Hussong’s Cantina opens in Reno

May 17th, 2013
By Clint Jolly

I was lucky enough to score an invite to the media night at Hussong’s Cantina a week or so back. Going in, I had heard the name but didn’t know much other than that. I assumed another chain Mexican joint complete with the Americanized versions of classics, served alongside monster margaritas dispensed from an oversized blender.

I was wrong!

My first clue should have been the invite to the event…

It’s apparent that these guys knew how to get a crowd in the doors. If free food and margaritas weren’t enough, a bottle of booze will do the trick for sure! Of course they had local PR Queen Abbi Whitaker and her agency handle the event, and they never do disappoint.

The restaurant is located on the walkway of Silver Legacy, replacing the oyster bar that is moving around the corner. From the end of the hallway we could hear the live music. As we drew closer, we saw a Mariachi quintet. A few steps more and we recognized a Pink Floyd tune. Wait, what?

Yes, the Mariachis continued to impress with the likes of Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimmy Buffet and more; all with a unique Mariachi twist.

The restaurant is divided from foot traffic by a short wall, it’s basically wide open to the casino and bar across the wide hallway. Every spot I ventured in the room had a lively party feel to it, with comfortably loud music and people stopping midstep to make sure it really was the Mariachi holding the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” in vibrato.

The food

Not only was the music unique, the menu was pleasantly surprising. The limited menu they served to the group was well selected to give us a sampling of the full menu offered to guests.

Grilled corn plazero was a good choice to start. Sweet white corn brushed with butter and mayonnaise, charred on the grill and sprinkled with cotija cheese and chili flakes. A great mix of sweet corn, salty cheese, spicy chili and a touch of bitterness from the grill.

Enchiladas Suizas were perfectly spicy, with a rich and creamy tomatillo sauce and topped with a citrus watercress salad. I found a small bone in mine, which was a welcome signal that the crew had cooked and pulled the meat by hand.

A trio of burritos, each with their own sauce, offered a good variety of flavors from the same base. Grilled steak, pico de gallo, rice and beans filled the inside; tomatillo-avocado, chile pasilla and a lime crema on the outside.

Nachos were better than average with the addition of grilled corn and avocado salsa. Though not mentioned on the menu, our plate had grilled chicken in a spiced red chili sauce as well.

My favorite of the night were the shrimp tacos. You can get a rendition at just about any Mexican eatery, and most sports bars, in town. But not many balance the crisp beer battered shrimp, tart tomatillo salsa, rich guacamole and sour cream as these did.

The most unique and surprising dish for me were the churros. I almost skipped them as I’ve always assumed they tasted the same everywhere. Luckily i decided to take a bite and was delighted to get a mouthful of deliciousness from the filling of cajeta. Cajeta is made from milk, traditionally goat, that is simmered and reduced until it thickens and caramelizes the natural sugars. A wonderful twist on the played out churro.

Cocktails!!!

What’s a cantina without good margaritas? Of course, Hussong’s is famous for inventing the margarita so expectations were high.

I started with the original blend, on the rocks with salt, before trying their more adventurous cilantro and jalapeno version. Both were perfectly tasty and did what they were supposed to do- compliment the food well and give everyone in the room a good buzz. Never one to pass an opportunity for free beer, I had to have a Corona as well which was perfectly cold and served with a fresh and juicy lime.

The ubiquitous casino restaurant it is not

The restaurant is the second of this concept in the states. With the original open for over 100 years in Ensenada, Titan Brands brought them to Vegas and then to Reno.

Scott Frost is co-founder and president of Titan Brands. He is also a graduate of UNR, although I did not confirm if he still lives in Reno. Regardless, the restaurant is independently owned and operated with a great staff of locals with Reno roots. And you all know how much I love that!

I recently tried to go back for a second private visit, but the wait was 60-90 minutes on a Saturday night. Very nice to see in a casino environment, and it led us to dine with chef Ivano at La Strada in the neighboring Eldorado which always pleases. Visit Hussong’s on a night where you can arrive early and stay late to enjoy the tunes and cocktails. To me, it’s a welcome and lively change to what we usually see in casinos.

Chef Clint Jolly is a Reno native who has spent most his life in the search of great food. The owner of Great Thyme Catering is happy to see a food revolution taking place in Reno and northern Nevada. You can read more from Clint on his personal blog