UNTRODDEN TASTES Up-and-coming restaurants in South Lake Tahoe
By: Helen Olsson
The Best of the Best
- Spicy Flavor: Azul Latin Kitchen
- Cozy Romance: Cafe Fiore
- 5 Stars: Jimmy's Restaurant
Despite its reputation as a destination with world-class skiing and gaming, South Lake Tahoe has not always been known as a mecca for gourmands. However, the South Lake Tahoe of decades past is making way for a modest dining renaissance. With innovative new businesses, a growing creative/maker community, and inspiring new eateries; there's a new side to South Lake Tahoe that's just begging to be explored.
The revival is good news for epicureans, whose options for vibrant happy hours and unforgettable dinner experiences are on the rise.
More dining options means restaurateurs need to work hard to win diners’ loyalty, however.
Upcycled, South of the Border: Azul Latin Kitchen
A trip to Azul Latin Kitchen is worth it just to marvel in the environmentally friendly décor.
The restaurant’s back bar is comprised of old dressers, nightstands, and book cases, with bottles of tequila stacked inside.
Chandeliers modeled from old milk crates hang overhead.
“The terminology we use is ‘upcycling,’” says partner Danny Scott, adding that the inspiration comes from San Francisco restaurants like La Urbana, which uses recycled material to create funky backdrops.
Azul opened serendipitously just a few months ago, on July 24.
“Unbeknownst to us, it was National Tequila Day,” Scott says.
And it’s fitting: The restaurant has 40 tequilas on the bar menu, and mixologists employ freshly-squeezed juices in its house-made margaritas.
Located at the base of Heavenly—perfect for après—Azul is the brainchild of the same restaurateurs who own the nearby, popular Base Camp Pizza.
Chef Mark Vaccaro traveled extensively through South and Central America, and he brings that field experience to Azul’s menu.
The restaurant’s signature dish is the Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian-inspired plate of slow-cooked beef over a sauté of peppers and onions, fingerling potatoes, green rice and cilantro, with a dollop of queso fresco.
The taco menu is inventive, too. Tacos are stuffed with such surprises as Thai curry, pork belly, and coconut beef.
Throughout the menu, Chef Vaccaro uses organic produce from the Sacramento Valley and sustainably raised, antibiotic-free meats.
Old-School Romantic: Café Fiore
With original redwood paneling cocooning diners, it has a cozy cabin feel and northern Italian cuisine.
During peak times, make reservations: Café Fiore has but seven tables. “If it’s your anniversary or birthday, we’re that restaurant you pull out a special dress for,” owner Nick Ashmore says.
Menu standouts include the eggplant crepe appetizer, which was featured in Gourmet magazine (thinly sliced eggplant and smoked salmon, with a sherry-cream and sun-dried tomato sauce).
The Di Mare alla Fiore main dish marries prawns and scallops in a white wine, caper, and lemon-butter sauce, served over a bed of linguini.
Save room for the house-churned white-chocolate ice cream. “It’s based on an old family recipe we inherited with the restaurant,” says Ashmore. “We make a gallon daily.”
Lakeside California Cuisine: Jimmy’s Restaurant
Jimmy’s at The Landing Resort & Spa, a new five-star boutique lakeside hotel in South Lake Tahoe, offers up wood-fired Greek and regional California cuisine from celebrity chef Maria Elia, author of Smashing Plates: Greek Flavors Redefined.
Elia, whose family comes from Cyprus, brings a modern, fresh approach to the traditional Greek fare she grew up with.
Guests tuck into private dining alcoves with fireplaces for the katafi-wrapped feta with raisin-oregano dressing and carrot keftedes, or the pulled-lamb burger with beetroot tzatziki.
Jimmy’s earned the 2014 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its glass-enclosed wine cellar, which features more than 2,000 hand-selected bottles from 250 labels.
Pair Elia’s inventive plates with a Greek wine, or sidle up to the backlit, onyx-walled bar for a Greek mojito made with ouzo. The vibe here is hip and contemporary—and the views of Lake Tahoe are unparalleled.