In the early days of the Nevada casino industry, owners wanted to keep patrons seated at tables covered with playing cards and poker chips. Tables set for meals posed an unsettling distraction.
Quick-serve casino buffets developed, as did fixed-price prime rib dinners at bargain prices. Food quality often took a back seat to convenience. Patrons wandering Reno in search of restaurants threatened casino profits.
Reno dining has changed dramatically from those early years. Casino resorts still offer enticing restaurants, but quality reigns. Patrons frequently leave the resorts to explore Reno’s burgeoning array of ambitious new restaurants and microbreweries.
In no particular order, the following list represents a cross-section of 10 must-try Reno restaurants. The list includes inexpensive options, fine dining, breakfast and lunch specialists, and even a renowned tearoom.
West coast freight once passed through the brick buildings that now house The Depot Craft Brewery and Distillery. Removed from the resort districts, patrons enjoy a unique setting for lunch or dinner. Diners are more likely bound for a University of Nevada sporting event than the blackjack tables.
The name implies excellence in beer and spirits, but owners say their chef puts the same care into food preparation as the brewers and distillers use to create 26 varieties of beer and eight spirits each year.
Prices are moderate. A 16 oz. New York strip served with house-created barbeque chips is $20. The kitchen creates unique touches like house made mustard and ketchup.
The Atlantis Steakhouse is among the most honored restaurants in the region, earning AAA Four Diamond status and a local reputation as the go-to place for special occasions. Reservations are necessary.
Steaks arrive each day from suppliers in Chicago. Managers say the prime cuts are wet-aged and carefully chosen for just the right marbling and flavor.
Steak entrées cost $50-$95, and portions are huge. Appetizers earning rave reviews include the lobster bisque prepared with cognac and covered with generous pieces of lobster rather than a puree of the meat.
For dessert, the Grand Mariner Soufflé takes about 30 minutes to prepare. Given the size of the portions here, that break from eating often is welcomed.
Brasserie St. James
Billed as “an informal restaurant, serving simple hearty food,” Brasserie St. James offers one of Reno’s most interesting individual menu items. The Buenos Aires barbeque feeds 2-4 people and takes about 30-45 minutes to prepare. The wait is rewarded with sample servings of grilled chicken thighs, lamb chops, chorizo sausage and blood sausage, vegetables, salad and bread.
They also serve 10 craft brews on tap, four of which are gold medal beers.
Visitors to the Nevada Museum of Art encounter chez louie, which is much more than a typical in-museum sandwich and coffee shop. In fact, this place exists as destination lunch choice.
The French-inspired menu includes omelette au fromage, with eggs sourced from nearby Palomino Valley Farm. The chez burger features grass-fed beef from Nevada’s Bently Ranch. The chocolate pretzel tart is a dessert favorite.
Note that chez louie is only open for lunch on Wednesday-Saturday, and serves a Sunday brunch.
Too Soul Tea Company
Too Soul Tea Company sells 215 varieties of loose-leaf tea within 13 categories. Customers order those teas online or sip them at the table in Reno.
The shop also offers – no surprise – delicious scones and turnovers to complement their fine tea selections. But healthy breakfasts and lunches are also on the menu with quiches, oatmeal, sandwiches, wraps and salads.
La Strada in Eldorado Resort Casino
La Strada specializes in northern Italian cuisine, and wins many honors. In addition to several “Best of Reno” awards, La Strada has accepted the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for seven consecutive years. veal marsala is a popular menu choice. More adventurous diners order the “Trust Me” tasting menu, which consists of six-courses and many of the restaurant’s specialties.
Manhattan Deli in Atlantis Resort
A second Atlantis Resort eatery earning local attention is Manhattan Deli, named Nevada’s best Jewish-style deli by The Nosher. To qualify, traditional favorites such as matzah ball soup and overstuffed pastrami sandwiches must appear on the menu and both are Manhattan Deli specialties.
They also serve entrées such as broiled New York steak, cabbage rolls with sweet and sour gravy and grilled salmon fillets. The chef takes special care in serving these items cooked-to-order – an effort not always common in deli settings. For dessert, try their sour cream coffee cake and a strong cup of coffee.
Wet Hen Café
Every town needs a great little breakfast and lunch place featuring inexpensive tabs and hearty selections. Reno offers the Wet Hen Café, where their 17 breakfast menu items include six kinds of omelettes and four varieties of quiche. For lunch, check out the array of sandwiches, soups and salads.
One of two Campo locations is in downtown Reno, less than a block from the city’s Riverwalk. The emphasis is on a casual, neighborhood atmosphere where locally sourced ingredients connect ranches and farms just outside the city.
Salads and burgers are lunchtime favorites, but Campo also has a strong reputation for its nine wood-fired pizza varieties. Two examples: the Bee Sting (salami, mozzarella, red onions, basil, local honey and serrano peppers) and the Smokehouse (house-smoked pork, smoked mozzarella, wood-fired tomato sauce, smoked paprika and basil).
The promise at Midtown Eats is to serve “custom dishes and drinks that were created with meticulous precision.” Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday, with dinner each evening starting at 5 p.m. Dinner entrées are menu-listed in simple terms: Meat and Potatoes features a 12 oz. ribeye; the Veggie Bowl includes farro, chickpeas, Brussels sprouts, portobello, carrots, pickled cucumber and tahini. The owners also maintain Death and Taxes, a bar next-door that sometimes offers bartending classes as party entertainment.