True Blue

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Eat & Drink

Beach House serves barbecue with a view on South Shore. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Beach House Bar-B-Que

Texas may not be known for its beaches, but Aaron and Janie Evans decided to import some Texas-style barbecue to this secluded, scenic beachfront eatery on Tahoe’s South Shore, and the result is some outstanding ’cue with a view. In May, the couple took over the former Lakeside Beach Grill spot just off Highway 50 near Stateline, and began serving up authentic Texas barbecue, including ribs and brisket smoked fresh daily at their Hog Wild Bar-B-Que restaurant in Placerville—Janie’s hometown. Aaron, the “pit master” for both places, previously spent 16 years at Dallas’ celebrated Eddie Deen & Company, which has catered inaugural balls for such Lone Star State luminaries as Rick Perry and George W. Bush (both as governor and president). The couple, who wed in Tahoe, now deliver smoked meats—the brisket is our favorite—every morning to their open-air lakeside restaurant (we recommend dining at sunset), which also welcomes vegetarians with a hearty, barbecue-seasoned grilled portobello mushroom sandwich. If you’d rather just picnic by the lake, Beach House opened a concession window in late June where you can grab brisket tacos and other portable culinary treats. 4081 Lakeshore Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-544-4050.

The Old Post Office Cafe

Eat like a local at this tiny gem in Carnelian Bay, which was converted nearly 40 years ago from a decommissioned post office to what has become a North Shore institution. Grab a seat in the dining room whose design elements (such as postage-stamp wallpaper, American-flag bunting, a wooden bear carving, vintage photos and a very insistent “No Cell Phones” sign) are as busy as its crowded tables, where early birds flock for breakfast treats like the savory crab cake Benedict. Better still, if you’re looking to fuel up after a morning hike, sit on the sunny enclosed patio and tuck into lunch delights like the Carnelian Beef sandwich—a hot, gooey bit of decadence blending roast beef, tomato, mushrooms, onions and jack cheese best enjoyed alongside one of the cafe’s freshly made soups of the day. With a complimentary Red Vine on your way out, every bite of this erstwhile mail stop delivers. 5245 North Lake Blvd. Carnelian Bay. 530-546-3205

Riva Grill’s famous rum-based Wet Woody cocktail (Photo by Nina Miller/Focus Photo Tahoe)Riva Grill

The wooden Riva “runabout” boats that grace Tahoe’s waters inspired this Ski Run Marina restaurant’s name and décor—the host stand is even made of the front of a wooden yacht—as well as its famous “Wet Woody” cocktail, a frozen rum drink made with cranberry, orange and pineapple juices. On Wet Woody Wednesdays through the end of September, you can order one for about half off the regular price; enjoy it this summer on the spacious waterfront deck—which seats 250—or inside the two-story eatery with the popular fish tacos (featuring grilled or blackened snapper with apple-jicama slaw served in warm corn tortillas) or the bacon-wrapped filet mignon with Point Reyes blue cheese butter. 900 Ski Run Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-542-2600.

The Pfeifer House

For some, Lake Tahoe’s forested shores and soaring, picturesque peaks bring to mind the storied Swiss Alps. So if those similarities have you craving authentic Teutonic fare like jägerschnitzel, bratwurst and sauerbraten, head to The Pfeifer House in Tahoe City, which was founded by a transplanted German couple in 1954 and now stands as one of the town’s longest-running eateries. Over the decades, the eatery’s décor—replete with whimsical touches like cuckoo clocks, beer steins and mounted old-fashioned skis—has hardly changed, creating the perfect old-world setting to settle in for a Continental feast of hearty standbys and specialties like German meatballs in a creamy caper sauce and cinnamony Bavarian apple strudel. 760 River Rd. Tahoe City. 530-583-3102.

Mellow Fellow

Located on the state line in Kings Beach, this gastropub is chill like California and quirky like Nevada, boasting a whopping 40 American craft brews and ciders on tap. You might spot some Sacramento favorites in that rotating lineup, like the Hoptologist DIPA from Auburn’s Knee Deep Brewing Co., as well as local standbys like Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company’s barrel-aged sours. The sophisticated menu offers artisan cheese boards, Niman Ranch pulled pork grilled cheese and locally made sausages in rotating varieties on Truckee Sourdough Company pretzel buns—all of which guests can enjoy at communal picnic tables on the patio, where you can try your hand at giant Jenga or cornhole (a beanbag-toss lawn game). Mellow Fellow’s owners opened a second location in downtown Truckee last year, perfect for chilling out before heading back to Sacramento after your Tahoe stay. Kings Beach (9980 North Lake Blvd.; 530-553-1333) or Truckee (10192 Donner Pass Rd.; 530-214-8927).

Café Fiore

Get ready to be truly wined and dined—in equally exceptional measure—at this cozy, closet-sized Italian eatery that’s so romantic, it was featured in the book Best Places to Kiss in Northern California. Inside a wood-framed chalet with just seven lamplit tables (during summer, it expands to 13 with the outdoor patio), Café Fiore—which serves dinner only—impresses with an extensive list of over 300 wines that is expertly curated by the restaurant’s owners Nick and Shandi Ashmore and has earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 1992. It also indulges with a menu of rich dishes—such as eggplant crepes stuffed with smoked salmon and served with sherry cream and sun-dried tomato sauce, and beef tenderloin in Barolo wine sauce—created by chef Gilberto Ramos, who also crafted the mosaic made of more than 1,000 corks in the dining room. Don’t leave without dipping your spoon into the decadent white chocolate ice cream, made in-house daily. Trust us, sharing an order of the cafe’s signature dessert will guarantee that your night, like that of so many diners before you, will be sealed with a kiss. 1169 Ski Run Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-541-2908.

Fire Sign Cafe’s signature Cape Cod Benedict with house-smoked salmon and sautéed spinach (Photo by Jeremy Sykes) 

Fire Sign Cafe

Touted by foodies like Rachael Ray and insiders like Travel & Leisure magazine, this North Shore breakfast fave has been luring locals and tourists alike since it opened in the late 1970s. You can’t go wrong ordering dishes straight from the menu, like the popular fluffy, plate-sized blueberry waffles or the Cape Cod Benedict with house-smoked salmon and sautéed spinach, but Fire Sign is perhaps best known for letting its patrons customize their orders. Want a veggie omelet with bacon? Sure thing. How about chips and made-from-scratch salsa instead of hash browns? Not a problem. To elevate the huevos rancheros, a signature dish from veteran chef Gumaro Martinez, we suggest adding his addictive homemade chorizo. Weekend waits can be lengthy, so arrive early or sleep in (you can get breakfast here until closing time at 3 p.m.)—and save room for that warm mixed berry cobbler. 1785 West Lake Blvd. Tahoe City. 530-583-0871.

Truckee River Winery

The unique conditions at this 25-year-old winery—where barrels of vino age at temperatures that can dip as low as 30 degrees below zero in its signature red barn situated 5,800 feet above sea level—dramatically slow down fermentation, thus smoothing and softening the flavor profiles of picnic-ready wines like Truckee River’s signature Old Vine Lodi zinfandel and Chalk Hill malbec. The winery sells these and other varieties amid fresh-made paninis, tapas, charcuterie and more provisions in its tasting room, which doubles as a buzzing, boisterous hub for bocce players as summer warms the valley. While you’re there, ask to see founder (and UC Davis enology and viticulture graduate) Russ Jones’ mini vineyard featuring grapes developed to withstand cold climates and check out the fruits of his labor. 11467 Brockway Rd. Truckee. 530-587-4626.

Red Hut Café

Located in the heart of the South Shore’s bustling restaurant row, the Red Hut Café has been dishing out hearty, unfussy fare in the same tiny red-and-white building since 1959. And while it may have sprouted a small chain of casual diners and soda fountains in the area (including one just up the street), there’s no substitute for the original, a Tahoe institution that boasts a vast and affordable array of filling options, from the classic (like banana pancakes or biscuits and gravy) to the funky (like a pancake sandwich with an egg and bacon or sausage served between two fluffy flapjacks). Hot hut tip: The seasonal influx of hikers, bikers, boaters and tourists can often fill up the 40-seat eatery by 9 a.m., so drop in early to avoid the long wait for your cafe fix. 2749 Lake Tahoe Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-541-9024.

T’s Mesquite Rotisserie

Think of this Mexican barbecue spot in Incline Village as slow fast food. The service is quick and the location—beside a 7-Eleven and a movie theater—is casual, but its rotisseries spin mouthwatering marinated chicken, tri-tip and pork over flames and mesquite wood for hours. Chuck and Terri Swing opened the restaurant in 1991, and nowadays you can often find their son Jamie behind the counter. Regulars know to order the soy lime chicken tacos with extra homemade green salsa and a side of marinated cucumber salad (a family recipe from Chuck’s grandmother), and while portions are large enough to satiate an active day on the lake, the popular 8-inch tri-tip burrito will only set you back $6.73. But be advised that T’s is cash only, so that 7-Eleven next door might come in handy if you need an ATM. 901 Tahoe Blvd. Incline Village. 775-831-2832

The small plate of jerk prawns and jicama slaw at Bite American Tapas delivers big flavor. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Bite American Tapas

Half neighborhood comfort food joint and half cool urbane hideaway, Bite brings the best of Tahoe’s down-to-earth panache to a spectrum of small, sophisticated plates. Couples with cocktails settle into the sleek bar area as families and groups pack the busy dining room, all reveling in marvels like the creamy white bean dip (served with grilled bread and fresh-peeled carrots), jerk prawns around a zesty nest of jicama slaw, and the otherworldly grilled ahi sliders, featuring two slices of refreshing ahi topped with crisp arugula and a roll layered with wasabi ginger aioli. Patient diners can look forward to the Andouille sausage and shrimp gumbo, which the kitchen cooks to order one piping-hot bowl at a time. The spicy, meaty mélange is well worth the wait—and if you’re not tempted to keep it all to yourself, Bite will split the order into two bowls upon request. Sharing never tasted better. 907 Tahoe Blvd. Incline Village. 775-831-1000.

The Cork & More

With its bevy of beautiful beaches, Tahoe is the picture-perfect place for a summer picnic, and for us, there’s no better spot than The Cork & More to plan one. Start at the front of this foodie’s paradise—which, on our first visit, instantly reminded us of a mini Corti Brothers—and choose from a deep selection of gourmet cheeses like Roquefort and Humboldt Fog, then move over to your left to peruse the 600 different wines (owners Jim and Kim Warlow focus on smaller, lesser-known producers like Italy’s Terlano and California’s Belle Glos). If beer’s more your picnic drink of choice, the South Shore grocer also carries an impressive selection, including a few familiar labels like Sacramento’s Ruhstaller and Rocklin’s Out of Bounds (those longing for a taste of home will also delight at the sight of truffles from Arden-Arcade-based Le Grand Confectionary at the chocolate counter). Finally, in the back deli, stock up on sandwiches like the Englishman (Niman Ranch roast beef, horseradish and cheddar) and sides like broccoli slaw and rosemary grilled squash. Now you just need a picnic blanket and a big appetite, and you’ll be all set for the best takeout meal under the sun. 1032 Al Tahoe Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-544-5253.

The Brewery at Lake Tahoe

If kicking back with a hometown brew sounds like a sip of heaven, then this South Shore watering hole and restaurant will hit the spot after a long day on the trails or even as a day-trip destination by itself. But you don’t need to drink beer to get the most from this hops haven, where the brewery’s signature Bad Ass Ale—a malty, heavy-duty red that weighs in at 9.2% ABV—goes into everything from pint glasses to pizza. The latter is some of the best and most adventurous in the Tahoe region—don’t miss the insanely good Thai chicken pizza featuring spicy peanut sauce topped with cheese, chicken, red onions, mushrooms, peanuts, bell peppers, garlic and a green onion garnish. Go early to grab a table on the front patio and let the sunny, lazy lake-going hours drift by. 3542 Lake Tahoe Blvd. South Lake Tahoe. 530-544-2739.

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