Off the eaten path: finding food for photographers in Owens Valley, California

Part of the fun in night photography is in the eatin’.

“Off the eaten path” will good eats in out of the way places. Landscape and night photographers often go to remote places off the beaten path. Although we bring our own food, sometimes, it feels really great to enjoy a well-cooked meal in a restaurant.

Admittedly, it’s not that challenging to find a decent place to eat in the Owens Valley. Even outside Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, there are plenty of great places. I’ll cover a few that I enjoy. 

These are good stops when going to photograph landscapes or dark sky places along the Eastern Sierra, Ancient Bristlecone PIne Forest, Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, Tioga Pass, Bodie Ghost Town or Yosemite. I will go from south to north.

Seasons, Lone Pine

This is located right near Dow Villa along the highway. Good sandwiches, very friendly service. 

Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, Lone Pine

Most of my night photography friends seem to like Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, so I’ll mention them here. However, I always seem to get meals that are okay, not amazing. But this is one of those places that serve big, hearty, gloppy American breakfasts, burgers, and baked goods, and they almost always have a line out the door. 

Merry Go Round, Lone Pine

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I like this place. Alright, it’s not amazing food. But it does taste good. It’s probably closer to Chinese-American food. You are not going to confuse it with really delicious restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles. However, it’s quite welcome, and I find myself going there often when in Lone Pine. However, my other night photography friends seem reluctant to eat here.

Merry Go Round is a Chinese restaurant inside what looks like a cool old historic round building, and doesn’t appear like a stereotypical Chinese restaurant from the exterior. Very friendly staff and a good selection of food.The mapo tofu is good, although I was surprised that crunchy little strips of water chestnuts and Chinese black beans are included in the dish, something I don’t think I’ve seen before (and I’m Chinese, so I’ve eaten my share of Chinese food). Giant portion as well. I mean huge.

Also, one can order steaks and a few American items. After all, this used to be a steakhouse. And it offers a few items in their South of the Border section as well, including cheese enchiladas, as the cook from the steakhouse, who is of Mexican descent, apparently works in the kitchen as well as the Asian chef.

Still Life Cafe, Independence

Blink and you’ll miss it. Behind a charming if unassuming storefront is an amazing bistro run by super friendly chef Malika Adjaoud Patron. The locals say that him and his wife do this just for the love of cooking. Great ambience, festooned with photos and paintings too. This place gets pegged as a French bistro, but really, they just serve good food. That’s all you have to know. Whether it’s Merguez (North African sausage), spaghetti bolognese, boeuf bourguignon, flank steak, and delicious salads, this place is a total gem. Check their hours before going, as they can be a bit erratic.

Copper Top BBQ, Big Pine

Close to the Copper Top even though it feels like a million miles away…

I’m going to mention this place even though I wasn’t blown away by what I had simply because everyone else seems to love it. I had a tri-tip sandwich. Although the taste was good, it was strangely dry. If I ever eat here again, I will probably try a pulled pork sandwich instead. Regardless, this place boasts quite a reputation. After all, according to the LA Times and Yelp, it received the title of “America’s Best Restaurant.”

Erick Schat’s Bakery

I wasn’t going to mention a restaurant in Bishop only because it’s a decent-sized town. Here and in Mammoth Lakes, it’s not that hard to find a decent meal. But this place bears mentioning because their bread is insanely good. And they also make great sandwiches. Whether you stop off here to get their Original Sheepherder Bread fresh from their stone ovens to make sandwiches or whatever, any number of astounding baked goods, or to order a sandwich from the back, you will not be disappointed. I personally love their cheese bread. Many of us make a special point to stop here. There’s another Schat’s Bakery in Mammoth which is run by a former sister-in-law.

Ohanas395, June Lake

Now we’re on to the tacos. This is a truck that is located right by June Lake Brewery along the June Lake Loop, another gorgeous area along Eastern Sierra that is known for their lakes and trees. It’s particularly popular with photographers in autumn when the trees turn vivid colors. 

I love their ahi tuna tacos. These are delicious by any standard. Excellent. The rest of their food looks and smells fantastic too. Super friendly people as well.

As a bonus, you can have a brew at the June Lake Brewing Company, and these guys will bring your food over. Just don’t ask June Lake Brewing Company what any of their beers are. I said hello and about their milk stout, and the guy replied, “You don’t know much about craft beer, do you?”

Tioga Gas Mart & Whoa Nellie Deli, Lee Vining

Fish tacos! At a Mobil gas station! And one of them even had mango salsa! 

This is a good place to stop and enjoy some tacos and beers after  photographing Bodie ghost town, Mono Lake, Yosemite, Saddlebag Lake, or other nearby areas.

Whoa Nellie Deli is a very popular stop for people going up or returning from Yosemite. Consequently, you’ll see lots of hikers, rock climbers, nature enthusiasts, and tourists hanging out and drinking beer in the very large outdoor area and relaxing. I do like the tacos at Ohanas395 more, but still, it’s good to know that you can grab a decent taco when heading up Tioga Pass or returning from a long photography expedition in Tuolumne Meadows. This place is just off Tioga Pass Road just outside Lee Vining.