Eating Our Way Through South Lake Tahoe

As non-skiers non-gamblers visiting in the shoulder season, we’ve enjoyed the chance to relax, see scenery, play, and eat these last seven days. 

The upscale restaurants in the Casinos no longer are loss leaders:  their prices show their intent to be a profit center.  However, a few area restaurants truly provide a dining experience.  Here’s our recommendations.

4.5/5 starsSage on the ground floor of Harvey’s casino.  Excellent preparations of meat and fish with interesting sauces.  Sage features traditional table-side preparation of Caesar salads, Steak Diane, and flaming deserts.  Not only are these concoctions entertaining, the food is first rate.  Plus, the whole restaurant is non-smoking, so there was only a whiff of smoked-laced air coming in from the casino.

For a full 5 Ozdachs stars, the restaurant would have to beef up its staffing or figure out how to keep the 6:30 – 8:00 rush from feeling so pathetically hectic.  Our waiters were appreciative that we were in no hurry each night we were there.  They let us linger and served us well.  But, they and the support staff seemed challenged to keep up with the customers who were feeling more goal oriented than we. (Price – expensive. $210 for two, including several cocktails. Food before tax and tip was only $98.)

4 starsPrimavera on the ground floor at Caesar’s . Large, open, and unpretentious restaurant had enough staff who happily adjusted to our slow speed while serving others at a much faster pace.  The main plates, not the pastas, were the most interesting. Both the scallop and beast presentations were flavorful and fun. The restaurant’s gimmick is its moderately large selection of wines by the glass.  There were about 20 reds very reasonably priced and an equal selection of whites.  I enjoyed stacking up glasses of Chianti, Barbera, and Sangiovese and then sipping them in round-robin.   (Price – expensive. About $180 for two, including lots of wine/cocktails.)

3.5 starsThe Chart House at 392 Kingsbury Grade. The view of the lake at sunset accounts for 2 of the stars for this serviceable, seafood and steak chain. It was nice to get out of the casinos for a dinner, and the darkening sky in the rural setting a couple miles from the main tourist drag was a nice change. (Price – expensive. $175 for two.)

3.5 stars Friday’s Station at the top of Harrah’s.  View restaurant with generous portions of lackluster view restaurant food.  It’s obviously used to getting the masses in and out, but remains pleasant.  Did I mention the view?  (Price – expensive. Also $175 for two.)

2.5 starsJosh’s in the Horizon Casino.  Somewhat of a throwback to the loss-leader days, the fine dining room of this second-tier casino offers a $16.95 lobster tail special.  It was interesting to watch how many of our fellow diners had only that special — with maybe an iced tea — as their complete meal.  We, of course, had more, including a Caesar prepared table-side. All of the non-beef items were just a tad off:  the crab cakes were undercooked and bready, the salad had too much oil, and the vegetable tart layered undercooked squash and other items without trying to cook them into a real dish. The beef was reportedly fine, and the service was just as leisurely as we had requested.  (Price – very reasonable. $115 for two.)

The Buffets

As a breakfast person, I appreciate being in a tourist area packed with reliable greasy spoons, chain and local, which satisfy my basic morning egg needs.  We did two buffets for breakfast, and the difference between them was significant enough to mention.  Both were about $26 for two, including tax, tip, etc.

The Forrest buffet at the top of Harrah’s had a very good selection of salad, fruit, egg dishes (including made-to-order omelets), breakfast breads, and pancake/waffle options.  Fresh coffee and clean plates were offered frequently, and the view from backside of floor which the buffet shares with Friday’s Station was crisp and bright the morning we visited.  There was space between the tables, few people (this was midweek in an off season), and the food was newly made and tasty.  While this was not a Mother’s Day buffet with fancy items, it was a great straight-forward breakfast buffet.

The Roman Feast in the basement of Caesar’s, on the other hand, was a pretty dreary affair.  Stuck in a corner of the casino’s first floor, the smell of smoke and the sound of cell phone conversations never left us.  The main decorations were flashing keno boards.  The food was equally tacky.  One hot buffet area smelled mostly like a generic steam plate.  The Italian theme of Caesar’s was “honored” by a very tired pizza buffet under a hot lamp with a choice of a lump of cheese pizza or a greasy combo slice.  IHOP, Carrows, and Denny’s do a better job.

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