After a 64 year run, Las Vegas’s oldest restaurant has closed its doors for good. José and Teresa Aragon (who took the business over from Jose’s uncle, Clemente Griego, in 1970), have fried their last sopaipilla and ladled their last batch of sweet and smokey salsa.
Eating Las Vegas estimates we’ve eaten at the Big Hat about 50 times since we moved to Vegas in 1981; that figure seems right, but now it seems a little wrong. That’s because El Sombrero embodied everything that is good and noble about family restaurants. The husband was always in the kitchen and the wife was always in the dining room, fussing over and flirting with all the customers. The food was good to boot, with Aragon’s green chile and chile Colorado being fine versions of the New Mexican staples he learned to cook way back in the day — after he returned to Albuquerque after the Korean War.
In other words, it was just the sort of restaurant people are always bemoaning Vegas’s lack of — as they enslave themselves to whatever familiar franchise or chain link makes them open their wallets.
ELV will miss you, José. We will miss your salsa fresca and your huevos chorizo (always greasy and thick, just the way it should be) and the magical re-fills of chips and soda that always appeared at just the right time at the table. And we will miss Teresa’s never-ending smile and calling to customers by name and the Mexican menu with its corny Spanish-English translations…and that gorgeous flan.
But most of all, we will miss those sopaipillas — warm, flaky and slathered in melting butter and honey. They always tasted the same, just the way they do in New Mexico, just the way you learned to make them in Old Town Albuquerque so many years ago.
In far less sad and nostalgic restaurant news, Joel Schoenmann has reported in the Las Vegas Sun that Wild in The Ogden has parted ways with Miki “Do Cool Sh*t” Agrawal, and has installed chef Natalie Young at the helm to finally give this place food worthy of its decor.
Agrawal, who describes herself as a “serial social entrepreneur,” was a cute little thing….who knew as much about running a full service restaurant as ELV does about quantum particle entanglement. She got the job after meeting Tony “Mr. Personality” Hsieh at one of his numerous networking seminars — where he uses his substantial wealth to find cool kids to hang out with.
That the concept and food behind Wild were god-awful is beside the point. What Hsieh and his minions (and most F&B people on the Strip) fail to grasp is that there is a type of restaurant that is dedicated, determined, local and personal. It doesn’t come from hipster hangouts or convention-friendly concepts. It comes from a cook who knows his or her craft and wants to make good food. Such food might be wildly inventive, or it might be workmanlike, consistent versions of the same product day after day. It isn’t motivated by trendiness or accountants, but rather by a desire to work at your chosen craft, to the best of your ability.
José Aragon knew this. It was in his bones….for over 50 years. He never got rich and he never got famous. But we will miss him. The Miki Agrawals of the world we will miss not at all.