Astounding Sushi in a Walmart Mall in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Fantastic, creative, affordable fare at Koi Sushi in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Fantastic, creative, affordable fare at Koi Sushi in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

This is about as incongruous as it gets. A sushi place in a fast-food court, beside a Walmart in the Mexican tourist mecca of Cabo San Lucas.

But *Koi Sushi is by no means generic. In fact, it may be the best, most inventive sushi I’ve ever had. And a growing number of folks agree, some flying in from Los Angeles just for a feed of chef-owner Jose Angel Huerta Ramirez’s fusion take on Japanese classics.

Jose Angel Huerta is the mad genius at Koi Sushi

Jose Angel Huerta is the mad genius at Koi Sushi

There is a menu, but it’s best to let Jose come up with what the catches of the day and his imagination dictate. Just sit back and watch a succession of amazing dishes arrive. Like thin strips of wahoo (a fabulous local fish) encircling avocado slices and bits of serrano chile. Or tuna and crab wrapped in a shrimp tempura, providing a contrasting crispness to the raw goodness inside. Or a shrimp roll topped with salmon roe and floating on a cilantro-jalapeno sauce.

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

It’s a veritable feast of some six dishes that sets us back only $30 a person, drinks included. Actually, the only thing I’d forsake here is the sake.

An arranged masterpiece

An arranged masterpiece

You can sit inside at one of a handful of tables, close to where Jose is conjuring his magic. But there’s something wonderfully discordant about eating this fabulous fare in the mist-sprayed outdoor food court, where Chinese food is being served in styrofoam boxes and a lone, electrified musician is playing Guantanamera.

There's the sushi spot, at the back of this fast-food court next to a Walmart

There’s the sushi spot, at the back of this fast-food court next to a Walmart

Jose was apparently a chef at the upscale Nick-San sushi joint in Cabo. He left to set up his own, affordable shop, where diners unconcerned about the mall surroundings wisely give him all the freedom he desires.

Koi Sushi
Plaza San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Daily noon-9 pm

Betting on a Great Breakfast at Peg’s in Reno, Nevada

Piping hot breakfast at Peg's Glorified Ham n Eggs in Reno, Nevada

Piping hot breakfast at Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs in Reno, Nevada

Free drinks aren’t the only inducements to lure gamblers in the door at Reno, Nevada casinos. “Breakfast for $1.99″ trumpets one freeway billboard. “$5 steak and eggs”, boasts another casino sign.

Reno casinos practically give away food to get you in the door. But you get what you pay for

Sorry, but I’m devoting my precious stomach space to places held in high esteem by locals and online reviewers. Which leads me to Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs, on the south edge of downtown.

Peg's is a bright yet cozy breakfast spot

Peg’s is a bright yet cozy breakfast spot

I zero in on a huevos rancheros skillet, featuring two poached eggs, crispy hash browns, whole pinto beans and a piquant slaw, all of it well executed. What’s unique is the 12-inch aluminum serving dish (like a deep pizza pan), heated under a broiler to keep everything piping hot, the way breakfast should be.

At $9.50, it’s more than a minimum blackjack bet. But with a much richer payoff.

Peg’s Glorified Ham n Eggs
420 South Sierra Street (two other city locations), Reno, Nevada
Daily 6:30 am-2 pm
Peg's Glorified Ham n Eggs on Urbanspoon

Crossing the Rubicon for a Great Tuna Sandwich in Reno, Nevada

Rubicon Deli owner Cheri Corsiglia presents my half tuna sandwich

Rubicon Deli owner Cheri Corsiglia presents my half tuna sandwich

It can take considerable online sleuthing to determine where to dine on a road trip into unknown territory. And then there’s the anguish of guessing if a four-and-a-half star eatery should take precedence over one with four stars. Sometimes, it just seems so arbitrary, with a good chance I’ll never be back to check out the close competition.

So, it’s a tremendous relief when I can simply ask Mark Trujillo, owner of the sterling Hub Coffee Roasters, which of several Reno, Nevada sandwich shops I should check out. Without a second’s hesitation he answers: “Rubicon Deli, a hole-in-the-wall in MidTown. And get the spicy tuna sandwich. It’s fantastic.” Done and done.

The Rubicon Deli is a no-frills sandwich shop that concentrates on great food

The Rubicon Deli is a no-frills sandwich shop that concentrates on great food

I just cross to the Rubicon counter and present my order to long-time owner Cheri Corsiglia. My only decisions are the type of lovely house-baked bread (I go with jalapeno jack in keeping with the spicy theme) and whole ($10.49) or half ($7.49). The half sandwich is still so loaded with albacore tuna salad, pepper jack, pepperoncini, avocado and fixings that I take half of it with me for a second lunch.

Spicy tuna and a complementary wee cookie

Spicy tuna and a complementary wee cookie

I rarely order a tuna salad sandwich. What launches this into the stratosphere is the quality albacore, the kick-ass habanero mustard and the great, soft bread with its slight cheesy crunch.

Thanks, Mark. And thank you, Cheri.

Rubicon Deli
445 California Avenue, Suite B, Reno, Nevada
Monday to Saturday 10 am-4 pm, Sunday 11 am-4 pm
Rubicon Deli on Urbanspoon

Fabulous Hub Coffee Roasters Off the Beaten Path in Reno, Nevada

Mark Trujillo runs cool Hub Coffee Roasters near downtown Reno, Nevada

Mark Trujillo runs cool Hub Coffee Roasters near downtown Reno, Nevada

Reno, Nevada may seem well removed from coffee epicentres on the west coast. But don’t tell that to Hub Coffee Roasters owner Mark Trujillo.

He’s plugged in to many of the important players in Portland and San Francisco as well as tiny outliers in places like Lander, Wyoming. Indeed, he often collaborates with other “smaller fry” to acquire world-class crops of direct-trade beans. In the relatively small world of so-called third-wave coffee, it seems everyone knows everyone else.

Mark’s crew is also doing a bang-up job roasting and precisely brewing and pulling carefully-weighed shots at his two coffee houses, both old brick garages in MidTown Reno. And he obviously has a great nose, describing a single-origin espresso as having notes of a just slightly singed crust on a pumpkin pie. Me, I’m just happy to sip and chill.

This is where the magic happens

This is where the magic happens

Hub Coffee Roasters
32 Cheney Street and 727 Riverside Drive, Reno, Nevada
Weekdays 6 am-5 pm, weekends 7 am-5 pm
The Hub on Urbanspoon

Flying in for Breakfast, and Maybe Some Pie at Courtyard Cafe in Fallon, Nevada

Owner Deborah Nelson displays breakfast plates at Courtyard Cafe & Bakery in Fallon, Nevada

Owner Deborah Nelson displays breakfast plates at Courtyard Cafe & Bakery in Fallon, Nevada

I’m at the Courtyard Cafe & Bakery, in Fallon, Nevada for breakfast. But they’re already tempting me with dessert. That’s because inches in front of my counter seat is a thick apple crumble pie, elevated on a pedestal, calling my name. Only the protective lid is preventing me from reaching over for an unobserved nibble or two.

Tempting deep-dish pies line the counter

Tempting deep-dish pies line the counter

My simple breakfast sandwich quickly returns me to mid-morning reality. It’s just fried eggs, crispy bacon and melted cheddar, enveloped in wonderful sourdough toast. Ironically, the sourdough is one of the few breads, baked goods or pretty much anything else that owner Deborah Nelson and her friendly staff don’t make themselves.

As I’m chatting with Deborah, the cook, Anna, keeps putting delectable egg scrambles, Benedicts and other breakfast treats up on the deck. It’s almost enough to keep my mind off deep-dish pie.

"Order up!"

“Order up!”

Note: Fallon is a sprawling city (a half-hour detour off the I-80 northeast of Reno), noted for the naval base where “Top Gun” pilots train.

The Courtyard Cafe & Bakery
55 East Williams Avenue, Fallon, Nevada
Daily 7:30 am-2:30 pm
The Courtyard Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

No Shorts but Great Short-Order Cooks at The Griddle in Winnemucca, Nevada

The Griddle is a colourful, go-to place for breakfast in Winnemucca, Nevada

The Griddle is a colourful, go-to place for breakfast in Winnemucca, Nevada

Maybe The Griddle‘s gone corporate. A friend tells me of servers in short skirts and a cook in an apron-covered bikini during long-ago visits.

Things are much more sedate when I roll in recently at 6 am, met with a friendly greeting and a display case of bottled jams and salsas for sale. (The Griddle has expanded beyond this flagship location to three others in Nevada and California.) Still, there’s sufficient character in the green vinyl booths, the big horseshoe counter and the gleaming wood-panelled ceiling.

And the Griddle delivers where it counts—on the plate. I swear my Caribbean French toast arrives in under three minutes. It’s two thick slices of Texas toast dipped in a coconut batter and grilled till the little coconut slivers are slightly crispy. A good, refreshing take on a standard, though a little pricy at $8.30.

A Caribbean take on French toast, featuring coconut

A Caribbean take on French toast, featuring coconut

The Griddle obviously knows what it’s doing at breakfast. By the time I’ve licked my plate clean at 6:20, seven tables are full.

The Griddle
460 West Winnemucca Boulevard
Daily 6 am-2 pm
Griddle on Urbanspoon