I've written about my family's love affair with Lake Tahoe, and if you missed the history and want to see some bad, old pictures, click here. Otherwise, we're going to move right past the big hair, nostalgia, and get directly to my favorite Lake Tahoe restaurants.
Lake Tahoe is a very seasonal location. Because of this, many restaurants pay the price and fold under the weight of a winter with or without enough snow. I always hold my breath when I go to Tahoe every summer, my favorite time of year up there, to see if some of my favorites restaurants are still open. I was very sad to see Dragonfly in Truckee close this year. Where oh where will I get that fabulous sweet and sour eggplant dip? Luckily with closings, come openings. So here's a quick look at the current lay of the land and some of my favorite Lake Tahoe restaurants.
Marg's World Taco Bistro
Marg's tried to help console me after Dragonfly closed. It's a new, fun and festival taco slinging locale with a large bar and tasty margaritas. They have an extremely inventive menu of tacos filled with ingredients like philly steak, Banh Mi and Korean Pork. They arrive nicely displayed, wrapped like a great Mexican present. Some deliver, some just look pretty, but have another margarita. Life is good.
Truckee Tavern went into my beloved Dragonfly space. If you're able to snag a coveted seat on the second floor outside patio, you'll be rewarded with lovely Lake Tahoe views. You might even get to see a train going by. The Truckee Tavern leans a bit more upscale with a wood-fired grill, serving up heartier entrees like pork chops, rib eye and buffalo tri tip. Most of those menu items hover around the $30 mark. I had a perfectly cooked crisp on the outside and tender on the inside salmon, served over white beans, arugula, olives, tomato and fennel. There's also interesting salads and pickled vegetables if you want to stay healthier.
Pianeta has been a mainstay in Truckee, at least in Tahoe restaurant terms, for many years, but we had never made it there until this last visit. The happy hour crowd lines up at 5pm when the doors open for food and drink specials. The pasta heavy menu has the usual suspects. Most are made in house and taste just fine. Yes, fine. The antipasto platter was a nice start and I like that they have wine by the half bottle - so you can have red AND white, of course.
My family only recently discovered Trokay and we were more than pleasantly surprised at the high quality of fare they were serving. I wrote a whole post about my meal there which you can read here. Suffice it to say, if you're looking for a high-end, gourmet dining experience in Lake Tahoe, then you need to check out Restaurant Trokay.
It had been a while since we visited Christy Hill and we were due for another visit. It has one of the best lake views, assuming you want to dine with a cloth napkin in your lap, instead of a paper one. They boast seasonal, sustainable and locally sourced food, which is always a winner in my book. You'll find small plates like a unique hamachi tartare with celery root, apple, radish, pine nuts, mint and truffled vinaigrette and a nice poached squid with tomatoes, chickpeas, celery and frisee. The mains ranged from over-cooked halibut and lamb to a fantastic duet of duck, which included juicy, flavorful duck breast and duck confit.
Wolfdale's is probably our favorite restaurant in Tahoe City. It's been around since 1978 and also has a nice lake view, though is set further up than Christy Hill. You would be happy just eating from their Teaser and Small Plate menu with fabulous Hawaiian ahi poke cones, smoked trout, lettuce wraps or go all in with some delectable truffle fries. There's more Asian influences with the entrees like Asian short ribs or Kao Soi Seafood Stew. It's been consistent for a long time and is worth the Tahoe City traffic to dine here.
Jack Rabbit Moon
My dad and I finally got around to eating at Jack Rabbit Moon in Incline just this year. It moved locations and kept odd hours for a little while, but this year, they're open six days a week and ready for business. The chef comes from San Francisco and has a playful spirit as you can see in many of her dishes. I had a foie gras stuffed chicken sausage over morrels that was just heavenly. My pan roasted trout on a heavy veggie ratatouille was the perfect mix of textures and flavors. My dad loved his duck confit with an apricot panzanella salad. Jack Rabbit Moon may have moved to the number one restaurant in Incline Village for us.
Big Water Grill
Big Water Grill, or BWG as we've nicknamed it, has been a solid, nicer restaurant since it opened. Set up top a hill, it provides beautiful forest and lake views. With high ceilings and white tablecloths, it's a nice place to spend a romantic night over drinks and a nice meal. Expect well-cooked meat and seafood in an upscale setting.
Bite American Tapas
Bite came onto the Incline Village Restaurant scene a few years ago, and when I popped in without a reservation last week, they kindly told me it would be a 90 minute wait. Sounds like things are going well with this tapas new comer. What's not to like with small plates like bacon wrapped dates, sliders, Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs and fish tacos.
Austin's is a tried and true lunch spot with a dozen large salads to make you feel virtuous, but then you have to get the buttermilk fries with ranch dipping sauce so it's probably a wash. Chinese chicken salad, taco or a new beet and couscous salad are all crowd pleasers, along with the outdoor tables where you can sit after a long walk or bike ride along Lakeshore Drive.
There are many places to get tacos and Mexican food in Lake Tahoe. I mentioned Marg's above, but there's also Caliente in Kings Beach. It's great for a group with its nice roof top deck, but with no real view, except for the street. The guac is great, as are the chips. The mains are nothing to write home about, but if you have enough of their killer margaritas, you won't notice.
The taco place we've been going to since we were children, is Jimboy's Tacos. Gourmet? Oh no. Delicious? Oh yes. Jimboy's has been making tacos for over 60 years. Their secret ingredient is the corn tortilla that is encased with parmesan cheese, and then of course there's more gooey cheese inside on top of spiced ground beef and lettuce. You will leave with a line of orange grease from your hands to your elbow, but you will leave very happy. And you will count the days until you can return to Lake Tahoe to start eating all over again.