Taco the town

Estella at the Jesse serves handmade tacos with both traditional and innovative ingredients.

Estella at the Jesse serves handmade tacos with both traditional and innovative ingredients.


Estella at the Jesse is open 4 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Learn more at estellareno.com.

Reno has plenty of tacos—street tacos, fast food tacos, restaurant tacos. There’s a taco for everyone. And then there are the tacos at Estella, part of the renovated hotel and bar now known as the Jesse (a decades-old structure now named for Reno’s namesake Civil War general). My friends and I met up at the stylish/trendy bar and enjoyed a few rounds of local microbrew ($5 a pint) before moseying on over to the upscale taqueria.

The room is pretty small, with stool-and-counter seating. We ditched the stools and stood at the counter, engaging in conversation with the dedicated and enthusiastic folks crafting and serving our meal. We started with a housemade serving of thin, crispy tortilla chips ($2) with a ramekin of chunky, herby bean dip ($4). Both were very good, but we wished for more dip. We finished off the chips with green tomatillo salsa and smoky salsa morita. Both had plenty of flavor and what I'd call medium heat.

There is a sizeable selection of mezcal—the agave-based cousin to tequila—available, including one imposing bottle labeled Peloton de la Muerte, or “Brigade of Death” ($30 per bottle). They're served with accompanying slices of blood orange, lime, something pickled I couldn't identify and sal de gusano, a.k.a. “worm salt.” Comprised of salt, dried chiles and toasted, ground moth larvae that burrow into agave plants, it's apparently a condiment that is fairly common in Mexico but has only recently become more available north of the border. It had an earthy, smokiness that I could see myself sprinkling on any number of foods.

The short menu includes vegan, vegetable and fruit salads, but I had eyes only for tacos—and I ordered the lot. Rough-hewn, five-inch tortillas belied their housemade origins, lightly grilled and exceptionally flavorful. One piled with carne asada ($6), queso fresco, local microgreens, and salsa de arbol had a nice bit of heat, tender meat and was generally enjoyable. This was followed by a taco de pescado ($7) with beer battered snapper, chipotle crema and seasonal slaw. I'm not entirely certain what the veg was, but it was a nice contrast to the crispy fish and copious sauce.

Smoked king trumpet mushrooms and maitake mushrooms ($5.50) were combined with queso fresco, pine nuts, radish microgreens and salsa morita. On first bite there was a sweetness I wasn't completely down with, but the 'shrooms pushed through and brought it all together. At this time of the year, the seasonal vegetarian taco ($5.50) understandably centered on roasted pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, with queso fresco and microgreens. Squash is generally not my favorite thing, but this was a really interesting, creative, very New World concoction. Even my least favorite taco was something remarkable.

The last two meat and masa discs were spectacular. A taco al pastor ($5.50) with cilantro, adobo, pineapple and a thin, fried wafer of queso Oaxaca was tender, crunchy and spicy. It was apparently my friend's first experience with al pastor pork, and what an introduction. However, servings of carnitas ($5.50) with julienned house pickle, tomatillo salsa and the same Oaxaca cheese crisp blew everything else away. Salty, sour, spicy, meaty and completely fantastic. Despite being pretty full at this point, I had to order one more of these, because, damn.