Salient discovery

A trip to a hidden tropical paradise in a Reno strip mall.

Kawai Garrido bring Hawaiian specialties to the corner of Vassar Street and Claudia Kietzke Lane

Kawai Garrido bring Hawaiian specialties to the corner of Vassar Street and Claudia Kietzke Lane

Photo by David Robert

After lurking in the parking lot outside Oak Furniture Warehouse for a few sunny hours, I would have actually considered going into a fast food place for something cold to drink. (Not a burger, though, just a McSnack.)

As usual this summer, my day had begun late and without breakfast. My assignment was the RN&R’s Streetalk column. It is difficult to do quickly even at a bustling location. Most people will not even slow down when you approach them in public. Displaying a camera with the Reno News & Review sticker on it does not convince some folks that I am not a salesman or fanatic. In fact, some of my distinguished Streetalk predecessors have been thrown out of places for asking too many questions. It’s a rite of passage into the strange new world of the media.

There were not very many people to be found early in the afternoon outside a little shopping center at Kietzke Lane and Vassar Street. The question: “Do you have deep-seated issues?” The answers were varied, and someties I doubted the honesty of the folks who’d been brave enough to contribute.

Finally finished, I felt tired and hungry. The sun had made my pale skin feel crinkly. Fortunately, I was spared the greasiness of death by fast-food fries at after discovering a great café tucked into a corner of the aforementioned strip mall.

At first, I thought the people sitting outside were from the bar. A closer look led to a refreshing surprise, a Hawaiian food joint that I’d never noticed before.

I was most impressed with how easy it was to feel at home, oddly enough, in a restaurant called Away From Home. My lunch came with a relaxed and welcoming feeling. Many of the customers were greeted by name by the staff. I soon realized this was one of those secret lunch spots. Single diners toting books came to munch and read quietly. Other groups of folks gabbed awhile after eating. I think I even spotted a high-profile local television station star who’d perhaps snuck away from the office to come here for a bite.

The decorations did remind me of Hawaii, but not in a campy, tourist sort of way. The place is small but not too cluttered. And the kitchen staff had character, not the mysterious anonymity of some cafes.

The menu had a selection of burgers, and a very long list of sandwiches. A selection of daily specials was crammed onto a board in the corner. I went with the roast pork combination plate for several reasons. Naturally, I was hungry. But I was also curious about how good the food was, and I figured that practically anyone can make a tolerable sandwich. The pork was tasty and refreshing, and the rice was almost perfect. Almost perfect is a great compliment, as I rarely find restaurant rice done very well or even “good.”

The overall experience was great. More than just a quick, generic lump of food, the dish had flavor that was only enhanced by my sense of relaxation. I have been back once already, and I can’t wait to take some friends there. I’m glad I had cash though, because they do not have an ATM machine.