Road Trip: Big Bear, Big Flavors

Skip the chain restaurants and turn your snowy journey into an exotic and gut-busting eating adventure

Going to Big Bear is about playing in the snow, but you can also warm up on your trip with Vietnamese and Himalayan food.

Just 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake’s many charms twinkle especially bright in the winter when the small hamlet is blanketed with powder. Ice skating, sledding, snowboarding, inner tubing, and skiing are astonishingly easy for Angelenos to partake in, even for a daycation. The end is glorious–cold weather!–but the means to get there are somewhat lacking; your food options as you drive over to San Bernadino County can seem limited to chains, chains, and more chains. Luckily, a few restaurants just off the freeway beckon.

Clearman’s North Woods Inn in San Gabriel sports a log-cabin façade dusted with faux snow. Kitschy? Definitely. But so is Big Bear, bursting with carved woodland creatures and portraits of noble gray wolves. Embrace the kitsch-tastic mountain-resort life. Clearman’s is a meatery that serves lumberjack steaks and steak chunks on a skewer, but the best item on the mostly paleo-friendly menu is decidedly vegetarian: the Two Salad combo with cheese bread. Delightfully old-school with iceberg lettuce, bleu cheese dressing, red cabbage, and gooey toast, this in no way resembles a healthy meal.

In a Highland mini-mall at the bottom of the mountain sits Pho T & T Vietnamese Restaurant. Much more refined than the exterior suggests, this streamlined bistro ladles up all kinds of Asian soup, from pho to wonton to asparagus with crab meat. The large portions are packed with fresh veggies and herbs, like Thai basil, cilantro, and lemongrass.

Go for the view, stay for the view. Pomona Valley Mining Co. exploits the city’s romantic history of mid-1800s gold prospecting with wagon wheels, lanterns, and rusted cauldrons from the era. The restaurant is perched on a cliff overlooking Interstate 10, and while that might not sound particularly charming, it is. The panoramic vistas, day and night, pair well with a drink and a appetizer, like the artichoke (gigantic) or loaded baked potato.

Big Bear Lake itself has a small, walkable downtown, tarted up with alpine charm, where you can find a latte at the Copper Q or a piece of fudge at the Village Sweet Shoppe. And while all of the restaurants in town cater to tourists, there are three that transcend expectations.

Nepalese, Tibetan, and Indian food can be found downtown at Himalayan Restaurant. There are appetizers galore, from mo-mos, a meat or vegetable dumpling, to pakaudas (like pakoras) to samosas. For entrees, there are vindaloo, masala, curry, and Thali dishes, and the cooks are happy to adjust the spice level to your palate. The fresh naan and papadum make this a kid-friendly restaurant, too.

Decorated in the Swiss-chalet style common to the area, Teddy Bear Restaurant, also downtown, offers the kind of home-style cooking any good road trip deserves. The food is hearty and fresh with integral house-made components, like barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes. The owner’s mother, Gladys, makes pies from scratch. The pies (apple, French apple, rhubarb, berry, and seasonal varieties) are available warm or cold, plain or a la mode. Breakfast here is also first-rate.

After an active day outdoors, your burger craving might be through the roof. Get The Burger slings quarter-pound patties, augmented with a house-made “special” sauce, and gut-busting side dishes that have the joint bustling with both locals and tourists. Try the Tater O’Neills, tater tots slathered in chives, sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits. Or take a stab at the Purple Gremlin, a concoction of vanilla ice cream doused with grape Crush. 

Enjoy the moment and Big Bear’s proximity before winter melts away. Come get your snow on, and remember that winter is the time for fattening up. The charms of the road beckon.

redarrow Clearman’s North Woods Inn, 7247 Rosemead Blvd., San Gabriel, 626-286-3579

redarrow Pho T & T Vietnamese Restaurant, 7750 Palm Ave., Unit O, Highland, 909-864-4290

redarrow Pomona Valley Mining Co., 1777 Gillette Road, Pomona, 909-623-3515

redarrow Himalayan Restaurant, 672 Pine Knot Blvd., Big Bear Lake, 909-878-3068

redarrow Teddy Bear Restaurant, 583 Pine Knot Ave., Big Bear Lake, 909-866-5415

redarrow Get The Burger, 42151 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake, 909-866-8800