Smokey’s Kitchen: Family cookin’ and comforts in Truckee |

Smokey’s Kitchen: Family cookin’ and comforts in Truckee

Ashley A. Cooper
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Smokey's Kitchen in Truckee keeps all their bases covered with selection of delicious barbecue.
Ashley A. Cooper | Lake Tahoe Action

If you go

What: Smokey’s Kitchen

Where: 12036 Donner Pass Road, Truckee

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days. Call ahead.

Phone: 530-582-4535


Atmosphere: Laid back. Go with the family (there’s a toy chest that the Lathburys and local kids donate to), with groups or for sports games. During football enjoy the wing specials.

Drinks and wine: Wine, beer and bloody marys. Milk shakes for the kids.

Price: $$

Wheelchair accessible

It’s a beautiful Sunday in Truckee, and the day’s namesake is high in the sky at Donner Lake. A growler of St. James’ double IPA sloshes in our tummies. Between three friends we throw the ball, and the ever-present question, around: where should we eat?

The air is warm and legs are bare. A full week of work looms on the horizon, and we refuse to shut ourselves indoors. My suggestion of Smokey’s Kitchen meets no resistance.

A quick bike ride away, we sit beneath an outdoor umbrella as my beer-pitcher-ordering pals covet my bloody mary. Beads of sweat slide down its side as it flaunts an agave and bacon crumble rim, veggie accoutrements and one perfect slice of bacon reclined across its mouth. The beverage is a preview of everything we’ll try: thick, sweet and a little spicy.

Mike Lathbury, Smokey’s owner and head chef, himself delivers our two orders of barbecue and one very hedonistic salad. All of the meats and fish are cut by Mike and loaded up on the hardwood hickory smoker in the back several times a day, seven days a week. The smoker fits 1,000 pounds of meat on 15 rotating racks and can fit three full pigs. The thing had to be loaded with a crane. To complete the audacious, smokey meat, Mike makes all of his sauces from scratch. Just like everything on the menu.

We share the pork ribs (the beef ribs were already gone), the beef brisket, the pulled chicken and pulled pork. The portions are huge and each of the meats is tender and flavorful. There are many delicious sides (cowboy beans, mac’n cheese, slaw), and the hunk of cornbread with honey butter is the perfect vessel on which to pile pulled meat.

I favor the spicy buffalo wings. Smokey’s thick sauce perfectly ignites sweet with spice that your mouth won’t soon forget. Don’t be scared though, it doesn’t burn.

Days later and the barebcue cobb salad still flirts with my every hungry moment. Heaps of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and avocado lay a fresh and nutritional foundation. Crumbles of blue cheese melt into tender beef brisket, and bacon and tortilla strips make for an irresistible crunch. Where a creamy dressing would have tipped the scales to unhealthy, the blue cheese vinaigrette is light enough to kid yourself. As a late dinner, indulge guilt-free. For less gluttonous vegetarian cravings, Smokey’s salads are popular, including a Caesar and spinach you can top with blackened salmon.

The next day I come back to interview the man behind the Kitchen. A dishwasher at 14 with culinary school at Rhode Island’s Johnson and Wales, Mike’s been in the restaurant industry nearly his whole life.

When he first started coming to Lake Tahoe about 30 years ago, Smokey’s Kitchen was in Squaw Valley. After changing owners several time, it closed. In the 1990s, he reopened it under the same name, but with his own recipes. Soon after, he moved it to Truckee.

Mike also owns High Pointe Event Catering, which keeps him running rampant all summer. With endless weddings, corporate events, reunions and more, you’re lucky if you can get on his very booked schedule. His repertoire is vast and his menus wide-ranging and creative.

During the busy summers Smokey’s relies on Tyrel Lathbury, Mike’s wife; Kinsey, their 10-year-old daughter and Lui, their 9-year-old son. Kinsey, an aspiring chef, is the charming register girl and loves the busy days. She also cooks eggs, bakes and pours out the Kinsey Special: a soft-serve cone filled with chocolate or caramel. When asked what type of chef she wants to be, Kinsey said, “the boss chef.”

Kinsey’s favorites at Smokey’s Kitchen are the mac’n cheese and the barbecue salmon. Although he’s not one to play food favorites, Mike looks forward to Friday and Saturday for the smoked prime rib special. What is the most ordered item?

“The dinosaur bones,” Kinsey says. You’ll just have to ask.

Ashley A. Cooper is a freelance writer residing in Truckee. She can be reached at

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