The Worst of Las Vegas
It’s not easy living with the worst metropolitan newspaper in America. But when they invade our territory, something needs to be said. Here are our comments on some of the Review-Journal’s “Best Of…” categories in food and drink.
This isn’t pretty.
You have been warned.
RESULTS OF THE REVIEW-JOURNAL’S BEST OF LAS VEGAS READER’S POLL:
2010 – Best Bar Food
Timbers Bar & Grill
We figure Timbers’ win this year has much to do with a menu that’s heavy on comfort food/bar food favorites, updated with slightly sophisticated touches in keeping with modern tastes. And the beauty of this menu is its vast variety, including seven types of burgers, plus fish, steaks, pizza and more. Longtime winner PT’s Pub finishes a distant second.
Steiner’s — A Nevada-Style Pub
When we think of Steiner’s we think of dark, dank, smoky poker bars — because Steiner’s is none of these things. No, this is a poker bar for the 21st century and it has the menu to prove it, with such dishes as a lamb chop appetizer, the mere memory of which makes us hungry. And we like the fact that Steiner’s has such a sense of place, with the dishes on its menu named after various Nevada locales.
ELV Pick: Steiner’s is okay, Timbers is frozen food heaven, and both are populated by the sort of video poker drones who give our neighborhood bars a bad name. A great example of the low-brow clientele the R-J constantly panders to.
Neither is in the same league as the munchies at FIRST Food & Bar.
Runner Up: Simon at Palms Place.
2010 – Best Barbeque
We wonder how much Dave himself becoming the frontman on his company’s commercials — a sort of latter-day version of that other famous Dave, the late Mr. Thomas of Wendy’s — has to do with this chain becoming front and center in readers’ minds, but we’d guess it’s also because there are so many valley locations that it’s convenient to all. Oh, and those ribs, lip-smackin’ good. Memphis Championship Barbecue finishes second.
T.C.’S Rib Crib
8470 W. Desert Inn Road
T.C.’s is kind of the antithesis of Famous Dave’s — one little storefront, versus a slew of locations — but what they do have in common is dedication to the art of barbecue. Three types of ribs are available, but the pulled pork never fails to amaze us with its sweet, smoky, moist and tender wonderfulness. And we absolutely love the fact that we can get fried okra on the side.
ELV Pick: The barbecue in Las Vegas is horrendously bad, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Southern ‘cue snob, we can assure you no one at the R-j or their readers knows a damn thing about the subject. But when we have a hankerin’ for pulled pork or baby backs we go to Memphis Championship Barbecue. It ain’t Maurice’s Piggy Park, or Kreutz’s, or Struttin’ Gates, but is good enough when a craving hits.
2010 – Best Chinese Restaurant
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
P.F. Chang’s has been the champ for our readers over the years, and we think that’s because the place never gets boring. The chain has led the pack in offering special menus (such as gluten-free) and, in keeping with the economic times, a four-course menu for two for $39.95. Chang’s justifiably famous lettuce wraps are among the choices, so who could argue with that? China A Go Go is a distant second.
3420 S. Jones Blvd.
China MaMa is far from fancy — it’s in a former bank, and you can still see the walk-up teller windows — but we like it for its simplicity, authenticity and especially for the steamed juicy pork buns and delicate ginger-infused dumplings that leave us craving more. And that, friends, you can take to the bank.
ELV’s Pick: The R-J Staff actually got one right, but then again, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then.
2010 – Best Deli
There are Jewish delis and Italian delis and then there’s Jason’s Deli, which is neither Jewish nor Italian but is a perennial winner in this category. What’s so special about Jason’s? Well, there’s the turkey muffuletta, which might not be right out of New Orleans, but is about as close as it comes in these parts. And then there’s the fact that you can get a Reuben or a BLT or a salad or soup or a po’ boy or just about anything, should you be in the mood. Capriotti’s finishes a distant second.
Chef Marc’s Parma Pastavino & Deli
7591 W. Washington Ave.
Well, Parma Pastavino may be more of a restaurant than it is a deli, but it works the magic of taking us back to the little brick-street Italian spots of our youth. If you go in for dinner, you can get an actual entree from the blackboard specials, but you also can do a little bit of grocery shopping and can pick up one heck of a sandwich — such as a mortadella. And where else, we ask you, can you do that?
ELV Pick: Another example of why the R-J poll is beneath contempt. Jason’s is a pre-packaged homage to the Sysco truck, and Parma ain’t even a deli. (Wethinks some writer or editor at the paper is paying back a favor with this one.) The best deli food in town is at the Carnegie Deli at the Mirage. Nothing else is even close.
2010 – Best Desserts
There’s actually a “weight management” section on the Cheesecake Factory’s Web site, but we note that it doesn’t list any cheesecakes. No matter, we don’t think dieting is what readers have in mind when they vote for Cheesecake Factory in this category year after year. There’s your basic original cheesecake, a red-velvet cheesecake, a dulce de leche cheesecake, a peanut-butter-cup cheesecake … well, you get the picture. Freed’s comes in a distant second.
Layers Bakery Desserts
2708 N. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson
What do we love about Layers? Well, for one thing, we can stop in and maybe have a piece of warm Heart of Darkness Cake, with its warm, gooey interior, or maybe a Whoopie Pie or chocolate eclair or Chocolate Mud Puddle (do you see a pattern here?). And we can drool over the rich, elaborate cakes in the case and maybe even take one home. If we feel like sharing.
ELV Pick: Oh Review Journal, why do we loathe you so? Maybe it’s because you’re supposed to have a restaurant critic on staff who’s supposed to know something about food. And yet you let these two atrocities have space in your paper, when you and she are supposed to know that there are dozens of restaurants in town who do superior work with sweets. And you and she should know one of them is up for a James Beard Award next month in New York City.
And that would be Kamel Guechida’s creations at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon.
Runner up: Guy Savoy and Payard Patisserie and Bistro.
2010 – Best Family Restaurant
Applebee’s is another chain that does a bang-up job of keeping up with the times. We clearly understand the allure of a restaurant that can offer asiago peppercorn steak with potatoes and vegetables for less than 550 calories. That’s great for Mom and Dad, but there’s plenty for the young’uns, too. What kid could resist an Oreo Cookie Shake or the chance to create his or her own winter adventure story? Mimi’s Cafe is a close second.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
Kid food for us usually means burgers, but those appeal to the older generation as well, which is why when we think family, we think Red Robin. Here are signs of how much Red Robin likes kids: They sponsor a kids’ burger-cooking contest, have kids’ recipes on their Web site and even offer back-to-school tips. And hey, we can use those, too.
ELV Pick: To paraphrase Nelson Algren, there are three rules ELV lives by: Never play cards with a man named Doc, eat at a place with “family” in its name, or sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.
2010 – Best French Restaurant
2620 Regatta Drive
When we visited Marche Bacchus’ Web site and clicked on the menu icons, the first one that came up was dessert. We thoroughly understand the appeal of a restaurant that has its priorities so clearly in order, and we’re guessing readers do, too. And with misters in the summer and a fireplace in winter and a killer lakeside location, we always feel cozy. Pamplemousse finishes second.
2620 Regatta Drive
OK, yeah, we’re suckers for creme brulee and bread pudding, but we also stick around for the other stuff, the charcuterie plates and the salade nicoise and all the rest of it. Something else we like about Marche Bacchus is the $10 corkage on purchases from the adjacent wine shop, which sure beats the customary 2?- to three-times retail.
ELV Pick: We love Marche Bacchus. Eat there all the time. Have named it our Nevada Public Radio Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year on more than one occasion. But it is not the best French restaurant in town. How it can be in a town that has Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Le Cirque, miX, Payard, and a dozen other examples of French excellence?
Our pick: Joel Robuchon
Runner up: Guy Savoy
We think even the owners and chef at MB would agree.
2010 – Best Gourmet Restaurant
Todd’s Unique Dining
4350 E. Sunset Road, Henderson
Todd’s manages to edge out a longtime favorite as the reader pick for this category this year, and we can only guess it’s because more people are discovering the quality of Todd Clore’s food, the prompt and pleasant service and the relatively recession-friendly prices. Rosemary’s Restaurant is a close second.
Todd’s Unique Dining
4350 E. Sunset Road, Henderson
We like Todd’s, too, partly because of the convenient location close to Interstate 215 and the Beltway, but especially because of dishes such as goat cheese won tons with raspberry-basil sauce and seared scallops with mushrooms, mashed potatoes and pumpkin-seed butter. Which is making us hungry right now.
ELV Pick: See above. We love what Todd Clore does in Green Valley, but even he would admit that for the full, big deal meal experience, his place can’t compete with Strip big hitters.
Our pick: Guy Savoy
Runners Up: Joel Robuchon, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
2010 – Best Hamburgers
We’re sure readers know all about In-N-Out’s secret menu, with its 3-x-3’s and 4-x-4’s and probably 1,000-x-1,000’s if you really want one, but we also know they can appreciate the simple — but indulgent — goodness of a Double-Double and fries, both all the better because In-N-Out just does the basics and does them extremely well. Fatburger flips into a distant second place.
Charlie’s Down Under
1950 N. Buffalo Drive CHARLIE’S LAKESIDE 8603 W. Sahara Ave.
When we worked up a list of the 10 best burgers in Las Vegas a few months back, the Fat Charlie’s Burger was one of the best, for reasons that become obvious when you taste one. It’s 10 ounces of beef plus bacon, a fried egg and cheese — sort of a b
ELV Pick: Once again, the writer’s and editors can’t stop doing this long enough to pay attention to what quality is out there. As much as we like In-N-Out, its burgers can’t hold a candle to those at BLT Burger.
Runner Up: Burger Bar at Mandalay Place.
Cold Stone Creamery
We’ve learned over the years that our readers are people who know what they like, which is no doubt what brings them to choose Cold Stone in this category yet again. This is a place that offers more than 11 million possible combinations of ice cream and mix-ins, so whatever it is you want, they can mix it up for you, right on the cold stone. Baskin-Robbins is frozen out at distant second.
In a word: tart. That’s what we love about U-Swirl. Yes, they have the regular sweet flavors and the low-fat and no-sugar-added flavors, but they also always have a plain tart and a fruit-flavored tart, which may be mango or pomegranate or peach-mango, for those of us who like things a little less sweet. Plus, we can get as much — or as little — as we want, we can mix up the flavors if we want and we can add whatever toppings we desire, although the pecans are pretty nice with those tart flavors.
ELV Pick: For these dual abominations, the voters, writers and editors should be consigned to a year of frozen yogurt eating. The best, fresh made, ice cream in town is Luv-It-Custard, hands down.
2010 – Best Italian Restaurant
Family, shamily; what makes Olive Garden a success is that its many locations mean nearly everyone has one in the neighborhood, its prices are reachable even in these recessionary times and its menu is constantly evolving — and, because it’s a big-budget chain, it can remind us of all of that on TV. Dishes such as steak Gorgonzola Alfredo manage to merge lots of current trendy tastes, and that’s vastly appealing. Nora’s Cuisine and Nora’s Wine Bar and Osteria slide into second.
4226 S. Durango Drive
At Gina’s we really do feel like family, because the old country accent is hard to miss. Gina and her employees are always warm and friendly, and we are crazy about dishes such as Brava Gina Bis Pasta, which is farfalle with creamy mushroom sauce, and strozzapreti with creamy pink sauce, sausage and black truffles. And that’s definitely not something you’d find at a chain restaurant.
ELV Pick: Another example of the R-J resolutely ignoring the Strip because it thinks that’s what its lowest common denominator readers want. But if “Best Of” truly means something (and if the editors had any integrity), then that’s what they should feature. Otherwise, call it the “Best of Las Vegas’s Small, Off-Strip, Mediocre Restaurants.” Of course the Olive Garden is a ballot-stuffed joke, but what really offends is ignoring the superior pastas of B & B Ristorante, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare and Valentino in their shameless quest to sell advertising.
2010 – Best Mexican Restaurant
Macayo’s Mexican Kitchen
Readers went with Macayo’s this year, and our guess is that’s because it serves the Mexican equivalent of comfort food. There’s no weirdness going on — just the kind of Mexican food most Americans grew up eating — and that accessibility, coupled with the accessibility of its multiple locations, is a sure appeal. Ricardo’s is a close second.
910 Las Vegas Blvd. South 3205 N. Tenaya Way
We love Dona Maria for a lot of things, but first and foremost for the tamales, which have a light casing and savory fillings. They are, you might say, both real and spectacular. But we also love the other Mexican specialties served at Dona Maria, plus the kick-your-butt margaritas and the sometimes-raucous audiences for televised futbol games.
ELV Pick: Yet again, a celebration of Mexican mediocrity. Macayo’s and Dona Maria’s feature food straight from Smart and Final. Heaven forbid R-J readers or writers actually leave their comfort zone for a taste of the real enchilada….like they would find at Los Molecajetes.
Runner Up: Los Antojos
Readers have helped Paymon’s grow over the years from a humble storefront on Maryland Parkway to a bigger restaurant and hookah lounge on Maryland Parkway, then the addition of a west-side location and now one downtown. And through the years, it has been a reliable source for consistently good food from across the Mediterranean. Marrakech Moroccan Restaurant is a distant second.
Ibo Turkish Restaurant
9755 W. Flamingo Road
That the Mediterranean region is an expansive, diverse place has been driven home by the variety of restaurants with that self-proclaimed designation that have opened in the valley during the past couple of years. There are plenty of differences and similarities among their cuisines, but Ibo serves it up better than many, and in a serene, refined atmosphere.
ELV Pick: Paymon’s consistently wins this category because it stuffs the ballot box better than its competition. It’s a great Mediterranean restaurant only if you know nothing about Mediterranean food. We challenge anyone to eat a meal at Hedary’s, then another at Paymon’s, on consecutive days, and not tell us Hedary’s is better.
Runner Up: Khoury’s — which may be even better than Hedary’s. As for IBO Turkish and Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar (Whew!), are they still in business? Reports tell us just barely.
2010 – Best New Restaurant(Opened in 2009)
3345 E. Patrick Lane
Carlito’s serves, it seems, all sorts of burritos, in endless tailor-your-own variety. But considering that it also serves a Frito pie and a tortilla burger — among other things — we can certainly understand the appeal. Ciao Ciao Apizza Angelato finishes a distant second.
Varadero Cuban Restaurant
5081 N. Rainbow Blvd.
We love little neighborhood restaurants, we love mom and pop ethnic restaurants and we love those moms and pops who have the courage to open in a dire economy, so what’s not to love about Varadero? But we especially love their well-prepared Cuban food, including a ropa vieja that’s about the best we’ve ever tasted.
ELV Pick: Who? What? Where? Huh? All we know is we got a press release from the Beso folks claiming they won this category. And then these two places show up on the R-J website. Are we being conned? Does Beso deserve any accolades? Will either of these two winners be open a year from now?
Who cares? This category is a joke.
Our pick: Sage.
Runner Up: Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
2010 – Best Other Ethnic Restaurant
Market Grille Cafe
7920 W. Tropical Parkway 7175 W. Lake Mead Blvd.
Yeah, we can totally get why readers love Market Grille Cafe, which serves inventive Greek food that’s based on the classics, such as Aphrodite’s Cheesecake with its wondrous baklava crust. Other great things about Market Grille Cafe are that it’s a counter-service restaurant that doesn’t feel like one, that it has reasonable prices and that it now has two locations. The Hofbrauhaus is a close second.
Via Brasil Steakhouse
1225 S. Fort Apache Road
Brazilian steakhouses have been one of the more prominent restaurant trends in Las Vegas in recent years, but Via Brasil stands above the rest. The food is great, and with 18 meats coming around on skewers, there’s plenty to like for the fussiest fussbudget. It also has an extensive buffet that could be dinner in its own right, has reasonable prices and is easy to get to.
ELV Pick: The Fat Greek
Runner Up: Yassou Greek Grill
2010 – Best Pizza
New York pizza is best! No, Chicago! No, Milwaukee! (Milwaukee?) People sure are passionate about their pizza. Usually, they like the kind they like, and that’s it — which is why we think readers like Metro so much. Metro’s roots are in New York but it’s not parochial about pizza, and all of its many varieties are pretty darn good. (You want New Haven style? You can get it.) Grimaldi’s Pizzeria slices into second.
Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza
6569 Las Vegas Blvd. South
The thing about a coal-fired oven is that it’s really, really hot, which makes the crust really, really crisp. No soggy crusts for us, and so we love Anthony’s at Town Square. We’re partial to sausage and mushroom, but the specialty pies are good, too, and the coal-fired chicken wings just sort of put the icing on the cake. Or the cheese on the pizza.
ELV Pick: Settebello. The fact that Settebello doesn’t even get a shout out just shows how clueless the R-J and its readers are.
Runner Up: Ciao Ciao
2010 – Best Place for a Power Lunch
201 N. Third St.
You don’t have to stretch very much to realize that Triple George is a good pick for a power lunch. The power-lunchers tend to be congregated near downtown. And there aren’t a lot of restaurants there that offer its air of quiet sophistication and menu that’s heavy on seafood and comfort food. Or even a steak, if you want it; aren’t the powerful always chewing on red meat? Last year’s winner, Vintner Grill, is a distant second.
Mccormick & Schmick’s
335 Hughes Center Drive
Huh, there must be something about seafood and power (and we won’t go any further with that one). Whatever the reason, or correlation, all we know is that every time we stop for lunch at McCormick & Schmick’s we see somebody we recognize from his or her picture in the paper, and we’re not talking the funny pages. Maybe they’re there for the same reason we are — good, fresh seafood, our desert locale notwithstanding.
ELV Pick: We only take our power lunches at Triple George if we know our companions neither know nor care a whit about good food. McCormick and Schmick’s is actually a decent pick, but not in the same league as Capital Grill for big players making big deals.
Runners Up: Palm Steakhouse, Spago
2010 – Best Place for Breakfast
The Cracked Egg
Is it the homemade coffeecake? Is it the Tropical French Toast, with its toasted coconut, macadamia nuts and bananas? Is it, per chance, the gluten-free menu? Whatever it is, readers are all cracked up over The Cracked Egg. Omelet House finishes a close second.
9355 W. Flamingo Road 2490 E. Sunset Road
We’re a little parochial, it turns out. (Ya think?) We love Cincinnati chili, and we love the Cincinnati chili omelet served at Egg Works. It’s a whopper, accompanied by seasoned potatoes, and with the banana-nut muffin we’re gone for the day, but what a way to go. Although the egg-crepes, skillets, pancakes and waffles, and everything else are pretty special, too.
ELV Pick: Nothing egg-cellent about either one of these. The best breakfast in town right now is a MoZen in the Mandarin Oriental.
Runners Up: Veranda Cafe at the Four Seasons; Country Club Grill at Wynn
Lowbrow Runner Up: M & M Soulfood Cafe
2010 – Best Restaurant With a View
246 Via Antonio Ave.
We still don’t quite understand why the view is so fantastic from Panevino, because to look at the place from Sunset Road you’d think the only view would be the airfield across the street. But walk inside and you find out that this is indeed a breathtaking vista, the Strip undulating before you in a panorama of glittering, out-of-the-fantasy-books colors. The view from Ventano Italian Grill & Seafood finishes second.
Ventano Italian Grill & Seafood
191 S. Arroyo Grande Blvd., Henderson
We quite understand that many readers appreciate the view from Ventano, because we do, too. This is another sleeper of a view location because it’s so far from the Strip, but its prospect high on a ridge has the advantage of showing off not only the Strip but the glittering bowl of jewels in the valley around it.
ELV Pick: What would you rather do: eat pathetic Italian food at Panevino while watching planes take off, or decent French whilst looking at the Bellagio fountains from five floors up at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant? We guarantee you’re more likely to get lucky after the latter.
Runners Up: The people watching at Mon Ami Gabi or the spectacular spectacle from the Top of the World at the Stratosphere.
We once had a friend who would lunch weekly at Red Lobster just to see how many of those Cheddar Bay Biscuits he could wolf down, but we think readers have loftier reasons in mind — such as the wide variety of fresh seafood in preparations that are accessible to most and prices that won’t break the bank. McCormick & Schmick’s is a distant second.
3620 E. Flamingo Road
Broiled and baked are good, no doubt about it, but often when we want seafood we want fried seafood, and at that, Catfish Alley truly excels. Actually, it excels at lots of things — such as the fried creamed corn; how about that? — and is the kind of quiet neighborhood place we like best, all of which keep it close to our hearts.
ELV Pick: Now we just want to throttle somebody. The two best seafood restaurants in town are Bartolotta and RM Seafood. But if your tastes run to cheapo frozen sh*t, we’d go with the R-J’s picks.
Runner Up: American Fish
Outback, Outback. Every year it seems our readers choose Outback. While other steak chains have come and gone in the valley, Outback still is going strong, thanks to the knack its executives have for adding new dishes now and then to keep things interesting while hanging on to the favorites to keep things reliable, plus middle-of-the-road prices while those at other steakhouses have skyrocketed. Ruth’s Chris Steak House finishes second.
308 W. Sahara Ave.
What can we say, we’re suckers for history, especially as it applies to old Las Vegas, and the Golden Steer is the epitome of old Las Vegas with its U-shaped leatherette booths, soft lighting and Sinatra-dominated soundtrack. But this 50-something favorite also is beloved to us for doing things right, whether it’s a steak, shrimp cocktail or gin martini.
ELV Pick: Here’s all you need to know about where to find the best steaks in Vegas. As for Chris Phillips — we won’t tell him how to cavort with big, buxom blondes, if he’ll quit opining on prime.
2010 – Best Thai Restaurant
Archi’s Thai Kitchen
We’ve watched Archi’s grow as well, from a simple former fast-food building to three locations in the valley, and experience tells us it’s for the same reasons as Pin Kaow — and that would be consistently good food and service in a pleasant atmosphere. Not to mention the best Thai Iced Tea in the valley.
ELV Pick: More know-nothingness from the numb nuts at Stephens Media. Lotus of Siam is the best Thai restaurant in Las Vegas — something everyone but the R-J and its readers know.
Runner Up: Archi’s comes in a distant second. Pin Kaow ain’t even in the top five.
We once advised our listeners on KNPR that the best use of the R-J’s “Best Of…” poll was to line a birdcage with it. Nothing in the past ten years has changed our minds in this regard, and sadly, for the foreseeable future, it will continue to be a major reason our food journalism is held in such derision by anyone with a clue.