We call this the best restaurant in town that everyone can afford.
It’s really two restaurants — the original Raku tucked in a corner of a small, Spring Mountain Road strip mall, and its sweet sister parked a few doors away in the same center — but conflating the two just makes delicious sense.
Raku and Sweets Raku aren’t simply places to eat; they are states of mind…and statements of quality and passion — qualities that can no longer be faked or phoned in in our humble burg. You can thank a Japanese émigré for this taste revolution (not some absentee celebrity chef who views Vegas like an easy access ATM machine), and the next great meal you have off the Strip — whether in a humble noodle parlor or a high-end “concept” joint, owes more than a nod to Endo-san’s continuting quest for perfection.
In a little more than six years, this unassuming place has become one of the toughest tickets in town—the little restaurant that could, as we like to call it—and internationally famous to boot.
What chef/owner Mitsuo Endo (pictured above at the launch party for the last printed edition of the book) has done with this tiny space is nothing short of create a revolution in Las Vegas dining. That he did it on a shoestring budget in a dumpy strip mall is all the more remarkable.
Japanese izakaya, oden, and robata cooking was virtually unheard of when Raku opened in early 2008, but with only his intense and authentic sensibilities to guide him, Endo has taught Las Vegas just how great Japanese cooking can be.
Highlights include the ayu nanbantsuke (a sweet marinated smelt) to true Japanese Kobe beef (when available) flamed on a hot stone with cognac. In between, you will encounter a whole sawagani crab and foie gras egg custard, cooked and served inside the egg, along with such stunners as the best sashimi we’ve had outside of BARMASA, and an ebishinjo (shrimp) soufflé enclosing a piece of uni (sea urchin) with an umami depth charge that could move the Richter scale.
Once you get done with those umami bombs, it’s a simple stroll across the parking lot to Sweets Raku to finish your meal on an high note, and we can’t think of a higher one — dessert wise — than this bright-white, pristine purveyor of French pastries made with a Tokyo twist.
After being seated at the white marble bar, you will be given an (edible – no kidding) menu to be dipped in the fresh berry sauce of the day. This should be done only after choosing your three, prix fixe courses from that night’s offerings. (No need to panic, the technique may be resolutely French, but the sensibilities are very, very Nipponese meaning: portions, fats and sugar content are judiciously used and designed to make you appreciate quality over quantity.
The menu changes seasonally (sometimes even more often), so if you wait too long after hearing about someone’s fork-dropping “Apollo” (chocolate and framboise mousse) or “Veil” (stuffed custard pie – a description that doesn’t tell the half of it):
…you may be disappointed that it’s been replaced. But don’t fret, because you have the ELV guarantee that its substitute is equally jaw-dropping. So keep open mind, and be prepared to be dazzled by the best desserts in town, on or off the Strip. (If you have any doubt, check out the cheese course – an artistic presentation that should make every pastry chef (and every cheese-monger), at every food factory green with envy.)
Raku/Sweets Raku aren’t just two of the best restaurants off the Strip, they’re two (in one) of the best restaurants in town, period.
Favorite Dishes: Beef Liver Sashimi; Agedashi Tofu; Poached Egg With Sea Urchin And Salmon Roe; Tsukune Ball; Kurobuta Pork Cheek; Butter-Sautéed Scallop With Soy Sauce; Kaiseki Dinner; Les Fromages Japonaise; Basically, everything on the friggin’ menu at both venues.