Downtown Dining is Now a Destination

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Downtown has become a gastronomic destination in its own right.

Five years ago I would’ve called you crazy if you uttered those words. But things have been booming, as drinking and dining options continue to expand, and everything from wine bars to wood-fired pizzas are on the horizon.

Main Street (aka the 18b Arts District) and East Fremont Street are the epicenters of this epicurean revolution, and though bleak some surroundings may be, once you duck inside any of these eateries, you will find delightful meals, and hand-tooled food aplenty.

I eat out in downtown Las Vegas more than anyone. Ever. (No brag just fact.) Morning, noon and night I patrol these concrete canyons scouting the best places to sooth my savage hunger, and seeking to send you serenely to the most satisfying sustenance. Here’s where you should be supping and slurping right now, but be advised, more superior comestibles are soon to surface.

Image(Holy Ensendada, Batman! We’re in Baja!)

Bajamar Seafood & Tacos

Good Mexican food used to be harder to find downtown than a slot junkie with good credit. These straight-from-Baja tacos (above) immediately changed that. Ignore the surroundings and dive in.

Casa Don Juan

An old reliable with a large menu and a huge following. The tortillas and the carnitas and the great service keep us coming back.

Carson Kitchen

CK started the downtown dining revolution five years ago and is still going strong. Those veal meatballs, oxtail risotto, and glazed donut bread pudding never get old.

DE Thai Kitchen

Forget the regular menu and order off the (not so) secret menu on the chalk board. If there’s a better Kua Gling (spicy ground pork) or soft shell crabs in town, I haven’t found them.

18bin

Brand spanking new, still finding its sea legs, but early experiences with its limited menu have been positive.

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Esther’s Kitchen

I eat here so often they ought to name a booth after me.

EAT

Wonderful breakfast and lunch; to-die-for flapjacks; heavenly hash.

Evel Pie

Downtown is blessed with four good pizza joints, and it all started with Evel Pie. As good as it is, I prefer the dense, chewy slices at….

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Good Pie

Nothing more than a counter, some deck ovens, and an assortment of the best slices in Vegas (above). Soon to open a full-service pizza restaurant in the Arts District, much to the rejoicing of pizza mavens everywhere. The pepperoni slice (above) absolutely slays the competition.

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Hatsumi

Robotayaki on East Fremont? Yep, and it’s great. Fine sake list, too.

Jammyland

The drinks here are so good they make me wish I was an alcoholic. A booze-absorbing menu of (mostly) Jamaican food is just the thing after a few of them.

La Monja (The Nun)

This is one fun nun. An indoor-outdoor vibe (at the top of the page) that threatens to do for East Fremont Street what Esther’s did for the Arts District: bring a modern twist to a hoary formula. In this case, by giving ceviches, taquitos, and fish tacos the upgrade they deserve. Everything is under twenty bucks, and the patio has “destination drinking” written all over it.

Ocha Thai

A family-run oasis of good Thai cooking for decades.

Image(Comfort me with meatloaf)

Old Soul

The odds are against Old Soul, but Natalie Young’s food — like the meatloaf above — is so good we don’t care. Take the time to find it and you’ll fall in love.

Oscar’s Steakhouse

Oscar Goodman is an iconic figure in Las Vegas. His steakhouse doesn’t quite match his out-sized reputation, but new chef Ben Jenkins is on a mission to change that.

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PublicUs

We constantly debate the relative merits of PublicUs v. Vesta like a man who can’t decide between his wife and his mistress. We resolve this argument by alternating between them… just like we did in 1999.

7th and Carson

Elevated pub grub (below) at a location we can never quite remember.  ;-)

Image(Once in a blue moon, we eat healthy)

The Kitchen at Atomic

Jackson Stamper’s food might be too hip for the room, but it suits us just fine. One of the best steaks (and rum-brined pork chops) in town, too.

Image(Blimey, mate; takes me straight back to the Cliffs of Dover, it does.)

The Smashed Pig

Ignore the Fremont Street fanny-packers and duck in for a black & tan and the fish and chips (above).

VegeNation

If you insist, there’s a vegan restaurant downtown – the best vegan restaurant in town, in fact. In fact, we have actually eaten here more than once and sorta enjoyed it (hangs head in shame).

Vesta Coffee Roasters

See comment to PublicUs above. And please don’t mention anything to our current wife.

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The Goodwich

We have dreams about the Rueben-ish (above) and the Patty. How good do sandwiches have to be for you to dream about them?

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Pop Up Pizza

The only thing wrong with Pop Up Pizza is its customers. Most of them take a gander at these superior pies and wonder where the Domino’s is. The stromboli (above) is so good it ought to be illegal.

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Santos Guisados Tacos & Beer

These guisados (braised meat) tacos are in a class by themselves. Good beers and a full bar in a postage stamp place about the size of studio apartment (above).

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As tasty as things have gotten downtown, it bears mentioning that this entire renaissance has occurred because restaurant owners, chefs and developers finally decided to ignore Fremont Street altogether.

Those of us of a certain age remember all the teeth-gnashing in the 90s and early aughts about how to “revive” Fremont Street….as if that collection of sad, shitty hotels and their slacker/slob customers were the key to downtown’s revival. They weren’t and aren’t. Leave them to their lame-ass beers and souvenirs.

No one under that atrocious canopy gives a crap about spending money. All they want is Vegas on the cheap. Gawking at those stupid light shows and naked street performers is the Las Vegas they deserve.

The good stuff is for the rest of us. All you have to do is walk a few blocks east, or a half a mile south to taste it.

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What’s For Lunch?

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The power lunch is dead, says the media. Everyone eats alone at their desks now, the internet proclaims. Midday meals in restaurants are an endangered species, is the perceived wisdom.

Soooo….is a proper sit-down lunch in Las Vegas as obsolete as Wayne Newton?

Well, yes and no.

Having just returned from weeks in New York and Paris, I can tell you that the restaurants there are full at noon, and the haute cuisine palaces are a tough ticket on most days at those times. Most of the best restaurants in these cities have lunch hours (especially in Paris), and dejeuner is when the gourmets come out to play.

In these gastronomic capitals I am in my element — a kid in a candy store, or a pig in slop, if you will — I can eat the best restaurant cooking on earth and have the afternoon to walk it off. How groovy is that?

Las Vegas is a different kettle of fish however, as thousands of tourists create their own kind of midday meal boom. Here, the noon hour is when many of them are waking up…or roaming a convention hall.  Because of this, many of our best restaurants are closed for lunch —  the thinking being that tourists are either sleeping, shopping or too hungover to be bothered. Hard to argue with that.

Thus are the lunchtime pickings slim unless you’re in the right hotel, or close to downtown, or within a chopstick of Chinatown. Out in the ‘burbs it’s positively depressing, as almost nothing but franchised food exists to satisfy your afternoon cravings.

But if you’re looking for a good lunch you’ve come to the right place, pilgrim, because yours truly is the king of the midday meal. My 3-hour liquid lunches are legendary, and even if I’ve cut back on those over the years, the best places to grab a plate of tasty vittles are always on my radar when those hunger pangs strike around 11:30 am each day.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to divide my lunches into two categories: power lunches and foodie favorites. The first is for those quiet business meetings that are always more digestible in a nice setting. The second are establishments (some more exotic than others) where the food takes precedence over the decor. Put another way: the first group is where I go for my big deal meals, and the second is where I eat everyday.

Obviously, these lists are not exhaustive, but together they give you a snapshot of where I, the world’s greatest midday feinschmecker, eats (or tries to eat) when the sun is highest in the sky.

Power Lunching

Image(Do this at Cipriani and you’re allowed to keep drinking)

Cipriani – The day it opened it was the place to be for meetings or just munching on some of the best pastas in town.

Capital Grill – A chain steakhouse but a great one, with white tablecloths, good service and nice lunch specials.

Ferraro’s – Movers and shakers aplenty populate these tables at noon. Most of them are too busy with business to notice how good the food is.

Image result for Old Soul las Vegas(Shhhh…don’t tell my wife)

Old Soul (above) – Quiet, secluded, a bit dark and very cozy —  the perfect place to conduct a hush-hush meeting (or an affair) — although some of us prefer to concentrate on Natalie Young’s fried oysters and superlative soups.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant (at top of page) – Dinner is packed with young couples celebrating their starter marriages. Lunch is calmer and less delusional.

Delmonico – Great steaks, luxurious surroundings, an awesome burger, and a world-beating wine list make for a hushed, elegant midday repast. It’s never crowded and the food tastes the same as dinner…only the prices are easier to swallow.

Top of the World – Way too touristy for anyone who isn’t a tourist, and the food isn’t in the same league as the view, but the view is spectacular.

Morel’s – Morel’s flies under the radar, but it’s my first choice when a group of hungry guys ask me where they should chow down.

Spago – Beautiful setting; fabulous food; lots of dudes in suits.

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Marche Bacchus – Al fresco dining (above) so nice you’re liable to forget yourself and spend the afternoon drinking bottle after bottle from its wonderful wine list. But enough about me.

Milos – Fresh off the boat fish that doesn’t cost a fortune between 11:30-2:30. Always packed.

Veranda at the Four Seasons – a South Strip staple where the elite meet to eat.

Foodie Favorites

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Mon Ami Gabi – It’s a pain in the ass to get to (unless you’re staying on the Strip), but the steak frites and people watching are worth the walk.

Esther’s Kitchen – Downtown’s favorite lunch spot is too loud at peak times, so go after the gold rush…around 1:00.

EATT – Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but in some ways I prefer the lighter, healthier fare here to that of its fancier sibling Partage.

Lotus of Siam – It’s easier to get a table at lunch, before the FOMO crowd has descended.

7th & Carson – New chef Sammy DeMarco is set to bring this place into the spotlight.

Image(Shrimply marvelous, at Jaleo)

Jaleo – I sometime forget Jaleo is open for lunch; I’m glad I forget because otherwise I’d be here all the time.

China Mama A steamer full of xiao long bao is just about the perfect noontime nosh.

Carson Kitchen – This downtown pioneer hasn’t lost its fastball.

Mabel’s BBQ – More relaxed at lunch, which also gives you the rest of the day to digest those ginormous platters of smoked meat.

New Asian BBQ Tang Kung Ky – My new go-to for superior dim sum on Spring Mountain Road.

Shang Artisan Noodle – Hand-pulled noodles straight from Taiwan, by way of UNLV (the owner is a graduate).

Image(I like my food in threes)

Trés Cazuelas – The newest spot on my lunch rotation; Angelo Reyes seamlessly combines Latino cuisines in a tiny restaurant that punches way above its weight.

Santos Tacos – Best. Tacos. In. Town. Why do I have to keep telling you these things?

The Goodwich – Sometimes, only one of these hand-tooled sandwiches will do.

Image(I’ll be your huckleberry…as long as you’re Spago’s foie gras ice cream)