Tastes like home

Whether pico de gallo, pad thai or pasta, Reno’s ethnic restaurateur’s enhance the local palate with food from their homelands

Kris Woodring, owner of Bangkok Cuisine, stirs the morning batch of simmering curry.

Kris Woodring, owner of Bangkok Cuisine, stirs the morning batch of simmering curry.

Photo By David Robert

Reno has an increasingly rich ethnic base that continues to expand and gain importance within the community. New families from different countries bring with them different customs and traditional national values that often influence our choices and enrich our lives. It’s a long-term trend toward cultural diversity that’s especially evident in the local restaurant scene. While this article shines the spotlight on three families, there are more ethnic and family-owned restaurants in the area than could ever be included in a single story.


575 W. Fifth St., 324-0632.
Open 7 days a week from 10 a.m to 10 p.m.

Lorena Hurtado has one of those big smiles that lights up a room. She studies criminal justice at the University of Phoenix, and she’s the 28-year-old daughter of Rosalba de la Torre, owner of Beto’s restaurant. She likes living in Reno and loves her job. “The best part about working here is the people,” she says. “I get very attached to my customers.”

Beto’s opened in September 1996, 10 years ago this month. Danny Hernandez comes in every day. He’s originally from Guadalajara but transferred to Reno from the San Fernando Valley. He tried every Mexican place in town before he saw the sign for Beto’s and the handwritten message in the front window that says: “Authentic Mexican Food, Guadalajara Style.”

“At Beto’s, the taste and quality of the food is great,” Hernandez says with the zeal of a true aficionado. “They have original recipes from Mexico. The service is friendly, and the atmosphere is just right. It feels like home.”

Rosalba brought traditional recipes with her when she moved to Los Angeles from Guadalajara in 1988 at the age of 25. Her father had taught her a lot about the restaurant business in Mexico, and she worked in L.A. until 1996, when she moved to Reno to be closer to her extended family. Within a month, she opened Beto’s.

“Everyone in the family thought it wasn’t a good spot,” recalls Lorena. “But my mom had a feeling it was.”

It turns out Rosalba was right. Beto’s has become a destination in Reno, an institution in the local culinary world.

“People get mad when we close for just one day,” says Lorena. “We make everything from scratch except the chips and tortillas, and people appreciate that.”

That commitment to freshness and authenticity is certainly appreciated by Beto’s loyal following. During one recent lunch rush, there were UNR students in the restaurant, a group of REMSA employees, construction workers, a family with two kids, a journalist and a barista. Spanish and English were spoken with the same regularity. Beto’s is a cultural microcosm. Hernandez is quick to point out, “You go down Virginia Street and Wells Avenue, and everyone tells you the same thing: Eat at Beto’s.”

Bangkok Cuisine and Bangkok Cuisine Express

Bangkok Cuisine is at 55 Mt. Rose St., 322-0299.
Mon-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Bangkok Cuisine Express is at 6170 Mae Anne Ave., 747-9999.
Mon-Sat 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Chinta Woodring grew up in Bangkok and moved to Reno with her younger sister Kasuma in 1967. Initially, they worked at the home of Gloria Walker.

Lorena Hurtado, daughter of owner Rosalba de la Torre, checks on an order being prepared by cook Max Santos at Beto’s.

Photo By David Robert

"The only place in town that carried Asian groceries was Nevada Seafood,” recalls Chinta. “But Mrs. Walker loved Thai food, so we shopped there and cooked Thai dishes for the family.”

Over the years, Chinta worked in several casinos running Keno and making change. She went to cosmetology school and opened a beauty shop before moving to Florida with her son, Kris. But she always dreamed of running her own Thai restaurant. In 1996, Kris moved back to Reno and saw in the newspaper that Dynasty Chinese Restaurant was for sale. He saw a golden opportunity, and soon, mother and son were making plans.

“Early on, I never let her out of the kitchen,” says Kris. “I told her if she was out in the front of the restaurant, then customers would think she wasn’t cooking.” Chinta, who sits next to Kris as he recounts this, laughs heartily and exclaims, “That’s true!”

Kris owns the restaurant now, while Chinta does most of the cooking. “Mom is really picky with products,” says Kris. “When she finds something she likes, she sticks with it.” They buy ingredients from local Asian markets and go to Sacramento once a month for specialty items. Fresh produce is brought in every day, and the meats are meticulously prepared.

Chinta personally trains everyone in the kitchen so that things are done right. Her dedication to authentic Thai cuisine is unmistakable with every bite. “In other places, they cook Thai food for American people,” says Chinta. “It’s not original Thai. I like cooking original Thai.”

“That’s why I come here,” says Lori Svendsen. “The food is so good, I could never re-create it, even if I had the time.”

Svendsen started coming to Bangkok Cuisine for its lunch specials when the restaurant first opened 10 years ago. Now she drops by two or three times a month to pick up dinner for her family.

“We’re really lucky to have a place like this in Reno. I didn’t know much about Thai food before I started coming here, and now I’ve even cooked some Thai meals at home.”

Chinta loves to travel and has considered retiring, but every time she slows down, she gets antsy. For now, Chinta and Kris work seven days a week, and mom is occasionally allowed out of the kitchen.

“Every day,” she says, “I feel like I’m home.”

La Famiglia

180 E. First St. 324-1414
Mon-Sat starting at 5 p.m.

From left, Jason Winters prepares food as Sergio Gaspari tastes butternut squash filling for ravioli, and Cesar Rodriguez cooks at the stove.

Photo By David Robert

Paolo Gaspari grew up in a small town outside of Genoa, Italy, and spent his youth traveling around Europe working in restaurants. At a time when cruise ships were gaining in popularity, and fine dining was all the rage, the handsome young Paolo landed a job with Princess Cruise Lines. He circled the world 16 times in 18 years. Paolo’s son Sergio depicts the scene: “White gloves, fingernail inspections, cold plates, hot plates, crisp linens and formal place settings. They did it all.”

Paolo took that experience to San Francisco, where he ran two Italian restaurants in North Beach before moving to Reno in 1985 to be closer to a tight-knit group of immigrant friends. He married his wife, Teresa, and, in between trips to Italy, opened a string of successful, well-loved restaurants including Portofino and Paolo’s Deli.

“Where he’s from, food is a huge thing,” explains Sergio. “Life centered around cooking meals for the family and growing food. They didn’t have much in post-war Italy, so family and community were especially important.”

When the spot on the corner of First and Lake opened up in August 2004, the family sprang into action. Sergio and cousin Jason Winters worked from 9 a.m. until midnight six days a week on the interior of the building, while Paolo and Teresa planned every detail of the restaurant. They opened on Dec. 22, and within weeks, it was difficult to get a table without a reservation.

According to Sergio, the restaurant works because they all share the same high standards and strong work ethic. Paolo has the business sense; Jason does the cooking; Sergio mans the front of the house; and Teresa runs everything, including the kitchen. One night, both dishwashers quit in the middle of their shift. Paolo didn’t miss a beat—he stepped in and washed dishes until the restaurant closed.

The city has embraced La Famiglia with a mighty hug. On any given night, the mayor might drop by with some city council members, and friends will bring out-of-town guests for dinner and drinks. Singles gather at the bar, and a couple celebrates their anniversary with an intimate meal.

“Paolo is really happy with the restaurant,” says Sergio. “He always wanted a nice place for people to eat meals and drink wine and visit with the family. La Famiglia is like our house. We invite people in and cook food for them. It’s fantastic.”