The most important question of the morning while vacationing at the lake.

By Rae Matthews, Elevation Eats

Breakfast and brunch may seem synonymous but choosing between them will, in fact, determine the course of the rest of your day. And when you’re on vacation here at Lake Tahoe, with so much to see and do, this is a crucial decision.

The difference is all in the name. Breakfast is the “breaking of your fast,” or the first thing you ingest in the morning after a long night of not eating in your sleep. Brunch is the combination of breakfast and lunch and so represents the consumption of two meals at once. Both can be a delightful way to start your day. Here is what Lake Tahoe has to offer:


In this corner, and reigning champion, we have Breakfast! Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, even if it is the most neglected by American standards (the sample sentence in the dictionary for the word breakfast is actually “I don’t eat breakfast.”), and we couldn’t agree more. Breakfast is the fuel that revs your engine in the morning, and if you are here for some intense Tahoe adventure, then breakfast is your contender. But in order to power your day it must be done right. Lukewarm coffee and a stale bagel will not be sufficient adventure sustenance.

On the South Shore you’ll find two intriguingly named diners, Bert’s Café and, across the street, Ernie’s Coffee Shop. This is for real, and they are named for the actual people who started them up. These are local favorites, and we locals tend to be loyal to one or the other even though they both offer delicious fair. bertscafe.com; erniescoffeeshop.com

Also on the griddle in South Lake Tahoe is Bear Beach Café, which offers home-made muffins and biscuits to complement their lake views; The Red Hut Café (also with locations in Stateline, Carson City and Reno), which has been a South Lake staple for 50 years; Heidi’s Pancake House, with their various pancake stacks including one with bacon mixed right into the batter. bearbeachcafe.com; redhutcafe.com; heidislaketahoe.com

Creative Crepes (Jeramie Lu)
Creative Crepes (Jeramie Lu)

Inside of Heavenly Village is Creative Crepes, offering a selection of 25 different crepes ranging from sweet to savory. They’ve managed to take all things breakfast, such as the scrambler or the strawberry short cake, wrap them up and make them French and portable. Take your crepe to go and still have a hearty breakfast on the run. Also in Heavenly Village is Driftwood Café, which offers “outrageous omelettes” and “wacky waffles,” as well as breakfast on the go. There is the institution, Meyer’s Downtown Café, which is dog friendly and well known for their hospitable owners and southern-style sweet tea. And finally, A Cup of Cherries, which offers healthy, but hearty, locally sourced fast-breaking options. creativecrepes.com; driftwoodtahoe.com; facebook.com/meyersdowntowncafe; acupofcherries.com

Casey’s (Jeramie Lu)
Casey’s (Jeramie Lu)

Just north of South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side is the historic Zephyr Cove Restaurant. Zephyr Cove has been a favorite lakeside retreat since 1862. Take in the beautiful view with a classic smoked salmon benedict or have a little hash with your hollandaise sauce. On the Nevada side you’ll also find Casey’s, a down home style bar and grill. Named for their family dog that lived a whopping 23 years, Casey’s offers fluffy souffle omelets with “has browns” in a relaxed, get-to-know-your-neighbor atmosphere. zephyrcove.com; caseystahoe.net

On the West Shore you’ll find The Dam Café (cause there’s a dam in Tahoe City), conveniently located near the beaten path with breakfast burritos and sandwiches aplenty; Rosie’s Café, which is packed to the brim with interesting Tahoe kitsch; and The Old Post Office Café in Carnelian Bay, which offers a classic Americana breakfast in the old post office building. Around the bend you’ll find Kings Café in Kings Beach, with their lakeside breakfast tacos, and Sunshine Deli in Incline Village, famous for their quiche and cozy atmosphere. visittahoecity.org; rosiescafe.com; theoldpostofficecafe.com; kings-café; sunshinedeli.com


And in the other corner we have the challenger, Brunch! Brunch is the more recent American tradition of pure indulgence. All foods are welcome at brunch, resulting in never-before-seen food combinations thanks to the bunch buffet. Plus, alcohol. bloody marys and mimosas are an integral part of the brunch experience, and when combined with full stomachs, tend to equal nap time. So if your Tahoe vacation is about recovering from that bachelor/ette party or just relaxing, putting your feet up, and taking in the view, then brunch is the contender for you.

Artemis Lakefront Cafe (Jeramie Lu)
Artemis Lakefront Cafe (Jeramie Lu)

Brewforia Beer Market in Incline Village offers a beer brunch. This is not a drill. It’s an assortment of oversized plates and fancy alcoholic beverages sure to send you right back to bed. Also, on the north side of the lake is Spindleshanks Tahoe Restaurant in Kings Beach, making brunch fancy with their “smoked trout bennie,” and Cascades Restaurant at the Resort at Squaw Creek, which makes the brunch buffet gourmet with their sweeping views of Squaw Valley. brewforia.com; spindleshankstahoe.com; destinationhotels.com/squawcreek

Coming back down the West Shore, Café Zenon in Tahoe City offers a multi-cultural brunch on the weekends, which includes anything from brioche French toast to kim chi fried rice, and Fire Sign Café takes mimosas to a new level with their fresh-squeezed juice and “mug-mosas.” cafezenon.com; firesigncafe.com

Artemis Lakefront Cafe (Jeramie Lu)
Artemis Lakefront Cafe (Jeramie Lu)

Back on the South Shore there is the famous Edgewood Golf Course. Golf and brunch are old friends, and at The Bistro at Edgewood that friendship comes with a view and a crispy side of bacon. Jimmy’s Restaurant at the Landing Resort and Spa offers a full English breakfast and a well-stocked bar. For bloody Mary enthusiasts, Coldwater Brewery and Grill offers a Sunday brunch with a build-your-own bloody mary bar. And if you like your brunch a little Greek, Artemis Lakefront Café will pack your brunch inside a pita. Their Greek breakfast replaces sausage and toast with gyro meat and pita bread, and their baklava French toast is drizzled with orange honey and crusted with pistachios. Opa! edgewoodtahoe.com; thelandingtahoe.com; tahoecoldwaterbrewery.com; artemislakefrontcafe.com


And the winner is … Well it’s a close competition. It all depends on how you like to vacation here at Lake Tahoe. Personally, I like food more than I like adventure, so I lean toward brunch, but really, I’m too full to decide and I’m getting kind of sleepy.