The November evening rests calm and crisp. The hustle and bustle of the weekday has turned into a peaceful twilight. In Library Park, the gazebo shines, gently lit by the reflections of streetlights. Even the lake, now dark purple and shimmering, seems at ease. And just across the street from the park, you’ll find On the Waterfront, Lake County’s new tasting room and restaurant. Warmly lit, it welcomes visitors to come in, sit back, and relax for a while. The back wall is filled with hundreds of bottles of Sol Rouge wines, known as some of the best in the United States and winners of more awards than you can count. To the left is the tasting room, but we’re headed to the right, where we sit at a table in the dining area. Behind us, a wall of backlit bottles glows warmly while big band music plays quietly in the background.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
It’s a bright fall day. The first colors of autumn leaves reluctantly give way to the shorter days and cooler nights. It’s a quiet, calm evening at Mad Mac’s Bar and Grill just off Highway 20 in the heart of Clearlake Oaks. A young couple casually make their way inside, even though it’s cool enough to enjoy the spacious outdoor patio seating. Inside, a full bar welcomes locals for a quick bite and friendly conversation.
Wanna have it all? Well, you can. Nestled in the heart of Lake County’s wine country rests a picturesque vineyard, orchard, and working farm, complete with a pot-bellied pig, tortoise, and chef Tammy Lipps. It’s a unique place where it’s possible to check in and never leave. Here’s how you do it.
Have you ever experienced something so wonderful that you struggle to find the words to describe it? That’s me at The Bloom’s Five-Year Anniversary party at Ripe Choice Farm and Catering. I’d been in contact with Tammy Lipps, owner of Ripe Choice, for several weeks leading up to the event. I knew I wanted it to be something unique and memorable. Although several of our restaurants promise all those things, I knew I was looking for something a little more intimate, quiet, and off the beaten path.
Welcome to the Ripe Choice Farm: The early evening glow reluctantly gives way to the onshore breeze that promises cooler temperatures. But for now, a glass of sparkling wine, under twinkling lights and the small chatter amongst friends, makes for a delightful distraction. The barn’s high ceiling helps absorb the day’s warmth amongst its exposed wood.
The setting seems right, country, rustic, and yet elegant. Locally grown flowers adorn the center of the tables. Linen napkins and a formal place setting all promise tonight is not an ordinary Sunday evening.
Rarely have I had a meal so thoughtfully prepared and served. The Blue Wing serves consistently good food, so when I learned that they had just become Blue Zones approved in Lake County, I couldn’t resist attending their celebratory dinner; I have already learned that anything Chef Pablo Aguilar does will be nothing short of breathtaking.
The late August evening brings its predictable slow, leisurely pace when the days are still long, and dining under the late sun’s rays is almost a requirement for any dinner in Lake County. Welcome to the Blue Wing’s courtyard.
Just in front of Wholly Bowl, and sitting between Grocery Outlet and the Dollar Tree in Lakeport stands Shoreline Coffee Shop. It’s an unassuming spot, sandwiched next to a wireless store and discount shop. Usually, diners sit inside, but since COVID, tables stretch out in the open-air hallway where customers sit, sipping on drip coffee and forking into plates piled with food. If you’re looking for comfort food, Shoreline is a great place to begin.
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Dale Grable, the owner of Thai American Market, always has a new idea. Since opening his unique Asian store in Nice several years ago, he’s committed to taking the stress out of cooking Asian food. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into an Asian food store, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be intimidating. None of the labels are in English, it’s difficult to tell the difference between five varieties of fish sauce, and, seriously, is that dried jellyfish?
Fortunately for Lake County, Thai American Market is nothing like that. Dale selects the best of each item, removing the confusion. He grinds and makes his own spices and seasonings. And, if you’ve never cooked Asian before, he’s made it simple by creating meal kits that demystify your favorite foods.
You can smell the smoker as soon as you enter the parking lot of Romi’s Brew and BBQ in Nice. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get there just as someone’s taking ribs out for the evening’s dinner. The char, dense and smoky, fills the nostrils and overwhelms the senses, making it impossible to crave anything but a full rack of those mouthwatering ribs–and you haven’t even opened the door to the restaurant yet.
Lake County has an abundance of Mexican restaurants, and most all of them are wonderful. Everyone we talk to has their favorite, but there’s nothing wrong with trying something new. Of course, there are more than just four great Mexican restaurants in Lake County, but, if you’re looking to try something new and enjoy some great Mexican food, look no further than this list.
Main Street Kelseyville is a little busier than normal this Tuesday afternoon. With the recent warmer temperatures, mother nature is coaxing all of us to get out and about. Patrons leave Sophies Day Spa with a scoop of ice cream in one hand and a bag of goodies in another. A man leaves Bell Haven Florist with a bouquet and a smile in his step. Outside the Saw Shop, the covered patio and heaters remain in place just in case this warm spring weather should change its mind and bring us more rain. But the sky is clear and blue, and the rain seems a distant memory. It’s not a question on whether to eat outside or not. It would seem an insult to spring and its beauty to do otherwise.
On Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks sits an unassuming white building with red trim. It’s the home to Betty’s Tacos.
Betty’s tacos has a menu full of great items from oversized tortas to burritos, sopes, and salads. But, if you’re going there, you’ll have to try the tacos. Each four inch corn tortilla is filled with flavor; the beef is seasoned and tender, chopped fine, but not too small. Topped with tidbits of lettuce, cilantro, radish, grilled onion, a squeeze of lime, and the salsa of your choice, it’s bright, juicy, and tangy.
It’s a blustery day in Lake County. The wind whips the palm fronds stretched across the restaurant’s facade and across the highway, the lake, muddy brown, froths and splashes against the bulkhead of Lucerne Harbor Park. It’s cold, rainy, and miserable outside. But inside Grillagan’s island, it’s sunny, warm, and tropical. Calypso music plays on the speakers, tropical prints spread across the walls, and fishing nets hang from the ceiling. It’s the perfect place to get away on a short vacation and enjoy some great food. Cold, wet weather calls for grilled cheese and tomato soup; we all know that. And there’s no better place to enjoy it than at Grillagan’s Island. They specialize in grilled cheese and offer multiple ways to enjoy that delightful sandwich.
I’ll never forget the first time I found my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You know the place I’m talking about. It’s all about the food, convenience, comfort, and, most of all, consistency. No, this isn’t where you go for a business meeting. You go there because it’s quick, convenient, and your personal favorite spot for any number of reasons.
Lakeport’s Main Street still has many original buildings, and it’s pedestrian-friendly and filled with shops. It’s simple to just park the car, hop out, and spend the rest of the day strolling through the shops, eating, and enjoying great food. Plus, if you’re looking for a diversion, swing by Lakeport–the Courthouse Museum’s one of the best in the county, and it’s right on Main Street so that the trip won’t slow down your shopping groove.
Resting at the foot of Mt. Saint Helena on Highway 29, Middletown has long been the gateway to Lake County. The first stagecoaches entering the county came through town and stopped at the hotel before either heading up Cobb Mountain to the numerous hot springs resorts or continuing on to the shores of Clear Lake. In fact, Middletown’s called Middletown because it’s–surprise–the midway point between Calistoga and Lower Lake. But Middletown has more than just stories. It’s also got some great places to shop and eat.
You know that place. It’s your go-to destination with friends, family, celebrations, date nights, business meetings, and all the in-betweens. It’s set apart, away from it all, and there’s no place quite like it in Lake County. Where are you at? Red’s At The Skyroom, of course.
It’s a bright sunny morning at Suites on Main in Kelseyville, and the day is full of possibilities. And yes, our goal is still not to leave Main Street. So here’s how we do it. First, start the day with a great cup of coffee. There’s something to be said about consistency, especially when it comes to the morning’s consciousness.
It’s a short fifteen-minute drive from our home in Loch Lomond to the small town of Kelseyville. Tall oaks and pine trees stretch high into the sky on the meandering road showing off their bright green brilliant colors against the late afternoon blue sky. Settled at the edge of Mt. Konocti is the country town of Kelseyville. Our only plan once the car is parked at Suites On Main is to not leave town for the weekend.
It’s a balmy mid-summer evening. The sun is still high and the night young in Clearlake. The day’s warmth lingers, and the evening breeze is still a long way off. But, it’s no bother since La Chilanguita primarily offers indoor dining. Step inside and enter a charming family-owned restaurant where friendly faces greet everyone. Then, it’s choose-your-own-seat casual dining.
I’ve always had a dream like this,” Bob Zany begins, a cigar in his hand. “I’ve never performed before fifty-two people in a meeting room in Upper Lake.” He pauses, looking around the room. “I’ve arrived.”
Once you’ve passed the heart of Middletown and are working your way towards the winding roads of St. Helena, you’ll pass by La Parrilla Grill. You might not notice it right away, but it’s there on the right side of the road. If you pass The Geysers Visitor Center, you’ve gone too far. La Parrilla’s part taco stand, part restaurant, and is filled with incredible Mexican food. And Lake County’s full of good Mexican joints. But here, you’ll find unique, homestyle dishes you won’t find anywhere else.
The gray clouds clear, leaving Lake County’s iconic blue above the shores of Clear Lake. In the distance, Mt. Konocti reaches up against the crystal-clear sky. A boat takes its time launching at the nearest boat launch. It’s not a busy day on the lake. There’s no rush, and the boat owner knows that. A few people walk by, heading back to work somewhere on Main St, while others take their time over a meal and drink. It’s the lunch hour in Library Park. Outside, a couple of patrons soak in the view from Park Place Restaurant’s outdoor patio while sipping on a glass of wine. Inside, lively music greets us, and happy patrons chatter amongst themselves. The atmosphere is energetic, upbeat, and contagious. The view from the lake isn’t going anywhere, even inside, and the vibes are irresistible.
A welcomed winter rain twists and turns around our feet as we make our way up the steps from the greens to the lodge. No, it’s not a lodge, but that’s what best describes the clubhouse. Its exposed wood and log beams give it a feel like a ski resort. Only a few days before, snow blanketed the golf course, welcoming families from all over the mountain to come and play in a winter wonderland. Inside, people warmed their cold fingers with hot cocoa or lunch in front of the club’s open fire pit. See, a lodge, right?
Today, the snowstorm has turned into a rainstorm outside the clubhouse. Inside, the same warm fire greets us, beckoning us to come closer, and we do. It’s near closing time, and most patrons have already come and gone except for a few locals sitting at tables. A television screen flashes pictures at the end of the bar. We find a spot near the fire and are soon greeted by our waitress. We order a beer and my usual, a Bloody Mary. I know when I find a good one—not too salty and the horseradish is just right. At the bar stands Eddie Mullins, owner and visionary of all that is Adams Springs. Before too long, he makes his way to our table like he always does to greet us.
Edgar Bonilla and Antonio Sanchez sit at one of the picnic tables stretched under a large tent. Edgar’s just lit a propane heater, and the warmth heats the chill from the morning air. Both bring their own energy to the table; Edgar’s bright, friendly, and warm. Antonio’s reserved, thoughtful, and competent. And they’re comfortable in each other’s company; they’ve worked together for over fifteen years in Napa restaurants. And they’ve come together to make some spectacular food at Los Compas.
Chalerm Thai Bistro’s a hidden treasure in Lakeport. Odds are, if you don’t live in town, you haven’t heard of it. It’s not downtown or next to the freeway. Instead, it resides off Lakeshore Boulevard north of the main business district, sitting next to a closed liquor market. For years, it’s also served as our family’s go-to for quality Thai food.