The List – 2022

Image

We eat out a whole lot less than we used to.

But you’d never know it from this list.

We’re down to 5-6 restaurants a week (barely breaking a sweat compared to the old days), and sadly finding less and less to write about.

The infantilizing of food writing has not escaped our attention. The written word is an endangered species, and if it’s not in video or podcast form, few are interested in reading about restaurants anymore. Twenty years ago, I was considered an oddball for obsessively snapping pictures of my food. Fifteen years ago (when this website was conceived), I was still an outlier. Now, even high school kids take pictures of their tacos and rate them on social media.

With this in mind, for once, I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of words. Gleaning through my meals of these past five months, I discovered a number of tasty snaps (and a few videos) that should make you salivate more than prose ever could (which is, I suppose, the whole point of today’s ubiquitous food photography).

So here are the restaurants where you should be eating, from someone (me) who has actually eaten in them. Some of these recs are accompanied only with a picture (worth a thousand words?) — which, we hope, will supply you with ample reason to give them a go.

But first, a few words about Detroit pizza.

Image

For the uninitiated, Detroit is the home of a rectangular, reverse-form, pan-baked pie that loads its cheese on the top of the dough (and underneath the other toppings) allowing it to infuse a puffy, foccacia-like crust before a f**ckload of condiments are then applied.

Including pineapple? You betcha by golly.

 

Classic | Pizza Crimes | Know Your Meme(…and then we bake it in a casserole)

Refinement is not exactly its strong suit.

Detroit pizza is nothing new: Northside Nathan’s has been around for over twenty years. But it inexplicably became a “thing” a few years ago and now every foodie worth his fermentation extols the fine points of these belly bombs like they’re parsing the contrapuntal tinklings of Glenn Gould.

I blame the internet…and Instagram…and the legalization of weed. Because if nothing else, DP is perfect stoner food: ideal for dive bars, and temperamentally suited for a crowd that is usually as baked as the crust.

Image

Scott Weiner — America’s Pizza Geek extraordinaire — knows his pies, and Robby Cunningham’s Detroit rectangles stole a pizza his heart.

Image

If you insist, and if you’re stoned, Red Dwarf (second pic) and Guerilla Pizza (first pic and above, in the Hard Hat Lounge), are two of the best.

On to real restaurants…

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

Anima by EDO

Genting Palace

Image

Gorgeous room. Beautiful food. Bring your wallet. And a friend’s wallet.

Marisco’s El Fresco’s

Image

Mariscos El Fresco’s is brand new, and only days old as I type these words. But we snuck in early and the Mexican seafood by Chef/owner John Sosa and Chef David Serrano is like nothing else being offered in town.

Image(These tacos shrimply put others to shame)

What Elia Authentic Greek Taverna did for soul-satisfying Greek cooking these guys are trying to do with much-maligned Mexican seafood — most of which (this far north) is unmitigated crap out of a freezer bag. Minimal decor, maximum flavor, in a challenging location (Tropicana and Pecos). Fingers are crossed.

Nusr-Et Steakhouse

Image

Image

Burger. Of. The. Year. (so far)

Rosa Ristorante

Image

Image

Just like Stacy’s mom, Rob Moore (above) has got in going on…on St. Rose Parkway (of all places) way out in the wilds of Henderson. If this culinary renaissance keeps up in this former godforsaken restaurant wasteland, yours truly is going to run out of neighborhoods to trash.

Viva! by Ray Garcia

Image

Best. Mexican. In. Vegas. My pictures didn’t do the spectacular food justice, so you’ll have to go and snap some for yourself.

The Pepper Club

Image

Image

Todd English’s third act in Vegas has impressed even an old cynic like me. They don’t call The Pepper Club a Japanese restaurant but that’s exactly what it is….with some great Korean fried chicken to boot.

Wally’s

Image

Pluses: Surrounded by a fabulous wine store and first-class French cooking, cheese, charcuterie, salads (above), sandwiches (below) and steaks, and perhaps the best fries on the planet. Open for lunch. Good service.  Great people watching.

Image

Minuses:  Rodeo Drive-level expense amidst a sea of bargain-basement fanny packers — who take one look at the potential wallet damage and flee faster than a fat man from a fresh vegetable.  Also, the inside seating (hard stools at bare tables) doesn’t match the cooking or the (seated) crowd  — making the whole place feel like a fast casual concept got lost on its way to the Cordon Bleu.

Bottom line: Wally’s, like The Pepper Club downtown and Harlo in Downtown Summerlin, is pushing the price envelope — seeing just far it can take the familiar-yet-FOMO comfort food thing. Inflation or no inflation, Millennials and GenXrs show no signs of voting with their feet, as it is consistently filled with folks who don’t seem to mind paying $32 for a salad.

TURNING JAPANESE

Izakaya Go

Image

Busier than a bee on a flower farm. Harder to get into than a nun’s habit. But worth it.

Sushi Hiro

Image

Hiro-san and his cadre of sushi chefs (above) are the best reason to eat in Henderson. Big plus: it’s open for LUNCH!

Image

Trattoria Nakamura-Ya

Image

Japanese-Italian food may cause some con-fusion to some, but the results are always lip-smackingly delicious.

Ichiza

Image

Image

Twenty years on, our first izakaya has held up well, even if it now has loads of competition for the late-night sake-and-sustenance crowd.

IT’S CHINATOWN, JAKE

…and don’t you forget it.

One of these are not technically in Chinatown, but all are very Chinese and extremely worth their chopsticks.

Xiao Long Dumpling

Image

The new kid on the dumpling block is one of the best.

Noodlehead

Image

When China Mama is packed to the rafters, walk across the street and dandan the day away.

ShangHai Taste

Image

This is what we meant by “….worth a thousand words.”

Big Wong

Image

If there’s a better bargain in Chinatown than Big Wong’s Hainanese chicken, or its curry beef, we haven’t found them…or two nicer owners than Wei and Connie:

Image

Rainbow Kitchen

Image

Dat sum dim sum and dem sum.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT…

Salvadoreño

Image

Because no “best restaurants” list should ever be without a Salvadoran platos tipicos:

Image

MORE SOUTH OF THE BORDER

La Vecindad

Image

Our go-to when we’re in the mood for some quick queso fundido fun. After lunch there, we usually traipse around the corner to…

Pasabocas Colombian Bakery

…for a taste of Bogata and buñuelos:

Image

Letty’s de Leticia’s Cocina

Image

These deep-fried chicharonnes might be our favorite noontime nosh:

Image

SEOUL FOOD

Napal Baji

Image

Unknown to most gringos, there is a mini Korean food boom going on in Chinatown. Some of it is perplexing, and subtle it is not.

Most is flat-out fabulous, even if it represents something like an assault  over the 38th Parallel against your taste buds. Rather than trying to parse all the flavors in these ingredient-heavy recipes, we prefer to let the sensations envelope us like the wisdom of their supreme leader.

If you don’t know Korean food, know your Koreans. We have good friends who know their Jjamppongs from their Gopchang Jeongols, and they always ply us with enough sochu that we don’t care how terrible we sound trying to pronounce these things.

Whatever you do, get the spicy sausage “Army” stew (above) — it’s just the thing to fortify you for your never-ending fight against the Commie menace.

Image

Q Bistro

Image

This joint has been around for a while, but is a good place to learn our kimchees and Qs. Our Korean friends swear by it. Beware though: some dishes will blow your head off. Like the Kim Sam Bok (above), that tasted as lethal as it looks.

Moobongri Soondae

Another recent addition to our Korean scene. Short on decor, long on authenticity. But it helps to have someone with you who knows how to cut the kalbi:

STEAK YOUR CLAIM

We sliced up this subject a couple of months ago, but here are the bovine beauties with whom we continue to have the best beef these days:

Bazaar Meat

Image

In a town of terrific tartares, José Andrés still makes one of the best. The only thing holding back this restaurant is its location….which we expect to change soon.

Golden Steer

https://twitter.com/i/status/1502493249612644355

Since the pandemic lifted, this place has been busier than a whisky concession at an Irish wedding. Reservations are now essential….even in the bar! The days of popping in for a quick drink and  grabbing a steak and Caesar on your way home are deader than Dean Martin.

Brezza

Image(“Risotto for one, coming right up, Mr. C.”)

Not exactly a steakhouse and not exactly not one, either. So we’re putting it here, even thought we’ve pretty much sworn off Italian restaurants (until we go to Sardinia in July). No matter what you call it, whenever Nicole Brisson is making risotto inside a ginormous wheel of Parm, we’re on it like a porker at an acorn farm.

Carversteak

We’ve eaten a LOT of beautiful steaks in the past six months, but the best has been the dry-aged Kansas City strip at Carversteak:

Image

We’re pretty nuts about Daniel Ontiveros’s mayonnaise-y take on tartare, too.

Image

Capital Grille

We come for the lunch (and the steak salad), but stay for dessert:

Image

Harlo Steakhouse and Bar

Image

Image

Gina Marinelli’s pastas are better here than they are at La Strega. There, I said it.

The desserts are worth a special trip all by themselves:

SW Steakhouse

Wallet-bending but worth it. The steaks and sides are superb, but Mark LoRusso’s starters and are stars in their own right.

Image(SW recently gave me a boner. Wait, what?)

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

Image

I’ve never been quite sure what to call this place. In Miami where it was founded it is Joe’s Stone Crab. Here, it is more of a steak house but seafood gets top billing. Not only that but they also do incredible fried chicken. Color me confused, but always satisfied.

Pro tip: this joint is always packed, so go at an off-hour (late lunch is best) or late at night. (You’ll have to wait until fall for your stone crabs, however.)

Sparrow + Wolf

Image

S+W isn’t a steakhouse per se, but we think this is the best thing on the menu:

Image

If Carversteak fed us our best steak of the year (so far), this 32 oz. beauty with American banchan isn’t far behind. All of those small dishes of sharply-focused spice, veggies and texture are perfectly calibrated to mitigate the richness of the beef.

Image

I may occasionally give Howard grief for criticizing the high-wire act he has going on with some of his food, but there’s no denying the pioneering status of his restaurant, and the revitalization of Chinatown it sparked five years ago.

Vic & Anthony’s

Image

The Golden Nugget does not leap to mind when someone says “first-class beef emporium,” but its steakhouse goes t-bone-to-t-bone with the competition on Fremont Street. The old-school, dark, clubby atmosphere is a big plus, as is the professional service, and a wine list full of bargains if you’re willing to break your Cali cab addiction (see above).

It might also have the best crab cake in Vegas (see below):

Image

NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN?

Jamon Jamon Tapas

Image

Traditional Spanish in the burbs. Fun decor. Easy parking. Ignore the surroundings, and dig into tapas to beat the band and the best paella that isn’t made at Jaleo (below).

Jaleo

Image

There is no better paella in America. The open pit alone cost over $1mil and you can’t duplicate its woodsy subtlety and smokiness without moving outdoors. Also open for lunch (which we tend to forget), and has a killer bar and beverage program (which our aging liver doesn’t need). Around for more than twelve years and still one of our gastronomic gems.

TRIED AND TRUE

Cipriani

https://twitter.com/i/status/1497673359080845319

DE Thai Kitchen

Image

Don’t ask me what this is or how to pronounce it. Just take this picture to the restaurant, point to the not-so “secret menu” on the wall, and dive in. Beware, however, of ordering it or anything here “Bangkok hot.”

Saginaw’s

Image

The world famous 99 cent Vegas shrimp cocktail lives! But now it costs $11. Still a bargain; still worth every penny.

Life’s a Bagel

Image(Bagels make the heart dough fonder)

The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill

Image

Image

Your best off-Strip seafood option that doesn’t have a Japanese flag attached to it.

PublicUs

Image

Our weekend go-to for incredible coffee and fresh-baked pastries. These scones should be illegal:

Image

Braeswood BBQ

The two best barbecue options in town are within a couple of blocks of each other on Main Street in #DTLV. Both are no-nonsense odes to smoked meat. Don’t even think of arguing with me about Vegas ‘cue until you’ve given each one a test drive.

Image

Soulbelly BBQ

Image

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

Image

As welcoming as the Greek Isles, blessedly without the unwanted nudity and non-stop bouzouki music.

Bouchon

Image

I’ll put this $36 chicken up against your $72 steak any day.

Marché Bacchus

Image

We don’t know for how much longer André Rochat is going to be cooking, but right now, this septuagenarian’s desserts are worth a special trip.

It’s hard for us to carb our enthusiasm for this place. An essential stop on any Italian eating tour of Las Vegas.

Khoury’s

Image

I have dreams about this mezze platter: visions of endless baskets of nutty-puffy pita bread, stuffed into my eager maw after a slathering of spicy sujuk sauce and a dollop of labne as cool and bracing as a summer salad  — all of it refreshing my spirit as it satisfies my primal appetites. In my dreams, I caress and suckle each bite as if it were my last, kneeling before these treasures, intoxicated by the perfume of garden greens given lusciousness by oils, seeds, fruits and plants squeezed gently, then rapidly from the earth by pulsating soft-yet-turgid fingers, until, after stroke after stoke, then lick upon lick from my avaricious mouth, the cornucopia of sweet, herbaceous and milky tastes ooze forth in an explosion of happy, dribbled satisfaction.

Thanks, I needed that.

Anyone got a cigarette?

Smiling Charlie Sheen GIF - Smiling Charlie Sheen Smoke - Discover & Share GIFs

D’Agostino’s

Image

Just order this linguine with clams and thank me later.

Cafe Breizh

Image
Image
JUST DESSERTS
How inexcusable of us to end without featuring a few sweets that have sated our cravings for something sugared and syrupy after a surfeit of savory sustenance. Good, house-made desserts (like good bread) are now as common in Las Vegas restaurants (on and off the Strip) as hamachi crudo. Here are a few concupiscent confections of which we are quite fondant (sorry, couldn’t resist one last pun).
Just as we can’t resist this picture of Cipriani’s luscious, multi-layered, insanely rich chocolate cake — here being attacked by a Proper Lunch Bunch attendee who we try to keep away from sharp objects and anything that has to be shared:
Image(Matt Brooks can resist anything but temptation)
Honey toast at Sparrow + Wolf (modeled by Sherri Mirejovsky, who graciously took her modeling fee in sweets):
Image
Vanilla Panna Cotta with Vanilla Sorbet at Wally’s:
Image
And finally, all the Catalan creams at Jamon Jamon Tapas:
Image
That’s all for now folks. These should keep you busy for a while. They aren’t every restaurant I’ve been to since Jan. 1, 2022, but they are the ones that left the deepest impression….and where I think your hard-earned dollars will be best spent.
In the meantime, should you want to follow me on a podcast, tune into the What’s Right with Sam & Ash show every Friday to hear my masticatory musings about the Las Vegas food scene.
Or follow me on Twitter (@eatinglasvegas), where I try to post real-time photos (with commentary), about all of my eatings about town.
Bon appétit!
THE END
Image(It only took thirty years, but I’m finally the official something of something.)

High Steaks in Vegas

Image

Every restaurant in Las Vegas would be a steakhouse if it could be.EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants

It’s hard not to have a soft spot for the American steakhouse. What began in the beer halls and speakeasies of New York City over a hundred years ago (e.g., Palm, Keen’s, Peter Luger, et al) has morphed into the most expensive of restaurant genres, where checks north of $150/pp are now as common as overpriced California cabernets.

Nothing sells here like steaks. Beef, it’s what’s for dinner, and as a class, Vegas steakhouses outperform other restaurants by whopping margins.  If the baseline for a successful Strip eatery is $1,000,000/month in sales, it’s a fair bet that most major meat emporiums exceed that by at least 50%.

So, it’s no wonder our post-Covid restaurant recovery is being led by steakhouses. Hunks o’ prime steer muscle and a formulaic menu are the surest way to fill your dining room, and packed they are…from Summerlin to Las Vegas Boulevard South. Even with the price of beef being through the roof, people are spending faster than drunken sailors on shore leave. Quite frankly, the crowds of free-spending carnivores cramming these places has flummoxed even an old restaurant pro like yours truly. “Where is all this pent-up passion for prime (not to mention cash) coming from?” he thinks to himself as he sees the bodies pressed four-deep at the hostess stand…on Tuesday nights!

Chefs will tell you profit margins on steaks are very low. But there’s something about the beefy vibe that encourages the copious ingestion of booze — from vodka martinis to trophy wines — and when people want to drink, the Vegas steakhouse is here for them.

The point is, the formula for all of these joints is as predictable as a rom-com plot. They all get the same groceries, so all that’s left is how well they tweak them.

These days, everyone features the same 9-10 steak cuts from similar purveyors, letter-box “wagyu” beef that is now about as special as tuna fish, and the same old-same old sauces and sides. (Robuchon potatoes? Check. Shellfish tower? Double your check. Roasted veggies anyone?)

None of this predictability deters anyone from flocking to these restaurants — which, this being America, may be the point.

With all this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at four major players (two newbies and two old souls) to give you a sense of what you’re up against these days.

HARLO STEAKHOUSE & BAR

Image

Harlo burst on the scene barely six months ago and immediately flipped the script on Andiron, its predecessor steakhouse in the space. The front door is now where the backdoor used to be, and what was once open, bright and airy (trying to mimic something swanky and Southhampton) is now dark, cozy and clubby.

The bar also shifted….in more ways than one.

Image(Inflation? What inflation?)

There is big real estate money behind this project; real pros in the kitchen; and the house is managed by long-time Strip front-man Ivo Angelov (whose loyal following probably accounts for a half of the customers).

Put it all together and you have the kind of out-of-the-gate hit of which most restaurateurs can only dream. It doesn’t hurt that it is the only decent steakhouse for ten-miles, and that Las Vegas’s toniest neighborhoods are all within a fifteen-minute drive. But Andiron had these same advantages and struggled to find its footing (even pre-Covid). Finding itself will not be a problem for Harlo; finding a seat on weekends will be.

Once you’re seated, you can expect the standard cuts and sides, here priced at or above similar fare on the Strip — and when we say, “at or above” we’re not kidding. Prices here have been set without apology and with the confidence (arrogance?) of someone who knows his audience won’t blink at $30 apps and $80 steaks. Fleming’s this is not.

We passed on the seafood tower, instead settling for some very good oysters ($26) served with a compelling yuzu-soy mignonette that made us forget about the excellent cocktail sauce beside it. (By way of price comparison, at Carversteak, thirteen miles east,  the shellfish extravaganza is $165; here it clocks in at $175. So much for the Strip being “too expensive.”)

Image(The salad is there to make you forget you’re eating the inside of an animal)

From there it was on to a smallish, blandish steak tartare ($20) — the only “meh” of the meal — and three Flintstonean shanks of marrow ($30) that would easily serve a table of four. So dense with flavor were the garnishes for the marrow — port wine onions and oxtail jam on toast —  they could constitute a meal all their own.

The Caesar ($15) had its charms (crunchy anchovy croutons, lots of grated Parm), as did the warm milk bread and butter. All were served at the right temperature, as was the excellent butter. (Frigid salad, less than impeccably fresh bread, and rock hard butter being unforgivable sins at this level, and the banes of our existence.)

As there were only two of us, the main event was slightly truncated…meaning only one protein and a couple of sides hit the table. At eighty-eight bucks, an aged rib eye better deliver the goods, and by and large this one (below) did. Impeccably trimmed and cooked, it was all that is loved about the marbled succulence of this cut.

Image(Holy cholesterol-fest!)

Not really sure what the two-week aging brought to the dance but the beefy flavor was there in spades, even if a certain mineral-rich tang was not. The blistered green beans ($10) and crispy ‘taters ($11) were all that and a bag of almond romesco– the snappy sauce adorning the Phasoleolus vulgaris.

Our biggest surprise of all, though, was reserved for the pasta:

Image(Impastably delicious)

Gina Marinelli is the talent behind these creations, and her rotating cast of pastas will depend on whatever is seasonal the day you arrive. We sprang upon the Spring papardelle with English peas, morels, goat cheese and poppy seeds (above) to see if she was up to her old tricks, meaning: sometimes her pastas go an ingredient too far for our tastes. But this time everything had its place and there wasn’t a flavor wasted. Really spectacular stuff. Worth going for all by itself and enough to make you forget your inner carnivore.

Besides the tariff, Harlo has announced its big-league intentions by hiring a pastry chef — in this case, a young chap named Alberto Rodriguez, who does a panoply of worthy sweets, including a mean Grand Marnier soufflé:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1501736412307095557

They also do the bloated caviar service-thing here (caviar and truffles now running neck-and-neck with “exclusive” Japanese wagyu in the faux luxe sweepstakes), and no shortage of ostentatious spirits for those needing to impress themselves by stupidly combining Louis XIII cognac ($200/shot) with salty fish eggs — one of those things you do because having bad taste isn’t much fun unless you can show off about it.

The wine list is evolving and it isn’t exactly cardiac-inducing, but don’t expect any bargains either. Bottles under a hundy are sprinkled here and there, but the calculation has obviously been made that the landed gentry is now ready to cough up big bucks for bottles. By-the-glass options start at $12 and zoom quickly above $20, topping out at $45 and $65 for “reserve” Cali cabs. That’s sixty-five bucks for a glass. Of wine.

As you can see, Harlo is not for the faint of heart or pocketbook. It is a big-hitter steakhouse with the pedigree and prices to prove it.  Direct aim has been taken on a customer base who used to travel many miles for beef and cooking this good. They’re staying closer to home these days, and apparently spending like it’s 2019 again. Only time will tell if Harlo will succeed in out-stripping the Strip, but for the time being, Summerlin’s fat cats now have a steakhouse to call their own.

Our meal was comped and we left a $100 tip, augmented by our dining companion’s $100 tip.

CARVERSTEAK

Image

Waiter: How would you like your steak sir?

Me: Like winning an argument with my wife.

Waiter: Rare it is!

Steakhouse quality is so high across the board, searching for the preeminent purveyor of prime is a fools errand. Instead we look for the subtleties that distinguish them, and hope that something stands out. Often, beyond the differences in decor, it does not.

And none of this is by way of criticizing Carversteak. Only to point out how, to set themselves apart, chefs and owners strain mightily  to convince you they’re doing something unique, even when they are not. At Carversteak, occasionally they are.

Sometimes you just throw up your hands and admit you have no more shits to give as to whether Carversteak’s “yellowtail sashimi crudo with avocado , serrano chili, ginger-lime ponzu”:

Image(Toto, we’re not in Golden Corral anymore)

….is all that different from Harlo’s “hamachi crudo with ginger-soy vinaigrette, avocado puree and serrano chili.”

Or take the ubiquitous shrimp cocktail — one might dazzle you with Cajun remoulade (Harlo), while others —  Caversteak, Golden Steer, SW et al — stick strictly to the horseradish catechism.

The same thing occurs with side dishes:

Image(You cheddar believe, this is as gouda as it gets)

“Oh look honey! They have mac ‘n cheese with aged cheddar!” says you, feigning excitement.

“That’s much better than the mac ‘n cheese with smoked cheddar and gouda, isn’t it?” Said no one ever.

They’re all good, soothing, and cheesy, but basically only minor variations on a theme you’ll find in every steakhouse in Vegas, if not America.

Carversteak does a “baby iceberg wedge” ($19), garnished with an onion ring and a soft-boiled egg. Harlo throws pastrami into the ($16) mix, and tops its lettuce with lavash. (How very unleavened of them!)  The Golden Steer keeps it simple and pours on the blue cheese sprinkled with bacon and tomatoes ($10). Is one “better” than the other? Does an onion ring and an egg justify doubling the price? Or are you paying for real estate and decor? Or do you even care?

Where Harlo announces itself as ingredient-driven, here the menu emphasis is recipe-driven — in this case by restaurant vet Daniel Ontiveros — a dude who knows his way around premium proteins.

We didn’t have the “Lobster en Croute” , but at least it is something different. (Cream sauces are back!) Ditto the green goddess “Crudité” — which almost makes hummus wondrous:

Image(Yummus hummus, believe us)

….and a chunky, mayonnaise-y steak tartare (below) that combines creaminess with a kick. Definitely one of the more unforgettable ones we’ve tried….and we’ve tried them all:

Image

Other items which kept our attention included the “Caviar Poppers” (gougères stuffed with lemon-chive crème fraiche), and the previously maligned yellowtail sashimi, that made up for in presentation what it lacked in innovation.

Finally, there were the proteins. Being a two-top our capacity was limited, but the 20 oz. Kansas City strip ($76) claimed to be aged for 28 days and tasted every bit of it.

Image(Best steak of the bunch)

We don’t want to go too far out on a limb here, but of all the boffo beef we’ve had during this two-week steak-out, this one had the deepest, most penetrating flavor. Both sauces (Bordelaise and Peppercorn) were textbook perfect, with the latter disappearing the fastest.

Image(Fleming’s this is not)

The Food Gal® ordered the salmon (above left), even though doing so should be grounds for divorce anywhere but the Pacific Northwest. To our surprise, as much as we fished for flaws, our critic’s net came up empty. Fresh and firm, it was flawless, right down to the curry broth beneath it. All in all, a nice way to give this over-served, insipid (and often stale-tasting) species a little sass.

Big hitters will no doubt love the Brobdingnagian (42 oz.) Pat LaFrieda Tomahawk, which gets its hefty price tag ($260) from the branding of the beef (cf. Harlo where you get 2 ounces less Flannery Beef for eighty fewer bucks). These humongous cuts are all the rage these days, and make sense for large parties, even if the weight advertised includes the prodigious bone. Regardless, large parties of beefy men take to these things like a college boy to a kegger.

Cocktails are by über-booze maven Francesco LaFranconi, and the wine list won’t cause cardiac arrest.  How much better can a steakhouse get?

Our dinner a deux was comped and we left a $120 tip.

SW STEAKHOUSE

Image

We’ve run hot and cold about SW over the years. Two perfunctory wallet-bending meals in a row (over five years ago) had us writing it off forever, and it was only Mark LoRusso taking over the kitchen (after the shuttering of Costa di Mare) that brought us back.

It’s a huge (300+ seats) restaurant that can feel like Grand Central Station on busy nights — which is almost every night of the year. It shows itself best if you’re able to score a seat on the patio, but those fill up fast. As busy as it gets, the noise level remains remarkably conversation-friendly, and the lighting is soft, not-too-low — complimenting the aging Boomer crowd seeking to forget the ravages of time when their hair was dark, their thighs were firm, and they had less chins than a Chinese phone book.

If Harlo is ingredient-focused, and Carversteak full of surprising recipes, SW takes the steak as the cheffiest in the bunch, as LoRusso’s mosaic of raw tuna shows:

Image

If that doesn’t convince you, then perhaps this Snake River Farms carpaccio with balsamic “pearls” will:

Image(Nothing says “don’t try this at home” like balsamic pearls)

All of this is the domain of Mark LoRusso — unsung hero and former top toque of the shuttered Costa di Mare upstairs — who made the transition from Italian seafood to meat seamlessly. We’ve followed LoRusso’s career since the early 2000s, and everywhere he has moved he has made his mark without fanfare, but with the confidence of a real pro who elevates any kitchen he controls.

When they announced he was taking over SW last year we had no doubt it would up its game and it has, re-invigorating the (previously tired menu with Sardinian lobster gnocchi ($29), Alaskan King Crab ravioli ($24/$48), and a thick with lobster bisque that shows off LoRusso’s seafood chops:

Image(Is that the bisque you can do?)

At these prices, you expect the steaks to be perfect and they are. (See the strip pic at the top of the page.) The tone is set with the incredible/addictive Parker House “monkey bread” that kicks things off, and continues through impeccable wagyu skewers, a properly dressed Caesar ($24), and a marrow bone large enough to slay a few Philistines should the need arise:

Image

No one seems to mind that it has always had the shortest, least interesting menu, and (until recently) the highest prices of any steakhouse in Vegas. We’ve always had a tough time squaring these with the cattle call feel of the joint. Locating a bottle of red wine on the list beneath a Benjamin is tougher than finding a slot junkie with a dental plan.

Regardless, it appears to be a bullet-proof restaurant — packed through thick and thin — overflowing with customers and conventioneers who would line up for a table if Russian tanks and the Bubonic Plague were rolling down Las Vegas Boulevard.

With LoRusso at the helm (aided by Michael Outlaw’s superb desserts) the food is well nigh flawless, as is the service. Both are so good you’ll probably forget you just paid a hundred bucks for a filet.

Image

Our bill for a bone-in strip steak ($84, top of page), with several sides and a bunch of freebies (including a Brontosaurus-sized marrow bone) came to $213 and we left a $100 tip.

GOLDEN STEER

Image(Breaking up and making up since 1982)

The secret to running a successful restaurant is hiring people who give a shit. – Nectaly Mendoza (Herbs & Rye)

If the Golden Steer was a girlfriend, we’d have one of those “can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ’em” relationships. To say it’s been love-hate over forty years is an understatement…kinda like saying I might’ve had a teensy-weensy bit of an issue with the the whole “till death do us part” thing from 1973-1999.

Sometimes we’d go multiple times in a week; others would find us staying away after another spate of indifferent service from a fossilized crew, warm wine, and a menu as dated as the Rat Pack vibe the place was trading on.

“Never again!” we fumed six years ago after storming out. Tired, threadbare, shopworn…going through the motions…you name it, the adjectives came flowing forth. So over-the-hill did it seem, that we expected a death notice any month. Further cataloguing the failings and service insults no longer serves a purpose, so let’s just say it was obvious, around 2015, that no one gave a shit, and were content to milk the old cow(?) for all she was was worth until someone turned the place into a weed shop or Walgreen’s.

Now, amazingly, people give a shit and it shows. Covid forced the Steer into a reckoning (and new management), and it came out of that nightmare smelling like the apotheosis of prime. Amanda Signorelli (daughter of the owner) now runs the joint with her husband Nick McMillan, and they’ve managed to spruce the joint up and give it a subtle facelift, while retaining the 1958 vibe that gives the Steer its old school patina.

The Steer is cheapest steakhouse of this beefy bunch, except when it is not. The “Chateaubriand for Two” at SW is pegged at $160, while the one here will set you back 190 samolians.  Another exception: the Steer’s 12 oz. filet (“The Aristocrat of Tenderness) is priced two bucks more than Carversteak’s ($71 v. $69).

Generally though, the cuts here are a little less expensive, but not by a lot. For example, a classic one-pound New York strip is $65 here, $78 at SW, and $62 at Carversteak. Harlo’s clocks in at an eye-popping 96 buckeroonies. Yikes! (Swear to god, they must price these things by blindly throwing darts at a board.)

Over two recent visits, we sample just about every cut on the menu, and even the filet impressed us more than we expected. Our table loved them all, but this rib eye was the true show pony:

 

Image

….followed by a dictionary-thick slab of prime rib:

Image(Missing: gobs o’ horseradish sauce)

….which appeals to many more for its caveman appeal than general taste. (We’ve always considered prime rib more of a horseradish sauce-carrying vehicle than anything else.)

The new menu is substantially shorter than the multi-paged tome that used to confront you — which featured everything from broiled quail to veal saltimbocca. Thankfully, they kept the toasted ravioli ($14) and oysters Rockefeller ($17), although why they call the so-so escargot ($17) a “house specialty” is anyone’s guess.

And for the 563rd time I will criticize them for not using a wooden bowl for the Caesar salad (yes, it makes a difference), but otherwise tell you it is a beautiful rendition and worth every penny of your seventeen dollars. The wedge ($10) is a blessedly simple version, but doesn’t suffer for it:

Image(Salad, not Caesar)

Ooh and ahh over the bananas Foster. Skip the cherries Jubilee.

The Italian food is just as awful as it always was. Thankfully, there is now less of it.

The wine list is short, but well-chosen and well-priced. Lower your expectations and you’ll be well-served, even if the bottles are still too warm and the sommelier service nothing like what you get at more vino-centric steakhouses.

All in all, the Steer has made a dramatic comeback. Covid’s many losses were somehow its gain, and the newest crowd of avid steak eaters has taken to it like Dean Martin to a martini.

A decade ago, the iconic golden steer statue underneath the lettered sign had faded into a yellowish-tan, and was allowed to stay that way…for years. Her(?) name, BTW, is “Betsy”. This stood less as a metaphor for the Steer’s decline, and more as a direct signal advertising the fact. And it made us sad every time we drove by.

Now Betsy gleams bright and lustrous, trading on the past but looking to the future, a mere stone’s throw from the Las Vegas Strip, but competing with it just the same. Long may her golden hide shine.

Our last dinner for two came to $260, including tip. An earlier dinner (where we ate the entire menu) was covered by generous friends who have the pocketbooks to match their prodigious appetites.

Image(Vegas steakhouses are once again en fuego!)

2021 – By the Numbers

Image

Before we leave 2021 in the rear view mirror for good, a few words on what will be our last year of eating hugely.

As you can see above, we hit 390 restaurants last year — by our standards a light one, even though we were far busier than in 2020, when the world conspired to put food service permanently out of business and almost succeeded.

During our salad days of 1995-2015, 390 restaurant meals wouldn’t have broken a sweat. Back then, 500/year was the norm, as we hunted high and low for the best grub in Vegas. From 2010-2020, EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants kept us in the game until everything ground to a halt.

Now, we write for ourselves and for fun and for the hundreds and hundreds of you who actually still care about such things as finding the best restaurants (high and low) in which to spend your hard-earned dollars. Our staff told us last week we now average about 1,000 unique views a month. Quite a drop from the “good internet” days of 2008-2014, when 100,000 folks would tune in. No matter, at this point we’ve downsized (voluntarily or not), and starting this year, that’s the way we’ll be eating.

With that said, here are some final thoughts on our weirdest restaurant year ever:

90 Asian meals! This should be no surprise to anyone who follows me on social media. Spring Mountain Road, along the new mini-Chinatown springing up on South Rainbow, is our default setting for eating out. When the question is, “Where should we go tonight?” and the The Food Gal sighs “I dunno,” we head to Chinatown without hesitation and dive in to whatever suits our fancy…BECAUSE its eazy-peazy, inexpensive, healthy, honest food, usually served by family-owned establishments who spend more time in the kitchen than on social media.

Of those 90, almost half were Japanese, with Chinese in second place, and Korean in third. Bringing up the rear were Thailand, Vietnam and (shudders) Malaysian — the charms of which continue to rank somewhere between canned chow mein and Panda Express.

How much Asian do I eat? I eat so much Asian my nickname is Woo-Is-He-Fat. I eat so much Asian my wife calls me a hopeless ramen-tic. I tell her she means so matcha to me, and I can’t stop thinking bao her, and she tells me I’m tofu-rific and she’s crazy pho me. (This causes things to get steamier than a Mongolian hot pot.) Our Chinese friends ask us, “Har Gows it?” while our Korean buddies always want to know, “Sochu wanna hang out?” We eat so much Asian The Food Gal’s favorite sex toy is a Japanese rice cooker. (Wait. What?) Yeah…we eat a lot o’ Asian. ;-)

80 Italians? Are you friggin’ kidding me? We knew it was a lot but had no idea until the totals were run. Of course our regular Friday Cipriani lunch was almost half the total, but even if you back those out, that’s a helluva lot of pasta, pizza, antipasti, primi, secondi and contorni. 80 Italian meals is too much….unless you live in Italy. So you’ll pardon us if we say we’re pretty much over Italian for the time being. The next time we eat this food….I hope to be in Italy, not suffering through another local, oversized/underseasoned version of cacio e pepe.

48 “Casual” meals — included everything from a bagel sandwich to coffee and croissants. Deli comprised almost half of that as we hit everything from PublicUs to Bagelmania to Saginaw’s to Life’s A Bagel with the enthusiasm only a non-Jew-wannabe-Jew like yours truly can have for this food. Our deli choices improved in 2021, consigning Bagel Cafe to an even lower-level of Jewish food suckitude than it already holds .

38 American Bistro — includes everyplace from Main Street Provisions to burger joints to the execrable Taverna Costera — the latter of which was so terrible it coulda/shoulda gotten our “Worst Meal of the Year” major award…but was so pathetic we didn’t deem it worthy of further insult. You could also call these places gastropubs: cozy, food-forward joints like 7th & Carson, Carson Kitchen, Ada’s Wine Bar, and Sparrow & Wolf. All have thrived despite the challenges of the past two years. Sometimes I wish some would dial things back a little more — adding to their menus by subtraction — but if you’re looking for good cooking in the ‘burbs, our home-grown bistros are where to start.

28 Mexicans means mas mucho macho grande burritos and tacos, muchacho. (We probably ate more tacos this year, here and in Los Angeles, than in the previous five journeys around the sun. 2021 also saw our last meal ever at the sad, straight-from-a-can Casa Don Juan. “Never again,” we muttered as we paid a $40 check for a lunch that wasn’t worth half that. Used to be charming service pulled this place through. That’s gone too. Walk down to Letty’s and get yourself a taco. You can muchas gracias me later.

Kinda funny we only hit 21 French meals, considering that it’s our favorite food in the world. Limited hours at many of our famous frog ponds are to blame (Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Le Cirque..), and the merry-go-round of chefs at Marche Bacchus put us off as well. (Side note: We’ve also lost several players — Gagnaire, Boulud, Hubert Keller — who brought Vegas some very serious French cache back in the early aughts.)

For the survivors, things are still not back to pre-pandemic normalcy, but are improving. MB has enlisted that old Gallic warhorse Andre Rochat to revamp its menu and turn it into what it should be: a serious French bistro. A bold move, long overdue, which we applaud, even if my relationship with Andre has sometimes resembled the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

The home stretch…

We traveled back to the southeast four times in 2021, which explains our 21 BBQ meals.

The armada of Spanish (19) in town (EDO, Pamplona, Jamon Jamon, Jaleo, Bazaar Meat), accounts for our Iberian intake, and visiting a Steakhouse (19) about twice a month also feels about right…although we’ll readily admit that, as with Italian, we’re getting bored with all the by-the-numbers menus of wedge salads salmon, and identical steak cuts. CUT and Bazaar Meat are the only joints that break this mold. Long may their cholesterol flag fly.

Bringing up the rear we have Greek (8), almost entirely at either Milos or Elias Authentic Greek Taverna, and Fast Food (7) which generally consists of Shake Shack, In-N-Out or the (seriously underrated) Double-Del Burger from Del Taco.

Finally, there are Fancy-Schmancy Meals (6). What stuck out for us when we were making our final tally was not only how few there were, but that every one of the year’s most impressive meals was out of state. FWIW: nothing we ate in Vegas, in 2021, held a candle to to our dinner at Providence (L.A.), the precise cuisine of Gavin Kaysen at Spoon & Stable in Minneapolis, and the steaks and sides we had at Totoraku (L.A.) and Manny’s in Minneapolis.

True confession time. What the above meals drove home to me was something I’ve been holding back from saying for years: much of what Vegas’s top restaurants do may be good, but it still isn’t as good as the similar work being done in other cities, and you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise. There are many reasons for this — from more demanding diners to access to agriculture — but the well-traveled palate can tell the difference. Our Mexicans aren’t in the same league as Southern California’s, our gastropubs aren’t as finely tuned as Washington D.C.’s, and our barbecue and pizza scenes (as improved as they are) still lag far behind those in bigger cities.

And our steakhouses, for all the money poured into them, still feel like food factories compared to America’s classic beef emporiums.

Have I been guilty (for years) of overpraising places in the name of provincial boosterism? Absolutely. But as I get older, and my time and calories become more precious, I want to spend my appetite in places where the cooking is more connected to something other than an Instagram page. It’s one of the reasons you find me in Chinatown so often, enjoying simple Asian fare over the more convoluted cooking being done by the cool kids.

Vegas has always been the sort of place where people stay just long enough to make enough money to leave, and too many of our local restaurateurs seem to be in it for the cash, not the passion. Quite frankly, I’m surprised so many young chefs have stuck around once they leave the Strip. But the play-it-safe-and-cash-in mentality remains strong (e.g. Harlo, Carversteak), and there’s not enough demand here for simple, sophisticated food. The Japanese and Spaniards get it right….but few others do.

So, that’s the final chapter on 2021. The direction this website takes in 2022 is anyone’s guess. When the muse hits me, I’ll write…because I love to write when she visits. In the meantime, we’re off to France for a couple of weeks to re-calibrate the palate, refresh the mind, and forget about America for awhile. Bon appetit to all and Happy New Year.