A visit to Lake Tahoe isn’t complete without a great meal served in a wonderful setting. Ambiance is everywhere at Lake Tahoe restaurants; check out some of our favorites, all destined to make a memory.
Big Water Grille
Count on consistent, creative combinations of seasonal fresh ingredients and delicious vegetarian options from this Incline Village staple. The large dining room is open, airy and elegant with views of the lake through tall pines. There’s a spacious lounge with comfy chairs and small table seating, a semi-circular central bar, and wide deck that invites casual dining from both the bar and dining room menus. The dining room is moderately expensive (entrées in the $14 to $38 range); check out the excellent wine list. Open at 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. The lounge opens at 4:30 p.m. (775) 833-0606.
This little gem in the heart of Tahoe City is intimate and elegant and offers gorgeous views of Lake Tahoe. The menu is carefully crafted and includes the freshest ingredients of each season — fish, meats and vegetarian choices. Prices are moderate, even in the cozy dining room, and a small café menu provides the same high quality at a fraction of the cost. Price ranges from $8 to $15 on the café menu and $18 to $32 in the dining room. Opens at 5 p.m. daily. (530) 583-8551.
Café Fiore is a tiny slice of amore in South Lake Tahoe — a charming little cabin with seven tables serving up some of the best Italian food around. The intimate atmosphere lends itself to lots of cross-table gazing and whispered conversations, all over a glass of wine from the Café’s impressive list. The food does not disappoint! Try the Eggplant Crepes to start, and regardless of your meal choice follow it with one of the homemade ice cream selections. Al fresco dining on the deck allows for more tables in the summertime, but call to reserve your romantic evening. (530) 541-2908. Open daily from 5:30 p.m.
This attractive restaurant in Truckee serves hearty, rustic Italian fare in a warm and friendly environment that is both casual and classy. The owners are a Truckee food dynasty that knows good food. They also own and operate Piper’s Patisserie, a casual lunch spot profiled below. Prices at Pianeta are moderate and reservations are suggested at (530) 587-4694. Open daily at 5 p.m.
West Shore Café
This is lakeside dining at its finest, expensive and lovely. The West Shore is Old Tahoe, and the West Shore Café exudes the casual elegance associated with wooden boats and the folks who own them. There are buoys and docks if you arrive by boat. By car, you will find the restaurant and inn tucked among tall pines along West Lake Blvd (Highway 89) in Homewood, about 7 miles south of Tahoe City. Lunch, served Saturday and Sundays only noon-3 p.m., ranges from $11 to $16 for salads, burgers, fresh fish, crab cakes and distinctive sandwiches. Dinner entrées are $24–$39 for exquisite presentations of fresh seasonal fish, vegetables and meats. Dinner at 5:30 p.m.–9 p.m. For reservations, call (530) 525-5200. Closed Tuesday and Thursday.
Nothing says Lake Tahoe like fireside dining at a cozy log cabin in the woods. In Crystal Bay, Soule Domain fits the bill. This tiny, classic cottage welcomes diners with soft lighting from oil lamps, vintage photographs, and artifacts from early years at Lake Tahoe. A crackling wood fire warms the larger of two small dining rooms and is the place to be on a chilly winter night. Many folks say this is the best place to take a date on a romantic dinner, but romance isn’t required to fall in love with the whole experience of dining at Soule Domain. Chef/owner Charlie Soule and his brother Steve have been at it for several decades, so they must be doing something right. As fine dining goes, prices are quite reasonable and the wine list has some nice bottles and well-priced wines by the glass. Thai curry scallops and rack of lamb chops are always favorites and a specials menu changes weekly. Vegetarians will be happy with a vegan sauté and fresh vegetables baked in pastry with cheese and herbs. Open for dinner from 6 p.m. daily. Reservations recommended. (530) 546-7529.
Cottonwood Restaurant serves great food in one of the nation’s oldest ski lodges, perched on a hill above historic old-town Truckee. The place is packed with historic photographs, early 20th-century ski and sled memorabilia, whimsical railroad spike sculptures, and intriguing paintings by local artists. A warm fireplace welcomes guests in the intimate bar/lounge. The large dining room feels cozy, lit by votive-candle chandeliers. On Friday and Saturday nights, live acoustic music in the lounge keeps the party going with dancing long past dessert. The chefs do a great job with quality ingredients, including grass-fed, hormone-free beef, and flavor combinations that create interest without pretension. Cornmeal-dusted crab cakes are the best, and a tasty Caesar salad, dressed to order and traditionally eaten with fingers, is enough for four to share. Open Monday-Sunday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations suggested. (530) 587-5711.
Skiers, boarders and South Lake Tahoe visitors gather at Riva Grill to eat, drink and make merry beside a giant rock fireplace in the large lounge dining area. A variety of seafood and steaks are menu staples for dinner; lunch features a pizza grill, crab chiles rellenos, Thai chicken lettuce wraps and lots more. Bartenders get creative with hot drinks in cold weather. The famous Wet Woody (think rum on the sundeck in summer) becomes a Warm Woody in winter (coffee, chocolate and Irish Cream) or say Bottoms Up with a Heavenly Bottom (butterscotch Schnapps and Goldschlager, a clear cinnamon Schnapps liqueur swirling with 24k gold-leaf flakes). (530) 542-2600.