This here food and drink gig typically invites one of three questions from folks: Do restaurant owners recognize you? (Some do, some don’t.) Is it hard to keep your weight down? (It sure is.) What’s your favorite restaurant? (I don’t have just one.)
With that last question, I go on to explain that my reason for visiting a restaurant might depend on the occasion or its location (drive? walk?) or — most importantl — what I want to eat or sip. In other words, I visit different places for different dishes and drinks.
With that in mind, I’m sharing my favorites from a dozen different spots (in alphabetical order). As I like to joke, these are some of the standouts on which I’ll spend my own money, not just my expense account.
Another day, another time, I might choose a different dozen.
Campo Reno: Caramel Budino
I’m not a sweets person (I save those calories for wine and booze.). I’m not a fan of restaurant food in jars (a twee, tired trend). But when it comes to Campo’s caramel budino, I overlook all that as I excavate sweet, salty, creamy, crumbly strata of chocolate cookie, salted caramel pudding and whipped cream.
Chapel Tavern: Wakey Wakey Bloody Mary
There are bloody Marys, and then there is Chapel Tavern’s Wakey Wakey bloody Mary. It’s a bloody marvelous lollapalooza built with horseradish vodka and fresh horseradish, stout beer, bacon, seasonal skewered vegetables and a grilled cheese garnish. AKA: all the food groups in a glass.
Death & Taxes: Foreign Relations Cocktail
I’m a creature of cocktail habit. Few bars can consistently convince me to sip beyond a martini. Death & Taxes is one of the few. Its Foreign Relations cocktail supplies a malty, bittersweet conclave of Japanese and Scotch whiskies and two Italian aperitivos, garnished with D & T’s moody swank.
Dynasty China Bistro: Pork and Vegetarian Dumplings
When it comes to jiaozi, a style of Chinese dumpling, a thin wrapper indicates a dumpling properly made. At Dynasty China Bistro, the jiaozi are superlatively thin-skinned, the regular parcels carrying a cargo of ground pork, the vegetarian version sporting green wrappers made with spinach.
Imbib Custom Brews: Nevada Weisse
Whether you’re a beer geek or new to craft beer or somewhere in the middle (like me), the folks at Imbib approach the subject with expertise and passion that’s never pretentious. Start with a refreshingly tart, always-on-tap Nevada Weisse (or one of its fruited versions), then explore from there.
La Strada (Eldorado Resort Casino): Mushroom Ravioli
Mushroom ravioli, the Eldorado’s signature dish, are served in three of the property’s restaurants, but their best expression occurs in flagship La Strada, where they arrive fresh from the pasta shop upstairs.
The ravioli are stuffed with earthy porcini mushrooms, then splashed with velvety porcini cream sauce. The exact recipe remains secret.
LuLou’s: Pork Buns
Many consider LuLou’s to be the region’s finest restaurant. Its pork buns have helped build this reputation.
They’re a modern twist on char siu bao meets Peking duck, one featuring meltingly rich pork belly, shiitakes, and jabs of pickled cucumber, all enrobed by a soft bun. Spicy dunking sauce adds to the pleasure.
Manhattan Deli (Atlantis Casino Resort Spa): Matzo Ball Soup
East meets West at Manhattan Deli. East Coast meets West Coast, that is. Reno’s only New-York style Jewish deli composes a matzo ball that’s just right: not too soft, not too firm.
The ball rises from a light yet substantial chicken broth populated with carrots and celery. The bowl size is a meal in itself.
Midtown Eats: Atomic Burger
Whenever I visit, I vow to order something besides the atomic burger. And then I end up ordering it again. But do you blame me?
The burger features a brawny half-pound patty that’s fashioned from natural Painted Hills beef, then swagged with mixed greens, habanero, avocado and chipotle aïoli. In keeping with its name, the burger is truly spicy.
Midtown Wine Bar: Wine by the glass
Midtown Wine Bar lies within Reno’s buzziest district — and feels a little apart from it, too. Which is to say, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Come for a glass of Washington riesling or an affordable red blend from France.
Hungry? Order delivery from one of the surrounding restaurants. For folks who like a floor show with their grape, there’s live entertainment five nights a week.
Smiling with Hope Pizza: New York Slice
New York-inspired pies — thin crust, swipes of tomato sauce, whole-milk mozzarella, pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano — emerge blistered and bubbling from two hulking Blodgett pizza ovens.
To eat, fold slices in half, New-York style. Elevating the experience? Smiling with Hope’s training program for people with disabilities.
Tacos El Rey: Tacos al Pastor
The restaurant has three locations, making it easy to grab great tacos. Although Tacos El Rey offers nearly two dozen taco meats, my favorite is the pastor, the pork juicy and slightly crisp, with a nip of chile heat and traditional pineapple sweetness.
Onions, cilantro and spatters of salsa finish the tacos. At $1.25, they’re one of Reno’s best meal deals.