When visiting a resort community such as South Lake Tahoe, asking a local resident where to eat is almost a no-brainer.
We were enjoying brunch at a South Shore institution, the Red Hut (the newest location on Ski Run), when the hostess overhead us discussing an Italian restaurant for dinner. She suggested that our tentative choice, located near our motel, was okay, but there was a local favorite that was much better.
We heeded her advice and made a reservation at Primo’s, located in the back of an old strip center on Highway 50 between the Y and Tahoe Keys Boulevard. There are about 50 seats, so the reservation was a good choice, even on a Wednesday. We arrived a few minutes before 6 p.m. and the tables filled up quickly. The menu is offered to go, which could be a good choice on busy nights.
The family history of Primo’s dates to 1962 when Jim Primo’s father opened the first family restaurant on Beacon Hill in Boston. Jim brought the cuisine to South Lake Tahoe when he opened in the current location in 2012. All the pastas, sauces and desserts are made in-house from scratch and demonstrated that care.
For lunch, 14-inch pizzas cooked in a brick oven are a favorite (also available at dinner). You can build your own salad and enjoy entrees that range from baked rigatoni to chicken parmesan, house-baked ravioli as well as calzones and Italian cold sub sandwich.
The appetizers are the same on both menus: spinach-stuffed mushrooms, sautéed shrimp and calamari, steamed mussels and Sambuca shrimp (also Bruschetta).
We skipped the appetizers in favor of the Super Caesar that added roasted peppers, candied cashews and gorgonzola cheese to the traditional romaine and dressing.
I opted for the Arugula salad with roasted beets and goat cheese. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, it was delightful.
The entrees included your choice of free-range organic chicken or milk-fed veal prepared as parmigiana, marsala, picata or saltimbocca. My bride opted for the chicken marsala served over pappardelle noodles—sensational. The home-made pasta was excellent and the mushroom/Marsala sauce complemented the chicken perfectly.
I enjoyed the same pasta under my veal saltimbocca with the salty prosciutto complementing the veal perfectly.
My daughter, always a pasta fan, loved the linguine Carbonara—a clean plate followed. Italian classics included meat lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo, handmade ravioli, rigatoni with sausage and mushrooms and seafood Fra Diavolo in a spicy tomato sauce served over pasta.
Freshly baked bread accompanied by a dipping sauce of olive oil and balsamic vinegar started our meal. We had a second loaf, it was so good.
There’s a wide range of Italian wines offered that range in price from $30 per bottle to $95 for a Super Tuscan.
We finished with excellent desserts. I loved a free-form tiramisu served in a latte cup instead of the traditional loaf. The ladies enjoyed a panna cotta with a berry sauce, one of their favorites.
Our server was attentive, helpful with a recommendation on the wine and guided us to our brunch site the next morning—the Downtown Café in Meyers.
We look forward to our next trip to Tahoe so we can return. If you order a salad and pasta, you easily can dine for $75 including a bottle of wine.
Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week followed by dinner until 9 p.m. Primo’s is open 4-9 p.m. on the weekends.
We returned for a takeout meal during the pandemic shutdown in August. My daughter again selected the linguine Carbonara–not a good choice to go unless you aren’t traveling far. By the time we opened the box about 25 minutes later, it was a tasty but congealed mess.
That’s not the case with the lasagna that was still hot and still ready to enjoy. This was the first time we’d tried the lasagna here and it likely will not be the last. We also shared the veal Marsala over homemade pasta. The mushroom and Marsala sauce complemented the perfectly cooked and fork-tender veal.
The other highlight was Burratta Cheese Caprese. Thinly sliced toasted French bread accompanied by the burratta, fresh tomatoes drizzled in balsamic vinegar and topped with a basil-oil sauce. We would have welcomed a double portion to share among the three of us.
By Tim Hunt