The absolute 10 best waterfront dining experiences Lake Tahoe has to offer

The West Shore Café offers perhaps the best lakefront dining in all of Lake Tahoe. Contributed photo: West Shore Café
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 edition of Tahoe Magazine. It was first published on this website in August 2018 and is presented in its original form.

Let’s face it.

There is dining – and then there is waterfront dining. Whether it’s a glass of wine as the setting sun casts the lake in rosy hues, or a craft beer and a burger next to the babbling Truckee River, few experiences can match dining along the water at Lake Tahoe.

Whether for a special occasion or just to grab a bite after a day hiking Tahoe’s trails, enjoy the tasty fare and views of Tahoe’s best waterfront restaurants.

1. CHRISTY HILL — Best date night

Located in the heart of downtown Tahoe City, Christy Hill offers modern American cuisine and one of the best views of the lake. The small, intimate restaurant sits 100 feet above the shoreline offering panoramic views from every table. The menu changes seasonally with seafood, meat and pasta dishes of fresh, regional ingredients and an expansive wine list. Open nightly at 5 p.m. Mains from $25-$36.

Down by the water, The SandBar at Christy Hill offers lakeside libations and house-made picnic bites around cozy firepits. Open June through September.

2. THE BOATHOUSE — Best over-the-water dining

On Tahoe Beach Retreat’s pier in South Lake Tahoe, The Boathouse offers a unique over-the-water dining experience with a quaint setting and magnificent lake views. The Boathouse has quickly become a local’s favorite as the best spot to watch the sun set behind towering Mount Tallac.

Perched directly above the water atop a 1,000-foot pier, the restaurant serves up delectable continental cuisine and signature cocktails for lunch and dinner. Lunch highlights include baked brie, beet salad and fish tacos, while dinner features pan-seared scallops, Andouille stuffed pork chop and grilled lobster tail. Open daily in summer. Dinner mains from $17-$36.

3. RIVER RANCH — Best river views

Located at the base of Alpine Meadows Road with views of the Truckee River, River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant offers a casual outdoor patio by day and upscale romantic dining by night. Locals love the River Ranch’s authentic, laid-back vibe, and the restaurant is a perfect pit stop for anyone floating the river, riding the adjacent bike path or just looking for a spot to enjoy a burger along the Truckee.

The Ranch Bar & Grill serves signature cocktails on the River Ranch patio, including the Ranch Punch, a frozen blended drink of fruit juices and light and dark rum. New this summer, Ranch Smokehouse Selections include brisket, pulled pork and a smoked pork belly BLT. Patio menu items $3-$12.

4. MOE’S ORIGINAL BBQ — Best view on a budget

Since it opened in downtown Tahoe City in 2014, Moe’s Original BBQ has quickly become a locals favorite for mouthwatering Southern-style barbecue, cold brews and expansive lake views. While most lakefront restaurants have a hefty price tag, Moe’s Original BBQ serves up pulled pork, ribs, seafood, barbecue chicken and a smattering of delicious sides at prices that go down as smooth as their assorted IPAs and craft beers. Moe’s offers outdoor seating, a bar and convenient “boat coolers” to go.

In addition to delicious barbecue, Moe’s regularly brings world-class bluegrass acts to Tahoe City. Be sure to check the restaurant’s Facebook page for great live music throughout the summer. Open daily. Platters from $8-$16.

5. THE BEACON BAR & GRILL — Best beachfront dining

Located on the water’s edge in South Lake Tahoe’s Camp Richardson Historic Resort, The Beacon Bar & Grill is one of Lake Tahoe’s most extraordinary lakefront restaurants. Boat or kayak right up to the restaurant and grab a bite with views of the water and Mount Tallac. Summer months bring live music Wednesday through Sunday and one of the best happy hours around.

Menu favorites include pasta primavera, rib eye tacos, deep fried calamari and nightly fish specials, as well as a great beer list and cocktails including the popular and potent Rum Runner. Open daily. Dinner mains from $14-$39.

6. GAR WOODS & RIVA GRILL — Best summer cocktail

Since 1988, Gar Woods Grill & Pier has been one of North Lake Tahoe’s premier waterfront dining destinations. Located in Carnelian Bay, Gar Woods features floor-to-ceiling windows, large deck and balconies with views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Menu highlights include hand-cut steaks and fresh Pacific seafood such as shrimp and lobster bisque, Hawaiian swordfish and seafood Tagliarini. Every Wednesday in summer, Gar Woods hosts Wet Woody Wednesday, where diners enjoy discounts on the restaurant’s signature Wet Woody frozen cocktail. Dinner mains from $31-$45.

Gar Woods’ sister restaurant, Riva Grill in South Lake Tahoe, also offers a upscale casual atmosphere with classic California cuisine. Riva Grill’s menu favorites include filet and scampi, pistachio Halibut, pizzas from the restaurant’s wood fired brick oven, and a wine list of California’s best vintners. Like its sister restaurant, Riva Grill offers Wet Woody Wednesdays all summer, in addition to live music Thursday and Friday, and brunch with a view on Saturday and Sunday.

7. RIVER GRILL — Best happy hour

River Grill offers casually elegant dining on Tahoe City’s ‘other’ waterfront with seasonal menus of fresh seafood, steaks and tasty appetizers. The restaurant sits on the banks of the Truckee River, just downstream from famous Fanny Bridge and the Lake Tahoe Dam, the lake’s only outlet. In summer, diners take in the views and great food on the restaurant’s spacious patio, where local musicians perform every night. Open daily. Dinner mains from $16-$36.

Ask any local about the North Shore’s best happy hour, and you are likely to hear a chorus of River Grill recommendations. Held daily from 5-6:30 p.m., River Grill’s ever-popular happy hour has $4 draft beers, $5 house wines, $5 margaritas and delicious food. The best deal around is the juicy River Grill Angus Burger complete with Caesar salad and shoestring fries for $11, though 50 percent off lobster quesadillas and 25 percent off starters like crispy prawns and pork dumplings are a close runner up.

8. SUNNYSIDE — Best deck

Part of a charming lodge with 23 recently remodeled rooms, Sunnyside offers one of Lake Tahoe largest lakefront decks and views to match. Diners arrive by boat, jet ski, paddleboard and bike to enjoy lunch at this Tahoe staple. The restaurant offers a full-service marina complete with boat valet, and the adjacent High Sierra Waterski School rents watercraft of all kinds for pre or post-lunch adventures on the lake.

Lunch favorites include burgers, fish tacos and chicken sandwiches. Dine in Sunnyside’s wood-paneled Lakeside Dining Room for well-prepared American favorites, or order off the Mountain Grill menu in the bar for lighter fare and lower prices. Open daily for lunch and dinner in summer. Dinner mains from $18-$35.

9. BRIDGETENDER — Best local vibes

A longtime locals’ favorite, the Bridgetender is quickly becoming a hit with visitors too thanks to a laid-back vibe, friendly bartenders and one of the best burgers in town. In summer, the BT’s tree-shaded patio by the Truckee River offers a perfect place to relax and enjoy a drink by the water. Favorite libations include cold beers, Moscow Mules and the signature frozen Bridge Bender.

The Bridgetender serves up assorted pub fare for lunch and dinner, including fish and chips, barbecue, tacos and signature burgers with crisp waffle fries. On weekends, enjoy homestyle breakfast classics and the best Bloody Mary in the town. Arriving late at night? The Bridgetender serves food until 11 p.m., long after other town restaurants have closed their kitchens. Open daily. Mains from $7-$12.

10. WEST SHORE CAFÉ — Best boat valet

With its high ceilings, large bay windows and exquisite area rugs, dining at the West Shore Café can feel like sharing a meal at a friend’s impeccably decorated lakefront estate.

Dinner focuses on tasty, curated creations such as prosciutto-wrapped chicken roulade and pan-seared salmon accompanied by yams, broccolini and lambchetta, while the lighter lunch menu features sandwiches, salads and a burger. A broad wine list accentuates the menu’s bold flavors, and bartenders mix up delicious muddled cocktails.

In summer months, the West Shore Café seats diners on the outdoor deck and private pier where they dine amid stunning lake views. For the many diners who arrive by water, a full-service boat valet shuttles guests to and from their vessels and the restaurant’s pier. Open daily in summer. Dinner mains from $17-$39.

Amelia Richmond is a Tahoe City-based PR and communications expert who is a former contributor to Tahoe Magazine.
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