Money is tight these days. That's old news to most people. But while some folks are content to hunker down and wait out the recession at home, others still like to travel - which can present some unique challenges.
Budget vacationing may sound like an oxymoron, but in a town like Reno, it is possible. Profits are down for Reno casinos and hotels just as they are for other businesses, which means they are offering even more deals than usual just to get customers through the front door.
You'll see these signs everywhere at casinos in Reno
Because such deals often change from week to week, we won't go into specifics here. But as a rule, call ahead rather than booking your hotel online and just ask if there are any specials coming up. If you plan to ski, bike, kayak, go to a casino show or take part in other activities, mention that as well. If you catch the management at just the right time, you can land a package deal and save hundreds of dollars.
Free meals and drink tokens are also often available for the asking. Bear in mind that casinos can afford to offer these deals because most tourists immediately pour any cash they save straight into the nearest slot machine, so be sure to set a gambling budget and stick to it.
After lodging, meals will likely be your next biggest expense. Any casino coffee shop will have decent food for a reasonable price, but as we often do at Reno.net, we're going to trust you to explore your own hotel and highlight some budget eateries with a little more personality -- and flavor -- than the average room service cart.
Beto's (575 W. Fifth St.) is a Mexican restaurant so authentic that it may disorient some gringos at first. Spanish is the most common language both on the menu and in the small dining room, and picnic-style tables mean you may have to share your eating space with (gasp!) a stranger. But the food, which ranges from chicken tacos to cow brain sopas, is an unbeatable value. Expect to walk away with a plate sagging with delicious, traditional food for $5 to $10. But if you attempt to order food by its Spanish name, be absolutely sure you know what you're asking for...
Egg Roll King (numerous locations including 194 Lemon Dr. and 635 Booth St.) serves budget Chinese food at its best. More than a dozen combination meals offer at least two servings of favorite dishes for under $7, while only a few items on the extensive menu cost $9 or more. For a change of pace, try the Singapore-style noodles, a cheap, hearty "street food" dish with a little bit of everything the cook had on hand thrown in.
If you are truly serious about eating on the cheap, look no further than the Sports Bar at Club Cal Neva (1 E. First St., www.clubcalneva.com). The menu consists entirely of beer and stadium food, and a hot dog/beer combo can be had for as little as $2. It's not gourmet, but it does offer dozens of televisions tuned to sporting events around the world. If you can resist squandering your savings in the sports book and you have a tolerant wife or husband, it's not a bad place to grab a snack.
One of Reno's oldest Vietnamese restaurants, Pho 777 (102 E. Second St.) was forced to move after its previous incarnation was destroyed in a fire. The new storefront offers the same excellent noodle soups and spring rolls. Lunch for two can be had for around $13 if you're mindful.
The Gold-N-Silver Inn (790 West Fourth Street), an old-time Reno favorite, recalls Reno's history as a sleepy but friendly desert outpost. Coffee shop food including enormous stacks of pancakes and golden chicken-fried steak are served 24 hours a day. The gloss of the nearby resorts stops at the front door, but if you're looking for friendly service and cheap bacon and eggs at 3 a.m., you'll find both here.
The Nugget Diner is open 24 hours and gets packed on the weekends
Locals usually refer to the Nugget Diner (233 N. Virginia St.) simply as "Awful Awful," but don't let that put you off. The name refers to the house's mammoth hamburger, which is "awful big and awful good," according to owners and thousands of happy customers. Another 24-hour stop, the place is jammed on weekend nights. You can expect excellent greasy spoon fare and very little personal space if you choose to eat in. The Awful Awful with fries is about $6, while the rest of the menu comes in under $9.
While the Silver Peak Brewery (124 Wonder St. and 135 N Sierra St., www.silverpeakbrewery.com), doesn't usually qualify as a budget establishment, its happy hour prices on high-end appetizers and craft beers are worth noting. During happy hour (usually from 4-6 p.m., double-check before showing up), treats such as pickle chips, steamed clams and rosemary flatbread drop below $8 and pints of locally produced ale are half-price. While nearly every bar in town offers some kind of evening special, none match Silver Peak for quality and ambience.
Finally, the surreal experience that is The Pirate Ship (495 Greenbrae Dr., Sparks, www.thepirateshipnv.com) is worth paying for, so the fact that its prices are generally reasonable is just icing on the sea-salted cake. The building is shaped like an actual ship, complete with crow's nest, and the theme continues inside. Staff members dress in period attire and sometimes speak in character, and the house music is mostly reggae and sea shanties. Pirate-themed events such as scavenger hunts also crop up from time to time. Food ranges from standard fish and chips to mahi-mahi burgers, pasta, fried Oreos and crabby patties. While some entrees do creep toward $15, many are less than $10, and appetizers and desserts begin at just $4. The atmosphere is worth at least that, especially if you have kids.
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Article written by Matt Farley. Farley is a Nevada native who has worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and Nevada Magazine and been syndicated by The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and the Las Vegas Review Journal.