Best noodle joints at Truckee-Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is known for its 300 days of sunshine per year, but in the wintertime an epic Sierra storm or two can come in and blanket the basin making it chilly pretty fast. That’s when a nice bowl of hot, hearty Asian noodles come into play.
After a day of being in the snow, whether it’s after shoveling that berm blocking the driveway, skiing or snowboarding down the slopes, or simply taking the family or friends out to a nice dinner where everyone leaves satisfied, here are some of the best places in Truckee/Tahoe to get noodles. The colder outside, the better.
Thai Recipe, Incline Village
After traveling all over Thailand twice now for a month at a time and coming back to 30-degree weather, I can attest that nothing tastes as true to homeland fare as Thai Recipe. Sandwiched between the 7-11 and T’s Rotisserie in Incline Village, serene metal wall hangings of buddhas and glittery adornments of elephants decorate the walls, and a Thai iced tea dispenser sits on the checkout counter underneath a gold framed photo of the king and his wife.
Joy, my server, is from Naan, the northern region of Thailand between Lampang and Vang Vieng in Laos, just under Chiang Mai. Thai Recipe has been in Incline since 2002; Joy has been here since 2006. We talked a lot about the region where she’s from, and she was excited to go back soon now that the entry protocols related to COVID have been lifted. Until we can go back to the real country, we fulfill our need for traditional food with Thai Recipe.
Thai Recipe has a gigantic menu, filled with an impressive amount of noodle dishes, soups, salads, curries, appetizers, and spicy entrees keeping ingredients on hand such as ginger, bamboo shoots, silver noodles, and kefir lime to add in as needed. Along with the flavorful orange Thai iced tea, it carries hot ginger tea, coconut juice, Chang beer, and Singha. Its most popular dish is the pad thai, but its spring rolls are also a must-have mainly because of its accompanying creamy peanut sauce and sweet chili sauce that is so much better than the store-bought brand. They are also generous in their portions; the fresh tofu and veggie filled spring rolls, hot and plentiful seasoned sticky rice noodles, and a Thai iced tea holding one over for several more meals.
Siam Cuisine, Truckee
Located in a building that houses a smoke shop, nail salon, yoga studio, real estate office, and Tahoe Hospital medical center, Siam Cuisine is the most convenient place for working professionals on Donner Pass Road to go for lunch, especially since it also has a crazy good lunch special on the weekdays- for $13 you get a daily appetizer, soup, and salad and can choose one of 13 entrée options.
Its pad thai and drunken noodle are its most popular dishes for dinner, but it’s the curries that catch my eye on the lunch menu. Its full menu has some items that are hard to find in the States, such as the panang curry, ladma, or the Siam Green Curry. Ultimately, I go for its signature dish since it has Siam in the name and comes with noodles.
The menu has various levels of spiciness so that you can assess your limits before your upcoming trip to Ranong, Thailand. They are based as follows:
**** Native Thai
A couple minutes after choosing my lunch entrée, the daily soup comes out with bits of veggies and tofu in a red-flaked maybe two-star broth.
Five minutes later, a plate of food came out. The salad is topped with a gooey peanut sauce, bringing me back to the side dish I had on the banks of the Mekong River.
Next to the salad on the plate were a couple of meat-filled fried wonton chips, along with fluffy cold rice noodles and a bowl of curry. Inside the soup, thick cuts of bell pepper, mushrooms, green beans, chicken, broccoli, and Thai basil swam around in mild green sauce. The rice noodles off to the side were good on their own, but even better in the curry.
Lotus Pho 2, South Lake Tahoe
Located right across from the Idle Hour on U.S. Highway 50 in a small airy shopping mall that also holds Freshie’s, Aloha Ice Cream, and a pirate treasures store, Lotus Pho 2 arguably serves the best (or only) Vietnamese pho noodle bowls in Lake Tahoe.
At 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, the phone began ringing off the hook at the same time that the place filled up rather quickly, to the point where people had to wait outside. Fortunately, I got there just before the rush. The combination pho was recommended, out of the 17 noodle bowl and soup options. Made with thin slabs of beef, brisket, and meatballs simmered in beef broth that share the pool with ramen noodles then topped with onions and scallions, it was easy to see how it could be a winning combination.
I moved over to the bar, next to a guy who ordered a noodle bowl himself. Both of ours came out about five minutes after placing our order, piping hot with a side plate of cilantro, bean sprouts, jalapeno, and lime. As we watched the steam evaporating out of our bowls, my new dining friend said that for to-go orders, Lotus Pho staff pack the super-hot broth in one container and raw meat in the other, because when you drop the meat into the broth it instantly cooks. He told me that the chow mein is also particularly good, admitting that he eats at Lotus Pho 2 quite regularly after his gym workouts for a seemingly light yet filling meal.
“It’s also good to come here after a night of drinking too because you’re basically ingesting a bowl of broth water,” he says.
My Combination Pho was super savory, the brisket tender and amazing, the meatballs chewy with hints of spices bursting out. The Vietnamese food here is fresh and fast, with that bowl of savory broth water filling me right up.
My Thai Cuisine, South Lake Tahoe
Sunflowers dot the entrance, and a huge outdoor seating area with picnic tables line the highway. Inside, huge gold statues stand or hang against wood-paneled walls, with a gigantic gold shrine of Sitting Buddha next to the kitchen. Like the other noodle shops in this area, the place is packed.
The friendly host recommends the Hangover Noodle; one of the most popular items to fill the stomach on a weekend afternoon. Even though there’s a red chili pepper image next to the description, he says that anything on the menu can be made spicy, that’s why people come here. But then he asked if I liked spice, and I hesitated for a second instantly thinking about the tom yum soup that I had in Ranong (a southern province of Thailand) that I could not finish, even after full-on sweating and drinking as much water as possible. He winked and said he’d give me the mild version.
The Hangover Noodle dish was full of everything one could ever want in it, including thick, sticky flat rice noodles; sautéed red and green bell pepper; sauteed yellow onion; sliced button mushrooms; scallions; baby corn; Thai basil; and a plentiful amount of chicken all cooked together in a not-too-spicy Thai sauce. It’s the perfect thing to eat before passing out on the couch for the rest of a Sunday afternoon…even if you are not hung over.
My Thai used to have a restaurant on the southeastern side of the lake next to Sushi Pier in Stateline, but it unfortunately closed during the pandemic. Luckily, its flagship location on Highway 50 that’s been there for eight years in South Lake Tahoe (closer to the Y) is still alive and well.
There are a few theories about why there are so many Thai noodle joints in the U.S., ranging from veterans to having connections to the Southeast Asia region to Thailand emphasizing gastrodiplomacy in its relation to other countries to make its pad thai and other native delicacies internationally recognizable. My favorite theory is that its fare hits the American taste palette just the right way, which is probably why these noodle joints are always packed with people.
Orchid Thai in South Lake Tahoe and the Thai Kitchen Cuisine in Tahoe City are recommended. They both also provide an array of traditional curries, noodle dishes, and appetizers that are sure to fill you up. You also might be able to find a noodle joint or two within the Village at Palisades Tahoe and the Village at Northstar California during the heart of ski season.
Editor’s note: This story appears in the 2022-23 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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