Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Striking foodie gold in California Gold Rush region

November 23, 2009, 6:19 am
It's not as well known as Napa or Sonoma, but the Mother Lode region of Northern California along the western side of the Sierra Nevada is just as rich in scenery, food and wine.

The natural beauty of this area stretching from Lake Tahoe south to Yosemite National Park is unsurpassed. And there are accommodations of all types, from comfortable campsites and budget hotels to quaint B&Bs and splashy resorts.
Foodies will find special treats in the heart of this Gold Rush region, among them, working generally north to south:

Squeeze In, in downtown Truckee, 13 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe.

This tiny hole-in-the-wall features a phone-book-size menu of creative omelets ranging from the special (spinach, black olive, red pepper, feta, pesto) to the bizarre but surprisingly good (peanut butter, apple, banana and honey).

Variations of pancakes and French toast are also featured. If you get there as we did about 9:30 on a Sunday morning, expect to stand in line. It's well worth the wait.

Mineral Restaurant, on Main Street of the old mining town Murphys.

Our lunch here, a leisurely three-plus-hour scenic drive from South Lake Tahoe, was the foodie highlight of our trip. We sat at one of the seven tables on the tiny patio (there are just six additional tables inside) and were absolutely blown away by the Curried Pickled Organic Cauliflower appetizer. Spicy and alluring, the creation ($8) was hearty and delicate at the same time.

Also outstanding were the Bermuda Triangle and Poached Pear Salad With Aged Cheese ($9) and the accompanying glass of Cava. I also tried and enjoyed the house drink, the refreshing Aphrodisiac, made from hibiscus flower, coriander, anise, ginger and soda water.

Christa Rypins of the Pilates, Yoga and Imagery studio across the street spoke the truth when she told us Mineral offered "the best food in town, and there's lots of good food in this town."

Ahwahnee Lodge, Yosemite Valley

The best way to enjoy this starchy restaurant (strict dress code at dinner) in the heart of Yosemite National Park, about three hours southeast of Murphys, is for breakfast or lunch.

Our late lunch featured a Seared Wasabi Tuna Steak Sandwich and a Mediterranean pasta salad with seasoned chicken, green olives and capers. The Warm Green Apple Beignet With Rum Raisin Ice Cream for dessert rivaled the view of Yosemite Falls for drama and delectability. With a bottle of champagne and nice tip, the celebratory lunch just topped $100.

Butterfly Cafe, in Mariposa

Owned by a Belgian-Canadian couple, this cafe an hour outside of Yosemite National Park's south entrance is a nice transit stop between the majesty of Yosemite to the east and the agricultural richness in San Joaquin Valley to the west. The Portobello Panini Sandwich ($8.95) was moist, rich and perfectly seasoned.

Server Chanelle and customer Heather offered helpful suggestions about sights to see in the valley before we flew home. When you go

Getting there

• Check flights in and out of Reno, Sacramento, San Francisco or San Jose for the best deals. We flew into Reno and out of San Jose.

• We experienced these dining spots by starting at the north end of Lake Tahoe and working our way generally south to Mariposa. Distance is at least 300 miles, not counting diversions or the final 160 miles across the San Joaquin Valley into San Jose. Allow at least two to three days.

Getting around

Rent a car. Shop for a good deal. We found one with National that had no drop-off fee for renting in Reno and returning in San Jose.

Contacts

• Squeeze In, 10060 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Calif.; 530-587-9814; www.squeezein.com

• Mineral Restaurant, 419 Main St., Murphys, Calif.; 209-728-9743; www.mineralrestaurant .com

• Ahwahnee Dining Room, in Yosemite National Park; 209-372-1489; www.yosemitepark.com (click on Dining). Breakfast, lunch, dinner served; Sunday brunch is outstanding. Go slightly off-hour for best seating next to floor-to-ceiling windows, or call ahead to reserve a specific table.

• Butterfly Cafe, 5027 Highway 140, Mariposa, Calif.; 209-742-4114; www.thebutterflycafe.com