custom wood-fire grill. Plated in large portions, the meats, well-executed sides and appetizing starters inspire patrons to share and be social. Start with the Charcuterie plate and the incomparable Brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds, sliced apples, walnuts and balsamic vinegar. For mains, the organic roasted chicken is divine, and, of course, try the 16 oz. rib eye. Vegetarians aren’t left wanting with fresh-made linguini and seasonal vegetables.