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At some Lake Tahoe restaurants, the meals must compete with the scenery.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (all)
It’s no secret among diners that a fantastic atmosphere can elevate a good meal to great and an excellent one to sublime. And that’s never truer than when dining in the company of Lake Tahoe’s azure expanse and emerald mountain rim.
Whether you crave simple, hearty pub grub after a hard day on the trails or a refined gustatory adventure, Tahoe’s chefs have a plate for you. The restaurateurs here aren’t shy about exploiting nature’s beauty to showcase their culinary work.
Incline Village resident Tom Hill likes to fire up his Sea Ray S21 powerboat on warm summer evenings for a “Wet Woody run” to Gar Woods Grill and Pier at Carnelian Bay (a Wet Woody is Gar Woods’ signature blended drink). The restaurant provides a complimentary dockside boat valet. “It’s convenient to all the north shore boat ramps,” Hill says. “They have a great deck for viewing the lake and sunsets. You can see the full length of the lake, all the way to Heavenly [Mountain Resort].”
Crab cakes, mahi-mahi fish tacos, and sliders are among the bar offerings, and the staff is happy to serve something from the dining room menus as well. The dinner menu presents such savory and inventive dishes as orange-soy glazed ahi, jerk-rubbed pork tenderloin, and wasabi-macadamia nut scallops.
Gar Woods draws a boisterous, diverse crowd of everyone from young singles to families to locals, and the party vibe provides a celebratory ending to an active day. As for consuming more than one Wet Woody, Hill advises a certain amount of caution: “Be careful—they slip down very easily.” After enjoying Gar Woods’ lakeside panorama, consider a stroll to the Sierra Boat Company’s marina next door to check out the classic, richly restored wooden boats moored there.
Just to the south of Gar Woods in Tahoe City is Sunnyside Steakhouse and Lodge, which local resident Margie Reynolds recommends as “probably the best place on the lake to watch a full moon rise.” The half-century-old rustic lakeside lodge offers two menus, the semi-casual Mountain Grill and the more formal Lakeside Dining Room, giving patrons choices ranging from mahi-mahi fish tacos to blackened ribeye or herb-roasted Kurobuta pork chop with pomegranate and dry cherry chutney. “It has a fantastic outdoor bar in the summertime, too,” Reynolds says.
Across the water in Incline Village, you’ll find Big Water Grille. Perched on a pine-covered hillside just below Diamond Peak Ski Resort, Big Water is one of Tahoe’s best spots to sample high-end Pacific fusion cuisine while watching the setting sun’s glow fade behind the peaks above the west shore. The view makes it a popular wedding destination as well. Executive Chef Jay Veregge changes his menus seasonally, but past offerings include entrées such as a Kabuto Pork Porterhouse with wilted wild frisée, roasted dry mission figs, crispy onion rings, and black pepper-white truffle demi sec. Big Water’s multilevel dining room complements its sophisticated cuisine, outfitted in minimalist décor with copious windows to pull in the view. But on summer evenings it’s even more pleasant to take in the scenery from the heated outdoor terrace, grazing over a salad or appetizer such as sautéed soft shell crab with Thai-style curry.
An equally fine culinary experience awaits not far away at Incline Village’s Lone Eagle Grille, an outpost of the Hyatt Regency Resort (across the street) with an intimate view of the beach. Consider a summer lunch on the breezy, glass-shielded outdoor patio as swimmers romp in the waves and the hotel’s huge catamaran (and other water craft) come and go from its private dock.
Lunch can be as airy or substantial as you want: from the Seafood Trio (a beautifully composed appetizer of seared ahi, a seared scallop with micro greens and extra virgin olive oil, and a crisp tempura shrimp with avocado salsa), to a smoked salmon and chive goat cheese pizza.
The waitstaff is happy to recommend a wine to round out the midday meal. And for future reference, if you ever find yourself stranded at North Lake Tahoe in a snowstorm, few experiences are as divine as watching the white stuff disappear into the icy black lake from Lone Eagle’s grand-scale, wood-and-leather-intensive dining room, bookended by two enormous wood-burning fireplaces.
Looking for something a bit more casual? Across the lake to the southwest you’ll find The Beacon Bar and Grill, a waterfront restaurant that’s part of the resort at Camp Richardson. Here you’ll find creative cuisine with a laid-back vibe. Exhausted backcountry warriors can saunter in and find comfort after an epic trek up Mount Tallac.
The lunch and bar menus offer restorative post-exertion pub chow such as grilled shrimp tacos, fish and chips, ribs, and a variety of gourmet burgers and pastas. Those looking for fancier fare will find it on the dinner menu, with entrées such as rack of lamb with a pomegranate reduction and garlic mashed potatoes and seared scallops with sun-dried tomato risotto cakes and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus.
While downing your Rum Runner (one of the south shore’s signature drinks), you can watch boats and jet skis come and go from the nearby marina as sunbathers soak up the last rays of the day. The Beacon’s best feature, though, is an outdoor deck that puts diners almost on the beach itself. Live music Wednesday to Sunday during the summer adds a festive vibe. “You could literally hop the rail and be on the beach,” says Jay Cirillo, a frequent visitor from the Bay Area. “On a warm day I’ve been tempted to jump in for a swim. Especially when there’s a good band and maybe you’ve got your boogie on.
The Beacon Bar & Grill
1900 Jameson Beach Rd.,
South Lake Tahoe
Big Water Grille
341 Ski Way, Incline Village
Gar Woods Grill & Pier
5000 N. Lake Blvd., Carnelian Bay