The Basque culture in Nevada is strong, especially in Reno. Beginning in the gold rush era, many Basque natives immigrated to Nevada in search of opportunity, particularly in the gold mines, but young men quickly found more money could be made doing the more traditional work of sheepherding. By establishing themselves as herders on working farms and/or taking sheep as payment to build their own herds, the young herders could send for their families and enjoy a better life more quickly than those working in the mines.
Given the history, Reno's Basque food culture is alive and well with two popular restaurants for traditional Basque food: Louis' Basque Corner and The Santa Fe Hotel.
Louis' Basque Corner (301 E. 4th Street, corner of 4th and Evans. 775-323-7203.) was opened in 1967 by Louis and Lorraine Erreguible to honor their Basque homeland and heritage. Louis' love of cooking led to the renovation of the Lincoln Hotel (across from the Lincoln Lounge), where current owners Chris Shanks and Brian Elcano carry on the traditions Louis and Lorraine started nearly 50 years ago.
Basque restaurants are based around family-style seating and service, Louis' being no exception. In years past, restaurants were built below hotels, where sheepherders often stayed, allowing the men to come together for the evening meal and good conversation, with the Picon Punch flowing freely.
Shanks and Elcano have done their best to maintain the original menu Louis created when he opened the Basque Corner. Lunch (bazkari) consists of family style sides such as beans, soup, salad, bread, and meat options such as lamb, steak, and pork chops. For those folks less eager to try sweetbreads, there are also more modern options such as burgers and mozzarella sticks. Louis' also offers daily lunch specials.
Dinner (afari) offers diners options similar to lunch, but with the addition of filet mignon and lamb chops. Dinner specials include oxtails bourguigon, beef tongue, and lomo (pork loin with pimento). Note that lunch and dinner specials vary from day to day so be sure to ask your server what's on the menu for the meal.
Louis' offers an extensive wine list, both by the bottle and by the glass, as well as happy hour daily from 2:30-5:30. Although the main menu may not be to everyone's taste, there are plenty of bar options, too, from burgers and chicken sandwiches to chicken wings and garlic fries. Heck, it's worth it for the atmosphere alone – the servers all wear traditional Basque costumes and the decor is simple, with exposed brick and wood walls.
Louis' is open Monday 4 p.m.-close, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-close, and Sunday 4 p.m.-10 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, click here.
When The Santa Fe Basque Hotel (235 North Lake Street. 775-323-1891.) first opened it offered immigrants a friendly face, familiar language, a warm bed, and a hearty meal, conveniently located near the train station, which is how many Basque immigrants first arrived in Nevada. Now, more than 50 years later, the Santa Fe is still offering traditional and hearty Basque food in a family-friendly environment with all the familiar comforts of the Basque country.
The Picon Punch flows freely and the food, like at Louis', is served family style. All meals include soup, salad, beans, french fries, wine, ice cream or hard cheese, as well as an entree and other side dishes from a rotating menu of long-time favorites. Entrees include Santa Fe chicken, leg of lamb, oxtail stew, meatballs, paella, and more.
The prices at the Santa Fe are more reasonable when compared to Louis'. The family style dinner at Santa Fe comes in at $14, while eating the same meal at Louis' will run you between $24.95 and $34.95. The dessert selection at the Santa Fe is wider, including Gateau Basque, which is a tart constructed of an almond flour cake base and filled with pastry cream or preserved cherries.
Lunch at the Santa Fe is available from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and dinner is served from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations and take out are available, as well as accommodations for banquets and private parties.
Either way, if you're looking for great Basque food in Reno, you can't go wrong with Louis' Basque Corner or The Santa Fe.