Restaurants in small mountain towns have all the usual challenges that city eateries do, and then some: they also face the additional problem of navigating the seasonal ebb and flow of tourism, even when they are located around Lake Tahoe, and even when they are in affluent towns like Incline Village. Incline has a full-time population of fewer than 9,000 people, which, in summer, swells to well over 16,000.

For a restaurant to succeed here, it has to be very good. Incline is fortunate to have several excellent spots that have become staples in the local dining scene. For something beyond the family-friendly, budget minded favorites like Tomaatos and Austins, try bite the next time you are on the north side of the lake. On this trip, the husband and I stopped in at bite, “a tapas restaurant with an American flair.”

The menu is divided into five categories—snacks, soups and salads, sliders, small plates and sides. The food is creative and varied, and it’s hard not to give into temptation and order too much. Be forewarned—the dishes are more substantial than many other tapas-style restaurants we’ve been to. If you want to splurge or come with a larger group, it’s fun to order lots of dishes to share. But it’s also a great place for two – soft lights, and good acoustics that strike the right balance between hushed and noisy, lend a romantic feel.

You can eat in the bar or dining room. The bar is upscale and modern, and we love the fact that there are heavy drapes just inside the door so the chilly Tahoe winds don’t blast the place every time the door opens. It also adds to space’s loungy, hip atmosphere. The dining room is more open but still feels intimate. Bite’s website calls the atmosphere “elegantly rustic.”

We ordered the Shaved Winter Salad, which is an inspired mix of thinly sliced fennel, apple, pear, grapefruit and red beets, topped with blue cheese and candied pecans in a sherry vinaigrette ($9). The flavor combinations in this dish are superb. In this era of overdressed and over-salted salads, this one shows restraint, so that the freshness and flavors stand on their own.

Next we tried two slider dishes, the TVR Beef Shortrib sliders ($10) and the Crispy Goat Cheese sliders ($10). The shortrib sliders were embellished with crispy onions and tomato/sweet pepper spread, and were flavorful but a bit greasy for our taste. I would definitely order the goat cheese sliders again, they were rich and creamy, but I found the tomato jam excessive, making the dish a tad too sweet.

We could have stopped there. It was enough food for a light meal for two, but we ordered one of our favorite small plates: Grilled Halibut Silver Dollar Tacos with Chipotle Aioli, Cilantro and Lime ($13). This dish is just a standout every time we eat at bite. Made with fresh fish and served with extra slices of lime, it’s simply delicious, and with 4 tacos on the plate, we couldn’t even contemplate ordering dessert.

Since we had just come from the Hyatt where we each bet on a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and watched the race from the bar, sipping mint juleps of course, we decided to share a glass of wine. The wine list is 40 bottles strong, with many great choices. Being fans of Rhone-style wines, we chose a Truchard Roussanne ($10), a rare and intensely flavored Carneros white wine with honeydew melon and yellow fruit overtones, and bright acidity which paired well with each of the dishes.

We lingered over coffee, drinking in the pleasure of being back in Tahoe again, which is the best stress-reliever I know. Coupled with the lack of sticker shock when the bill came, the mellow vibe and creative food done well is what makes bite a perennial favorite. The total bill for the wine, three dishes and coffee, with tax, came to just under $59.