Sure, Las Vegas has a ton of celebrity-owned restaurants, and a renowned bar scene. But, there’s an entirely different culinary world beyond the glitter and glam of the Vegas strip – most of it rich with Nevada’s authentic food culture. So if you’re already planning a trip to Sin City, here’s a non-Vegas guide to eating and drinking.
1. The Wineries: Three wineries operate in Nevada, and they all boldly defy the state’s less-than-stellar grape-growing climate. Tahoe Ridge Winery was a pioneer in Nevada wine making, receiving medals for their award-winning bottles. There’s also Pahrump Valley Winery, which makes a coveted Nevada Ridge Zinfandel. And the cult-favorite operation, Churchill Vineyards in Fallon, Nevada, an appointment-only, family winery that grows European-style grapes, produce a top-notch White Riesling and Gewurztraminer. This winery is also the first winery to receive a license to operate as a distillery – keep an eye out for their silky, smooth Nevada Brandy.
2. The Basque Cuisine: The Basque history in the Silver State dates back to the conquistadors, when droves of immigrants from Spain and France came to the American West to herd sheep. They also provided Basque family-style meals in the boarding houses that dotted Northern Nevada. Their traditional restaurants can still be found throughout the state, but the most colorful (and delicious) is JT Basque Bar & Dining Room in Gardenerville. And you’ll want to arrive hungry. An average meal consists of soup, salad, oxtail stew, beans and French fries, along with bread and butter – and that’s just a starter. Entrees like steak, lamb chops, sweetbreads, or pigs feet are washed down with a bottle of red table wine.
3. The New Cocktail Scene: Reno’s drinking culture may not be as intense as Vegas (and maybe that’s a good thing), but its burgeoning cocktail scene is in the national spotlight. At the Eldorado Hotel’s Cin Cin Bar & Lounge, the mixologists serve up artisanal cocktails based on your favorite flavor profiles and what’s in season. Love ginger? You might be treated to a fresh ginger martini with a champagne float. Or if grapefruit’s your jam, a tart gin cocktail with just enough of the fruit’s puckering citrus may be served. The coolest part about Cin Cin is that they have no set menu. There’s also the 1864 Tavern (named after the year Nevada became a state), where almost every drink is made with fresh produce. Don’t miss tipping back the Gordon’s Cup, made with Plymouth Gin, cucumber, citrus, and a touch of sea salt.
4. AYCES: That’s what the locals call all-you-can-eat-sushi – and it’s a big deal in Reno. It was Jonathan Wright, the Food and Drink editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal, who told me the best AYCES is found at the Sky Terrace Sushi Bar in the Atlantis Hotel. His recommendation was spot-on. I completely stuffed myself with ultra-fresh hand rolls, vibrant rainbow rolls, in addition to the sweet twosomes of Nigiri – in any variety that tickled my fancy.
5. The Farms: The rich farming history of Nevada is apparent when you head outside of Las Vegas and Reno. Family-owned farms pepper Northern Nevada, but it’s Lattin Farms in Fallon that attracts visitors across the U.S.. Rick and B. Ann Lattin run the organic farm, which often hosts local school children and farmers from all over the world who come for their teaching programs. More leisurely visitors come for fresh produce, homemade jam, and the farm’s famous corn maze each autumn.
6. The Coffee Culture: It may be the buzzing casinos – or the desire to flee them – but Reno has a thriving coffee culture. The Eldorado Hotel and Casino was the first hotel in the United States with its own coffee roaster: The Eldorado Coffee Company. Their green, Arabica coffee can be sipped while playing slots, or you can buy the whole beans to-go. There’s also the boutique favorite, Hub Coffee Roasters, who serves up artisanal drips for the mustachioed hipsters in town.