Skiing, snowboarding and, you know, sitting in a hot tub can work up an appetite. If you’re planning a getaway to Big Bear Lake this winter (or anytime, really), you might find value in leaving the old stove in your cabin to venture out to one of the town’s many restaurants. There are tons of independently owned cafes and bars throughout the nearly 7-square-mile city, and we’ve narrowed it down to five places that would suit the most ferocious of appetites.
Creole brunch at the Knickerbocker Mansion
New Orleans–style cooking exists in the San Bernardino Mountains at the Knickerbocker Mansion, a three-story, 12-room bed-and-breakfast built in 1920. Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., brunch-goers can tuck into a hearty bowl of shrimp and grits, brioche French toast or jambalaya in the cozy, 40-person dining room. A white-tablecloth type of place, the bistro is one of Big Bear’s finer and costlier dining establishments, and is managed by husband-and-wife innkeepers Ed and Vickie Harris. The two will gladly regale you with the rich history of the mansion, including a full profile of the “Paul Bunyan of Big Bear.” According to Ed, the mansion is the largest vertical cabin in North America.
869 Knickerbocker Road, Big Bear Lake. (909) 878-9190, knickerbockermansion.com.
Prime rib and “George the Ghost” at Captain’s Anchorage
Have a bit of living (or not-so-living) history with your prime rib at Big Bear’s treasured steakhouse, Captain’s Anchorage. Actor Andy Devine originally opened the restaurant in 1947 as the Sportsman’s Tavern, where questionable things allegedly took place, including but not limited to gambling, fires and the death of the establishment’s accountant, now known as “George the Ghost.” Take a seat at the bar and the staff will tell you stories about pots and pans mysteriously rattling in the night. At today’s Captain’s Anchorage, guests can cozy up in one of the red leather booths or solid wood tables and have their pick of prime rib, filet mignon, lobster tail and all the essentials of an Old Hollywood steakhouse. Happy hour is Sunday through Friday, 4:30 to 6 p.m., and it's consistently packed with locals and loyal vacationers.
42148 Moonridge Way, Big Bear Lake. (909) 866-3997, captainsanchorage.com.
Craft cocktails and live music at Black Diamond Tavern
A night of decadent dinner and drinks can be had at Black Diamond Tavern, a rustic-modern gastropub with one of the town’s only craft cocktail menus. After a long day of vigorous snowboarding, Black Diamond Tavern is a great option for treating yourself to braised beef short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes and a Moonshine Mule (or three). While many Big Bear businesses can take a more laid-back approach to service, Black Diamond Tavern’s staff is fast and attentive without compromising that mountain charm you don’t find in the big cities. The tavern is open from 3 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Happy hour runs until 6 p.m. during the week, with live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
42172 Moonridge Road, Big Bear Lake. (909) 366-0871, blackdiamondtavern.com.
Local craft brews at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
Big Bear Lake Brewing Company is one of the more recent additions to Big Bear Village, not to be confused with the 20-year-old Big Bear Mountain Brewery a few miles up the main road. Since 2014, Big Bear Lake Brewing Company has been fermenting a selection of 14 house brews, including the popular 9.2% Sidewinder Red Ale, the 6.5% Whispering Pine IPA and the easy-drinking 4.8% High Altitude Hefeweizen. Check the chalkboard for current selections. Guests can build a base for the strong ales with a selection of menu offerings, including Wagyu beef burgers, beer-battered fish and chips and the most popular dish, the Avocado Bomb: a honey ale tempura avocado stuffed with spicy ahi, a crab and shrimp cake and ponzu, then topped with chipotle aioli and crispy wontons. The two-story restaurant has a balcony that overlooks the lake, and a downstairs patio where dogs are welcome. Big Bear Mountain Brewery is worth a visit as well, with six beers on tap, a basic food menu and an undoubtedly authentic local experience.
40827 Stone Road, Big Bear Lake. (909) 878-0283, bblbc.com.
Gigantic breakfasts at Grind & Grill Café
This no-frills coffee shop on Big Bear Boulevard may not be fancy, but its mountainous platters of piping hot omelets, hash browns and pancakes the size of steering wheels (an honest comparison) are what draw the crowds. Open for breakfast and lunch only, here servers pour coffee as guests struggle to get in their last bite of the Avalanche, a crag of potatoes, bacon, sausage, biscuits and eggs doused in thick, savory gravy. Finishing it means you get a picture of yourself holding a “No Cry Babies Sign.” But actual cry babies need not fear, there is the Sissy Avalanche, which also seems like an incredible undertaking. If you’re looking for a true local experience and a belly full of honest, down-home breakfast, you’ll find it at Grind & Grill Café. Just be ready to wait a while on the weekends. Also, how has Guy Fieri not been here?
42011 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake. (909) 866-5219, facebook.com/grindandgrillbigbear.
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