I am an absolute sucker for small, retro, dingy, nostalgic, one-of-a-kind diners, that serve good ol' American comfort food and diner classic fare. The Nugget Diner, known to Reno locals as "The Little Nugget," is located within the friendly spaces of the Nugget Casino, in downtown Reno, and is about as retro of a diner as you could ever imagine, as the decor and atmosphere is right out of the 1960's, and with the exception of the computerized cash register, I doubt that the decor of the restaurant has been updated in the last 40 years.
Photo: I'm holding up the sign that advertises the Nugget Diner, in front of the Nugget Casino, located in downtown Reno.
Downtown Reno, Nevada isn't what it was 10 years ago, as between the bad economy and the proliferation of California Indian casinos, downtown Reno has been hit with a double-whammy, as it has attracted tourists and gamblers primarily from the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley, many who now gamble at closer locations. The Nugget Casino, sometimes confused by it's King Kong-sized near-namesake, John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel and Casino, in nearby Sparks, is located on Virginia Street, near the famous Reno Arch, next door to the shuttered Fitzgeralds Hotel and Casino. Ed Note: How we miss the "Fitz," as we used to stay at the hotel and play at their casino, several times each year. A sign on the sidewalk in front of the Nugget Casino advertises the diner, and lists some of the favorites, including the famous "Awful-Awful" burger, which is considered by many burger lovers to be the best burger available in Reno. The diner is located in the back of the small casino, so to reach the diner, you need to walk through the somewhat dated and dingy casino, past the full-service bar, and past the friendly bartender who waves at you and greets you as you walk by, and then you set your sights for the green neon sign, straight ahead, that reads "diner." You pass by a small, recently added "patio," within the friendly confines of the casino, which features primitive seating for your dining "pleasure." If you're old enough to remember the 1960's, you're about to relive fond, diner memories.
The Nugget Diner is tiny, and is much smaller than the living room in my house - no wonder the locals call it "The Little Nugget" - and it features two counters with stools for your seating, and your dining pleasure. Table seating is available just outside the diner, in a quasi-pseudo area of the casino, but to me, it's not the same dining experience unless you plop yourself on a stool at the counter, so you can watch the staff at work, and sit elbow-to-elbow with your follow diners. As you enter the small diner, the preferred seating is to your left, facing the kitchen and the meal preparation area, and the "secondary" seating is to your right, facing a wall. Paying top fare, seating on a flimsy stool and facing a wall, inches away from your face... not my kind of dining...
Photo: Is this 2010 or is it 1965? Only the hairstyles and clothing has changed, as Nugget Diner is pure diner retro. You walk past the counter and place your order at the end of the counter.
Photo: Twilla, at the cash register, along with Sammie, in red, and the cook guy, in action at Nugget Diner.
The decor of the diner, such that it is, it's pure 1960's diner nostalgia, consisting of vinyl upholstery, faded wallpaper, garish colors, chrome fixtures, and period photos and posters, one who states, "9 out of 10 Vegetarians don't eat here." There is nothing fancy about this diner, as it's the stereotype of a "greasy spoon." Even the smell of the place is nostalgic, as the predominant smells are of cooking grease and cigarette smoke, wafting in from the co-located casino. Many of the customers seem to be down-on-your-luck gamblers, drunks, losers, pimps or crack whores, which only adds to the atmosphere. As far as I'm concerned, Nugget Diner is my kind of place!
To place your order, you grab one of the many menus from the chrome-plated counter menu holders - or the ones located on the counter facing the wall - figure out what you want to order, go to the far end of the counter, place your order, pay for it, pay for it, and then seat yourself on one of the 10 or stools at the counter, facing the action, or if it's not your day, you get to seat facing the wall, or you can take your order into the casino and sit at one of the glorified picnic tables, at the bar, or wherever... When you seat yourself at Nugget Diner's breakfast counter, it would behoove yourself to apply your deodorant, and hopefully the person sitting in close quarters next to you will have applied the same hygenics as well, as you're quite close to your neighbor, whatever his/her state of hygiene.
The breakfast counter, but in Nugget Diner, it could be refereed to as "the counter," takes you back to the 1960's, as it's complete with a gaudy red Formica paneled counter top, chrome trim on everything, and counter stools that swivel... whoooo hoooooo !!! Sit yourself on a stools and it swivels, which is a good thing, but it's lumpy, and wobbles - that's bad karma - but purely acceptable for a diner that hasn't been updated for many years. You are only sitting the length of a yard from the waitresses, as they got about their business, and you can watch the cook prepare your meal, and you can rub elbows with the person sitting on the stool next to you, at the counter. This is the kind of atmosphere that I love!
Photo: Nugget Diner's compact kitchen is entirely visible from in front of the counter. It's simple and seems to have only a griddle and a deep fryer, which is perfect for a diner. Who could want for more?
Photo: Sharlene's delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and hash brown potatoes.
The menu is pure retro, out of the 1960's... in fact there is a framed poster in the restaurant that proclaims that "9 out of 10 vegetarians don't eat here," and that's true, as the menu is a blast to the past, as it features pure American comfort food, that is fried or cooked on the griddle. We're talking about entrees such as hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, fried chicken, fries and soup... with breakfast offered 24/7. The signature dish is the "Awful-Awful" burger - which is short for "Awful big - Awful good," and is considered to be the best burger in Reno. Editor's note: The "Awful-Awful" is on my things-to-do-list. The burger is definitely "awful big" and it's served on a mountain of fries that probably even award-winning eater Joey Chestnut couldn't eat in one sitting. If you're a fan of breakfast, as I am, breakfast is served 24 hours every day at the Nugget Diner. That, in itself, is worth the price of admission.
Nugget Diner's menu is posted on the web in various paces, we were pretty familiar with the menu, and what we wanted to order for breakfast, as we'd "googled" Nugget's menu on the web prior to our visit. If we hadn't surfed the web, prior to our visit on Sunday morning, September 5, 2010, we could have picked up one of their printed menus that are stashed in chrome racks, placed in strategic locations on the breakfast counter, or we could have ascertained much of their menu from looking at the walls, where various menu selections are posted. We knew what we wanted to order, so we walked up to the cashier/order station at the end of the bar, and were greeted by Twilla, one of the two waitresses/servers on duty, who took or orders with a smile, and answered many of the many questions that I asked her about this restaurant, in order for me to put something sort of intelligent and quite accurate on our web site. After placing our breakfast orders, we took our seats near the end of the counter, facing the kitchen/work area, and we were able to watch as the daily drama at Nugget Diner unfold, before our eyes, from the vantage point of the lumpy, wobbly naugahyde-upholstered breakfast bar stools.
Photo: I ordered biscuits and gravy, with 2 eggs, but due to a mix-up, I received a free egg. The bacon came from Sharlene's plate. Check out the gravy with the huge sausage chunks; it was delicious!
Photo: Twilla poses with the signature "Awful-Awful" burger, placed on top of a mountain of fries. Could you eat all of those fries? The burger is on my future things-to-do list.
It was interesting to watch Twilla, and the other server, Sammie, at work, and to watch the cook place our bacon, hash brown potatoes and eggs on the griddle and to see our breakfast cooked, before our eyes. The breakfast fare is exactly what you would expect for a small, hole-in-the-wall diner; long gone are the bargains of yesterday, such as the $2.22 ham and eggs. Retro-classic choices include lots of ham 'n eggs, pancakes and much more, and the prices are very reasonable, but could not be considered a "loss-leader" or a bargain. The menu does offer one super bargain: Two pancakes and one egg for $1.99. Or, if you prefer, 2 eggs and 1 pancake for the same price; it's advertised as their "Breakfast Special." I had honest proof that this special works, as the guy sitting beside me on the breakfast counter was enjoying a bargain breakfast... by the looks of the gentleman sitting next to me, it was probably going to be his major square meal of the day. Nice thing to know...
Twilla and Sammie placed our breakfasts on the counter before us, and upon my request,Twilla snapped our photo, with our breakfasts in front of us; she remarked after she took our photo that she'd take identical photos many times before. I have no doubt in my mind, as Nugget Diner is a world-class dining destination, but what surprises me is that our review is the first in-depth review that has been published on the Web. Back to basics, as Sharlene ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes and toast, and I ordered a biscuit and gravy platter with two eggs on the side. Sharlene ordered more than she could eat, so I was the benefactor of a couple of pieces of bacon on the side. I enjoyed eating a rather full platter, to say the least.
A customer came in and ordered an "Awful-Awful" burger, and as Twilla carried the burger to him, I asked if I could take her photo with it, and she obliged, so I took her smiling photo with the huge burger, perched on a mountain of golden fries. The mountain of fries is so large, it resembles a golden Mount Everest, and I doubt even "Jaws" Joey Chestnut could eat all of those fries in one sitting, although I'm sure he'd give it the ol' college try. By golly, the "Awful" certainly looked awful big, and awful good!
Photo: Another shot of the retro interior, with the main counter facing the staff to the left, and the other counter, facing the wall, at the right. Each counter has about 10 stools, but I didn't count. The guy in the white shirt is eating the $1.99 breakfast special of two eggs and one pancake.
Photo: Upon my request, Twilla snapped our photo, at the counter, with our delicious breakfast before us. She said that she's snapped hundreds of similar photos.
An interesting side note to our visit happened after we left the diner and went back to our hotel room. I planned to visit the Nugget Rib Cook-off, and Sharlene planed to dabble in the casino with Lady Luck, so we went our separate ways. Upon leaving the hotel, a thought struck me, "Did we tip Twilla and Sammie," who worked so hard to deliver a delicious breakfast and put up with my photos? So I headed back to Nugget Diner and made my way to the cash register where Twilla was still on duty. "Excuse me, Twilla, remember me... the guy who took lots of photos? ... I think we forgot to tip you..." as I offered her a $5.00 bill. She said that they don't expect tips, as they're "sort of" self-service, plus she remembered Sharlene had already tipped her. I offered her the bill anyway, due to her wonderful service and great spirit, but she declined to accept it. Folks, that's integrity!
The Nugget Diner isn't a bargain like it was in days gone by, but it continues to represent good value, and you get a lot of food for your dollar, and you get to enjoy your meal in a one-of-a-kind, dingy, retro, 1960's vintage diner. The atmosphere is priceless, and the prices are reasonable, and the food is great, and there's plenty of it. You really can't put a price on atmosphere... I love the Nugget Diner!
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