by Jack Rieger
Reno is a city that prides itself on an artistic, imaginative culture; at least that’s what the hipsters wearing oversized glasses in Midtown will tell you. Cultural scientists (yes, that’s a profession) believe this is an effect of San Francisco’s expressive culture spilling over into nearby Reno.
Reno’s newfound artistic identity is sort of ironic, considering the city’s growth in the 1930s was due to the legalization of gambling and the emergence of large casinos. And even before that, in the 1860s, the city of Reno emerged as a gold mining and railroad epicenter, not exactly the most exquisite industries. Nonetheless, Reno has quickly transitioned into a city of Bernie Sanders supporters, and that transition affects multiple facets of culture, including food.
When my section editor told me that I had to write a restaurant review of a local eatery, I admittedly rolled my eyes. I’m not the type of person who eats local, or even really healthy for that matter. For instance, I ate at Wendy’s twice a week for two months straight because its 4-for-4 deal was the greatest fast food deal in recent history. I shop for groceries at Wal-Mart because it’s the cheapest alternative, and Trader Joe’s doesn’t have doughnuts.
But after a recent night of bar hopping downtown, I noticed a white food truck on 2nd and West Street surrounded by a group of people who seemed too excited for a cold winter night in Reno. The food truck read “Stephon’s Mobile Bistro,” with a picture of a man smiling in a white chef’s jacket. As I approached the truck, I saw the man pictured on the bus, Stephon, who was cracking jokes and taking pictures with customers.
Stephon opened the food truck with his wife in 2007, serving good ole fashioned hamburgers and fries. Locals call it “pre-hangover food,” but Stephon won’t concede to that title because he himself doesn’t drink. However, I do drink and referring to Stephon’s food as “pre-hangover food” is absolutely accurate. Their most popular menu item is the bacon cheeseburger, the cheeseburger, the Woody Burger, and of course their fries, an order which is a full meal of itself.
I ordered their infamous woody burger, a double bacon cheeseburger served on a roll with a grilled sausage on top. Better than the Woody Burger was their fries, which are the perfect combination of fluffy and crispy.
While Stephon’s food is homemade, greasy and delicious, that’s not what sets his truck apart from other local eateries. Stephon’s friendly relationship with his customers and his gregarious attitude make coming to his truck an experience. When I asked him what he envisioned his food truck would become, his answer was simple.
“First, I was hoping it would be a fun environment for people to come to. Also, it’s convenient and our service is good. All the food is homemade and fresh.”
Although I continue to eat at places like Wendy’s and shop at Wal-Mart, Stephon’s food truck showed me the benefits of going to a local eatery. It feels good to support small business owners and meet people that genuinely care about their customers. While I have no plans to vote for Bernie Sanders or drink craft beer, I will return to Stephon’s Bistro.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.