Contradictions can be a good thing. For instance, Mexican food can be simple and hearty, or a complex mix of flavor and technique. The fare at Anna’s Mexican Grill manages to be both, sometimes simultaneously on the same plate. Located in a northwest Reno strip mall, this family-owned business is something of a hybrid, combining aspects of a traditional Mexican-American “sit-down” restaurant with those of a fast service, authentic Mexican taqueria. The fact that Anna’s is both a “best-kept secret” as well as “beloved favorite” adds another contradiction, perhaps unsurprising given its somewhat hidden location on a high-traffic thoroughfare. You almost have to know it’s there in order to notice it as you drive past at near-freeway speeds.
Speaking of speed, there’s nothing “fast food” about Anna’s cuisine, and yet I’ve waited longer at burger joints and stripped-down taquerias than I have at this restaurant. We were seated, served and paid the check for dinner in perhaps 40 minutes, all without feeling rushed. Featuring an open kitchen, the service and genuine warmth from the entire staff is among the best you’ll find in any restaurant. But man doesn’t live by hospitality alone, so let’s talk about the food.
When you sit down for Mexican cuisine, your first expectation is to be served chips and salsa picante. Instead, within a minute or two of being seated, we were served warm gorditas—crispy-yet-soft pillows of corn flour—topped with sour cream and grated Cotija cheese. I love good chips and salsa, but those gorditas are a brilliant introduction to a memorable meal.
When we first discovered Anna’s a couple of years ago, I ordered a pork enchilada and chile relleno combo ($7.99) with a ceviche tostada on the side ($4.99), while my wife ordered chicken fajitas ($12.25) with corn tortillas. Both dinners were served with guacamole, sour cream, rice and refried beans. The fajitas were flavorful, the enchilada and relleno were tasty, and the extras were all quite good. However, the ceviche was a knock-out. I’ve made ceviche at home, ordered plenty of it at restaurants, but was blown away by Anna’s tasty, crisp tostada tortilla holding up well under the perfectly-cured fish, avocado and seasonings. It was really, really good.
During that first Anna’s experience, my wife and I noticed a couple sharing what appeared to be a giant serving of steaming awesomeness, served from a black stone crucible. Even though our meal was completely outstanding, we suffered a bit of buyer’s remorse and vowed, “Next time, we’re ordering that!” And so we did on our most recent visit.
Among the “Dinner for Two” menu selections is the molcajete ($21.99), the aforementioned big bowl of wonder. A molcajete is a carved lava-rock mortar (i.e. mortar and pestle, sans pestle), traditionally used by pre-Hispanic Mexican cultures for both preparing foods as well as serving them. As with cast iron, the molcajete does a great job of keeping Anna’s special concoction of chicken, steak, chorizo, shrimp, onion, peppers, melted cheese and “special sauce” piping hot at the table, perfect for filling warm corn tortillas with guacamole, sour cream, rice, beans, and a choice of house-made salsa picante. The shrimp was a standout item among the symphony—perfectly cooked, plenty of flavor, not too tough. This is tricky to accomplish in this kind of dish, and a testament to the chefs’ skill.
As if to say, “thanks so much for visiting us,” a complimentary slice of tres leche cake arrived along with the check. The cake was moist, not-too-sweet and the perfect ending to a delicious meal. Even paying the check was speedily efficient, and as we left we were sent-off with friendly farewells that made us feel like a part of Anna’s family.