4 California Roadside Eating Destinations
Dining options for budgets great and small for your Northern California road trips.
Whether you take the high road or the low road to explore California this summer, you’ll find delicious dining options for budgets great and small.
Farmhouse Inn, Forestville
Its eponymous farmhouse may date to 1873, but this Michelin-starred culinary oasis amid Sonoma County’s redwoods strikes a modern note with local, seasonal sourcing and an internationally adept menu.
Some ingredients come from the nearby dairy ranch where restaurant co-owners Catherine and Joe Bartolomei grew up; luckily, the siblings also inherited executive chef Steve Litke when they bought the run-down Farmhouse Inn in Forestville in 2001. Today, the latter’s prix fixe menus (from $99 for three courses to $132 for five, plus optional wine pairings) include wide-ranging choices like grilled kurobuta pork belly with spicy edamame and cipollini-braised kale; Sonoma County duck Bolognese with ricotta–goat cheese ravioli; and a dulce de leche custard with passion fruit gelée, hazelnut and red-veined sorrel.
7871 River Road, Forestville. 707.887.3300
Sleep it off
No surprise — the Farmhouse Inn is also an inn, or rather a luxury boutique hotel, offering 25 feather-bedded rooms and cottage suites that define farmhouse chic, plus a pool, hot tub and spa. From $627, including taxes. See above for contacts.
Boon Eat + Drink, Guerneville
The same hybrid vibe that makes Guerneville such a mix of cultures — holdover hippies, winemakers, summer resorts, LGBTQ nightlife — carries over into the tiny town’s laid-back dining scene.
While there are a few choices for unvarnished comfort food menus (the Cowboy Burger at the River Grill Inn feels like, well, home), the more cosmopolitan Boon Eat + Drink on the main drag has a range of options that make it an affordable delight. Chef-hotelier Crista Luedtke’s Eat + Drink, the sibling property to her Boon Hotel + Spa, focuses on high-quality, healthy “comfort food,” mostly small plates and sides, including her well-known flash-fried Brussels sprouts with chile flakes, lemon and garlic. Only two entrees on the dinner menu — black cod and flat iron steak — even come close to $30, making dinner for two an easy lift.
16248 Main Street, Guerneville. 707.869.0780,
Sleep it off
A complex of cottages and decks, the Creekside Inn and Resort is on the opposite side of the Russian River from Boon Eat + Drink, a 10-minute walk away — close enough to enjoy downtown, but without the occasional nightlife noise. From $182, including taxes (four-night minimum July–August). 16180 Neeley Road, Guerneville. 707.869.3623
Lone Eagle Grille, Incline Village
A hotel restaurant may seem counterintuitive, but Lone Eagle Grille across from the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort is far from formulaic — unless your formula includes impressive lake and mountain views, a soaring river rock fireplace and a chef with a flair for sumptuous menus.
Chef de cuisine Shane Hammett, whose resume includes stints at elite Napa restaurants, creates dishes hearty enough for après-water-ski as well as après-ski, including appetizers like glazed Berkshire pork belly ($15) and roasted bone marrow ($20), plus a full vegetarian menu. The Sacramento native has also increased the kitchen’s reliance on regional farmers since taking the helm in 2012; order a Niman Ranch–sourced seasonal entree, such as lamb chops with olive tapenade ($48), and the restaurant will donate $1 to Niman’s scholarship fund for future farmers. Save room for the baked Tahoe — a toasted meringue pine cone with vanilla toffee ice cream inside.
111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village, Nevada. 775.886.6899
Sleep it off
Besides a private beach and pier, the 422-room Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort includes a lagoon-style pool, spa and casino. From $459, including fees and taxes. Same address as above. 775.832.1234
Tahoe Tap Haus, Tahoe City
With less traffic than Truckee and more of a community feel, Tahoe City offers some great bargain bites. Nothing on the menu is more than $16 at Tahoe Tap Haus, which features solid-quality soups, shared plates and an eclectic variety of burgers, sandwiches and “naanwiches” made with hand-stretched tandoori naan bread. The rotating selection of 16 beers and ciders on tap, from Alpine Willy Wheat to Black Butte Porter ($7 a pint), will make beer lovers happy, as will the porter/ stout float on the dessert menu. To make it dinner and a movie, stop by the Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, a pint-size theater (and taproom) a few doors down that offers first-run movies, leather seats and couches that seat 12. It’s owned by the Tap Haus folks, who sometimes have special dining discounts for moviegoers.
475 N. Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City. 530.584.2886
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Granlibakken Tahoe is a homey, casual resort in the woods that focuses on group events, but also offers great rates for standard rooms, breakfast buffet included. From $206, including taxes. 725 Granlibakken Road, Tahoe City. 530.583.4242,
Lucia Restaurant & Bar, Carmel Valley
Executive chef Cal Stamenov celebrates two decades at Bernardus Lodge’s casually elegant restaurant this year, yet his Euro-California cuisine has stayed as fresh as the herbs and veggies plucked from his three-acre organic garden just beyond the dining room terrace.
His current menu showcases seasonal ingredients such as sweet corn, pea tendrils and heirloom tomatoes along with locally farmed abalone and wild salmon; don’t miss the gazpacho ($9) or duck confit pizza ($24) when they’re available. Summer also brings noteworthy events such as free food-focused garden walks with Stamenov and horticulturist Mark Marino, at noon most Saturdays through August 24; the Lavender Harvest Celebration on July 13, a lavender-inspired buffet lunch ($105) with honey tasting and rosé sipping amid some 1,000 plants in purplish bloom; and the Heirloom Tomato Lunch on September 7 ($115), which includes bloody marys and oyster-shucking with local tomato growers.
415 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. 831.658.3400
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The 73-room Bernardus Lodge & Spa, a low-rise Mediterranean-style resort facing the Santa Lucia Mountains, also turns 20 this year. For maximum indulgence, book a villa with outdoor shower, copper soaking tub and fire pit. From $517, including taxes and fees. Same contact as above.
Pezzini Farms, Castroville
If you love artichokes, Pezzini Farms off Highway 1 in Castroville is the mother ship. Artichoke pesto? Yup.
Artichoke pasta sauce? Uh-huh. Fire-grilled marinated hearts, artichoke salsa, artichoke bruschetta spread and, of course, cases of artichokes — even artichoke cupcakes (yeah, really). Order hot food like deep-fried artichoke hearts and artichoke lumpia, soup or po’boys at the Choke Coach, the on-site taco truck. There are plenty of reasons to stop at this working farm stand even if artichokes are not your thing (just don’t announce that). The market includes other seasonal produce like cherries plus sauces, spreads, seasonings and snacks, but you’ll probably get funny looks if you don’t leave with at least one ’chokerelated item.
460 Nashua Road, Castroville. 831.757.7434
Sleep it off There’s no shortage of budget motels and cookie-cutter hotels along Highway 1 north of Monterey; for something with personality, stay at the Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing overlooking Elkhorn Slough. Some of the bed-and-breakfast’s 10 rooms are in a former Pacific Coast Steamship Company office built in 1906. From $220, including taxes. 8122 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing. 831.633.5550
Harbor House Inn, Elk
There’s no better payoff for braving the winding roads to Mendocino than a fabulous dinner with a view.
At Harbor House Inn, which reopened in 2018 after extensive renovations, the spectacular sights from the 25-seat dining room include not only rugged sea stacks but also the meticulously prepared, fresh-caught seafood and other newly foraged fare. The dishes themselves are exquisitely handcrafted, tying into the hyper-local vision of Matt Kammerer, formerly executive sous chef at triple-Michelin-starred Saison in San Francisco (and newly minted as a Food & Wine Best New Chef).
This summer, Kammerer’s eight- to 12-course tasting menu ($180) will include plates such as tomato with verjus, yerba buena and shiso; eggplant with black butter and miso; cypress-smoked pork shoulder dressed in bay leaf oil and toasted sunflower seed jus; Gewürztraminer ice with sweet and aromatic flowers; and a dessert of strawberries, white chocolate and grilled honey.
5600 Highway 1, Elk. 800.720.7474
Sleep it off
As thoughtfully renewed as the dining room in the original 1916 mansion, most of the six rooms and four cottage suites at Harbor House Inn boast ocean views; all come with a complimentary (and delicious) guests-only breakfast. From $398, including taxes. Same contact as above.
Princess Seafood Market and Deli, Fort Bragg
The new-ish Princess Seafood Market and Deli in Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor has a reliable way of ensuring what’s on the menu is fresh and reasonably priced: the staff catch it themselves. The funky market with cafe seating has a pretty fluid menu (“of the day” is its most common phrase) because the specialty is, well, whatever the all-women crew of the F/V Princess hauled in during the past voyage or two. It’s a pretty good bet, however, that you’ll find local Dungeness crab (half, whole or on a crab roll), shrimp and fish tacos, poke cocktail, abalone, barbecued Humboldt oysters and, of course, chowder.
There’s a good-size deck for outdoor seating with a view of the harbor and, occasionally, live music. Visitors can also pick up a variety of whole fish and browse shelves of seafood-related sauces, condiments and seasonings.
32410 N. Harbor Drive, Fort Bragg. 707.962.3123
Sleep it off
While the cottages and rooms at Shoreline Cottages in Fort Bragg are nothing fancy, the property includes a hot tub, barbecue grills and Adirondack chairs around a fire pit for taking in the sea breeze at night. From $143, including taxes. 18725 Highway 1, Fort Bragg (south of Noyo River). 707.964.2977
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Roadside Eats”.