Mr. Comma and I have been road tripping up the 395 to Mammoth Lakes annually for the past 6 years to celebrate my birthday in early October. It’s the perfect time of year to visit if you like crisp autumn weather, trees with shimmering yellow and orange leaves, and none of the crowds of summer or winter.
The Stove, in Mammoth's "old town" area
Even without the seasonal hordes, there’s almost always a bit of a wait for breakfast or lunch at the Stove, a Mammoth Lakes institution. Fortunately, tables at this cozy eatery tend to turn over fairly quickly, what with all the great outdoors waiting to be had. I think the Stove is the one place where we’ve eaten at some point every single year we’ve come to town. Hearty and homey, it’s pure mountain comfort food.
Many meals at the Stove (click to enlarge)
Just a few miles south of Mammoth is stunning, crystal-clear Convict Lake, cut deep into the Sherwin Range at the foot of Mount Morrison. The Restaurant at Convict Lake has a reputation as one of the best (and most expensive) fine dining establishments in the area—we’d indulged in a decadent birthday dinner of beef Wellington and seared duck here a couple of years ago—but little did we know that the adjacent lounge serves casual pub grub that’s delicious and cheap. After a glorious afternoon boating on the lake, Mr. Comma and I tucked into a bowl of bartender/chef Tim’s chili for a mere $5. Homemade with pinto beans, chunks of tri-tip steak, tomato, and a blend of spices, and garnished with grated cheddar and crunchy slivers of fried onion, this simple and satisfying meal was one of our favorites of the trip. (Tim knows how to pour a drink, too.)
Tim's tri-tip chili at the Restaurant at Convict Lake's lounge
A good pour
No mountain food round-up would be complete without mention of the Whoa Nellie Deli. Perhaps most famous for being located inside a Mobil gas mart, near the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, the modest kitchen dishes out gourmet fish tacos, lobster taquitos, wild buffalo meatloaf, and more, all with a view of Mono Lake. The prices are a bit higher than at your average walk-up counter (entrees run from $11.95 to $19.50), but the unique setting makes the Whoa Nellie Deli worth checking out.
The Whoa Nellie Deli at the Tioga Gas Mart (click to enlarge)
Finally, one of our essential stops on the way out is Pie in the Sky Café at the Rock Creek Lakes Resort, about 9 miles up an aspen-lined road snaking through the Inyo National Forest. Hikers, bikers, campers, fishers, and nature photographers all converge at a tiny, 6-stool counter tucked in the corner of the rustic resort’s general store to feast on a selection of half a dozen or so piping hot pies baked from scratch every morning. Come too early and some of the pies aren’t ready yet; come too late and they’re all gone. On our most recent visit, we savored a slice each of lemon cream and Mom’s apple, and a fellow customer let us sample a bite of her cheddar pear pie—an unlikely combination but one of the cafe’s most popular. We were lucky to catch Pie in the Sky open on its last day of business before closing for the season.
Pie in the Sky Café (click to enlarge)
I'm already looking forward to next year.