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The fact that you can ski straight to the patio of the Balboa Café Squaw Valley is a major contributor to the restaurant’s immense popularity. Ditto the lively bar scene, where drinks like the K-12 Snuggler (Bailey’s Irish Cream, peppermint schnapps and hot cocoa) clink rims with pints of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and glasses of Russian River Chardonnay.
But, when the ski boots come off, it’s executive chef Joseph Lakavage’s cooking that satisfies most. “We do approachable comfort food,” he says. “It’s upscale, but not too off-the-wall.” Lakavage worked most recently at nearby Plumpjack Café (both are owned by Plumpjack, which also has restaurants and wine shops in San Francisco, as well as a Napa Valley winery). Before that, the transplanted Easterner spent time at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia and Gotham Bar & Grille in New York City.
While uncommonly good bar food (wild-boar chile-cornbread cobbler comes to mind) is offered until closing, folks who wish to linger over dinner reserve a place in the dining room, which is comfortable and casual, with white linens on the tables and Shakespearean murals on the walls. The menu steps up to include signature dishes like skillet-roasted duck, braised veal cheeks or lamb shanks, and cast-iron-seared rib-eyes. Desserts are from the nearby Plumpjack Bakery; wines from mostly up and down the California coast.Open just over a year now, Balboa Café is hitting its stride. “We’re doing a good thing in a good place,” Lakavage says. “The potential is already starting to show.”