Whether a solid home cook or someone whose only specialty is making reservations, both parties are in luck this ski season. Tahoe’s culinary bar has been substantially raised with the arrival of several heavy hitters. While Lake Tahoe’s first Whole Foods opens its doors in South Lake Tahoe, local restaurateurs are elevating the region’s food scene with fast-casual concepts for ramen, tacos, poke, and diner-style smash burgers. And not one, but two celebrity chefs with a trail of Michelin stars and James Beard awards are set to move in during winter.
To keep things fair and square, both the north and south sides of the lake are welcoming top toques. Bay Area-based Mina Group didn’t have to travel far to open Bourbon Pub at Northstar California Resort. It already won over locals at the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival, where its spicy Korean beef tacos took top prize for the best food category. The savory crowd pleaser is indictive of the menu’s modern spin on classic pub fare that’s perfect for après-ski appetites. A foodie stab at pigs in a blanket, puff pastry-wrapped cheddar bratwursts are dunked in jalapeno mustard. Tater tots get a similar treatment with truffles and parmesan. There’s more to the menu than stick-to-your-sides victuals, such as keto diet-approved salmon with fennel and shishito peppers.
Chef owner Michael Mina looks forward to vacationing with his family in snow country. He’s already envisioning campfire desserts and putting the finishing touches on the menu with executive chef Jon Blackley, who’s creating a community hub beyond feeding the troops.
“Dining is one of the last true remaining social interactions we have in this day and age,” said Blackley.
Just in time for the holidays, British chef and television star Gordon Ramsay is importing his famous beef Wellington and sticky toffee pudding to the Sage Room in Harvey’s South Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino. Hell’s Kitchen, which is also the name of his FOX cooking show, marks the seven Michelin-starred chef’s tenth partnership with Caesars Entertainment.
“I absolutely fell in love with Tahoe’s beautiful lake and skiing,” said Ramsay, of the concept’s third location (the others are in Las Vegas and Dubai). “It’s been a long dream of mine to bring the show to life.”
Fans will recognize similarities such as the red and blue kitchen and the show’s standout recipes like lobster and truffle risotto that are as famous as the host and contestants. Anglophiles can also imbibe Notes From Gordon, an exotic dry gin cocktail with lemongrass and green tea.
Bridging the gap between a sit-down experience and fast food, Inclined Burgers & Brews is back for a second ski season.
“The community went crazy because they were looking for someplace high quality and quick,” said co-founder Scott Beck, who services a broad spectrum of demographics from billionaires to college kids to construction crews.
There’s more to its overnight success than filling a void. Located in the heart of Incline Village, the hip, fast casual eatery focuses on its namesake items. Everyone has varying opinions on the perfect way to cook a burger, and Beck and his business partner, Mitch Penning, chose a flat top grill like an old-school diner. Their research led him to type of burger found in Oklahoma—thinly shaved onions caramelize on the bottom of the burger when it’s flipped and smashed.
They developed a secret sauce and tinker with toppings (regulars in the know request burgers that aren’t listed on the menu like the Bonanza, which is reminiscent of a Western barbecue burger). They also expanded with a Beyond Meat vegan option, and fried or grilled chicken sandwiches that begin with a pickle brine and buttermilk bath. Beck suggests pairing meals with a cold beverage such as the West Coast Haze from FiftyFifty Brewing Co. in Truckee, Calif., since the IPA’s citrus notes cut the richness.
“On sunny winter days, people in their snow gear sit on the patio with a beer and burger,” said Beck, who’s scouting a second location.
Truckee Tavern partners Ryan Dierks and Chris St. Martin are pioneering the same niche in their neck of the woods. Originally operating as a single establishment, ROCO for Asian cuisine and Japanese spirits and COMO for Mexican and mezcals split into separate spaces. They still share a kitchen, so both menus are available in either one (just ask servers). Beyond getting diners in and out in 30 minutes, they are championing authentic Mexican fare in the area.
“Healthy Mexican was underrepresented,” said St. Martin, who serves mahi tacos with habanero salsa instead of typical Tex-Mex entrées smothered in cheese. “You won’t find burritos here.”
What you will find is mole with 20 ingredients. Dark chocolate, sesame seeds, juniper berries, cerveza and dried figs and cherries go into the sauce for half roasted chickens. Handmade, white corn tortillas even appear on the dessert menu. Cocoa powder is mixed into the masa for the chocolate taco, a frozen confection filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce and toasted coconut.
At ROCO, the authentic ramen’s preparation is as intricate as the mole.
“You’d probably pass out if I mentioned everything that goes into the broth,” said St. Martin, of the main attraction whose options range from braised pork belly to simply noodles for kids. “I also like the seared ahi appetizer because it covers all the bases of the palate—the yuzu’s acid, creamy miso aioli and the crunch of frisee.”
Carson City, Nev., claims a new hot spot, too, courtesy of chef Mark Estee’s hospitality group. Neighboring his Union restaurant, Cucina Lupo honors the local university’s wolf mascot. The trattoria reunites Carson Valley patrons with Italian fare from Campo, another of Estee’s restaurants located along the Truckee River in Reno.
“The menu is similar and centers on our strong relationships with local farmers and ranchers,” said group culinary director Tommy Linnett, who sources grass-fed beef from Bently Ranch for steaks and Bolognese pappardelle. “We make all the pastas and sausages in house.”
Chorizo flavors seafood paella with saffron rice, another nod to the region, its Basque settlers. A bounty of shellfish also comes with squid ink spaghetti for a spicy fruits de mer.
“Being mostly Italian, we have to offer tiramisu,” he said, featuring local Old World Coffee Lab’s espresso in the dessert.
Liberty Food and Wine Exchange and Chez Louie are also part of Estee’s collection of popular Reno eateries.
Truckee’s Donner Lake surprised the town’s foodies with a couple new spots this year. Located at West End Beach, The Pub at Donner Lake opened for lunch and dinner. Its namesake, farm-to-fork fare changes seasonally. Poke on the Lake, which opened in Sticks Market, offers fresh seafood and other healthy alternatives through a grab-and-go menu. Find poke and acai bowls as well as sushi burritos for convenient, delicious dining.