Northern Nevada most likely has the largest concentration of Basque restaurants in the United States. Reno has two: Louis’ Basque Corner, which has been reviewed in several editions of the Roadfood book, and The Santa Fe Hotel, which was actually reviewed in the first two editions of Roadfood.
Around since the late 1940s, the Santa Fe Hotel is the older of the two. Housed in an old brick building that’s a little worn around the edges, at first glance you might mistake the restaurant for a bus or train depot. Like most traditional Basque restaurants, you enter into the bar first and then approach the family-style dining room.
Crusty, pre-sliced French bread arrives first at the table. Soup, salad, and Basque beans make their appearance shortly thereafter. The soup of the day at one meal was pasta served in a peppery red broth that was both invigorating and amazingly addictive. However, the Basque beans didn’t quite boast the smokey punch that I experienced at other Basque restaurants.
The two entrees of the day were paella and lamb stew; although you can only choose one, my waitress was kind enough to honor my request and prepare one plate with both. The paella, although good-tasting, was a little dry. The lamb stew, generously loaded with hunks of lamb roast, potatoes, and carrots, was flavorful, slightly smokey, and exquisite.
I ordered lamb chops for my main course. These thick chops have just enough fat for flavor and are perfectly grilled, with a slight char contributing to a subtle, crunchy exterior. The garlic cloves only enhance the essence of this fabulous piece of meat. Fresh-cut french fries come with the main course and complete the meal.
Dessert is merely an afterthought: either non-traditional ice cream or the more traditional sliced Monterey Jack cheese, an inconsequential ending to an otherwise ample and outstanding meal.