Where to eat on vacation: California’s Sierra Nevada

One of the pressing concerns for summer-time eats is “Where do we eat while we’re on vacation?”  At least, that’s a pressing concern on MY mind.  My approach to vacation is to eat my way through a place.  And if you happen to be vacationing this year in Yosemite National Park and surrounding areas, you’re in luck, because I have got some great suggestions for you.

First of all, the very best place to eat is outdoors, preferably as far from cars and towns and people as you can get.  Here’s a shot from our picnic spot, sitting on the Tuolumne River in Tuolumne Meadows, in the high country above Yosemite Valley.  We climbed up Low Profile Dome, and then walked off the back about a mile to get here.  Lunch was cheese and crackers, trail-mix, and sweet, cold (filtered) Sierra water.

If one is traveling through Tuolumne Meadows, one MUST stop at the Tuolumne Store for the world’s best ice cream sandwich, which we can only find here.  The It’s It Bar.  Two oatmeal cookies pressing mint chocolate chip ice cream, all covered in chocolate.  Heaven.

If you are traversing Tioga Pass in the morning (or camping in Tuolumne, but make sure to take a deer skinning knife, you will need it), breakfast can be had in two places.  One, Tioga Pass Resort, is right on the road on the way out of the Park towards Lee Vining.  Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.  Our favorite, though, is off Tioga Road, at Saddlebag Lake Resort.  (Take a left just past Tioga Lake, and head all the way up the dirt road to the resort, which lies on the edge of Saddlebag Lake.)  The restaurant is a tiny log cabin nearly on the shore of the lake, and they serve up a huge breakfast special for under $10.  (Back in the day, when we were climbers, we’d go there for the $3 breakfast special–I think it’s around $8 now, but still a pretty good deal.)  If you have time, you can either hike around the lake to the other side, or take the Resort’s ferry service across.  The other side of the lake features gorgeous scenery and fairly gentle hiking.

Next stop, another picnic, this time with an actual picnic table, at the South Tufa site on Mono Lake, which is at the eastern end of Tioga Pass, just off of Highway 395.  Dinner was cheesy potato soup (instant mashed potatoes, a can of chicken, and a packet of onion soup mix.)  Also, sourdough bread.


Our next stop is an honest-to-goodness restaurant, and it is an undiscovered gem.  It’s called the Whoa-Nellie Deli, and it’s housed inside the Mobil Mart gas station on Highway 395, at the bottom of Tioga Pass, about half a mile south of the town of Lee Vining.  Why would you stop to eat at a gas station? one might ask.  And the answer is, Because it has fabulous high-end food, live music, souvenirs and fishing tackle, AND the best opportunity you will ever have to observe the native culture and habits of  the denizens of  “the East Side”.  We pulled up on a Wednesday night (they bring live bands in Wednesday nights and Sunday nights.)  A crowd was gathering on the lawn outside, where the band was setting up.  We bought sodas, and a to-be-shared piece of chocolate torte.  (To die for!) By the time the band started playing, there were a good 200 people there.  Many of them had dinner from the Deli (and wait ’til I show you the menu–you’ll understand why the line for the Deli was 30 deep.)  Many bought pitchers of adult beverages at the outside window designated for that purpose.  And some of them had…hula hoops.  Juggling paraphernalia.  It was like a mini-Burning Man festival.  Sweet blue-grass/folk music coming from a live band (that included an accordion!) Hippies and children playing with the hula hoops on the grass.  Some couples dancing.  It was magic.  If you are ever on the East Side on a Wednesday or Sunday, you’d be crazy not to go to the Whoa-Nellie Deli.

(That menu includes things like elk chops in a merlot shallot sauce.  Wild boar with an apricot raspberry glaze.  Mushroom sherry soup.  That stuff is spendy, but worth it.  You can also get plain deli fare like burgers and hot dogs, not as spendy. The deals are to be had at breakfast time, when they serve homemade bagels with lox and cream cheese, or buckwheat pancakes with homemade berry syrup.)

I’ll be writing more on where to eat on vacation (and what!) What about you?  Where do you love to eat when you are on vacation?  Got any hot tips on wonderful little places that are undiscovered gems?  Please share!