Arroyo Mexican Grill250 Evans Ave.
Reno, NV 89501
There’s nothing quite like being surprised. The first restaurant I visited at the Freight House District was an atrocious experience. So I went into Arroyo Mexican Grill with low—well, actually no expectations—and I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk out thinking there’s a thing or two some Mexican restaurants in this town should take from Arroyo’s playbook.
I visited for the first time on a Thursday evening when the Aces were not playing and found Arroyo pretty empty. I arrived well before my wife, Kat, so I took a seat at the bar, and the bartender promptly brought me a cold Pacifico ($5) and free chips. She wasn’t good at small talk and spent a fair amount of time texting on her cell phone, but the second my beer went empty she was there to pour another. This pretty much summarizes the service: Help is there if needed, but you’ll mostly be left alone.
The restaurant is decorated like a nicely appointed hacienda full of dark woods and light hand-troweled plaster walls. Apart from some colorful paintings, tequila bottles are the central decorating motif. Arroyo claims to offer more than 100 varieties, most in the $8-$11 range, but there’s one that’s $70 a shot. Who in god’s name is going to drink a $70 shot of tequila, even with the free Arroyo shot glass you get with its purchase?
On the other end of the spectrum is Arroyo’s complimentary chips and salsa bar. I have never been served a basket of chips so warm they burned my tongue, but chalk that up to freshness. Even more delectable were the two salsas I tried from Arroyo’s salsa bar. The salsa fresca and habañero salsas were colorful and flavorful, but beware—that habañero will tear your mouth apart. I absolutely loved them both.
When Kat showed up, we took a table in the corner and started with the guacamole en molcajete ($6.95). Arroyo prepares the guacamole tableside and starts with two avocados, which are then blended with Serrano peppers, cilantro, onions, tomato, salt and lime to your liking. I can’t think of another Mexican restaurant in Reno that performs this really personalized service.
For entrees, Kat ordered the al pastor tacos ($9.95), two homemade corn tortillas topped with grilled pork, pineapple and onions and served with rice and black beans. I ordered the prime burrito ($11.50), a flour tortilla stuffed with filet mignon, brown beans, cheese, pico de gallo and avocado and served with a Caesar salad. I never would have ordered this plate had the server not proclaimed it one of their most popular menu items. Filet mignon in a burrito just seems wrong, but this was not good filet mignon. It was tough, poorly seasoned, and I quickly plucked every single piece out of what was an otherwise perfectly good burrito.
Unfortunately, the pork on Kat’s tacos was also chewy and excessively grisly, which was a shame because that sweet pineapple and savory pork created some good flavor. The black beans sprinkled with Cotija cheese are a noteworthy side and have a delicious smoky flavor like they’d just been ladled from a kettle hanging over an open fire.
To say I was pleasantly surprised with Arroyo would be an understatement. To say those chips and salsa were just fine would be a bold-faced lie. This is a restaurant the Freight House District can be proud of, and I’ll be back the next time I see the Aces.