THE PLACE: Here’s a tidbit for you: Golden Flower Vietnamese Restaurant, the Reno icon on West Fifth Street, wasn’t always the only Golden Flower in town.
For a time nearly 20 years ago, there were two blossoms: the downtown original and a New Golden Flower that occupied the space on South Virginia Street (at Mount Rose Street) where Mario’s Portofino now flourishes. The owner of the second Golden Flower, it seems, had once owned the first.
I recently learned of the dueling Golden Flowers, and so I thought I’d share. This completes today’s lesson in Reno restaurant history; thank you for your attention.
THE LOOK: Every couple of years, I like to check on Golden Flower in my official capacity. The look and feel remain comfortably the same: a smattering of Asian art, ranks of numbered tables, general hubbub by the register.
GOLDEN FLOWER VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
Address: 205 W. Fifth St.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily
What’s $10 or less: Almost everything is less than $11.
THE MEAL: A recent visit is deliberately made during the day so I can do Golden Flower at lunch (I’m typically there late at night). Let’s go at 1 p.m., I tell my companion. By that time, the lunch crowd will have thinned.
Wrong! What a crush! Times are good at Golden Flower. There’s not a seat to be had, and so we wait for a few minutes, watching bowls of fragrant pho sail by.
Ah, a table. No. 5, in the southwest corner. Though the dining room is packed, someone almost immediately is at table to take our order, which we do by the numbers: 12, 36, 136.
Golden Flower’s service is famously brusque (or famously efficient, depending on how you look at it). Boom, boom, boom, our dishes touch down.
There’s a small bowl of No. 12 (rare steak pho), with that signature balanced broth my friend unbalances (in a good way) with jabs of sriracha. My Singapore rice noodles (a dish I could eat every day) come nicely loaded with shrimp and char siu (next time, I’m asking for extra curry).
In between tending to our dishes, my friend and I dunk paunchy pot stickers (fried) in a good and vinegary dipping sauce.
Across the room, I see two close friends, former downtown and Midtown boys, who have moved to the hinterlands. Still, they’re in Golden Flower at least once a week. Apparently, there’s no decent pho in the backwoods.
KUDOS: The food, always. And there’s a lot of it on the menu. On my next couple of visits, I’m going to have to explore — as I’ve told myself for years — beyond noodles and dumplings (and the occasional banh mi).
QUIBBLES: Once, I might have said the small parking lot, but as I recently discover (can’t believe it took me so long), there’s another, larger lot just to the west of the building.
ALTERNATIVES: Won ton and seafood rice noodle soups; flame-broiled proteins atop coils of cold noodles; various stir-frys; and a Chinese menu.
RETURN TRIP?: Golden Flower ranks among Reno’s signature dining experiences.