11 best Reno restaurants to open so far in 2019
We’re not there yet.
The restaurant scene in Reno needs more of everything — from true Japanese (not AYCE!) to regional Mexican, from Middle Eastern spots to lots of grab-and-go healthy to Southeast Asian beyond Thai and Vietnamese.
At the same time, as I look back on the 11 most noteworthy restaurants to open so far in 2019, I’m pleased and heartened by their diversity: Hawaiian grindz, the cooking of Shanghai and Sichuan, German-inspired on Wells Avenue, modern Southern food and more.
Bars, breweries and distilleries didn’t make the list because they don’t focus on food. Restaurants opening another location (as opposed to being entirely new) weren’t included, either. Nor were chain restaurants.
Which means for this list, Panera — like fetch — isn’t going to happen.
Location: 8798 N. Red Rock Road, 775-622-8825
Aloha Shack has done what many dream of doing but don’t: make the move from food truck to restaurant. The popular truck serving Hawaiian standards like poké and plate lunch has gone bricks-and-mortar in the North Valleys in the same center as Pizza Factory.
Spam musubi is thick, sticky, salty — as it should be. Teriyaki chicken plate lunch features a heap of sweet-salty grilled bird. Aloha Shack is family owned, and images of the clan form a wall of “ohana” (Hawaiian for “family”) at the restaurant.
It’s a good thing Aloha Shack is in the North Valleys or this Hawaiian boy would be at the saimin far too often.
Location: In the Nugget Casino Resort, 1100 Nugget Ave., Sparks, 775-356-3300
Every casino worth its New York strip loin needs a good steakhouse, so it’s good to see the Nugget find that once more with Anthony’s Chophouse. The place is sleek and modern, composed of wood, marble and leather.
There’s a long bar for craft cocktails, a wine list of 200 domestic and international pours, and several private areas and dining rooms.
At the bar, try lamb lollipops or a chophouse burger variously accessorized. On the main menu, think seafood for two, Dover sole (a treat given the price of the fish these days), or a brawny bone-in rib-eye.
Location: At the Jesse Hotel & Bar, 350 Evans Ave., 775-737-9461
Estella is part of the Jesse Hotel & Bar on East Fourth Street, lying just across the tiled courtyard from the main building. The pocket-size taqueria and mezcal bar occupies the former Hub coffee roastery (hence the Evans Avenue address).
Estella’s menu draws inspiration from the chef’s travels in Mexico City and stints at top San Francisco restaurants. The tacos are built using thick handmade corn tortillas. Picks: smoked mushrooms strewn with pine nuts, for a vegetarian taco, and perfectly cooked carnitas, crisp-tender and spiked with housemade pickles.
Have the staff select a smoky mezcal, the cousin of tequila, for pairing. There are options for everyone from mezcal newbies to mezcalistas.
Location: 1401 S. Virginia St., 775-453-2223
Fat Cat, a down-mountain transplant of the Tahoe City original, chose Midtown Reno despite blocked streets and thickets of striped construction cones. Said owner Clint Peetz: “Waiting things out is worth it for the business.”
While Fat Cat waits, there are still to be had a dozen or so burgers fashioned from local Bently Ranch beef. Like an Aussie burger trimmed with fried egg, bacon, caramelized pineapple, onion rings and white cheddar.
Or the Fat Cat burger listing under the weight of three patties, its juices coursing down your hands. I went through a stack of napkins.
Location: 3940 Spring Drive, at Longley Lane, 775-384-9022
Kenji’s, another food truck-turned-restaurant, also makes the list. Owners Joe and Keliana Saffery concentrate on the restaurant, rolling out the truck only for occasional special events.
The couple transformed a ho-hum former pizzeria, putting up skimboards illustrating plate lunch history and installing a section of a food truck to partition the kitchen from the dining room.
The Hawaiian-Asian-Latino menu remains. I like to start with chicken pot stickers, dunked in shoyu and sriracha, or with kalua pork sliders swiped with chipotle crema. Next, it’s barbecue chicken plate lunch with the best mac salad between here and Haleiwa. Tastes like childhood.
Location: In the Summit center, 13967 S. Virginia St., 775-993-2499
When it comes to independent Reno restaurants, downtown and Midtown often receive the bulk of buzz, so in South Reno, the debut of a place that’s not a national chain always is welcome. For that reason alone, it’s worth taking note of Land Ocean grill.
The restaurant, sister to locations in Roseville and Folsom, Calif., works a nouveau steakhouse vibe with wood and stone accents, roomy booths and banquettes, and a menu of starter-size Wellingtons, a salmon BLT, wood-fire chicken, cold water lobster tails and cowboy rib-eyes.
Nothing against families, but in a part of town with so much family dining, Land Ocean offers a tree house for grown-ups. Let’s hear it for adulting — and for the weekend bottomless mimosa brunch.
Location: 955 S. Virginia St., 775-800-1403
Pangolin Café takes its name from a keratin-scaled mammal native to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. The name draws attention to the plight of the pangolin, whose prized scales make it among the most trafficked mammals on earth.
The café itself also is distinctive: It offers housemade toffees and Turkish delight, the flavored jellied candies often dusted with confectiones’ sugar, as well as teas, coffees and dense chewy Liège waffles with nuggets of pearl sugar.
I took a break from a morning of loathsome errands (I hate errands) in Pangolin’s bright, airy, soothing space. I sipped a mug of house roast and nibbled squares of lemon Turkish delight that were best of breed: deeply flavorful, pleasurably sour.
Edmund Pevensie would have approved.
Location: At Pignic Pub & Patio, 235 Flint St., 775-376-1948
In August, the folks at Pignic Pub & Patio turned their Pig Shack trailer, which had been open three nights a week, into the anchor of a permanent six-days-a-week restaurant called Pig Shack Eatery. Besides the trailer, the eatery makes use of Pignic’s smokers and grills.
Pig Shack serves Southern barbecue and other Southern food. There’s a lunch plate of brisket and green chili mac and cheese and another plate with Cajun shrimp and a cake of cheese grits. (The mac and cheese and the grits alone are worth the price of plate.)
At brunch, think about an omelet stuffed with brisket or with barbecue chicken, dirty rice and beans. You’ll be tempted to break open the omelet and eat the rice and beans first.
Pig Shack Gallery:Here’s what to try when Pig Shack Eatery opens in Reno
Location: Inside the Arlington Gardens Mall, 606 W. Plumb Lane, 775-384-2470
Rattlesnake Club, the centerpiece of a $3 million makeover of Arlington Gardens Mall, stumbled when it opened with kitchen and staffing challenges. Still, there was no denying the visual appeal of a large terrace, soaring 25-foot ceilings and columns clad in Oregon granite.
Today, the restaurant seems to be finding its way with crisp polenta matched with local Flocchini sausage, wood-fire pizzas like the Margherita (vegan crust available), and a nicely rendered piece of halibut I had at dinner.
An easy intro to Rattlesnake is the weekday happy hour, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., with a selection of food items running $6-10. My group likes to share the charcuterie board and the Margherita and pepperoni pizzas.
Location: In Orchard Plaza, 2303 S. Virginia St., 775-622-3098
They’re getting the band back together at Shanghai Bistro. The restaurant reunites Ellen Woo and chef Hong Li in the former 168 Chinese restaurant space. Woo owned 168; Li was head chef.
At Shanghai Bistro, there will be familiar Chinese-American standards, plus Shanghainese and Sichuanese dishes that harness Li’s training. Shanghai: lion’s head meatballs and braised red pork belly, for example. Sichuan: beef in chili sauce or mung bean noodles tossed in chili oil.
My suggestion? Ask chef Li to prepare the tofu soup and a dish of cold slivered Sichuan vegetables. Move from there to the mung bean noodles slicked with oil (be sure to specify spice level), then finish with oversize lion’s head meatballs.
For group action, there are table top induction hot pots in which folks cook their own seafood, meat and vegetables in bubbling broth. Afterward, have the kitchen make a soup of the leftover broth. Waste not, want not.
Location: 805 S. Wells Ave., 775-622-3687
A portrait of Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of Germany in the late 19th century, commands the central axis of Von Bismarck, the Wells Avenue restaurant named after him. And that’s as it should be for a chancellor, a prince and a famously expansive eater.
Germany provides inspiration for Von Bismarck — no one is claiming there’s a German grandma in the kitchen. Look for about a dozen German beers, the best German wine list in town, and a changing menu whose praises are being sung in the key of mussels with bratwurst and wild boar schnitzel.
Oh, and the bathrooms are killer