First Bites – LE THAI – Plus a Few Words About Downtown

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It doesn’t even have a sign, has only been open two weeks, and relies only on word of mouth to get customers, yet Le Thai is packing them in at lunch and dinner.


Because chef/owner Dan Coughlin has had the guts to do what no chef or restaurateur could bring themselves to: take a gamble on downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Fremont Street to be precise.

To be more precise: smack dab in the middle of the East Fremont Street pub district — where ELV has taken numerous chefs and investors over the past two years, only to have them poke around and say “pass.”

This has been discouraging to say the least. Even though it’s the only part of town that is growing and doing anything interesting, established food people keep looking at downtown as nothing more than a low-rent curiosity with no business potential. As a result, finding a good meal down there has been harder than locating Oscar Goodman’s humility.

So why have experienced chefs and owners rejected downtown so unanimously? Only to have an American/Thai cook show them up as fools for not seeing the potential?

ELV is glad you asked that question. Because he has the answers.

The answers to why no one (until now) has has the chutzpah (and the vision) to see the economic potential downtown are:

1) American chefs (especially established Strip chefs) are spoiled by the Strip’s easy money;

2) Established American restaurateurs, especially well-known, casino-financed, Vegas restaurateurs, have been spoiled by our wealth of restaurant riches;

3) Established Strip chefs and American restaurateurs are so engrained in the sure-thing mentality of our hotels, no one wants to gamble on anything anymore; and,

4) No one wants to live above the store.*

Remarkably, none of this applies to Asian chefs and restaurateurs, who have created Vegas’ most dynamic restaurant scene on Spring Mountain Road — which also happens to have the lowest-priced food in town.

So predictable has the Strip become (hello Michel Richard mediocrity!) that all the exciting stuff is now taking place in the neighborhoods. (Hello Le Thai, Bread & Butter, Nakamura-Ya, et al!)

Perhaps we’re being too harsh on established chefs, but there’s no doubt the boom boom restaurant phenomenon of 1998-2008 fostered a build it and they will come mentality that encouraged total risk aversion. And the numbers they do on that three mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South are so huge (even in a bad economy) that down-scaling to human-sized eateries seems like working for chump change. And between that, and having the Fremont Street Experience and the failed Neonopolis drain all of the life out of the area (thanks Jan Jones!), Fremont Street has been a pariah since the mid-90s.

And unlike the Strip, the customer base isn’t handed to you on a silver platter. Nor is there a blueprint for success. It takes vision, ambition, and living (figuratively) above the store….not just collecting a big paycheck for slaving away every Weds.-Sun., then running back to your comfortable digs.

Living above the store is what Coughlin and chefs like Kengo Nakamura, Mitsuo Endo, Kichi Okabe and Chris Herrin are doing. They build their places out, and are there morning, noon and night. No one is guaranteeing them a paycheck, and getting customers in the door is done by putting out a great product and hoping word of mouth takes hold.

In the case of Le Thai, in less than two weeks, word of mouth has taken hold. Dan Coughlin is blazing a trail for others, making Fremont Street “safe” for the establishment — who will soon notice his success and start buying up real estate and making it “safe” (in a much less organic way) for Monochrome Valley-ites and Summ-R-Lamers.

Equally blazing is Coughlin’s pad Thai — maybe the best version in town — and his drunken noodles and Thai beef and meatball soup take a back seat to no version we’ve ever had. The menu is short and simple — again, something the Asians seem to master, but that American chefs can’t seem to grasp with their something for everyone mentality. Everything is priced to sell, as they say, and the whole 50 seat joint has an über-cool vibe that makes you want to return.

For doing this gigantic favor to downtown, Coughlin deserves to be lauded far beyond whatever plaudits will be bestowed on the ridiculous Oscar’s (at the other end of Fremont Street) by its sycophants. If Goodman is anywhere to be seen on the premises after the first few months, we’ll be mighty surprised. (“He’s not doing anything unless there’s big money in it for him,” one downtown insider tells us.)  Big money or not, Coughlin is here to stay. He and his little restaurant are the real deal, not some ginned up publicity freak show.

You should go. Early and often.

Not just because it’s downtown. Or because the food is so good.

But because it’s downtown and the food is so good.


523 East Fremont Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101


* Chefs of all stripes (especially the famous ones in America) are fond of saying: “All I really want is my own small restaurant where I can cook for my friends every night.” Bigger bullshit has never been spoken.

9 thoughts on “First Bites – LE THAI – Plus a Few Words About Downtown

  1. Big high five and 2 thumbs up on this article. I love it Downtown, snooty strip chefs can have the strip. As a local, I’m looking for good quality food reasonably priced with a little more culture than a casino can offer. Can’t wait to try this place.

  2. You’ve got it right, ELV.

    Living above the store, employing family members, dealing in cash and avoiding the govt busy bodies is the quickest way to create wealth for a small business.

    Beaurocrats have a tough time dealing with folks for whom English is a second language, and so tend to send the paperwork to the bottom of their 35 hour work week pile. This is a good strategy of course.

    And family members and countrymen are less likely to unionize or tattle tale about unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

    It’s a fucking miracle that there are any Mom and Pop restaurants open at all given the obstacles created by the city, county, state, the feds and their myriad depts.

    Good on you for championing the place

  3. I found the food to be good, but not superlative. I’m going there to eat simply because they are downtown. The folks there did say that they will be expanding the menu once they obtain signage. I’m hoping that will make things a bit more interesting and better.

  4. Well said on many fronts. Dan did an excellent job with Mix Zone and the buzz being created by this place is well deserved. Much success to Le Thai!

  5. Dear Johnny Boy,
    I bet you live in Summerlin and sleep in 600 thread count unwashed for weeks sheets only because in your drunken stupor you forgot to schedule the maid to do your menial work while you get shitfaced on the house so you can later extol the virtues of the working class of which you so desperately try to assimilate with by giving glowing reviews that only pale next to your eternally white suit.

    The symbiotic relationship that allows you to reach a greater high by way of a demagogue review may very well be the straight line that you could be asked to walk by your next best friend: your arresting officer.

    Dear old Johnny, why does your alter ego insist on wanting to be known as the Charlie Sheen of the Las Vegas food reviewers? While your readers (including yours truly) look forward to (too) many insightful (borderline genius) and to the point food analysis & criticism, some of us get turned off by your social strata angle approach; Is this what you call winning???

    Plugging the downtown dog & street bums piss laden landscape, tax break haven that the Goodmans could not sell to Fannie May or her dumb pole hugger friends is not the needed prescription …So why get on the band wagon??? DOWNTOWN is not the answer to the Las Vegas woes and neither is the strip where Fanny’s best friend, Sally appears nightly at grossly inflated rates.

    Socialistic averaging tends to bring the bottom up by shrinking the overall social strata amplitude in a way that the extreme ends of the (economic) scale are “crunched” toward one another thereby raising the median…Food well cooked, food at a decent price, homey food is a trigger to well being and has the same effect on society as social strata crunch… A short lived feeling of well being and belonging.
    Food eaters AKA pretty much most of us, are kept from occupying this web space with delirious rants as long as there will be someone working hard putting out good to outstanding food out there, masses will be willing to go through the dining experience then dose off and leave it to the chosen few like you Johnny boy to tell them what happened while you were raising your B.A.C. and screening calls from Dr. Drew so the unaware proletariat would wait for their laundry to complete the gentle “whites” cycle.
    NO, I am not a grossly overpaid executive chef or GM at a strip property. As a matter of fact I am behind 2 mortgage payments and no longer have a “dining out” budget. But I still salivate while reading your various posts however your latest review has left a lump in my throat like a $36.00 chicken breast in a cream sauce that gave me gas all night.
    Yours truly.

  6. A 40 ounce of Colt 45? Is that what the hippsters are drinking these days? Have they moved on from Pabst Blue Ribbon? Do they pour a little out for their homies?

    I’m gonna need a good option or two for food downtown. Looks like my friends may be doing some arm twisiting to do one night downtown on my next trip to Las Vegas.

  7. Menu is very limited. I love to eat and don’t mind pay money for good foods. But the food here was not great for the price. Maybe I will go back when they start new menu.

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