Hidden gem

Nga Ly, owner of the Saigon Pearl, serves up a bowl of pho and the accompanying basil and bean sprouts.

Nga Ly, owner of the Saigon Pearl, serves up a bowl of pho and the accompanying basil and bean sprouts.

Photo By David Robert

Saigon Pearl

293 W. Second St.
Reno, NV 89501

(775) 324-3244

It seems that the more reviews I write, the more restaurants pop out of the woodwork. I didn’t even know this place existed until my friend Paige told me about it last week. “Try the beverages,” she said. “They are really cool.”

Tucked inside the Hotel El Cortez, Saigon Pearl offers a quiet, comfortable place to have lunch or dinner. It’s a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, from the décor to the music. I brought my date, Monica, and we sat in one of the booths. We agreed that we liked the ambiance, especially the the comfy booths and the scenic photographs of the Vietnamese countryside.

We started off with a Thai tea ($2) and salted lemonade ($2). These drinks were very cool. The Thai tea, not to be confused with Thai iced tea, is coconut juice, chunks of mango, green jelly—tastes like banana—and lychee nuts, all topped with shaved ice. The salted lemonade was more like limeade with a salty taste—a perfect palate cleanser. If you like Margaritas with salt, then you would love this drink.

As we enjoyed our beverages, we talked with our friendly server. He gave us a few recommendations, and we went with his suggestions. Ordering food at a Vietnamese restaurant can be a little confusing sometimes, so we appreciated the advice.

For an appetizer, we ordered the spring roll ($4.25)—to me, this is a must-have at Vietnamese restaurants. I love Vietnamese spring rolls. They are full of flavor and very healthy. Wrapped in cool rice paper, the flavor and texture of the lettuce, rice noodles, basil, mint, bean sprouts, pork and shrimp work well together, creating a delicious meal in one bite. The peanut dipping sauce that comes with the spring roll gives it some extra depth and richness in flavor. It’s an ideal condiment for a light, crisp snack.

For the main course, we ordered the charbroiled pork over rice ($5.95) and the white noodle with seafood soup ($7.25). The entrees arrived shortly after we finished our spring roll. The size of the soup impressed me. It is a lot of food: shrimp, crab, calamari and white noodles in a seafood broth with a side dish of fresh basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges and spicy green chilies. The pork wasn’t quite as big as the soup, but it was plenty of food. Served with white rice, the Vietnamese pork was succulent and moist. Monica and I shared our entrees, and by the time we were half-way through, we were beginning to get full.

Because we liked the surroundings so much, we didn’t feel rushed, and we sat talking and just soaking up the culture. The amiable environment of Saigon Pearl encourages patrons to relax and stay awhile.

What really stood out here was the friendly service, the comfortable dining room and the inexpensive price tag. We got out of there for just over 20 bucks, which is pretty good for a place with good food, service and a cozy atmosphere. I definitely want to come back here to try some more of the beverages—the Vietnamese have a special touch with them.