Having made many treks to a project under construction in the Sierras, you look for unusual places to stop for lunch or find relief from the tedious drive. The 2 1/2-hour drive from Napa to Calaveras County has numerous unique stops along the way. Recently, I stopped in Rio Vista, a small river port in the Delta, whose downtown has not changed in 60 years. Someone suggested I try Foster’s Big Horn for a sandwich. Low and behold, this was a new adventure. Here, you will encounter one of the nation’s biggest collections of stuffed animal heads and
Foster’s Bighorn Restaurant is an old fashion saloon, vintage 1931, started by Bill Foster, a nefarious scoundrel, one step in front of the law. Bill was shipped to Africa as a young boy and loved it. He returned to Africa in 1928 for a big Safari, afterwards, making many trips there as well as to Canada, Alaska, Montana and everywhere big game roamed. Bill often brought his own taxidermist when he travelled. Bill would shoot, and beheaded the animals. Many are stuffed and mounted on the walls of the restaurant and are 80 years old.
The Big Horn is one of the world’s most remarkable collections of taxidermy, with over 300 animal heads, birds and fish from all around the world. It is more of a museum than a bar with the most stuffed and mounted big game trophies and will never be duplicated again.
I couldn’t believe the huge bull elephant in the back room that measured 13 feet from ear tips to trunk was real. I’m told the head is the largest mammal trophy of any collection in the world. It is hung on that wall since 1952.
In a chat with Bill behind the bar will, I learned that people come in and take pictures, swear at him and sometimes hit him. “Either you love this place or you hate it. There’s nothing in between!”, says Bill.
Of course, it is, above all, a restaurant, classic roadhouse style. The menu is all-American hamburgers, but with a twist. Bison and Buffalo are often on the menu. A sign on the wall leftover from the 60’s notes, “Elk stew on Thursdays”. Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately, wild elk meat is no longer available.
You can’t visit a river city, such as Rio Vista, without ordering the fresh catch. The Po’boy of fried oysters is among the best I’ve ever had. All of their portions are huge and their prices are very affordable. Parking can be a challenge, especially when the street is filled with middle aged bikers making a field trip to Foster’s Bighorn.
In today’s world of political correctness and vegan diets, Foster’s Bighorn is a museum of a world long gone. We may not like or condone what was done, but it was part of our DNA and shows the rich diverse history of the Bay Area. While we may not romanticize this brief moment in history, it is there and you don’t have to like it to see it.