ELV note: Due to a nasty virus that put yours truly on his back for the past 6 days, our end-of-the-year awards were unavoidably delayed. Even as he is typing these words, ELV feels the lingering effects of the strongest chest cold/cough/sore throat/phlegm-fest he’s had in a decade. But, to put a proper cap on the past year, we still think it relevant to point out our year-end winners of the coveted Johnnies.
Gentlemen the envelopes please.
And the winner for Best Restaurant That’s Closest to My House is…..
POP UP PIZZA
1 South Main Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Like we said, we ate a lot of pizza this past year. And these two joints really filled the bill. For whatever reason, it seemed like we were always phoning up Mike Vakeen at Pop Up whenever a pizza jones struck. And his superior pies always came through — maybe not to the level of wood-fired perfection one expects from Settebello or Novecento, but darn near close.
Anthony and Mario’s Broadway Pizzeria
840 South Rancho Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89106
The Broadway may not be in Pop Up’s league, ingredient-wise, but one should never underestimate the power of having decent wings, and anchovy pie, and good Italian lemon ice within walking distance of one’s home.
But enough frivolity, Now, it’s that time you’ve all been waiting for, food fans.
Time for the two biggies.
And here they are…. CHEF OF THE YEAR and RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
And the winner for Chef of the Year is….
Whether it’s the continued excellence of Raku or the mind-blowing desserts being concocted nightly at Sweets Raku, Mitsuo Endo has done more for increasing the quality (and maintaining a very high bar) for restaurants off the Strip. Throughout the past year, we took a series of national critics up and down Spring Mountain Road, and to a person, they were blown away by the variety and quality of our Asian eats .
Raku and Sweets Raku aren’t simply places to eat; they are states of mind…and statements of quality and passion — qualities that can no longer be faked or phoned in in our humble burg. You can thank a Japanese émigré for this taste revolution (not some absentee celebrity chef who views Vegas like an easy access ATM machine), and the next great meal you have off the Strip — whether in a humble noodle parlor or a high-end “concept” joint, owes more than a nod to Endo-san’s continuting quest for perfection.
Next up, the winner of the 2013 Johnnie for Restaurant of the Year goes to….
YONAKA MODERN JAPANESE
4983 West Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, NV 8910
Yonaka is the type of restaurant that couldn’t have existed in Las Vegas ten years ago. Like all upscale Asian joints, it owes a debt of gratitude to our Chef of the Year for educating the minds and palates of the fledgling restaurant consumer. Without Raku paving the way six years ago, the appetite for intriguing Japanese food would remain but a tiny niche in our local food world. As it is, Yonaka took a page from Raku’s playbook, and tweaked it according to Ramir DeCastro’s own playful (and fruit-friendly) sensibilities — making Yonaka’s food even more fun and accessible than Raku’s.
The menu (and ingredients) may not be as hyper-pristine and authentic as Endo-san’s a mile to the north, but it can elicit just the same amount of ohhs and ahhs from the fascinated diner. For taking the mantle of superior Asian eats to an even more populist level (with delicious creativity and continued commitment to quality ingredients), and for continuing to expand the horizons of our palates, Yonaka truly deserves recognition as the most important restaurant of 2013. No place else in town was even close.