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south lake tahoe

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i just returned from a weeklong stay (far too short) in south lake tahoe. thanks to chowhound and a little "chow-dar," we ate well. many of the posts i visited during my research were a wee bit old, so i wanted to give you an updated version with some of our favorite - and not-so-favorite spots.

*recommended*
alpina café
822 emerald bay road, near the "y"
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.541.7449
http://www.alpinacafe.com/
- coffee, pastries, soups, sandwiches and bagels, open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily
this was my favorite coffee shop in town. it's located in a little old cottage that oozes comfort and warmth, not commercialism. sit outside at one of the tables and enjoy the garden and fountain (try to ignore the highway traffic, ok?). bonus: free wireless! they offer four different loose leaf chai teas from edelweiss tea of lake tahoe: black, green, oregon and organic (i think). i had the black chai with soy and it was fantastic (about 3). my better half tried a couple of different coffee drinks (they use alpen sierra coffee of lake tahoe) and didn't have as much luck though. he had a mocha he dubbed "mocha-less" (about 3) and the next visit tried an iced coffee that wasn't so great (about 3).

chart house
392 kingsbury grade
lake tahoe, nevada
775.588.6276
- steakhouse
forgive me for including a chain, but we go every year as a tradition started by the family many years ago. i put this on my recommended list because of the experience of our party, not mine (i'm a vegan, so the choices were few). the view is the best asset of this restaurant in my opinion, though everyone else always loves the food, too. we started with something dubbed the "spice and ice" seafood tower with oysters, crab legs, claws and shrimp (around 30) which made me cringe on many levels. it looked like something that would be served at a hotel function, but apparently, it was great because it was devoured in no time. other highlights: clam chowder, bleu cheese-stuffed shrimp, prime rib and hot chocolate lava cake. for me, the highlight was the flight of ports at the end of the meal (14). the total for 12, including drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts was around 600.

ciera
in the montbleu casino
55 highway 50
lake tahoe, nevada
800.648.3353
http://www.montbleuresort.com/
- steakhouse
if you can stand walking through a casino, you'll find some good stuff. my better half enjoyed the steak diane (shallots, garlic and shiitake mushrooms) much more than his steak at the chart house. highlights of the meal: truffled mashed potatoes, seared ahi tuna and iceberg wedge (deconstructed presentation made it visually appealing). i wont' go into the beefsteak tomato salad because it just was - there. the service was slow and unrefined at times. when the server poured the martinis, he shook it so much our companion had a "martini bath" as she put it. also, we had to ask for regular tap instead of the fiji water they poured without asking. that kind of thing bothers me. i can't recall exact prices, but the total for four with four first courses, three main courses and drinks was around 200.

el caballo negro
2244 lake tahoe blvd. at tahoe keys blvd.
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.542.2257
- mexican
-breakfast, lunch + dinner, opens at 9:00 a.m.
coming from los angeles, i've been spoiled with the abundance of quality mexican food, but after reading a review by chowhound fast eddie (see http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...), i was quick to put this place on our list of "must-eats." taking the entire family there was a risk: our family is comprised of die-hard omnivores who think of consuming meat in mass quantities as sport. and here i am, a vegan, suggesting a taqueria in lake tahoe. thankfully, it all worked out perfectly. this modest restaurant is family-run (which i love) and the real deal: flautas (plate, 6), sopes (specialty, 1.75 each or plate with rice and beans, 6), tamales (pork or chicken, 1.35 each or rajas con queso, 1.50 each or plate with rice and beans, 6), chorizo and eggs (4.50), chilaquiles (with eggs, 4.50 or with meat, 6), homemade flan (3) and pozole, menudo and caldo de res (small, 7.50 or large 9) on weekends. meat choices are beef, chicken, lengua (tongue), shredded pork, pastor (marinated pork) and carnitas. when we asked for spicier salsa, we heard them making salsa verde in the kitchen just for us. truly, it was a highlight of the meal. el caballo negro also serves mexican sodas (jarritos, sangria, sidral and mexican coke) and aguas de fruta for 1.50. as for me, i ordered a green salad, which was off the menu, and was presented with a lovely plate of lettuce, flavorful tomato, sliced onion, lime wedges and avocado slices, which were fanned delicately. i poured on the salsa verde and it was fantastic. it is rare to find such artful, tasty accommodation in most restaurants. twelve of us, including kids, ate for 92 bucks.

freshies
3300 lake tahoe blvd. in the lakeview plaza
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.542.3630
- island
- lunch + dinner, opens at 11:30 a.m.
this "island style" restaurant has an upstairs patio that overlooks the lake. the dining room, while small, is pleasant enough, but try to sit outside if you can. i was surprised to find organic, vegan-friendly food that was accessible to everyone. i enjoyed the east indian spinach salad (curried tofu, green apples, pickled onions, tomatoes and mangos - dressing tasted bottled though), 8.95, and the rest of the group seemed to find the fish tacos (grilled, fried, blackened or jamaican jerk with cabbage, tomatoes, cheese and spicy sauce), 3.25 each (or tofu or tempeh tacos, 2.95 each) and sandwiches winners. the stand-out sammie was the screwie louie melt (grilled crab + shrimp with melted havarti, tomatoes and thousand island - the perfect vacation food), 11.95. also of note: island style plate lunches (choice of fish, kalua pork, tofu, tempeh or teriyaki chicken with organic rice and coleslaw and either macaroni salad, cottage cheese, green salad or house beans, 10.95) the kids menu was also excellent. among the options we tried were grilled cheese (it's only a half though, so if you're little one is hungry, order a full sandwich) and tofu plate with skin-on fries. freshies serves beer and cider and had a vegan dessert option (chocolate mousse, i believe) from their menu that changes. the restaurant also offers sushi, noodle bowls, tempura, burgers and pasta. the food and service here was so great that we ate here twice. (great used bookstore inside the lakeview plaza, too! i picked up three books for about 7, including "diet for a small planet" by frances moore lappé).

hunan garden
900 emerald bay road, near the "y"
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.544.5868
- chinese
- lunch + dinner, opens at 11:30 a.m.
called a "secret local spot" by one of our fellow dining patrons who lives in the area, we quickly discovered why. usually a buffet is a terrifying experience, but this one during lunch (from 11:30 to 2:30) was actually quite good according to my better half. he enjoyed the egg flower soup, chow mein, fresh fruit and dim sum items (6). he didn't care for the calamari. i liked that they had condiments like spicy soy sauce and the ubiquitous chili paste out and ready. i ordered off the menu and the waiter didn't make me feel like i was from another planet. spicy tofu with vegetables turned out to be just what i was looking for: balanced texture from the tofu and veggies and balanced flavor from just the right amount of heat. i rounded out my meal with a plate of watermelon and cantaloupe that was surprisingly sweet and flavorful. service was courteous and attentive. no msg is used at the restaurant. other items from their regular menu include clay pot (seafood, bean curd or hong kong style, 7.95-9.95), fresh mushrooms with cashew nuts (6.95) and spicy basil pork (7.25). our bill was around 15.

the naked fish
3940 lake tahoe blvd., no. 3, at pioneer trail
south lake tahoe, calif.
- japanese
- dinner
this restaurant is just around the corner from the now-gentrified stateline area (see http://www.theshopsatheavenly.com/) and in the same center as alpen sierra coffee company (see below). we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon their sushi happy hour (weekdays, 4:00 - 6:00, i think). hand rolls were just 2.50 each and weren't skimpy either. the environment is nothing special, but the food is pretty good for being so far from the sea (i neglected to ask if they use local fish from the tahoe area). my better half enjoyed the salmon lomi lomi hand roll the most (salmon with sesame oil), but also was impressed with their albacore and crunchy rolls. he also sampled a special roll they served that day: a california roll with seared salmon, which wasn't memorable. i had miso soup (vegan, 3.25), seaweed salad (disappointing: same thing available at a supermarket, 4.95) and i felt like having a hand roll, so i asked if the chef could come up with a vegan version - maybe with enoki mushrooms or something? i think this threw him since the server had to come back to ask me if i wanted tofu and avocado (no thank you, not exciting). after that, i was brought a tofu and enoki mushroom hand roll. that was it. no creativity, so he lost points in my mind. but then, again, i do realize i'm really picky. the service was a bit inefficient and unsophisticated, but we chalked it up to the location and maybe the fact that our server's boyfriend was in the restaurant at the time. nigiri sushi items of note include garlic albacore (5.50) and uzura (quail eggs) and tobiko (5.75). they also have maki sushi rolls with interesting combos, like the mermaid roll (yellow tail and papaya, 6.95), island roll (spicy tuna and cucumber topped with avocado and macadamia nuts, 8.95) and green acres (asparagus, cucumber and avocado topped with shiso leaves and green onion, 5.95 - hey, why didn't i get that?). you can substitute soy paper for 1 per roll. the restaurant also serves entrees for those less adventurous in your party, like their teriyaki dinner (beef, chicken or tofu glazed with teriyaki, served with rice and seasonal vegetables - spicy version available, too, 14.25) and sesame crusted halibut (pan-seared with miso glaze, served with mixed greens and asparagus, 18.25). freshly-made wasabi or specialty soy sauce for 1. they have a lengthy list of sake, too. they just opened a location in san francisco (see http://www.nakedfishsf.com). the bill was around 50 for dinner and drinks.

new moon natural foods
505 west lake blvd, at the 89 "y"
tahoe city, calif.
530.583.7426
- natural foods market
thanks to chowhound msk, i was able to find fresh tofu, bulk shoyu sauce and spices, some veggies prior to my visit to the farmers' market, soy milk and a healing calendula cream by arbordoun's for my chapped lips (it's really made for the skin though, 3.49). most of the items i wanted were a little on the expensive side (basket of figs, 6 and fresh garlic, 4.95/pound, seventh generation laundry detergent, around 7 and wildwood marinated tofu - that my brother-in-law thought was gouda so i just *had* to purchase more -around 5), but i would still frequent this charming little shop.

sprouts natural foods cafe
3123 harrison avenue at highway 50
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.541.6969
- american
- breakfast, lunch + dinner
i didn't have the opportunity to eat here, only get my daily shot of wheatgrass (about 1). it's not a vegetarian restaurant, though the name seems to indicate it would be. there are many veggie items, but also lots of meat options on the menu, too. they also have smoothies, vegetable and fruit juices. i liked their juice combinations and remember seeing one that had a spicy element to it which appealed to me. this would be a good place to buy your picnic lunch and take it with you. it was busy with a long line and wait.

south lake tahoe certified farmers' market
june 6, 2006 - october 10, 2006
tuesday, 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
american legion hall parking lot
2647 south lake tahoe blvd. (hwy 50
)south lake tahoe, calif.
http://www.edc-cfma.org/slt.htm
- farmers' market
this bustling market was alive with the spirit of community. for me, this is what markets should be. it had a good amount of vendors (i'd say 30-ish) with a variety of offerings. of note: fresh applewood for your smoker and an entire booth devoted to iris bulbs. our favorite non-ag vendor had to be dedrick's main street cheese of placerville (see http://dedrickscheese.com/welcome.htm). we purchased gifts for our house- and dogsitters: a piece of dry salame (around 4) and specialty crackers (5.95) with suggested cheese pairings on the label. dedrick's also brings a wide array of fresh cheeses, including fresh mozzarella and raw-milk parmesan, which i really wanted to buy but didn't for some reason. (do you do that, too?) the market also had local honey, candy, flowers, soap and hand-carved bowls and trays made from gourds, which, when i write that, sound cheesy, but they were quite attractive. i love that market.

*not recommended*
alpen sierra coffee company
3940 lake tahoe blvd., suite 1
south lake tahoe, calif.
530.544.7740
http://www.alpensierra.com/
- coffee
i had high hopes for this place and i really wanted to like it, but when we went in, we were struck with how non-local it appeared. it was as if it was trying to be a big chain. according to their site "100 specialty food establishments" in the region serve their coffee. i tried their black chai and it was just ok. i had asked for a chai tea bag, but was served their pre-mixed chai which, though the representative said was unsweetened, tasted too sweet for me. my better half ordered a coffee with a shot of espresso, which they dub a "hammerhead" though we didn't know that, so it sat on the counter until we asked about it. apparently, they serve the shot then the customer serves up the coffee from the carafes that are located next to the counter. it wasn't a winner. my better half has a fondness for bear claws, but the one he ate left a lot to be desired. to me, it looked like something we could get at the supermarket. apparently, it tasted that way, too since most of it ended up staying in the bag in which it came. all this seemed pricey at 9. free wireless and also a mac in case you're without.

kings beach certified farmers' market
june - october
tuesday, 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/showM...
i hesitate to dub *any* farmers' market "not recommended," but compared with the market at south lake tahoe on the same day, this one just doesn't cut it. first, 7 to park (though there was ample street parking). next, too few vendors. finally, high prices. it was a sad little market.

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  1. Thanks for the report. As far as Naked Fish goes, there's no fish from the Tahoe area for them to use unless it's kokanee salmon.

    1. Enjoyed your thorough post but was sad to see your negative review of Alpen Sierra Coffee. I've been there many, many times - probably 30 times overall - and have usually gotten really good espresso from nice folks in a nice atmosphere. Their roasts are pretty reliable, and I've also purchased their beans and enjoyed my home-brewed Alpen Sierra espresso. Every coffee joint has the occasional sour-faced barista or disappointing pour, but I think Alpen comes through a very high percentage of the time. And before you judge Alpen too harshly for aggressive marketing, consider how hard it is for a little fish like A.S. to play in an ocean filled with Starbucks. I think it's great that they've made a product that sells in many local establishments and I credit those establishments for stocking A.S. I recall hearing that A.S. used to have a second location at the Y (um, near that nasty Starbucks by the K-Mart) that did not make it, which is all the more reason to support A.S.

      1. Too bad you posted about Freshies, I don't want all you chowhounds crowding me out of my favorite place in Tahoe! There's nothing else like Freshies up there. Even it was in the Bay Area it would rank very high on my list; I love it.

        1. i am looking forward even more now to sushi tonight at naked fish,... thanks!

          1. I just want to say thank you for giving our restaurant a try and we would like to clear up any missinformation.
            Our happy hour is from 5pm to 630pm Monday-Thursday. We also have many appetizers and drink specials in addition to the Hand Rolls. As for the environment, we have just remodeled and are in the process of spicing up the atmosphere. We are constantly striving to make and do things better for our loyal customers. We value and appreciate every person that walks through our door as you are what keeps us going. As for the additional locations in San Francisco and other California cities, they are not affiliated with us in any way, we are the original Naked Fish Sushi Restaurant established in 1999. It has always been our mission to bring the best possible fish available in this country (flown in from all over the world) to our customers. Many other restaurants have attempted to duplicate aspects of our business including the use of our name but we are the original. Our website address is www.thenakedfish.com.