The List – 2022

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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

Marisco’s El Fresco’s

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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

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

Rosa Ristorante

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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

Sushi Hiro

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

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Trattoria Nakamura-Ya

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

Ichiza

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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

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

Noodlehead

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

ShangHai Taste

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

Big Wong

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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:

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Rainbow Kitchen

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Dat sum dim sum and dem sum.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT…

Salvadoreño

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

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MORE SOUTH OF THE BORDER

La Vecindad

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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:

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Letty’s de Leticia’s Cocina

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

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SEOUL FOOD

Napal Baji

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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.

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Q Bistro

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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

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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

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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:

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

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Capital Grille

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

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Harlo Steakhouse and Bar

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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

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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

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

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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.

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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

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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):

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NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN?

Jamon Jamon Tapas

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill

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

PublicUs

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

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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.

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Soulbelly BBQ

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Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

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

Bouchon

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

Marché Bacchus

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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

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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

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Just order this linguine with clams and thank me later.

Cafe Breizh

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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):
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Vanilla Panna Cotta with Vanilla Sorbet at Wally’s:
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And finally, all the Catalan creams at Jamon Jamon Tapas:
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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.)

Free Man In Paris

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I was a free man in Paris

I felt unfettered and alive

There was nobody calling me up for favors

And no one’s future to decide Joni Mitchell

American writers have been rhapsodizing about Paris since Ben Franklin’s powdered wig was peeking down some bustier. There’s not much I can add — literary-wise — to the musings of everyone from Henry James to Ernest Hemingway, but I can share a few pointers on what to see and where to eat, along with some musings of my own about what makes the City of Light so compelling, one-hundred years after Ernest & Friends fell in love with it.

The culture of Paris insinuates itself into your soul if you let it. Americans love to talk of snooty Frenchmen and various un-pleasantries, but those are the carpings of the intentionally uncomfortable — the sorts who arrive in any foreign environment looking for something to bitch about.

All you have to do to enjoy yourself in Gay Paree is give in to the Parisian vibe (by turns energetic one minute, and insouciant the next). Leave your American expectations at home, relax, stroll around a bit, and say “bonjour!” and “s’il vous plait” about thirty times a day. Do that and they are almost as nice as Italians.

As I was somewhere over the Atlantic, coming back from ten days walking the streets and haunting cafes from Montparnasse to Montmartre, it occurred to me that this might be my writing future: travelogues for those who might wish to follow in my footsteps in the coming months/years. My covering the Las Vegas food scene has reached its natural end; there are no more mountains for me to climb here, and frankly, it’s more fun these days to see the world rather than wander around (again and again) in my own backyard.

(If you’re dying to hear my mellifluous tones pontificate on where best to exercise your palate in Sin City, tune in Fridays to What’s Right with Sam & Ash — where we whoop it up about food while recapping my eating week.)

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Unshackled by the bonds of servitude to Sin City, I am thus free to eat the world, where, quite frankly, the food, wine, and scenery are better (and often cheaper). Consider this a combination of food diary and love letter to my favorite city in the world, where the sights and smells never fail to astonish me, and where eating and drinking well is as easy as rolling out of bed.

But before you can embrace all the picturesque wonderfulness, you first have to get there, and sad to say, that will be more annoying than anything you encounter once you arrive.

News flash: Flying remains a pain in the ass.

Air France is a shell of its former self. A country’s airline — be it SwissAir, Lufthansa or whatever — used to tickle you with anticipation (“As soon as you board, you feel like you’re almost in the country,” I used to tell my kids.) Now you’re on an airbus in more ways than one. They throw some cardboard food at you a couple of times and wheel a shitty beverage cart up the isle twice (first, an hour into your eight-hour transatlantic haul; then again six hours later), and that’s it.

No cans of soda, no mixers, nothing but water, crappy coffee, tepid tea and supermarket wine. Pro tip: load up on snacks and beverages at the airport. What’s become an insult to passengers has been a boon to SmartWater and SlimJims. None of this applies if you fly business- or first-class, which we never do, preferring to save our $$$s for the food and wine which lie ahead.

Enough negativity, let’s get to the fun stuff.

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Traveling is living intensified. – Rick Steves

Paris the “Being John Curtas” way means you literally lose yourself there; park your worst instincts back home and drink it all in, every waking moment. I become more sanguine, taciturn even (about everything but the ubiquitous dog shit).

Every time I see Paris’s low profile and history-drenched boulevards, I feel like I’m an awestruck ten-year old seeing a big city for the first time. Rick Steves’ quote is no more true than on the streets of Paris, where your senses are excited on every block, and awesome architecture defines every corner.

The French invented blasé (the word and the mood), but no matter how many times I’m in the city (this last trip was my tenth), that’s the one feeling I never have. I’m too busy picking my jaw off the pavement…when I’m not using it.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. – Ernest Hemingway

Image(When I’m in Paris, I’m on a seafood diet: when I see food I eat it.)

The Food. The wine. The seafood! (sea above) The size of the brasseries and the sheer number of cafés means you’ll never go hungry, no matter what the hour.

It’s really one of the most impressive things about Paris: the mind-blowing number of places to feed and refresh yourself. They’ve always been in abundance, but the patisseries/boulangeries (technically not the same thing, but often combined) seem to have doubled in number over the past decade.

The Style: men in snappy coats and women being worn by heroic scarves.  No t-shirts or cargo shorts, please. Someone asked me what the French don’t like about Americans and the answer is simple and understandable: the way we dress.

Finally: awesome architecture and history envelops its iconic restaurants. The sheer beauty of them should not surprise (the French invented the modern restaurant, after all), but the stunning interiors (and how well they’ve aged) are still enough to take your breath away:

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If you can’t enjoy yourself walking around Paris, you need to have your pulse checked.

My advice to anyone traveling to France or Italy is to always find a café to call your own, preferably close to your hotel. Stopping by every morning will start to make you feel like a local, and by your third visit, even the frostiest waiter will start to smile when he sees you.

 Walking, smelling, sitting, sipping cafe au lait. “Encore, s’il vous plait” we say.(“please bring another”)…and your favorite waiter will let you sit there all day, diddling your phone, reading a book, or planning where next to eat  — which is the surest way to make you feel like a Frenchman.

Amazingly though, we actually lose a few pounds on every visit. Five-to-ten miles of walking each day will do that, no matter how many baguettes or soufflés you inhale. Sage advice: use your mornings to plan your pre- and post-dejeuner walks.

If The Food Gal® is lucky, I occasionally agree to a little shopping, just to buy some marital harmony. (Poor thing has always operated under the illusion there is something to do in Paris other than eat and drink.)

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Breakfast, you ask? Fuggidabadit. In France, breakfast (aka “petit dejeuner”) is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch. Some coffee and a croissant is all you’ll need to fuel you for the first few hours of the day. From then on, it’s Katy bar the door/calories here we come, as temptations await on every block.

THE RESTAURANTS

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Straight off the plane, still groggy from jetting the ocean, we staggered into L’Ami Louis (above) perhaps the toughest bistro ticket in Paris. It was worth the wait, which for me had been twenty-five years — a quarter century of hearing about its allure to ex-pats, celebs, and galloping gourmands, followed by a revisionist decade of how gauche and “not worth it” it was. It is the one bistro critics love to hate. Especially British critics, as you’ll see below.

Founded in 1924, they only things that have changed in ninety-seven years are the prices and the dress of the patrons. Some have called its interior “museum-like”, others, like the late, great, splenetic A. A. Gill described it as a “painted, shiny distressed brown dung…set with labially pink cloths which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository.”

All nasty Brit-lit gymnastics aside, what you find when you enter is a classic, narrow, well-worn bistro that feels as comfortable as a pair of well-worn Wellingtons. Where Gill found “paunchy, combative, surly men” waiting tables, all we saw were affable-if-brusque, seen-it-all pros.

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Gill (who died in 2016, and whose hemorrhoids must’ve been acting up in ’11 when he wrote those words) also savaged the food. As much as we were a fan of his knives-out style, we found ourselves silently pleading with his ghost throughout our two-hour lunch. Au contraire, mon frere, we muttered continually. From an ethereally silky slab of foie gras to our deviled veal kidneys to the famous roast chicken (above), this was Parisian bistro cooking at its most elemental and satisfying. True, the recipes probably haven’t changed since Bogart was wooing Bergman, but that’s part of the charm. 

Where Gill found the foie to be “oleaginous and gross”, our bites were of the smoothest, purest duck liver. A mountain of shoestring fries came with our oversized bird, and better ones we had trouble remembering. Ditto the escargot, brimming with butter and electric green parsley — shot through with garlic in all the best ways.

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No fault could be found with the wine list either (pricey for a bistro, but not off-putting), or  a baba au rhum the size of a human head.

“Brits love to bag on the Frogs,” is what we thought as we were paying the bill and thanking the staff. The prices (for solids and liquids), are high but not enough to put you on our heels, especially if you’re used to Las Vegas. (Our lunch came to about 400 euros/couple, with about half being wine.) 

Gill concluded his hatchet job by calling L’Ami Louis the “worst restaurant in the world.” It may not be the best, old-fashioned bistro in Paris, but it’s a long way from deserving such opprobrium. I’d call it a must-stop for our next visit, for that terrine de foie gras alone:
 
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As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. – Ernest Hemingway

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Le Dôme remains le ultimate seafood brasserie in a neighborhood swimming with them. All gleaming glass and brass, it has become a de rigueur to stop for oysters whenever we get to town. Montparnasse is chock full of good restaurants, many of which, like Le Select (1925), La Rotonde (1911) and La Cloiserie des Lilas (1847), are haunted by the ghosts of Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Henry Miller.

These cafes formed the social hub of Roaring Twenties Paris, and, amazingly, continue to hold their own today, one-hundred years after they became American-famous.

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Like many of its equally famous neighbors, Le Dôme is huge, so don’t think twice about dropping in on a whim for a douziane plates and a glass of Sancerre.

Classics like Breton lobster and Dover sole (above), are prepared so perfectly they remind you why these dishes became renowned in the first place, and if you want to hunker down for a full meal, LD dazzles with best of them. The freshness of its cooked seafood is legendary, even in a town known for legendary fresh fish and shellfish.

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For dessert: don’t miss the mille-feuille Napoleon (sliced from a pastry the size of a rugby football) — which elicits ohhs and aahs for both its appearance and taste.

A note about the supposed insufferable French: this was our third visit to Le Dôme in the past four years, but we are hardly “known” to the management. On each visit, whether as a walk-in solo or with reservations and guests, we have always received a friendly welcome from the solicitous staff — who couldn’t be more helpful in either guiding us to the best oysters of the day, or which wine to pair with them. You get out of restaurants what you put into them, and if you walk into Le Dôme with happy heart, it will only make you happier.

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life. —Thomas Jefferson

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From Montparnasse one day, we trekked up the hill to Montmartre the next, to visit Le Coq et Fils (formerly Le Coq Rico) — Antoine Westermann’s paean to poultry.

Climbing up to Sacré Coeur and exploring the nooks and crannies of cobblestoned streets of this “village inside a city” puts you in a mood to take down an entire yardbird accompanied by a variety of other Westermann signatures like poultry broth “shots” (perhaps the most intense chicken soup ever made), duck rillettes, and egg mayonnaise “Westermann’s Way” (a gorgeous puck of the best egg salad ever tasted):

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But the undeniable stars of the show are the whole birds, and we opted for a four pound Bresse specimen of unsurpassed flavor:

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Image(Poulet de Bresse-my-soul)

From the crispness of the skin to the fineness of the grain to the richness of the flesh, these are flocks which put to shame the universal putdown of “tasting like chicken.” Of course the olive oil-drenched pommes puree and straight-from-the-fat frites don’t hurt your enjoyment of this beautiful bird, either.

The birds are sized and sold according to how many you want to feed (e.g. a guinea hen and smaller birds are sized for two). The wine list was modest in scope but interesting and reasonable, and the service couldn’t have been better.

For dessert we took down an Ile Flottante (“floating island”) — a lighter version of this classic — with a softball-sized meringue so airy it seemed to be floating above the creme Anglaise beneath it.

I have been in Paris for almost a week and I have not heard anyone say calories, or cholesterol, or even arterial plaque. The French do not season their food with regret. Mary-Lou Weisman

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Watching your calories is the last thing you want to do at L’Ami Jean — the au courant favorite of Parisian foodies  — a bistro which resists mightily the Brooklynization of casual Parisian dining

As with L’Ami Louis, its slightly older cousin across the Seine, you enter something of a time warp when you cross the threshold into a crowded, narrow room — whose general appearance hasn’t changed since Maurice Chevalier was breaking into talkies.

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Cheek-by-jowl everyone sits, the crowd being a mixture of internet-educated gastronauts and local trenchermen who’ve been expanding their ample bellies since the 70s. (From the vantage point of our sole, round six-top along the wall, the diners seemed to be running at about a 10-to-1 men-to-women.)

The effect is one of a raucous eating club in a cramped space where appreciating hearty, rustic food is the coin of the realm.

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Having taken serious umbrage to Gill’s evisceration of L’Ami Louis, I must raise an exception in the other direction  — in this case to the lavish praise universally heaped upon Stéphane Jégo’s ode to excess. We have nothing against wild boar stews and roasted pigeons drenched in wine. And we are hardly one to quibble with rough-hewn bricks of paté de campagne or nutty/puffy lobes of sweetbreads roasted with thyme. But when we considered our meals as a whole at this temple of bistronomy, what stuck with us was the textural, taste and visual sameness of our multiple courses — more  cuisine bourgeois-than restaurant cooking — finesse-free food heaped into bowls…which is probably the point. Nothing wrong with any of it, mind you, but no standouts, either.

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Service was the definition of “harried” but also almost preternaturally fast. They screwed up our white wine order, but brought the “wrong” bottle that happened to go beautifully with the food at the same price.

For dessert, get the signature rice pudding with caramel sauce, even if your ribs are pleading for something less to stick to them.

In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. – Benjamin Franklin

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If food is the body of good living, wine is the soul. – Clifton Fadiman

The same advice I gave about cafés above applies to wine bars. There is wine aplenty in the area — Juveniles, Le Rubis, A L’Heure du Vin — so calling the First Arrondissement a “target rich environment” for oenophiles is like referring to Le Louvre as a nice art gallery.

We’re more Right Bank than Left Bank these days, so it’s a no-brainer to make Willi’s Wine Bar our home away from home.

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Oh Willi’s, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways:

Your wine (of course, specializing in Rhones both new and aged), either by the glass or bottle, always interesting at a fair price; the food (classic bistro fare but made with flair and good groceries by chef Francois Yon); excellent bread; exceptional cheese; and best of all, a friendly welcome (whether you are known or unknown).

English is freely spoken (it’s still owned by the Brit – Mark Williamson (below) – who founded it in 1980) and your staff is cheerful and knowledgeable, and their patience (with idiotic Americans who can’t decide what to order) is as long as the bar (above). 

And then, of course, there are those iconic posters: 

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And finally: the location — just a block from the Palais Royale — in the heart of where-it’s-happening Paris.

In other words, Willi’s is just about perfect, whether you’re hungry for a full meal, or seeking a simple sip. It’s as much restaurant as wine bar, but no matter what you’re looking for, it will send you away smiling.

Paris nourishes the soul, is how Victor Hugo put it, and Willi’s nourished us, in more ways than one on this trip.

We always returned to [Paris] no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. – Ernest Hemingway

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As the sunlight fades over the distance of the Left Bank, a Parisian day always seems to end quietly, but regretfully, like a sigh.

There are few magic spells left to be woven in the world and this city still weaves one of them. How many cities on earth can you say that about? 

When good Americans die, they go to Paris. – Oscar Wilde 

Something else occurred to me 36,000 feet over the Atlantic: I am my best self in Paris — engaged, entranced and relaxed like nowhere else on earth. Perhaps it will be where I end my days. Who knows? There are worse ways to go.

This is the first part of a two-part article. Next month we go big game hunting among the haute-est of the haute cuisine temples of French gastronomy. 🥂🍾🇫🇷

The Final List – 2021

Image(Bento lunch at PublicUs lately?)

Try as we might, it doesn’t look like we’ll get to 400 restaurants this year. As of this writing, we’ve hit 333 establishments, and even if we kick it into high gear, it’s doubtful we have 70 more meals in us in the next 50 days.

By way of comparison, back in my halcyon/salad days (ten years ago), 500/year was pretty much the norm…for 20 years in a row.

Now, The Food Gal and I will go two, three, sometimes even four days in a row without eating out. Once unthinkable, now, a concession to the down-sized Strip  and our not-getting-any-younger selves.

But serious ground was still plowed in the past few months….with some new and not-so joints floating our boat in all the right ways.

Compared to a year ago, Las Vegas is now a target-rich environment, but lezbee honest here: it is still a pretty weird place, restaurant-wise.

The Strip has rebounded, but has become something of a shitshow on weekends. There has been a tectonic shift in the food and beverage industry here, but the ground is still moving beneath our feet and I cannot yet opine on just how the dust will settle. Suffice it to say, things are palpably different: options are down, prices are up, reservations challenging, and sourcing a real problem at the epicurean end of things. All of our big-hitter spots want to pretend they have gotten back to their 2019 selves, but they have not and you can feel it.

The newly re-opened Le Cirque, for example, seats only on Thurs.-Saturday nights. If you’re hungry for better restaurants Mon.-Weds., good luck picking your way through the meager offerings available on Las Vegas Boulevard. Things are easier in the ‘burbs, but aside from Italian, very few interesting ideas are floating out there.

And when you run off one of the best Mexican chefs in the world (Enrique Olvera) for a joint called “Casa Playa ” (at the Wynn), include me out.

So, the Strip is mostly a pain (or, even worse, boring), but local eateries are booming, so you would think that would satisfy us, wouldn’t you?

Wrong.

Both have a long way to go before Vegas claims its destiny — which is to be one of the most exciting restaurant cities (for tourists and locals) in the world.

A short list of what we still need (in the neighborhoods):

Some decent French bistros. It seems like every other opening is Italian these days. C’mon frogs! Show the flag! Vive La France and all that!

More affordable wine, less crappy “craft” beer.

A few new interesting Mexicans (to compete with a raft of mediocre places going through the motions for the mucho macho grande burrito crowd).

Who does a guy have to blow to get a decent sandwich shop around here?

Less shitty breakfast joints; more in-house baking.

For all the Insta love for John Arena and friends, there are still only about four places in Vegas to get a decent pizza.

Why isn’t there a ramen shop downtown?

How about a good, retail bread bakery somewhere fer chrissakes?

Or gelato? (There is an ice cream shop on Main Street, but it is terrible.)

It’s time for crepes and fondues to make a comeback.

Outside sidewalk dining….EVERYWHERE!

And finally, what the f*ck happened to good Indian food in this town?

(As usual, all restaurants come highly recommended unless otherwise noted.)

THE LIST

MANGIA MANGIA!

Italian food never goes out of style, but the boom in quality over the past few years has been a little crazy. No longer is Vegas the home to cookie-cutter eye-talian straight from a can. There are so many good ones popping up (and older ones upping their game), that we thought we do homage to Italy by painting THE LIST in the color of its flag.

Milano

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Of all the beautiful Italian food now available in town, this may be the most compelling. Simple, striking dishes that let the elemental flavors of Italy shine through. Great breads, challenging location, reasonable prices. Too hip for the room, but southern Strip foodies, and industry pros (starved for decent, non-franchise food in this part of town) may save it.

Aromi

We need to get back here. Best cioppino you’ll find this far from the Amalfi Coast.

Brezza

Open every night and already a tough ticket. Set to become the worthy successor to Carnevino as our best Italian steakhouse.

Cipriani

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Every Friday for a reason. Northern Italy served by the smoothest crew in town.

Esther’s Kitchen

My last lunch was a disappointment. Covid hangover? Staffing issues? Coasting on reputation? Sadly, I fear my love affair with Esther’s has run its course. Remember that hottie who once fascinated you? The one of whom you could never get enough? The mere mention of her name aroused something primal — passions rumbling deep and seemingly forever, never to be quenched. Then, time, the enemy of us all, came between you. You see her again after you’ve both strayed and what once seemed fresh, so beckoning, now suddenly feels forced and stilted. Both your energies falter at the sight of each other. The sparks that once ignited, the fires that once burned so brightly have been dampened forever. You try, but both of you know you’re just going through the motions.

Yeah, that’s me with Esther’s. Nice new barstools, though.

Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar

The only reason I don’t eat here more often is I would end up spending my children’s inheritance (we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of $s here) drinking from this wine list.

Matteo’s/Brera

Eduardo Perez does some of our town’s most impressive pastas at these sister restaurants in the Venetian. Great pizzas too. And salads, and carne, and deserts, and…

.Osteria Fiorella

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Our cheffiest Italian. Marc Vetri (above) can stun you with his in-your-face flavor combinations…and the restaurant can stun you with the size of the bill.

FRENCH CONNECTION

We’re light on French food this year — a condition that will be rectified with a vengeance come January.

Burgundy French Bakery and Cafe

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First class French pastries (above) have made a name for themselves off the Strip, and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.

Le Cirque

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Love what they’ve done to the place (above). We don’t love the exclusively prix fixe tasting menu (with no a la carte options). At this point, Le Cirque is like the grande dame of Vegas: an aging diva seeking to recapture her past glories. Can she do it? Well, just about everyone is rooting for her, but the applause may dim once they realize it will cost a house payment to eat here.

GO FISH

Good seafood in the dessert used to be harder to find than a hooker who would take a check. No longer. The wonders of air freight have brought the best stuff to the ‘burbs.

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The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill

Top shelf seafood in an unlikely location. All-over-the-map menu seems disjointed, but the quality of the cooking (and those groceries,) comes through in the gumbo (above). About the only thing I wouldn’t order here is the beef stroganoff.

Saga Pastries + Sandwich

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There is no better tube steak in Vegas. Or waffles. Or breakfast sandwich. Or the tiny, open-faced shrimp sandwiches (the shrimp not the sandwiches).

Yu-Or-Mi Sushi Bar

Great neighborhood sushi. Great bar too.

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

Don’t even think of eating Greek anywhere else.

Jamon Jamon

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The name means “ham ham” but the seafood is fine fine indeed. I’d eat here every week if a dozen other restaurants weren’t beckoning me.

WORKING CLASS

Informal eats that have fueled us to a fare thee well over the past six months.

Nevada Brew Works

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The Food Gal® prefers this smashed/caramelized/fromage-filled beauty (above) to Soulbelly’s thicker, juicier patty:

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We’ve almost come to blows debating the issue.

Letty’s de Leticia’s Cocina

…and on the eighth day, the lord invented the quesotaco:

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Black & Blue Diner

Reminds me of the Connecticut roadside diners of my youth. Nothing fancy, but decent eggs, biscuits and gravy, and great service.

Hard Hat Lounge

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The idea of finding me in a joint called the “Hard Hat Lounge” would seem as unlikely as finding me changing my spurs at a rodeo. But the square, Detroit-style (thick, cheese-encrusted crust) pies (found on the “Guerilla Pizza Menu”) have developed a real following in this “upscale dive bar.” It’s stoner food to be sure, but it is good stoner food….even if you’re not stoned.

Soulbelly BBQ

The best ‘cue in town. One of the best burgers, too. ‘Nuff said.

PublicUs

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Coffee, baked good, and breakfasts fit for the gods (see above).

Serrano’s Mexican Food

Nothing fancy, just solid Mexican home cooking with a friendly and appreciative staff. At lunch it is filled with day-laborers who know a good thing and a good deal when they eat one.

Real Donuts

…has re-opened! On West Charleston.

Homer Donut GIFs | Tenor

Saginaw’s

My go-to for deli. Nothing else in town can touch it. Wish it was easier to get to.

Windy City Beef ‘N Dogs

Oh those snap dogs from Vienna beef. The Polish is a winner, and like everything here, is straight from the City of Big Shoulders.

Pop Up Pizza

A nice slice from a place you would never expect to find one.

PACIFIC RIM

It wouldn’t surprise me if one day our Asian food scene surpasses the Strip in gastronomic preeminence. 

Image(Legal eagles bao before me)

Xiao Long Dumplings

There’s a new dumpling in town. Actually, they now seem to be popping up all over. This one is serious about their folds, and its gigantic selfie-magnet mascot (above). Nice build-out of the old Harbor Palace space — so sleek and clean will make you forget how badly the former operation sucked.

Chinglish Wine Bar

The Cantonese food impressed us more than the “wine bar” did. But we’ll go back for the mapo dofu (pockmarked woman’s bean curd) along with a more than decent Peking duck.

8East

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We don’t get here often, but when we do, we kick ourselves for not coming more.

Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen

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New digs, better food, fun place for a full panoply of sweet-hot Thai classics.

Chanko Shabu & Izakaya

Dark and cozy, feeling almost illicit when you enter, like it’s a speakeasy with a secret password. Those feelings evaporate as you’re taken to high chairs around a U-shaped central bar where waiters deliver decent sushi, potstickers, swish-swish (shabu-shabu), and other izakaya fare. Not in the same league as Raku, but fun and informal at a gentler price point.

Shanghai Taste

Still our go-to for xiao long bao and other starchy delights.

China Mama

Every Chinese restaurant in Vegas is judged by a single standard: Is it as good or not as good as China Mama?

Rainbow Kitchen

…is as good as China Mama. Better in some areas (roasted fowl, seafood, dim sum); not as good in others (noodles, soups, stir-fries and such).

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DE Thai Kitchen

On our regular DTLV lunch rotation for a reason. The small menu never gets old and still will kick your ass.

LET’S MEAT

Inviolable Food Axiom No. 26: Every restaurant in Las Vegas would be steakhouse if it could be.

Bazaar Meat by José Andrés

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Someone asked me the other day what was my favorite steak in Vegas and I said the “vaca vieja chuleton” from here. They’ve reduced the menu and the wine list, but I’d still put it up against any steakhouse in America. With Candace Ochoa (above) at the stoves, there’s no doubt it will stay that way.

Main Street Provisions

Justin Kingsley Hall does a lot of things well — from Scotch eggs to hummus to empanadas — but it’s his burger, steaks and (rabbit) boudin that keep us intrigued.

8oz Korean Steakhouse

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A few years ago, in the space of about a year, Vegas went from having like two Korean steakhouses to having ten of them. 8oz. is, far and away, our favorite.

Ricon de Buenos Aires

It’d been years, but then we went back twice in a month. A meat fest at a good price for all the steer muscle you need. Nice service; nice Argentine wines too., but we wish there were more of them.

SW Steakhouse

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God bless Mark LoRusso: he’s one of the few chefs in town who could move seamlessly from upscale Italian seafood (the closed Costa di Mare) to helming a big-hitter American steakhouse without missing a beef. Thanks to him and his crackerjack team, including Michael Outlaw, and Lauren Adkins:

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….this bastion of beef has taken on a whole new level of sophistication.

Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse

Difficult to get into these days. Don’t even think of showing up without a res. Competes with Oscar’s across the street, and Barry’s down the street for downtown prime supremacy. As our foodie friend JB says: “Solid. Unspectacular but solid across the board.” GREAT wine list chock full of bargains.

Capital Grille

A white tablecloth lunch with a view to boot!

Wally’s

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We are of several minds about Wally’s. We love the wine list, the wine store, the menu, the cooking of Chef Eric L’Huillier (who does the best steak frites in town), and just about everything we’ve tasted (except the pizza). We’re glad it’s open for lunch and staffed by a bunch of old Vegas pros. On the other hand, you’ll easily drop a hundy for two for lunch without whetting your whistle a bit.

FUGGIDABADIT

“Not plain terrible, but fancy terrible. Terrible with raisins in it.” – Dorothy Parker

Delilah

Food and decor by Carnival Cruise Lines. You will be told upon entering that you have two hours to eat and to listen to a lot of dumb music.

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That’s it. My last list of the year. We’ll probably weigh in on these pages in another few weeks with our Best Of/Worst Of year-end “major awards”, but in the meantime, eat out often and eat out locally. And if you eat out more than me, we need to talk.

And remember: Life is short; eat more doughnuts.

Image(You donut want to miss Tonya and her sprinkly cakes of pure pleasure)

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THE END