Cheap must-eat: The Awful Awful, Reno’s most famous (and, depending on who you talk to) awful burger that for $6 gets you a half pound of ground steak, fully loaded, and a pound of fries.
Best cheap thing to do: Aside from people-watching in the casinos? Take a day trip 40 miles to Lake Tahoe and hike around the most beautiful place in Nevada.
Why it's worth a trip: Go ahead and blame Dirk Dangle, or the generations of chain-smoking degenerate gamblers who made Reno a vacation destination, but the biggest little city in the world has gotten a bad rap. But these days, its proximity to the mountains and location on the Truckee River have attracted a new type of visitor to Reno: one who wants to combine outdoors and entertainment, and not take out a second mortgage, like they would in Vegas.
Where Vegas is the home of the $12.95 all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet, Reno has them for $8.95. Hotel rooms here can be had for as little as $29 if you come on the right weekends, and not the hotels you saw on Reno 911 either. Legitimate places with maids and room service. Even if you don’t stay in the casinos, all of them offer Vegas-style buffets, the best of which is Flavors! at the Silver Legacy. It’s not exactly a gourmet spread, but you can have an entire day’s worth of roast beef, pasta, desserts, and sides for $16.49. And that is just the tip of the ice sculpture when it comes to massive amounts of food at cheap prices.
Drinking? Also a bargain. There are, of course, the free drinks in the casinos, but even paying for those cocktails rarely sets you back more than about $4. The aforementioned Little Nugget has $13 pitchers of craft beer. And even the more-upscale spots in Midtown offer food and drinks at about half what you’d pay in Vegas.
Add in proximity to some of the best wilderness in America at Lake Tahoe, and Reno is a fantastic place for both active travelers, and those whose definition of “active” involves repeatedly pressing buttons on a slot machine. -- M.M.