These days, it's easy to forget that Reno was founded by immigrants. While the city has plenty of local character, it also has its fair share of strip malls, chain stores and corporate fast food restaurants. That's not to say that Reno doesn't have excellent restaurants, because it does. But they tend to be steak houses, buffets, Italian joints or Americanized Chinese diners.
The local dining scene is slowly getting more diverse, however. From Ethiopian injera to Greek lamb, it's possible to find some truly exotic tastes in Reno if you know where to look. And we do:
El Salvador (517 Forest St.) probably serves the best Salvadorean food in Nevada. While the restaurant may seem like an average Mexican restaurant at first glance, the food quickly dispels that illusion. In addition to tacos and burritos, El Salvador serves empanadas, fried yucca and pupusas. Purists swear the pupusas, thick tortillas stuffed with meat and other ingredients and then grilled, are less than traditional, but that doesn't make them any less tasty. Highly recommended.
Zagol Ethiopian Restaurant (855 E. Fourth Street, www.zagolofreno.com) is unique in the city, and in fact much of the region. Somewhat upscale but reasonably priced, the restaurant features Ethiopian art and furniture. Meals such as gored gored (sauteed herbed beef cubes) and mesir wat (spicy split lentils) are served on wicker tables with flatbread called injera. There are no utensils -- diners scoop up their entrees with injera from a huge shared platter and share a single large salad. House specialties include various chicken dishes and a special combination of cooked collard greens, yellow split peas and beef.
Palais de Jade (960 W. Moana Lane, www.palaisdejadereno.com) has been winning "Best of Reno" votes for more than a decade. Far from the greasy eggrolls and limp chow mein of many Chinese restaurants, Palais de Jade is gourmet all the way and carries the price tag to prove it. The three-course V.I.P. dinner is the way to go here, as it allows diners to sample numerous dishes such as seafood sizzling rice soup, jade duck and Mongolian-style lamb. The luncheon special offers more traditional fare at a greatly reduced price, but is still a cut above standard Chinese offerings.
India Kabobs & Curry (1091 S. Virginia Street) serves up an unusual menu of Indian dishes such as samosas (turnovers), pakoras (meat or cheese fried in chickpea batter) and of course kabobs and vegetables. The lunch buffet, served from 10:30 a.m-3 p.m. offers a moderate entry point for newbies.
The popular Blue Plate (236 California Ave.) is an unusual Bay Area-style bistro in the heart of Reno. The place serves a variety of American and ethnic dishes ranging from pasta to potstickers to cookies, and the menu is often limited to what the chef feels like making on any given day. While the place may be too hip by half, the semi-regular Greek night remains a unique and tasty event.
Kyoto (915 W. Moana Lane, www.kyoto4u.com) focuses on Japanese-style steak and seafood. The chef's egg special (scrambled eggs with meat), tsumire (stuffed bell peppers) and sha-bu sha-bu (steak casserole) offer a new take on the concept of East-West fusion. The sushi is also good, but we recommend you try some of the house specials. You can get sushi just about anywhere.
El Adobe Cafe (55 W. Arroyo St. www.eladobecafe.com) is a traditional Mexican food restaurant, but it is so well done you may not recognize it. Owner-chef Raul Berumen was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and worked at a series of high-end restaurants, before moving to Reno and opening El Adobe. Even after a remodel, the building is pleasant but unremarkable, but there is hardly a bad thing on the menu. The chile verde and birria are not to be missed.
Bangkok Cuisine (55 Mt. Rose St.) and its offspring Bangkok Cuisine Express (6170 Mae Anne Ave.) are Reno institutions. Decorated with Asian statues, blue-and-white dinnerware and other decorative touches reminiscent of Thailand's capital city, the setting at Bangkok Cuisine is almost as authentic as the cuisine. The menu is fairly broad, but most diners stick to pud thai or one of the many curries, as well they should. Manly men beware: If you blithely ask for the spiciest curry here, you might be leaving in an ambulance. The off-menu "Thai hot" spice level can be rough on Westerners. That said, Bangkok Cuisine does an admirable job of upping its dishes' spice without losing their complexity. A tip for the uninitiated: Bangkok's naan flatbread is delicious alone, great with a salad and unbeatable when used to soak up the dregs of your curry.
Article written by Matt Farley. Farley is a Nevada native who has worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and Nevada Magazine and been syndicated by The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and the Las Vegas Review Journal.