Michala Matovina/Nevada Sagebrush Downtown Reno on Saturday, Nov. 16.

Downtown Reno is known for a lot of things. It’s the best place in town to get both high stakes poker and cheap steak dinner. It’s also the best place to eat a nice brunch by the river and then go throw axes with your friends, two mimosas deep. Perhaps unexpectedly, it is also one of the few places in the country offering a unique culinary and cultural experience—and a darn good one at that. Two places downtown—Louis’ Basque Corner and the Santa Fe Hotel—are serving up a special style of dining everyone should try at least once. 

Many Basque people immigrated into the United States in the mid 19th century. A sizeable amount of these immigrants settled in the Great Basin region, bringing their unique culture to places like Reno. One of these cultural aspects brought into the region is Basque cuisine, which Louis’ Basque Corner and the newly reopened Santa Fe Hotel proudly serve. Hella Basque’s Ultimate List of Basque Restaurants in the United States isn’t very long, as the few Basque restaurants spread out in small pockets of the country where the Basque diaspora established communities in a specific regions of America. Reno, however, is one of these regions, so the opportunity to try Basque dining is a luxury worth exploring. 

Basque dining is family style dining. When you go out to Louis’ Basque Corner, for example, you won’t get a table all to yourself. The sequestered seating all too familiar to the American dining experience is thrown out the window, they’ll seat you side by side with strangers if your party isn’t big enough—a wonderful reminder of the value sharing meals once held in building community and friendly relations. Even if you don’t know the people sitting next to you, something about eating a meal in a less isolated way adds a nostalgic feeling of coziness and comfort to the experience. It’s hard to leave the restaurant without lamenting the fact places like Chili’s forces us to sit alone in cold booths without offering a way to eat fried pickles shoulder to shoulder with our fellow humans at an extra-long dining table. 

By the way, Basque food is both delicious and plentiful. Never are you forced to labor over the side dishes you want at Basque restaurant. Pick whatever entre you want and your whole table is going to get salad, soup, fries, beans, wine (or another drink) and bread—no matter what. You’ll get a lot of food too, the experience feeling more like a feast than another sad “dinner.” Basque food also serves as a nice reminder of the power of seasoning and flavor in a time when food tries too hard to serve some other purpose beyond tasting good. Heavy notes of garlic, butter, wine and pepper saturate the food with a heartiness absent in the corporate-tasting dinners served in far too many establishments nowadays. It would be a shame to spend any time in Reno without visiting one of these locations and experiencing a culinary tradition as heartfelt and sincere as the Basque restaurants offer. 

Vincent Rendon can be reached at vrendon@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.