A serious beef
Reno, NV 89523
I spent a good chunk of time at Lake Tahoe this August and must have driven between Reno and Rubicon Bay a dozen times. Every time I made the trip down I-80, I passed a billboard announcing the arrival of Tahoe Burger, “a burger with altitude.” While nobody has ever had to drag me kicking and screaming into a burger establishment, their use of locally raised and butchered Wolf Pack Meats, for reasons of freshness and supporting the local economy, made the trip that much easier.
I gave Tahoe Burger a month of lead time to work out the kinks before taking my friend Jonathan out there for a Friday lunch. I’m a big supporter of independent burger joints because it’s got to be a tough battle against the mega fast food chains. However, I was a touch surprised walking into Tahoe Burger. I think the first words out of my mouth were, “I didn’t know this was a fast food restaurant.” Maybe the drive-thru should have clued me in.
It’s got some class, but Tahoe Burger has borrowed just enough elements from those mega fast food chains to make the impression undeniable and my first moments a little bewildering. Shortly after entering, I was beckoned to the counter by an exuberant young girl. While I waited for Jonathan to order his grilled chicken sandwich combo ($6.50), which comes with fries and a refillable fountain drink, I took in the décor of the place. Tahoe Burger is done up like a ski lodge with exposed wood beams, rustic log-style chairs, and kitschy outdoor equipment and board games hung from the walls—but it’s somehow wanting for character.
I picked the Tahoe burger combo ($7.99), but substituted the fries and soda for onion rings ($.75) and a regular vanilla shake ($1.50). Tahoe Burger is a model of efficiency. After paying my bill, I was told to take a seat and my food would be brought out. By the time I hit my seat, there it was.
The chicken sandwich consists of a chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. That sandwich needed some help. The chicken breast was considerably longer than it was wide, so it didn’t cover a good portion of the buttery bun, and atop the chicken was a single piddly tomato slice. The flavor was equally underwhelming, with most of the taste coming from the mustard Jonathan added to the sandwich. On the other hand, the shoestring French fries Tahoe Burger serves were crispy and salty. My preference has always been for stouter fries, but I admit Tahoe Burger’s were pretty good.
The namesake Tahoe burger comes with two patties, cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle and a special sauce. I like my burgers oozing cheese, dripping sauces, and once unwrapped, capable of collapsing under their own weight at any time. The Tahoe burger was all these things, but a little spendy at $6.50. The onion rings were pretty soggy, but I ate them all because I’d already pounded my burger and needed something to do with my hands while waiting for my milkshake to thaw. That drink wasn’t so much creamy as an absolute struggle to suck through a straw. Right before we left, the couple next to us got their own shake, but that one was piled high with whipped cream and caramel dripping from the top down the sides of the paper cup and onto the table. The sight of it seemed to trouble the couple as much as it did me.
Apart from the local beef and the bottles of beer for sale, there’s not a lot unique about Tahoe Burger. They’re doing a great job of putting burgers together quickly, but they’ve got to figure out how to either raise quality or lower prices—especially when they’re banking upon the loyalty of your average fast food customer.