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Yummy Taiwanese at 101

101 Restaurant's Braised Pork and a Tofu Taiwanese Hamburger
101 Restaurant’s Braised Pork and a Tofu Taiwanese Hamburger. I had already eaten the egg…

Ah, Chinese food.  How happy we should all be that the American palate has opened up so much in the last decade plus.  This opening of the palate has allowed all kinds of restaurants to work that previously wouldn’t have.  Sometimes, some general’s chicken, fried rice and an eggroll hits the spot.  Other times, it’s fun to have some more options.  And now we have another option:  Taiwanese, at a restaurant called 101 on West Fifth Street at Ralston.  I had the chance to eat there recently, and I can tell you it’s good.

Once you’ve visited this restaurant, you might think it’s funny to hear about “Americanized” Chinese food in a derogatory sense.  One whole category of menu items at 101 is “Taiwanese Hamburgers”:  made with pork or tofu.  This is a steamed bun, flattened down and folded over like a taco, and then the meat, in the form of a patty, goes inside, along with relish and cilantro and some tasty sauce (not regular ketchup)  I had the tofu Taiwanese Hamburger and it was very tasty.

The other thing I tried was the braised pork and rice.  This rice bowl was vaguely reminiscent of teriyaki: sauced up very tender meat over white rice, with some pickled daikon, relish and a hard-boiled egg.  In addition to being a very colorful dish, and super affordable at $3.99, it was also incredibly tasty and would have made a fine lunch all on its own.

It’ll definitely be worth a trip back to try some of their more conventional entrees, which cost around 8 bucks.  Also, the bobba tea:  this place has a bobba tea bar, and the machine is whirring away constantly.  One bonus is that above the tea bar is a television tuned into some Chinese television station over satellite.

The décor at 101 is clean and modern.  The kitchen window kind of opens out into the restaurant, so if you want to get a look inside there, you can.  There weren’t many customers when I went (it was late for lunch and early for dinner) and the service was very good-attention was paid to the water glass and there were many table visits.  I suspect it would be nearly as good with a full dining room.

I’ll be headed back to 101.  I’m getting spoiled for choice on Chinese food in this town.  Now if they’ll only start to recognize me and stop bringing me a fork…

Chinese Hot Pot Fixes Ya Right Up

If I were to tell you that tucked into a strip mall right in the middle of Reno is a place where your party can sit down, choose a variety of meats, vegetables and broths to be brought to your table, and the whole gaggle of you can sit there, holding court, for well over an hour, dipping the ingredients (which come out raw) into the boiling broth, cooking them right there, dipping them into a sauce of your own creation, that you also prepare right at your table, sitting there cooking and dipping and eating for a length of time approximated by this run-on sentence… what would you say?  If you would say, “Let’s get over there RIGHT NOW!” then you would be saying the right thing, so I will tell you that the name of this place is Café 168 and its location is the Orchard Plaza strip mall, across from the remains of Park Lane Mall on South Virginia Street in Reno.

Café 168 is a Chinese place the likes of which you don’t see open up too often anywhere.  The lunch specials include a duck plate: not the typical Peking duck you might be used to, this is a roasted bone-in duck breast with rice and Chinese broccoli.  There is a beef stew that is made mostly from beef tendon.  The lunch specials come with soup and an egg roll, in addition to the main course and rice, plus depending on the main a vegetable side.   They are a good value.

I wish I had something to say about the other dishes on the menu, but I don’t.  Because when I go to 168, it’s either for a lunch special (and I haven’t eaten my way through the whole lunch menu yet – give me time) or for the aforementioned hot pot.

The good way to do hot pot is to order two colors of broth, one or two meats, tofu, noodles, and a vegetable.  Be prepared to spend some money on that combination (up to 40 dollars, all told) and if your party is only two people, be prepared to leave very full.  Hot pot might best be a lunch dish on a day you’ve skipped breakfast.

First to come out is an induction burner, then a pot with a divider in it separating two very different broths: red and white.  The white broth is earthy, delicately salty, gently enhancing anything you cook in it.  The red broth is spicy – both in terms of heat (not overpowering) but also just spiciness in general, with giant cardamom pods floating around in it.  Around this time there are also little dishes of accoutrements that you can use to make a sauce at your table:  peanut and fermented bean sauces (the peanut sauce being very hearty and nothing like the Thai sauce you’re probably imagining), garlic, scallions, sesame oil, and cilantro.  Your main ingredients will show up in short order and once the broth gets boiling, the lid comes off and it’s time to get to work.

A recent somewhat extravagant visit featured the following ingredients:  lamb, squid, pork intestine, mushrooms, tofu, and noodles.  All the meats are thinly sliced and should only go in the broth for a very short period of time.  The staff keep an eye on their patrons at first to help them understand this point.  Lamb, for example, should go in the broth for 15 – 20 seconds.  Squid should be watched closely, going into the broth just until it curls up.  The pork intestine, which we came to order somewhat on accident, also follows the same rules (not bad, by the way.)  Vegetables and noodles go in longer to soften up and the tofu can pretty much tolerate being cooked however long you want to cook it.

If you are tempted to put some broth into the little bowl that is part of your place setting, go ahead and give in but you would be wise to keep this urge in check until late in the dining process after most of the food has been cooked and eaten.  Both broths are incredibly tasty and make for a nice little bowl of soup, especially when you add some of the noodles.  The risk is, you don’t want to run out of broth and scooping out a ladle or two of broth is a pretty addicting behavior.  A ladle comes out with the broth pot, as well as little wire baskets for scooping out what you’ve just cooked.

A large part of the fun is mixing up the dipping ingredients into a sauce that pleases you the most.  Don’t be surprised if you find yourself ordering extras of these ingredients: the staff will happily oblige.

Café 168 is obviously doing something right.  The large Chinese clientele is a testament to the notion that they are serving an unmet need for that community, as well as serving culinary adventure seekers and big-city refugees of all stripes.  If you’ve had hot pot before and loved it and didn’t think you’d ever get good hot pot in Reno, you’re in luck.  If you’re up to try something incredibly delicious that you’ve never had before, you’re also in luck.  Get down there and see what I mean.

Spicy Pickle: Santa Fe Chicken Goodness

Yeah, I know. Spicy Pickle is publicly traded. It’s not grassroots “local.” Here’s the thing: If a company is doing something right, they ought to get credit for it. If it makes you feel any better, the two locations locally are also locally-owned franchises. For those not-in-the-know, a franchise is a small business, and it’s also a local business, it just isn’t a local idea. It gives local jobs to the owners, workers, and the backing of a label and a product. Often, they give back to the community in many ways.

Regardless, Spicy Pickle’s two locations (one at Los Altos, the other at the corner of McCarran and Longley) has a ridiculously good limited-time-offer sandwich and salad, both of which go under the same moniker “Santa Fe Chicken.” I was fortunate enough to try both the sandwich AND the salad, which you can either get together (as half-sizes), or just the sandwich or just the salad. Whatever way you go, you’re in for a treat. Chunk, fresh chicken, Spicy Pickle’s signature artisan-style breads, a unique aioli sauce and cheese, the sandwich will give you a fresh taste of pre-summer while we still are waiting for it to warm up around here. The salad is no different in attitude, with the same fresh chicken, candied onions, sun-dried tomatoes, a romaine/spinach mixture, and topped with the chili vinaigrette.

I’d highly suggest you go there and try them. The people are quirky and cool at both locations, and you won’t feel guilty whatsoever by partaking in such sandwich/salad tasting. I promise.

Two Years of The Hub Coffee Company!

Mark Trujillo and his son, Joey, opened The Hub Coffee Company on June 17 2009, and it’s time for a little 2 year appreciation!  I thought I’d tell you a little about one of my favorite spots in town.  For years, I have been nuts about coffee, and The Hub was just the place I needed to fuel my appreciation for this over-complexified yet misunderstood, energetic concoction.

Caffeinated instinct, a love for the combination of cycling and good coffee, gut feelings and not having too much control, The Hub started doing coffee in Reno a different way.  For a small niche (physically and figuratively) market of newly-refined coffee palettes, he’s doing quite well.  One satisfied customer at a time!

Speaking to the owner Mark, his original idea was to simply bring a standard of coffee not seen in Reno, establishing something unique.  Everyone has had Starbucks, but had they had coffee before?  Did they know where it came from?  Did they even know why it tasted the way it did, or that it might have been roasted right here in Reno?

Some might say The Hub is a “coffee snob” kind of place, since the baristas will frequently unload tons of information about their coffee beans’ origins and locales, roasting techniques, flavor profiles and suggestions on how to enjoy them.  For example, try the coffee BEFORE you dump in the half-and-half and sugar.  At first, even I made this mistake:  now I don’t even use sugar anymore.  Seriously, coffee, when done right, can  stand on its own.  This appreciation (“snobbery,” if you will) is special though:  anyone is invited.

If you want to learn about your coffee, maybe even develop tastes you didn’t know you liked, The Hub will begin your journey.   A word of warning, though:  it’s an addicting habit.   Luckily, their prices are still among the cheapest in town.  So come, be a snob with us!

Don’t like coffee?  That’s okay, no one will hold that against you.  There’s tea, iced or hot, by Intelligentsia, gourmet hot cocoa (with their homemade chocolate syrup!) and fresh pastries (but get ’em fast, when they’re gone, they’re gone).

Mark might own the hub, but the customers made the experience.  Mark was surprised how the customers “took over,” by making so much of the Hub their own.  No one knows, amongst doubts, how this little, hole-in-the-wall joint was breaking all of the rules and suggestions and defying failure to become what it is.

Tiny but not claustrophobic, The Hub gives off a vibe—-people LIKE it here.  So small, so comfortable.  Like most business owners, he had a grand plan, but he knew better than to fight the evolution of something special.   That’s how Mark rolls, and he won’t hide it.  He has his own thing going on.   Make no mistake, Mark might not be a stereotypical business owner in Reno, he’s very savvy in what he wants.  Friendly, extremely outgoing and welcoming, his warm simplicity at running a business has truly planted a different seed in this town.

Joey is Mark’s son and right-hand-man, lending a creative, youthful and unique barista talent to The Hub.   Joey runs The Hub at the ground level (pun intended). For being in his early twenties, he’s on top of it. Doing some schooling in Portland, working as a barista there, and connecting with other baristas, he eventually found himself at American Barista and Coffee. There, he learned even more, and notably, the admiration of the owner, who told his father that by going back to Reno, he was taking one of Portland’s best baristas with him. Joey isn’t the bragging type. Generally speaking, he just says he has a knack for making coffee–I’d have to agree. Overall, he’s striving to have a Portland-like experience here in Reno, and would love that standard to spread to other coffee and restaurants in town.

So, what if you already know about coffee?  Well, if you already know your stuff, not only might you have already heard of The Hub, but also them selling and pressing out coffee from Barefoot Coffee Works (San Jose), Ecco Coffee (recently bought by Intelligentsia) in Santa Rosa, and Ritual Coffee from San Francisco.  Most importantly, Mark just started doing small batch roasting right here in Reno!

Speaking of Reno, both Trujillos want to keep The Hub a Reno thing… they like it here. They realize there’s both room for this and a real need for it.   Joey said it best to me when I spoke with him: “I want to introduce this [kind of coffee experience] to Reno…Portland already has plenty of it.”

So what’s next?  Expansion as far as other locations have been considered, however their focus is going to be local roasting…perhaps a little more…at the roasting location coming nearby to The Hub. I can’t wait!

Located at 32 Cheney Street (just opposite Maytan Music on the south side), they will be extending hours from 6am-9pm M-F, 7am-9pm Sat, 7am-5pm Sun starting next week!

As you can see, I love The Hub.  Everyone fits in (somehow, by magic), talks, and enjoys a slice of life.  I have made new friends there, opened up my world, and I’m so thankful for it.  Thanks Mark and Joey, and best of luck, I’ll be along for the ride for another two years!

GourMelt: The Best Food Truck in Reno

Jessie handing out a great sandwich at GourMelt.

Jessie handing out a great sandwich at GourMelt.

There are just times when you want comfort food. We all have it and it brings us back to days past and things past. One of my comfort foods is grilled cheese sandwiches and I really, really, really, really like them. Last Friday morning, I got an email from Kyle about GourMelt and he basically said we should go have one. I’m always up for an adventure, so I told him that we’d do that the next day. As the course of my Friday went on, I felt the need for some comfort food and as I was able to go, I went to GourMelt.  It was a great choice and helped my day

GourMelt was over at Strega at the corner of Ridge and Arlington (Belmont Road for those over 75), and was stationed there both Friday and Saturday. I jumped out of my car and ambled over to the truck. The truck that GourMelt uses is in excellent shape and is very well put together yellow truck with their great 1950s style logos and graphics wrapped around the front and back side. I got there around 2:00 or so on Friday and surveyed the menu. I asked the lady who was handling the orders, Jessie, what she would recommend. She suggested the Ultimelt and I took her up on the order, with a side of Parmesan garlic fries. I paid in cash (food trucks generally don’t take plastic, but GourMelt does!) and chatted a bit with Jessie, who works there with Haley who was cooking that day. GourMelt is a very new place and just got its start on May 1st, over at the Earth Day celebration at Idlewild. They try to use local vendors as much as they can: their bread comes from the awesome House of Bread and they get eggs from Reno Eggs and they get their produce from the Great Basin Food Co-op. I stood aside from the order window to let others get their lunches, and got my order as I scoped out the to go menu, took a couple pictures and went home with it.

The UtliMelt sandwich.

The UtliMelt sandwich. Have a great day!

At home, I had a great lunch outside with a nice glass of soda water and a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich. It was a bit cold as it took me about ten minutes to get home, but it was still perfect and tasty. The cheese was perfectly melted enough to be liquid, but not runny and the bread was toasted and firm, not soggy. The fries were just as great- not too garlicy, and not too parmesany, but subtle and tasty and you could probably still kiss someone after having one. The sandwich and fries hit the spot perfectly and I was ready for another one.

The Wiseguy and the Orchard Melt

The Wiseguy and the Orchard Melt

The next day I went with Kyle for a jaunt around around downtown and a sandwich from GourMelt. This time, I had the Orchard Melt, which is a grilled cheese with green apples and instead of the garlic fries, I went with sweet potato fries.  Kyle had the Wiseguy, which is Fontana cheese with salami and artichoke hearts with a salad on the side. We both really liked the sandwiches and it was a good time.

GourMelt in action!

GourMelt in action!

The next time the GourMelt truck comes your way, don’t hesitate to come and get some great food.  The prices are very reasonable for the high quality and wonderful food that they have.  I liked it so much that I went with a co-worker to GourMelt on Tuesday when they were out in front of the Co-Op.  I had the  Bumble Brie which is sliced green apples, ham, honey, and melted brie on cinnamon apple bread with a side of tomato soup.  And she had the Mother Clucker: cheddar cheese, grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, red onion and dijon mustard, melted on rye bread with tomato soup.

The Mother Clucker and The Bumble Brie

The Mother Clucker and The Bumble Brie

If you don’t like salad or fries, the soup is a great choice- it’s really, super fresh and good tomato soup. You can taste that the tomatoes in the soup were only a few hours before tomatoes waiting for the chance to be made into excellent, beautiful soup.  Again, GourMelt hit the spot and made our days.  Like it says on their card: “We will fill your belly and melt your heart.”  They sure have with me.


Gourmelt – Cheese On Wheels

Taken from the fresh, melty pages of the RJG, it would seem there’s a new food truck that isn’t serving tacos, it’s serving grilled sandwiches. The mobile truck has a schedule (viewed best here from their website) and I believe your local Burncards crew will be stopping by for a visit soon enough.

Prices seem reasonable for what you are getting. Some eateries don’t seem shy in charging more than ten bucks for bread with cheese, but this truck is slingin’ em out with more than just that on top…and is more in the $7 range. click here for a PDF menu. Touting local eggs, local bread and working with our local community food co-op, I hope they’re easy to find with that big yellow truck.

We’ll see you soon, Gourmelt.

Squeeze In – Caught Between Truckee and a Hard Place

I chose my title for this restaurant review carefully for two reasons.  One, I’ve made it a habit to attempt dialogue with the folks who either manage, own or run a restaurant when it isn’t an absolutely stellar review.  I find a small town that needs community mixed with a “hidden Internet persona,” doing reviews is probably a bad idea.  I also don’t intend to bash or blindside anyone, and introducing yourself is just a respectable thing to do.

The second reason is absolutely about Reno, which you’ll read below.

“Squeeze In,” is a Truckee, California landmark, 37 years of serving alpine locals, travelers and ski bums eggs and things.  Personally, I had never been there.  I don’t ski, and I never had a strategic reason for stopping in Truckee, except the time I worked semi-sober at a snow-tube facility in Kingvale, in which Truckee provided the Port-of-Subs sandwiches we took with us for the day.

Two locations of  Squeeze In have appeared on the Reno scene, on in the northwest at 5020 Las Brisas, and one in the south part of town, in the new shopping center kit-a-corner to Winco, 25 Foothill Road.   My father and I went to the latter, south of town, for lunch.

Upon entering, we were hesitant to stay because it was about 1:45PM, and they close at 2:00PM, but they were more than willing to seat us.  While being a little rushed, they still attended to us properly.   The interior was a whirlwind of  sunrise colors, oranges and yellows, stuff haphazardly dangling from the ceiling and walls,  and wall-writing that looked like someone’s ill-tempered two year old went nuts.  My first impression was “The Desert Trying To Be Surfer Cool Santa Cruz Boardwalk.”   While not really my cup of tea, there was an image of “fun” they were going for.  All fine and dandy, but how was the food?

You had to get to the food first.  One of my first hurdles with the place was the menu.  HUGE.  I later found out, noticing the not-quite-linear number system, 20 items had been removed from the already one-hundred or more dishes they had going on.  This would have been alright if there was variety within the menu, but it’s literally separated into roughly three categories:  Breakfast, notably, omelets, as they claim, “Best Omelettes on the Planet,” sandwiches and burgers.   There’s also a salad section, but isn’t as expanded as their other categories.   It’s a breakfast/lunch place:  fare offered was perfectly understandable.

Second problem with the menu:  in-house subculture.  For someone who had just stepped into the Squeeze In for the first time, I had no idea what any of this lingo was.   The “fun” obfuscated what I was trying to be sold to eat.   Inside jokes and nomenclature galore:  I just didn’t get it.  I just wanted to order a sandwich.  I guess I’m one of those no-bullshit kind of guys, especially when I’m hungry.   Couple that with symbols to denote meat-free and “most popular” (the peace sign) it just took a while.

Alienated, I throw a mental dart at a #30, “The Day After,” a concoction of turkey, cream cheese and cranberry, on my choice of sourdough.  Hey, if it’s a wacky place, let’s get wacky, folks.  My father had…wait what did he have?   We couldn’t remember.   It was a grilled chicken breast with fries.   It came with lettuce, tomato and onion.

I do have to admit, my sandwich was not good.   Canned cranberry sauce, turkey that was relatively unflavorful, and gobs of cream cheese on a triple-decker untoasted sourdough stack.   None of the flavors were really developed, it simply tasted like something my friend’s mother might have made us at lunch when we were nine to get us out of the house and shut us up.  At $9.49, I was lucky to have enjoyed the fruit cup which was obviously fresh cut strawberries, blueberries, musk melon, and pineapple.   My father was okay with his sandwich, he said the chicken was cooked and flavored well, the fries were basic fare, nothing fancy.   It hurt a little bit with the food presentation and what I had experienced at close to $30 after tip.

I did speak to Shila Morris, who runs the third installment of the Squeeze In, like I do most of the places with which I haven’t quite meshed so well.   She right away came to speak to me and listened to my concerns, and was extremely nice to me.  We talked a little about the history of the place (which you can read here), about my experience, and found out she lives about a block away from me–you never know who your neighbors are!  I’m very glad I met with her, hopefully she’ll still talk to me after this review!

Squeeze In may do very well here in Reno, that isn’t for me to decide.  Reno is a hard place to do restauranting.  Lofty ideas like the defunct “Island Burger,” which got next to no attention from our town, and a LOT of cash got put into it, turning the old TGI Fridays into a joint that can only be described as “A Lot Of Money Trying To Wow A Small, Podunk Town.”  We didn’t buy it–happy trails, Island Burger.  Expensive menu and mediocre food just won’t do here.

Squeeze In has an obvious following in Truckee and years of excellent reviews, endorsement from the Food Network and the like, but I find it trying a little hard to “be something” in Reno.   I have been in very old establishments that have carved tables from years of patrons making their mark, writing-on-the-walls kind of bars, but in some place that’s been open a month or two, it just seemed messy.  37 years of homey-ness is hard to replicate in a new location.  Prices are high, probably because of the “Tahoe lifestyle,” and Californian skiers/travelers that happily pay whatever.   Reno is a simple town, $10+ egg and sandwich plates have been the biggest complaint about this place I’ve heard from locals so far.    Ho-hum food is the second.

The casino culture here has owned eating out for YEARS and is only recently relinquishing its nasty-buffet grip, and is creating a VERY fertile ground in which to sow your restaurant seeds.  Squeeze In will have to see where it will fit in.  In my world, food speaks the loudest, above fun, beyond distractions, away from novelty.

My talk with Shila has already spurred some closer looks at their sandwich line.  This flexibility and willingness to listen is encouraging.   With my travel experience, (what I think is) good taste and sense of value, including quite a bit of restaurant work,  Squeeze In has the foundation, but perhaps maybe to consider that Reno isn’t Truckee.   A questionable economy and obviously taking a risk opening up new locations, I wish the Squeeze In quite a bit of luck out there– there is a family-honed and friendly bunch of folk working there,  local neighbors and people I personally want to see do well!  This is OUR town, after all, most of us here want what is best for it!

Maybe I’ll stop in for some eggs and see how true their headlining motto holds–there’s no grudge on my end, sometimes everyone, including restaurants, just have an off day.

Pie Face Pizza – It Was Time I Finally Went

“Pie Face Pizza!”   —   “Oh-Em-Gee have you been to Pie Face?”   —  “Have you tried pie face yet?”  —   “Here, have some two day old Pie Face Pizza..it’s STILL GOOD!”

Wow.   Never before have I somehow resisted something everyone was raving about in my circle of influence, be they friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or just overhearing folks talk.   I didn’t even have a reason to resist it, maybe cost, because with everything getting outrageously expensive, I just don’t eat out all that much.   It didn’t mean I didn’t want to go, with so much buzz about a place in Reno, town famous of doubters and picky folk, it had to be alright.

A group of friends and I were deciding on a pizza place; pizza seemed to suit everyone’s hunger needs quite right.  The typical suggestions arose, Blind Onion, Black Rock Pizza, Mountain Mike’s…but then it occurred to me… “Pie Face.  We have to try Pie Face.”

I had no idea it had taken over the old Saigon Pearl, a little-known Vietnamese/pho place smack-dab in the middle of the El Cortez, between their bar and the hotel lobby.  I liked the Saigon Pearl quite a bit, but with so many pho places around town, it didn’t surprise me the family who owned it moved on.   Well, that’s where Pie Face is, now, and I’m glad this interesting and historical location houses yet another Reno culinary gem.

Think Berkley/San Francisco.  You walk into a number of restaurants there, they happen to be small, long, narrow, limited seating, modest accommodations, and busy.    Thank the historical gods they kept the fascinating roof/interior work that I liked about the Saigon Pearl, gold painted tile-type work that’s unique to the El Cortez.   With local art on the wall, to the urethane-encased, stained pressboard floors, it’s a very unique place, and I was immediately excited, but it took a little standing around aimlessly waiting for a table for four.  It didn’t take long:  we were ordering within no time.

The menus are quaint, tri-fold, simple, monochrome, with the tacky, cheery, classic-looking Pie Face Pizza Guy mascot grinning at you, apparently eating his own pizza face.   We ordered Garlic Knots with marinara, and they came about 10 minutes later–it’s one of those places you can’t be offended if the staff barks your name out to come get your order, because that’s how they roll.  What a great treat!  Roasted garlic cloves with a knotted dough rope encasing it.  It was fantastic, perfectly golden, and flavorful.

Our pizza was a weird one:  pepperoni, prosciutto, caramelized onions, basil, green bell pepper, roasted garlic, sun dried tomatoes, and goat cheese (chevre).  This decision was a compilation of things everyone unanimously agreed were good on a pizza.  It was the suggestion of the owner of a new gallery in town, the Aeon, so subsequently, it wasn’t just “weird pizza,” it was an “Aeon.”   I was hoping we weren’t going to destroy the taste-testing of the place by making such a wacky order.

Well, we didn’t.  The pizza was on half a flattened pizza box (which was a brilliant way to serve,  I might add:  cost effective, clean, recyclable).  A thin-crust pizza by nature, sauce was not too thick, not too watery, lightly spiced, chunky enough to find tomatoes, worked enough to taste like a sauce.  The crust was a winner, not soggy in the slightest.  It was extremely filling, or I simply had too many Garlic Knots.

At prices starting at $15 for a regular and $19 for a large cheese pizza, (with toppings ranging from $0.50 and $2), you can really go nuts picking some good stuff to throw on.  From standards like pepperoni to boutique toppings like pine nuts, this place is charming, and no-frills.  Sauces and dough are vegan, if you’re so inclined.   They also deliver! Build it yourself or choose from the menu,  with their friendly, fast-paced casual atmosphere, I HIGHLY suggest Pie Face Pizza for your next downtown Reno pizza experience.

239 W. 2nd Street, downtown,  El Cortez hotel building,  775-622-9222.

Website/menu:  www.piefacepizza.co

Tacos Rápidos, Casi Perfección – Tacos El Rey

Years ago, I slapped together enchilada plates for a chain, so-called “Mexican” restaurant.   A name which shall not be mentioned here.  It was terrible.  I learned a lot about cooking from the people who worked there, incidentally, all of the food I learned about were dishes not on the menu.  They were the lunches and dinners of the Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadorian folks who I worked with.


This ushered in a new appreciation for Mexican, Central and South American food that I couldn’t seem to get enough of.  There I was, white boy in the kitchen, keepin’ up with the jokes, the sexism, nationalistic racism and homophobia from people not of this land.  I went with the flow.  It’s called culture, and though people don’t realize it, it isn’t always a bowl of cherries, and you just have to deal with it.  Besides the awesome free language lessons (I speak okay Spanish these days) one of my favorite things about these kinds of adventures in labor were what I learned of the food.  Food brings people together, it shows off the best any culture has to offer, and the traditional non-European Hispanic foods are some of my favorites.  Using parts of the animal left over from making a living selling the good stuff, seasonings bold and yet simple, delicate sauces and a heavy but energizing way of combining proteins and starches.

When I don’t attempt traditional tacos for myself, I get them at Tacos El Rey.  They exemplify fast, Guadalajaran Mexican food in the best way I can find in town.   “Mexican Food,” colloquially, is something of a misnomer in the United States.  Like Chinese, Italian, and other countries’ delights, they’ve taken on a life of their own, and usually, not in a good way.  Once you’ve had traditional food (or as close as you can to it while living in the U.S.) you know what side of the line you stand on, the Americanized side, or eating it the way the natives have and do.   Tacos El Rey, from everything I have learned about food of this region, does a great job of doing it traditional.

They serve a multitude of good stuff:  Burritos, ceviche, horchata, caldo (soup), even desayuno (breakfast plates) with chorizo con huevos…which is my next mission.   Through and through, the things that really seem to shine at this place, as should be due to the namesake, are the tacos.   Yep, fish tacos, goat tacos, trip tacos, carne asada, al pastor (pork), cabeza tacos (cow head), lengua (tongue)… they have a lot of choices.   They’re a buck a piece.  They’re stuffed full of your choice of meat, cilantro and wonderful onions.  Served with limes, radishes and a few tasty salsas, it’s fantastic.

I’ve delved into their burritos, which were alright, but not as good as the tacos–I like tacos more than burritos, though.  I tried the ceviche, which is an acid-cured mixture of fish and/or shirmp (usually with limes and lemon juice), but I found it a bit too on the acidic side.  I had a bite of their refritos (refried beans)…which were really good.  I have yet to try their tacos pescados (fish), but if they’re anything like the other tacos, I’ll probably die of happiness.

Nope, their tacos are it.   Best I’ve had in town so far.

Tacos aren’t something for the “food adventure snob,” nor are they something you should get at a place like this if your experience with Mexican food is Taco Bell.  In fact, if the only “Mexican food” you’ve eaten in this town is Taco Bell with the amount of good Mexican/Central American/South American food, well, you’re just lame.   Tacos are the classic go-food, catering food, food for a picnic, or food for a gathering.  You can make them out of just about any kind of protein you like (as Tacos El Rey demonstrates).  Tacos are a working man’s food.  They have the energy you need with none of the utensil requirements.   Tacos are a culinary purity that’s been bastardized by commercialism, American palettes, fast food joints and laziness.   Laziness, ruining a taco?  Yep.  Because it’s so easy to screw up something so easy, apprently.

With two locations, one on Sutro (2145 Sutro St # 1, in the shopping center just north of the Salvation Army, which also contains a killer panaderia, if you’re so inclinded) and one at Mae Anne/McCarran (5100 Mae Anne, in that shopping center with the Safeway/Kohl’s, nearest the Pet Smart, next to nasty-ass Wing Stop), what are you waiting for?  Go have some awesome tacos.   I think both locations are open until 9:00PM.

Try having an apple soda with them.  That’s how I roll, usually.

Do try some of their other fare, they have sit-down-and-you-get-served type eating, too.  This means combo plates, that kind of thing.    Both locations are clean and comfortable, well-kept and charming.   If you have the choice between some of the local places, Miguel’s, Micasa Too, Bertha Miranda’s, the Hacienda… give this place a shot instead.  You’ll save a few bucks and probably leave happier, that is, if you’re more the traditional-food kind of person.

(image courtesy Cia B)


Duros, Tortas, Wedding Cakes, y Pan Dulce: Panaderia Las Palomas

laspalomasIf you’re a resident of the Wells Avenue neighborhood in Reno, you have a great option tucked away in a tiny strip of stores you might have often overlooked and its name is Panaderia Las Palomas.  There are a few Spanish words that mean awesome to me and one of those words is panaderia, or bakery.

Most people think of a bakery as a place where you might buy some bread or a cake or a pie.  I like a bakery that serves up savory lunch and dinner items and sometimes breakfast too.  The local panaderia should be no exception.

I’m going to assume for the moment that the baked goods on display at this particular panaderia are up to the task.  This is a place obviously run by very professional bakers and they specialize in custom decorated cakes for special occasions.  In one corner of the restaurant is a display of cakes which you should please not touch.  There is a sign to that effect.

On the other side, actually right as you walk in, you’ll find all the standard Mexican sweet breads.  I didn’t see any bolillos on display (football shaped baguettes), but I did see other breads that have a frosting side and usually have some sugar and milk in the dough.  I didn’t get any though, because I don’t like sweet breads all that much and I was gunnin for what you get from behind the counter:  lunch, in this case a torta.

This torta is a good size sandwich.  I got mine with al pastor pork, sort of the Mexican version of barbecue pork, which should be dry and crumbly and soft.  This al pastor meets those requirements.  The sandwich itself is loaded up with some shredded lettuce, jalapenos and guacamole.  It’s a really good sandwich, good for a giant lunch if you’re really hungry or two meals if you are not that hungry.  An argument could be made that it is even better coming out of the fridge.

Las Palomas advertises something called a duro, which I learned is one of the flat hard tortilla shells that are in the case next to the register.  A duro, it seems, is a sort of flat tostada: piled high with the ingredients you’d find on a taco or in a torta.  The lady behind the counter says duro means hard, which makes sense.

Finally it’s worth noting just briefly the décor of this place.  Very understated, it’s very clean and tasteful.  Just a few tables with a few condiments on them.  I had the takeout but it’d be just fine to eat in and watch the world go by outside.

Panaderia Las Palomas is one of those places every neighborhood should have, and precious few are lucky enough to have.  Get over there today.

Photo credit Tom Cooper.