Nestled in a High Sierra meadow at the top of Donner Pass just before the Nevada border, lies the Gold Rush-era town of Truckee, California.
Now a bustling mountain resort boasting year-round outdoor activities like hiking, camping, boating, skiing, and wildflowers in June, Donner Lake is just around the bend, while spectacular Lake Tahoe is a mere half-hour away.
At night the stars shine without the glare of big city lights and the wind blows among the trees. And with the stars lighting your path, it’s easy to find your way to several of the best Truckee restaurants.
Founded in 1863 on what was the Trans-Sierra wagon road, the settlement was renamed Truckee in honor of a Paiute chief, Tru-ki-zo, who greeted the first European settlers to come to the area with shouts of “Tro-kay!”—Paiute for “Everything is all right.”
In the same year, ground broke in Sacramento for the Central Pacific Railroad, which would ultimately stretch 690 miles over the rugged mountains and into Nevada.
The steep route over the pass took two years of backbreaking work, carried out through sheer will, largely by Chinese migrant labor. This is also where the Donner party met their gruesome end.
Today, at heart, Truckee is an outdoorsy, blue-collar town, tucked away in the foothills where fleece, jeans, and hiking boots reign.
On a recent road trip, old friends equipped me with sage insider advice to guide me through the ins and outs of some of the best Truckee restaurants.
I had a lot of fun exploring, from small, local gems to the vibrant downtown restaurant and bar scene. Here are seven “must-try” Truckee restaurants that I’d recommend for your next visit.
6 Best Truckee Restaurants, CA
10120 Jibboom Street // +1 530-587-2000
For quality coffee, tea, and a healthy light breakfast, Coffeebar has become one of my regular stops in Truckee.
Priding themselves in close relationships with their suppliers, local and global, this ethos shines through in the flavors and excellence of the food. The Italian coffee bar-inspired space is just off of the main street downtown.
You can’t go wrong with anything in their pastry case, filled with delights “just-like-they-make-in-France.”
The breakfast burrito is delicious, with a sweet potato hash that adds something special to the standard ingredients.
You can also order a parfait of granola or hot oats with chia seeds, goji berries, and local honey collagen.
For lunch, you might try a wonderful Cobb salad made with arugula and all the fixings; a super-healthy paleo bowl; or a delicious chive ricotta toast on house-made sprouted wheat bread.
My espresso macchiato was excellent, creamy, and strong with a beautiful top of foam.
11357 Donner Pass Road // +530-587-4847
In a rush, but want to try one of the best places to eat in Truckee? Check out this Mexican fast-food staple, the Golden Rotisserie. Located in a shopping center behind the Dairy Queen Grill & Chill on Donner Pass Road across the highway from downtown.
While their lunch and dinner specialties are chicken and tri-tip, they also serve a killer al pastor burrito—a hidden treat. They didn’t serve it when they created the menu that hangs up in the front, so it’s not advertised! It’s a popular place, completely packed at 1:30 pm on a Sunday.
You order up front, and then grab one of the small tables that line the left wall. The kitchen staff lines the other side, a whirlwind of hands expertly whipping out guest orders, along with a large rotisserie filled with chicken, beef, and pork, slowly roasting away.
The beef tri-tip comes marinated in a special honey soy lime mixture, while the soy lime chicken is another special combination—both are succulently juicy and tender and quite addicting!
Order your meat or veggies as a taco, burrito, tostada, or quesadilla.
Full plates of chicken and tri-tip come with two sides, tortillas or bread, and a side of salsa. Family-friendly, the Golden Rotisserie includes a good kids’ menu and a value family pack
I love a good al pastor burrito (al pastor is spit-grilled pork), and sure enough, it came out big and bursting, filled with seasonings, including a hint of cardamom.
Along with the pork, the burritos come with black beans, rice, cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and diced red onion. This was the perfect sustenance to fill up with for the road trip home.
You’ll be yelling “Tro-kay!” when you leave this downtown Truckee restaurant.
10356 Truckee Airport Road // +1-530-587-1394
For a healthy, incredibly tasty Truckee lunch, try out the Red Truck Café on the Runway. That’s right, at the Tahoe-Truckee private airport.
It’s one of those little gems, popular with the locals, that you wouldn’t have any way of knowing about without some insider intel. The Red Truck is also a popular food truck at events around town.
A medium-sized, modern-décor café with big views of the private runway, it’s open for breakfast and lunch, with daily specials.
The Red Truck Café offers quality food with hearty fillings, generous portions, and fast service. Their specialty is Indian-themed fillings served in taco, burrito, or bowl form. I was wowed by the spicing and ingredients.
For breakfast, choose a daily quiche or a standard like the breakfast burrito or egg sandwich.
Lunch brings bowls and burritos, “naan dogs” with naan bread instead of a hotdog bun, and a gyro that looked delicious.
Their soups are full of flavor and had other customers raving the day we were there.
The coconut curry lamb bowl was out-of-this-world. It comes with a combination of fresh ingredients that are layered from bottom to top, each complementing the other expertly.
The warm ground lamb was marinated in yogurt and spiced with onion, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and jalapeño. It mixed with clean, crisp cabbage, diced cucumber, quinoa, and tahini sauce, all undergirded by warm, nutty Garkhi dal.
My friend slipped me a dollop of chicken tiki masala as well…yum! I’d recommend this as one of the best casual lunch restaurants in Truckee.
Pro-tip: Get there early to get a seat.
13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court // +1-530-562-3000
Perched at 6,000 feet above sea level, another fun place to eat in Truckee is an excursion up to the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.
On roads winding up into the Sierra Nevada, you’re transported to a beautiful alpine resort, amazingly, only a half-hour drive from downtown.
Among Truckee’s many eating opportunities, where else you can ski or hike directly from your dining? It’s a lofty corner to spend a relaxing afternoon in the strong mountain sun and sweet breeze.
Sit among Lodgepole and Jefferson Pines and Quaking Aspens cascading along the mountain ridges, light playing in their shadows.
This is St. Louis-style BBQ and wood-fired oven-baked pizzas (one of the best Truckee restaurants for pizza), burgers and smoked kielbasa, saloon-inspired cocktails, and craft beers.
A great place for groups, a clear winner here is the BBQ by the pound: stacks of fourteen-hour pulled pork, Texas spiced brisket, and pulled BBQ chicken, combined with sides of coleslaw and baked beans from grandma’s kitchen.
But don’t be fooled, Backyard BBQ’s pizzas live up to their elevated northern California reputation.
The full bar serves saloon-inspired cocktails and local craft beers. The Ritz’s mandatory valet parking is validated to $15 with a meal.
It’s fantastic bar food. My favorite was the loaded curly fries—you get a large tray-full of finger-licking decadence. “Loaded” meant plenty of pulled pork so tender it fell apart easily, pickled red onions, jalapeños, cheese sauce, scallions, and BBQ sauce. So good. Paired with a hoppy IPA, I was set for the next few hours.
Pro-tip: Sit around the fire pit and have your food delivered. Either way, this is one of the best places to eat in Truckee.
10142 Rue Hilltop Road // +1-530-587-5711
Visit The Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar for a piece of local history.
Sitting on a hill overlooking historic downtown Truckee and built in 1928, the Cottonwood is housed in an old warming hut along former ski trails. It was created from salvaged railroad ties by one of the old town’s prominent citizens, Charles F. McGlashan.
A beautiful farm-fresh menu presents northern California cuisine at its best.
Examples of their creative small plates include beets three ways with goat cheese, a delicious oven-roasted bone marrow, and a vegan butternut squash soup.
The large plates run the range from a Delta Farms Half Herb Roasted Chicken, stuffed whole Idaho trout, and a pepper-crusted venison chop.
We stopped to take in happy hour and the saloon-style bar on a crisp afternoon. The specialty cocktail left me raving: their “7th Sense” with Fidencio Clasico mezcal, fresh lime, house-made tamarind syrup, firewater tincture, and a house-made pineapple Szechuan syrup. Just wow.
This rustic old establishment is the perfect spot to hole up with a mug of warm spiced wine on a snowy winter afternoon or to spend a summer evening on the rooftop patio enjoying the view.
Pro tip: In the shoulder season, from 5-6 pm Sunday-Thursday, The Cottonwood offers an early bird three-course meal for around $30 that is an incredible value! If that fits your schedule, you should definitely swing by this Truckee restaurant.
10007 Bridge Street // +1-530-587-868
With a fabulous vibe, my favorite dining experience from all the Truckee restaurants is Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats, smack in the vibrant downtown restaurant district.
Immediately you’re swept into the atmosphere of an old-time jazz supper club, replete with floor-length velvet curtains. One can eat at the bar or a table in the front lounge, or in the formal dining room in the back.
Nationally touring jazz and other bands play in the lounge Thursdays-Saturdays.
My friends suggested this wonderful place, and we met up for an amazing multi-course dinner.
The evening began with starters in the lounge. First, “Chickadee” cocktails—tequila, mezcal, fresh lime, strawberry syrup, and Hawai’ian black sea salt. Fresh, smoky, and not too sweet, elegantly served in a cut crystal glass.
Then pizza—piping hot from the brick oven, with a crispy crust, topped with lumps of shredded lobster and wild mushrooms with a bechamel sauce, and arugula adding a touch of nuttiness.
In the dining room, we sat near a visually cool wait station that gave us a unique perspective of the choreography and coordinated ballet between the well-oiled back and front of the house—the rhythm of the wait staff and seamless operation demonstrated their overall expertise.
I ordered the ½ salad spinach salad with pickled red onion, feta, bacon, strawberry vinaigrette, and it was so fresh tasting, and plentiful.
My entrée was a was skillfully prepared rare prime rib-eye. The blood-red meat surrounded by the marbled fat was exquisite. The sauce, heavenly. The carrots were perfectly crunchy and the garlic mashed potatoes were garlicky and good. I can’t wait to go back.
Pro tip: Packed on Saturday night, reservations are recommended. But this is one of the best Truckee restaurants for fine dining, so plan accordingly.
I offer these thoughts on a variety of the best places to eat in Truckee, in the knowledge that there are many (like La Pianeta!) that I didn’t have time to get to on this trip.
This was a fantastic introduction to the Truckee bar and food scene and left me excited for the opportunity to re-visit these, and experience more of the best Truckee restaurants, CA. I hope they excite you too!
Which one of these Truckee restaurants do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
Tonya Hennessey is a freelance writer and non-profit professional who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she took off for a year of travel throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, a trip that awakened her awe of the world’s varied cultures, landscapes, and, of course, foods! Since then, she has traveled extensively in Europe, East and Southeast Asia, and the United States. Along with travel, she loves to cook, garden, and get that exercise.