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Takeout Tuesday: Mexico City-inspired tacos at Estella in downtown Reno

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Delicious spread of tacos and drinks on the outside patio at Estella (Courtesy: Instagram @Estella_Reno)

Welcome to the second installment of Takeout Tuesday. For my inspiration on this series, check out our story last week on Midtown’s “food+drink," which has incredible pizza and waffles.

There are two foods that you can't go wrong with: pizza and tacos. Sure there are great and not-so-great iterations of both, but we can agree these are foods we love and desire regardless of the quality. With that said, I have a deep appreciation when someone goes above and beyond. That can definitely be said about this week’s review: Estella.

The Jesse Hotel and Estella Tacos Y Mezcal

Across the street from legendary Louis Basque on 4th Street and Evans Avenue in downtown Reno sits The Jesse, a boutique six-bedroom hotel and bar that occupies the space that previously housed Lincoln Lounge, a bar that had its moments. When I saw the property go up for sale a few years ago, I knew there was a huge potential with the space because it included a lounge area, an upstairs that could be used for housing and a great outdoor patio. The Jesse knocked that vision out of the park. As soon as you step in from 4th Street, you are invited to a beautifully decorated space with an incredibly open feeling from the giant windows that face the outside.

Head outside through the patio and you’ll end up in a back building that houses an intimate Mexican cantina specializing in street tacos: Estella Tacos Y Mezcal. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill street tacos. And don’t get me wrong, I love a street taco from a food truck or a stand on the side of the road. But this is a different experience with made-from-scratch corn tortillas, inventive taco options and great cocktails. I was lucky enough to try out Estella a month before the shutdown. Our whole group was blown away.

So when I saw on Instagram Estella was offering a twice-a-week taco kit you can assemble at home, I had to try it.

Home taco kits

While restaurants try to adapt to the current landscape, many have tried doing things a little bit different. That is this case with Estella’s approach. Chef Harrison Cooper and his team have crafted taco kits that feature a 1- or 2-pound option of two kinds of meat, as well as a vegetarian option.

“We’ve had a great response to our takeout program,” Cooper said. “As far as quality goes, it’s not much different than coming in and eating at the restaurant.”

Orders are placed on Tuesday for Wednesday pickup; Friday orders are fulfilled Saturday. I was given the following three options: Chicken Mole (smoked shredded chicken in a sweet savory golden-green mole)l Pork Chile Verde (braised pork shoulder in a bright, herbaceous green sauce); and Veggie “Chorizo” (mushrooms, walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes with chorizo spices). I opted for a pound of the pork chile verde and the chorizo.

Each of these kits could feed a family of four (or a really hungry indulgent family of two in my case). I also figured I would try two options and have leftovers for breakfast or future meals, which was definitely the case.

The kit

I picked up my food Wednesday afternoon and was excited to go on this culinary adventure. My kit was loaded with all the goodies: a quart-sized container of the pork and “chorizo”, about 16 hand-pressed tortillas, house-made chips as well as bright and vibrant red and green salsas plus queso fresco, chopped onions and cilantro. I also ordered a bottled margarita (hell yeah!). And two rolls of toilet paper. Because who doesn’t need a little extra TP right now? Heck: Chris Murray bought some online for $54 a few weeks ago.

For dinner that night, my wife and I decided to dive into the pork chili verde.

I heated up the meat in a cast-iron skillet, warmed up the tortillas, and it was on like Donkey Kong. I piled up my tacos with all the fixings, alternating the green and red salsa. I took my first bite and was met with an explosion of flavor. The pork was exactly as described, with the brightness of the verde sauce a perfect compliment to the rich pork. I absolutely loved the green salsa, and I am definitely a snob in that department. I’ll rank it as my second favorite in Reno-Tahoe (I’m not telling you who has the best; at least not yet). The red was excellent as well. I loved that both had a thickness and texture to them and weren’t just the usual runny style of salsa you get at most Mexican restaurants.

Perhaps the biggest standout was the tortilla. I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of soft corn tortillas. They are usually dry and bland, nothing more than just a vessel for the toppings. The tortillas from Estella were not your standard corn tortilla, and that’s the point.

“I was lucky enough to go to Mexico City for a month before opening Estella,” Cooper said. “I really got a sense of the importance of the tortilla and corn to that whole culture, so coming back the tortilla was very important to not just sort of be a platform to build a taco on. It’s important to the taco.”

Cooper said he hopes to one day cook and mix his own masa at the restaurant, but for now they have it sourced locally from El Rosal in Sparks. The tortillas are portioned and pressed by hand at the restaurant daily.

“The tortillas when you come to eat here are less than an hour from being pressed,” he said. "Same as the ones you are getting to take home. Press and cooked minutes or hours before you come to pick your food up. It makes all the difference. People comment on the quality of the tortilla, the texture and flavor that it has. It adds a whole other dimension to the taco.”

The quality of the tortilla crossed over to the chips, which were some the best I’ve had in Reno. My wife went as far as to say they were the best she’s had. And that is not a statement she throws around lightly. “Perfectly salted,” she said. Now that is not something I hear her say very often.

Mushroom chorizo

Let's get something out of the way before we dive into the “chorizo." Can you really use mushrooms as a substitute for pork in a chorizo recipe? I had to try it to believe it.

The next morning, I decided to make breakfast tacos with the “chorizo” and eggs. I busted out all of the fresh ingredients from the night before and manned my battle station. The result was incredible. It tasted like chorizo. Texture was the same, the spicy kick. You couldn’t tell the difference. The chopped walnuts were a nice touch, adding some fat and texture. I was sold.

You can tell Cooper takes just as much pride in the vegetarian options as he does the meat. This isn’t on the menu just to appease the non-meat eaters.

“I’ve been very lucky to work for some very talented chefs,” Cooper said. “The last place I worked before this was State Bird Provisions (a 1-starred Michelin restaurant in San Francisco). It was very much a vegetarian-driven restaurant where I learned some cool techniques on how to make vegetables not taste like vegetables anymore.

“I love mushrooms, I think they are a great base for something like chorizo, and I like putting our own spin on it to make it fun."

Cooper also mentioned a smoked mushroom taco that is normally on the menu when they are open. It sounds delicious.

“They are lightly smoked and then charred very well on the plancha, so they are nice and meaty and if you close your eyes and take a bite you don’t even know it’s a mushroom," Cooper said.

Count me in for that.

Summer vibe

Chef Harrison said he is looking forward to reopening the restaurant and welcoming people back to The Jesse and Estella.

“I think we have one of the best patios in town,” he said. “We’ll have a DJ out there on certain Saturdays.

“Come to the patio for some tacos. Go inside the The Jesse for an iced-shaken cocktail. The sun starts to go down. High energy. Good people. Good food. It’s a unique experience that you can’t really find elsewhere in Reno in my opinion. We are really looking forward to the summer.”

That makes two of us. In the meantime, head to Estella’s website or Instagram and give these tacos a try.

Looking for some other takeout recommendations, here are some of Cooper’s favorites:

  • Kwok’s for Chinese
  • Moo Dang for Thai
  • Eclipse and Smiling With Hope for Pizza
  • Beefy’s for Burgers

Some inspiration for my next Takeout Tuesday....

Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local restaurant once a week in his "Takeout Tuesday" feature. You can contact him at amargulies@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.

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