EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 47. DESNUDO TACOS

October 22, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Food, Reviews

ELV note: Unbekownst to us, 2 hours before we posted this today, Desnudo Tacos announced on its Facebook page that it would be shuttering operations at the end of this week due to a lease dispute. As much as it saddens us to hear this, we ‘ll stick by our pick of it as an “essential” Las Vegas restaurant (yes, the food is that good), and keep on the lookout for the new location — which we are confident will happen soon.


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Las Vegas might not have the Mexican food chops of San Diego or Tuscon, but ever since Desnudo Tacos opened  earlier this year, things have been looking up. These aren’t just the best street tacos in town, they’re also the most interesting, using good ingredients and spicing them to a fare thee well.

The whole enchilada is a Chris Palmieri/Christian Dolias production and was inspired by Palmieri’s work with Rick Bayless, and it shows. There is a certain pride on display here that honors the authenticity in the master’s work, while giving it a spin all their own.

The hole-in-the-wall location on the edge of Chinatown looks like a Hell’s Angel with an artistic streak threw it together, but whether you’re into the Mexican-biker-bar look or not, you’ll forget the rough-hewn surroundings as soon as the food shows up.

All told we’ve had five different tacos, one burrito, the rice, the beans (more on them in a minute), and the best goddamn guacamole in the whole goddamned town.

The Chivo (stewed goat meat) and Tinga Poblana (slow-braised pork shoulder) are the featured menu items with good reason. Each highlights its soft, silky meat with the appropriate accents:

Chivo and Ting Poblana tacos

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…lots of herb-y greenery — avocado and banana leaf, cilantro and guajillo chile — accent  the goat, while creamy chipotle, tomatillos, roasted garlic, avocado and crema emphasize the pork’s sweetness without overwhelming it. Adding house-made chorizo to the mix is a stroke of artery-hardening genius.  Achieving balance and harmony this complete in a corn tortilla is not something your average taco fan is used to. But Desnudo Tacos are to your average taco what great Mariachi music is to bad pop — filling your senses with layers of flavor, not one-dimensional pablum.

As for the other three tacos we’ve tried, the carnitas — pork shoulder braised in fresh lime juice, sprinkled with lime queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese) — is the clear winner, but the pollo (chicken with pumpkin seed sauce) and carbon (marinated skirt steak) are no slouches either.

Chicken and pork shoulder tacos

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Taking a page from the Rick Bayless cookbook, each pops with the taste of good ingredients, freshly prepared — not prepared from a can. Even such shopworn staples as beans and rice — commonly known around the ELV household as the side of the platter that gets scraped into the garbage — are given new life by actually cooking them on premises and not reducing each to a pile of tasteless mush and starch. Take a bite of either and two things will happen: your eyes will get wide and you won’t be able to stop taking forkfuls of them.

Ricely nicely and beans to beat the band

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All of this — the better groceries, thoughtful recipes and careful cooking — gives lie to the cheap, easy to fill up on reputation of most Mexican-American food. To the average American fast-food consumer — weaned on four buck, double-taco specials at a drive-through joint — the $6.50 price tag for one Desnudo order (for two) will seem high.  But to those who want to take their tacos to a higher level, and see why this food got popular in the first place, it’s time to get naked.

Rick Bayless would be proud of what his acolytes have done, and we at ELV are proud to name this little joint as an essential Top 50 restaurant . No eating tour of our humble burg would be complete without it.

Favorite dishes: Get the tacos….all of them. And the guacamole….and the tortas…and everything else on the menu.


3240 Arville St.


EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 46. “The New” EL SOMBRERO

October 20, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Downtown, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Openings, Reviews


The old El Sombrero was Las Vegas’s oldest restaurant. It opened its doors for the first time in 1950, and was considered time-worn and venerable when, in 1970, Teresa and José Aragon took over and started cooking their unique brand of Mexican-meets-New Mexican food. After a 44 year run, the Aragons retired in April and sold the joint to Irma Aguirre. It reopened in August, and what she and Executive Chef Oscar Sanchez have done to the 43 seat space is nothing short of amazing.

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Letter of the Week – WTF with “Fully Booked”?

October 18, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, Letter of the Week!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/weiner1n-1-web.jpg

David knows his Weiners

ELV note: One of our favorite paisans – David Greco – who owns and runs Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue in da Bronx, was in Vegas recently, and filed this report (the kind we at ELV love to get from our favorite foodies) on some of his experiences. He also ends his mini-reviews with a question that often bugs us as well as our staff

Dear ELV,

Having a craving for fancy French during my recent visit, I wound up at Twist. I dare say I was disappointed. Dreadfully boring room. OK sure, maybe great place to impress a hot brunette, but service was spotty. For example, no one removed the dirty plates from the entree course until the dessert course arrived.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 45. KU NOODLE

October 16, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Chefs, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Food, Openings, Reviews


Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas come in two sizes: on-the-Strip and overpriced, and off-the-Strip and down and dirty. The holes in the walls are stuck into seedy shopping centers up and down Spring Mountain Road. They are generally excellent, but also, due to their being the genuine article, off-putting to most round eyes. Strip Chinese joints usually charge double for dishes remarkably similar to ones you get a mile to the west, but at least you’re not afraid to look into the corners, and the ingredients are usually better.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 44. MARCHE BACCHUS

October 15, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Reviews, Wine


We at ELV are not sure if Marche Bacchus even qualifies for the coveted title of Best-Off-Strip-Restaurant-That’s-Not-In-Chinatown anymore, but we do know this: it’s still our favorite restaurant in Vegas, and the only one we ever want to go to to wile away a weekend afternoon, sipping spectacular wine (at the best prices in town) and engaging in our usual witty display of epicurean aphorisms and gastronomic bon mots.

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Bare Naked Tables by John Mariani

October 14, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, John Mariani

St. John, London

 ELV note: The original of this article first appeared in John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. Click here to read it in its original format, or continue perusing below.

Anyone who has dined out with me knows that, unless I’m eating at the proverbial hole in the wall, I tend to groan over the lack of what was once the simplest amenity in a restaurant: a tablecloth.

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EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 43. MINT INDIAN BISTRO

October 13, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Critics, EATING LAS VEGAS - The 50 Essential Restaurants, Food, Max Jacobson, Reviews


Calvin Trillin once wrote that the average Italian restaurant gets more customers in a day than the average Indian restaurant gets in a month. ELV — the man, the myth, the yogurt-yogi-spiritual-advisor — used to agree with him. These days the tables have been turned (somewhat) and from the lines out the door at Mint Indian Bistro, it appears the Indians (dots not feathers) are giving the Italians a run for your money. ELV also thinks every vegetarian restaurant in Vegas is a joke. They should all close up shop immediately, and every vegetarian in town should start frequenting this place  instead.

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Welcome Back: Chefs to the Max

October 12, 2014 By: mitchell Category: Chefs, Critics, Events, Max Jacobson

Max and Kerry Simon, chewing the fat

Max and Kerry Simon, chewing the fat

Special to Eating Las Vegas by Mitchell Wilburn:

The week before last marked a homecoming of great celebration for a missing face in the food community.  Max Jacobson is back in town, surely appreciative of the massive support he’s gotten from so many chefs, friends, and fans.  This most recent “Chefs to the Max” event took place at Carson Kitchen, the Kerry Simon spot downtown known for turning the tide in the Downtown food scene towards the hip.

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Hot Hostess Watch – MARCHE BACCHUS

October 11, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Hot Hostess Watch

Lindsey knows the real object of our attention is focused on the wall of fabulous Burgundies behind her.

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My Food Film Faves on My News 3

October 10, 2014 By: John Curtas Category: Downtown, Events, Food, Wake Up With the Wagners