ELV note: Rather than attempt a comprehensive look at Las Vegas restaurants (for that, you’ll have to buy my book) we at ELV thought it better to let you know where you’re likely to find us dining in the coming months. As we said in our last post, we are done exploring every nook and cranny of the local food scene. We’re not going to ignore the shiny and the new, but more likely you’ll find us patronizing the well-worn and comfortable. And nothing fits our comfort zone more these days than Chinatown.
The Food Gal® once asked me what I would miss most about Las Vegas were we to move to another town. The things I would miss most about Vegas, would be, in order:
- The weather
- My house
- My swimming pool in summer
- My barbecue/smoker
- Having half a dozen great French restaurants within 15 minutes of my front door
- Ditto: a dozen great steakhouses
Las Vegas’s Mexicans restaurants don’t compare with SoCal, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque, but all it takes is a quick trip to any Mexicali eatery in Atlanta or St. Louis to see how good we’ve got it.
And when it comes to Asian food, there are very few cities in America that compare with the offerings up and down Spring Mountain Road.
As with Mexican food, I can hear the aficionados braying: “Nothing you have compares with the San Gabriel Valley, or Garden Grove, or Richmond (outside of Vancouver) Canada!”
True dat, but for a town our size, the quality and variety of our Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants is pretty darn impressive, and beats anything Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver or Philadelphia can throw at you.
Best of all, our Chinatown (which really should be called Asiatown) is mostly compressed into one, three mile stretch of road. (As tasty as it is, traipsing all over Alhambra, San Gabriel and the Valley Boulevard Corridor can be a slog for all but the most intrepid gastronaut.)
Chinatown really rings our chimes, again and again. It’s the one food address in town that we never tire of exploring. When Thai tedium ensues, there’s always some copious Korean. Should we be sated by sushi, there’s always some restorative ramen at hand. Upscale Vietnamese? Verily, it is so. Interesting izakaya? Indubitably.
Plus, all of this bounty seems to be increasing. As we type these words, a huge condominium complex is under construction near Valley View Boulevard, along with a giant new shopping mall (dubbed “Shanghai Plaza”) a half mile up the street.
Something tells us the quantity and quality of Chinatown eats is about to grow exponentially. In the meantime, here’s where we’ll frequenting in the coming year:
(We have purposely included a few non-Chinatown addresses here, but lumped them in this section in the interest of pan-Pacific consistency.)
Noodles, Noodles, Noodles
No one does cheap eats better than Asians. Ten years ago there was nary a noodle to be found in Chinatown that wasn’t in a pot of Vietnamese pho. Now, nourishing noodle nibbling necessitates numerous navigations. Put another way, the number of choices is notable. And without a whole lot of negotiating, you can become a noodle-noshing nerd.
For ramen, we prefer an old reliable — Ramen Sora — along with an interesting upstart: Ramen Hashi, a mile or so up the road. Ramen Sora satisfies our cravings for miso-based noodles (often with everything but the kitchen sink thrown on top), while Ramen Hashi has blown us away recently with its lighter, shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) based chicken broths. We have nothing against Monta, and give it all the props in the world for pioneering our ramen revolution, but Hashi and Sora are just as good, and never quite as crowded.
For unctuous udon, Marugame Monzo fills the bill with its thick, chewy strands of cotton-white udon (and killer karaage). And for the best of Szechuan, nothing beats Mian Taste (or Mian Sichuan Noodle, depending on how literal you want to be) and the fiery, lip numbing intensity of the Szechuan peppercorns that infuse each dish.
If it’s all-around noodle-liciouness you seek,nothing beats the hand-pulled beauties at Shang Artisan Noodle….or its pocket beef pancake:
Life is too short to eat cheap fish. It sounds elitist (and it is!) but you should have to pay through the nose for your seafood. Nasty, shit-fed, farm raised fish doesn’t do anyone any good, and ocean trawling for cheap tuna is destroying our eco-systems.
My solution: Ban cheap fish altogether and make people shell out a car payment for their sushi. It’s going to come to this eventually, so we might as well start now.
If you want cheap protein, eat a chicken.
If you want wonderful seafood treated right, try this on for size:
If you want the best sushi in town, go to Yui Edomae Sushi. Or Kabuto. If you want the best sushi in the suburbs go to Kaiseki Yuzu or Hiroyoshi. I don’t eat sushi anywhere else in this town and neither should you.
Why do I have to keep telling you these things?
More Meals of the Rising Sun
The Japanese revolution began in January, 2008 with the opening of Raku. We hear an expansion is planned and we hope that means it will be easier to get into. (Don’t bet on it; it’s still one tough ticket.) Raku’s excellence and popularity shows no signs of abating, as it has continues to elevate our dining scene, and set a standard for all of Spring Mountain Road to emulate. In the ten years hence, it has begat such tasty options as Japanese Curry Zen and Raku Sweets. Curry Zen is a must for lovers of Japanese curry. Its spinach curry rice shows up at my house at least once a month (the Food Ga® is a big fan of their takeout), and it might be the healthiest cheap eats in Vegas. Raku Sweets remains a marvel. We can never get in for dessert (always a wait) but weekend lunch is definitely on the horizon.
Gawd I wish I could parse the fine differences between this pho parlor and that pho parlor. They all have the same menu and they’re all alike to this haolie. All I know is this: When I get a hankerin’ for pho or spring rolls downtown, I head straight to Le Pho. When I want more interesting, out-of-the-box Vietnamese, I head straight to District One. I really don’t give a shit about any other Vietnamese restaurant in town, because I’ve been to ’em all, and they all taste the same.
Korean ‘Cue Quest
We don’t give a flying frijole that Kkulmat has only 2 TripAdvisor reviews. It’s really really good, and the people are really really nice. At Mother’s, they barely seem to tolerate round-eyes, but the banchan and dolsot bibimbap make up for the cursory service.
That is all.
Don’t Leave Your Chinese To Chance
Chinese restaurants still outnumber all others on Spring Mountain, and mediocre Chinese restaurants are more the rule than the exception. The Chinatown Plaza pictured at the top of the page – the place that started our Asian revolution in 1995 – is chock full of mediocrity, and every strip mall seems to have at least one forgettable boba tea or Taiwanese street food joint. But there is fascinating food to be found. You just have to be smart, read this blog, follow me on Instagram, and buy my book. (That’s two shameless plugs in one post if you’re counting.)
For dim sum, and many other classic Chinese favorites, head straight to Ping Pang Pong. For sophisticated Mandarin-worthy fare at a fraction of what you’ll pay on the Strip, nobody beats what Jimmy Li cooks up every night at the unassuming Niu-Gu Noodle House. (P.s. the tea service is spectacular as well.)
Chengdu Taste is where we head when we’ve got a hankerin’ for dan dan mian, green sauce chicken, or boiled fish in chili sauce. It is a restaurant that brooks no compromise and lays on the tongue-numbing heat the way they do in southwestern China. J & J Szechuan is older, less flashy, and not as of-the-moment as chef Tony Xu’s Alhambra offshoot — but it’s almost as good, even cheaper, and usually easier to get into.
Thai One On
We group our Thai restaurants into 3 categories:
1) Rustic and authentic
2) Upscale and authentic
3) Everyone else
When it comes to rustic and authentic, nothing beats what the adorable little ladies of Ocha Thai are turning out. A little more polished are the operations at Weera Thai (which features quite a few Laotian dishes) and the incendiary stylings of Chuchote Thai. If you want to know what it feels like to have a flame thrower stuck up your fundament, ask for anything “Bangkok hot” at any of them, and then hold on for dear life the next morning.
Thai comes in more sophisticated form (and with better wines) at Chada Street and Chada Thai as well as at that old reliable: Lotus of Siam. We’ve twice tried to get into Lotus at their new location on West Flamingo, and have been thwarted by long lines every time. At this rate, we may have to wait for their old location to reopen for our yearly fix of Koong Char Num Pla (raw shrimp) and Nam Kao Tod (crispy rice), or to get another chance to waltz around America’s best German Riesling list.
What do we always say: When you want a good dessert in an Asian restaurant, go to a French one.
That said, there’s no denying the gorgeousness of Bank Atcharawan’s milkshakes (above) at The Patio Desserts and Drinks, or his Thai toast:
….or just about any other thing he’s serving to satiate your sweet (or tea) tooth.
Other than that, and the gorgeous creations of Mio-san at Raku Sweets:
…there’s not a whole lot we can recommend from our Asian brethren in the dessert department.
Boba tea is a bad joke (it all comes from over-sugared mixes), Korean pastries are pale, spongy copies of French ones, and the wallpaper paste that the Japanese and Chinese make out of red beans might appeal to them, but we find its best usage is holding down roof tiles. And those slushies that some upscale Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese joints throw at you at the end of the meal are just odd, chunky imitations of something the Greeks perfected 2,500 years ago.
Face it: Asians don’t get sugar. Not like the French do. Or the Italians. Or the Germans. They don’t really have a sweet tooth. But we don’t hold that against them. In fact, it’s one of the many reasons we crawl up and down Spring Mountain Road every week — we always know that wherever we chow down on this most chow-downable of streets, we’ll save ourselves a thousand calories by skipping dessert every time.
In Part 3 of Where I’ll Dine in 2018 we will explore what’s left of Strip dining that still gets us excited. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with some thoughtful words from George Orwell about critical writing and the abandonment of standards. (He was writing about book critics, but the regression to the mean (and mediocrity) holds true for restaurants and restaurant writing as well.):
It is almost impossible to mention restaurants in bulk without grossly overpraising the great majority of them. Until one has some kind of professional relationship with restaurants, one does not discover how bad the majority of them are. In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be “This restaurant is worthless”, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be “This restaurant does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.” But the public will not pay to read that kind of thing. Why should they? They want some kind of guide to the restaurants they are asked to visit, and they want some kind of evaluation. But as soon as values are mentioned, standards collapse. – with apologies to George Orwell
It is done.
Not the writing, but the eating.
The writing and researching are in their final stages.
Sometime in the next 10 days all of the reviews will be completed.
Sometime in September, all the editing and re-writing will be finished.
Even my porn star stamina has been tested; at some point, even my resolve and passion weakened.
Dozens of restaurants (actually, close to 90) have been eaten in, some for the first time, many for the tenth. All have been scoured over the past 6 months for what’s current and delicious (or not so) in them these days.
The new title will be EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants. Many of these will get their own pages in the book; most will not. Some are being kicked to the curb because they’ve failed to sustain whatever excellence they might’ve once had; others are newcomers so good they’ve knocked established brands off their perch at the top of the Las Vegas dining scene.
A few are so terrible that the only mention they will ever get from me is on this list.
To find out which is which, and where these all rank in our pantheon of palate pleasing purveyors, you’ll have to buy the book.
But you already knew that.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Andre’s Bistro & Bar
Meraki Greek Grill (I like this place, and admire its owners, but I wish they didn’t serve that cheap-ass gyro meat.)
Yui Edomae Sushi
SW Steakhouse (The most expensive steak you’ll ever not enjoy.)
JinJu Chocolate (Weird location, good chocolate. How do they stay in business?)
Italian-American Club (For blue hairs only; don’t bother.)
Delices Gourmands French Bakery & Cafe
The Kitchen at Atomic Liquors
Americana (Jinxed location; don’t hold your breath waiting for this place to be a success.)
Yuxiang Korean Chinese Cuisine
Niu-Gu Chinese Noodles
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire
Lawry’s The Prime Rib
Andiron Steak & Sea
Two Bald Brothers (Should be re-named “Two Bland Brothers.”)
Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar
Rosallie Le French Cafe
Khoury’s Mediterranean Cuisine
Cornish Pasty Co. (Our advice: split a pasty with a friend, unless you’re an NFL tackle.)
Sparrow + Wolf
Sin City Smokers
Momofuku (David Chang hates me; this is a good thing.)
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Salud Mexican Bistro
Elia Authentic Greek Taverna
Jean Georges Steakhouse
India Curry House
Kkulmat Korean Kitchen
Huevos Tacos (Who thought this concept would work here? Whoever they are, they’re seriously mistaken.)
8 Oz Korean Steakhouse
Anna Marie’s Italian Cuisine (Proceed at your own risk.)
Komex Kitchen (I’ve never understood the popularity of this place, but the service is fast and friendly.)
B&B Burgers & Beer (Closing soon; get that “drive-thru burger” while you still can.)
McCormick & Schmick’s
Shang Artisan Noodle
Lotus of Siam
Piero’s (Doesn’t give a fuck what I think about it, and what I think is that it’s the worst, most overpriced Italian in town.)
There you have it: four solid months of intense eating, digesting, note-taking, fretting and analyzing. Not sure how many more of these books I have in me, but my heart and soul is going into the 6th edition. The only person I’m arguing with these days is myself, and for this version, there’s no one I’d rather joust with.
* You find someone who eats in as many restaurants as I do, and I’ll show you a fat man, a fool, or both. Wait, what?
ELV note: A major metropolitan/international newspaper recently asked us to compile a list of the top fine dining destinations in Las Vegas — places that are sui generis, nonpareil, and unmatched for the finest food and drink in town. Most of these are price-is-no-object joints; all of them serve some of the best food of its kind you’ll ever find. (To balance things out, we also submitted a list of “Hidden Local’s Favorites” containing a number of places that mere mortals can afford.) Buon gusto!
THE TOP 20 FINE DINING RESTAURANTS IN LAS VEGAS
‘e’ by José Andrés (Cosmopolitan) – The toughest seat to score in town, made by e-mail reservation only, gets you one of eight “golden tickets” for a molecular ride the likes of which you won’t experience anywhere else this side of Espana. Feran Adria was Andrés’ spiritual mentor, and his influence is everywhere on the seasonal menu. In the wrong hands, this cuisine is pretentious; here it is profound.
Lotus of Siam (953 E. Sahara Ave.) – Multiple expansions haven’t dimmed the star of America’s best Thai restaurant. (So sayeth me and every other critic who’s eaten here.) Go early for dinner or late for lunch if you want to get a table, and bring a thirst for German/Austrian/French wines. Bill Chutima’s Riesling list has become almost as famous as his wife’s northern Thai cooking. Not exactly “fine dining,” but so good it deserves to be in whatever “best of” list gets drawn up for Las Vegas restaurants.
Prime (Bellagio) Eighteen years on, Prime still boasts one of the prettiest dining rooms in America. A revamped bar area provides more room for nibbling and sipping, and the main room blends beefiness with romance as well as anyplace in which you’ll ever enjoy a peppercorn-crusted strip steak.
Michael Mina (Bellagio) – Start with the tableside-mixed tuna tartare (everyone does), then throw caution to the wind as you order the whole lobe of foie gras. Follow that with Mina’s decadent lobster pot pie and a rack of lamb and you’ll have plenty of reasons to hit the Stairmaster once you return to your life of kale smoothies and denuded chicken.
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (Mandarin Oriental) – Twist isn’t for everyone. Like all restaurants in the Gagnaire oeuvre, it takes a decidedly adventuresome tack towards most of its menu. Here they take creative seasonality seriously, making boredom an impossibility. Get a tasting menu, buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Or get a steak and bathe in one of the best Bordelaise sauces in the business.
Joël Robuchon (MGM) – The big daddy of big deal meal restaurants in Vegas. You’ll be surrounded by Asian high rollers, a few punters, and some Eurotrash, but none of that will matter once the food starts showing up. Intricate, high-flying French are the watchwords here, but it’s best to have a second mortgage on hand before you approach the wine list.
Sage (Aria) – High ceilings and theatrical décor set the stage for some of Las Vegas’ most dramatic food. The seven-course tasting menu is a flat out steal at $150, but you won’t want to miss the standards on the menu – foie gras brûlée, roasted sweetbreads, kusshi oysters with peppers – either. The bar and bar menu are as stunning as the main room, and an excellent spot to drink your dinner, if that’s your thing.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM) – There are multiple L’Ateliers around the globe these days, but this one takes a back seat to none of them. Chef Steve Benjamin has been at the helm since it opened (in 2005) and the dishes pouring forth from his open kitchen never fail to astonish. The dizzying array of menus and a la carte options encourage abandon but demand restraint. Do what we do: just close your eyes and point. And get the sweetbreads. And the hangar steak. And the spaghetti. (ELV update: Benjamin recently left his position at L’Atelier to pursue other adventures in sunny SoCal. We have not been in since his departure, but if the Robuchon machine runs true to form, we doubt there will be a dip in the quality of the cuisine.)
Carnevino (Palazzo)– Vegas has the greatest steakhouses in the world, next to New York, and Mario Batali’s steak and wine emporium can go hoof to hoof with them any of them. Here, the beef is aged in-house, for months not days, and the “riserva” steaks call to you from the ginormous menu, as do the pastas, salads and house-made salumi. The wine list is a dream for lovers of the “killer Bs” — Barolo, Brunello and Barbaresco. But bring your bank.
Bazaar Meat (SLS) – Calling it a meat emporium is a little unfair, since the seafood and wacky Spanish (read: molecular) creations are every bit as good as the steaks. Everyone raves about the cotton candy foie gras, but it’s the tartares (both tomato and steak), that deserve your attention first. Then it’s on to jamon croquetas, suckling pig, or whatever else suits your fancy in the Andrés repertoire…and it’s a huge repertoire.
Restaurant Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace) – When it’s on its game, one of the best restaurants in the world, with neither the pyrotechnics of Robuchon nor the in-your-face creativity of Gagnaire. What Savoy brings is gorgeous, sophisticated food that doesn’t need to pirouette on the plate to impress. The deep, refined flavors do that all by themselves. The wine list is a treasure trove, with more than a few bargains, if you’re willing to dig.
Carbone (Aria) – A New York import that arrived in the Nevada desert with its pedigree intact. Throwback dining packs them in every night, meaning: lots of table-side histrionics to go with gutsy pastas and the priciest veal parm this side of Manhattan. You’re going to hate yourself for loving this place as much as you will.
Mr. Chow (Caesars Palace) – Purists may balk, but Mr. Chow is about unabashed big-deal meal service, a luminous setting, and a sense you’re being fed by, and dining with, grownups. Get the Peking Duck and the Dressed Dungeness Crab, and enjoy this throwback in all the right ways.
Wing Lei (Wynn) – A jaw-dropping room, white-gloved service, and upscale Chinese food (at a price) that will knock your socks off. Be you a Mandarin or from Main Street, you’ll find something to love on this menu, but we’re partial to the steamed fish, hand-pulled noodles and perfect stir-fries.
Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar (4480 Paradise Road) – Slightly off the Strip lies one of our best Italian restaurants, family run, and dishing up the kind of pastas and proteins that compete with anything Giada or Mario can throw at you. The Ferraro’s (who are always on the premises) had the good sense to put Francesco di Caudo in charge of the kitchen a couple of years ago, and he upgraded the food to put it on par with their world-class (Italian) wine list. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.
Yui Edomae Sushi (3460 Arville Street) – Nonpareil sushi and sashimi, edomae (Tokyo) style. Simple, direct, and sliced by the piece for an omakase meal like none other. This is purist sushi, truly Japanese, with nary a California roll in sight. The A-5 wagyu beef (grilled over binochatan charcoal), will take your breath away with its silkiness, fattiness and price.
Le Cirque (Bellagio) – A jewel of a restaurant in a jewel box of a space. The Maccionis (who own the original one in New York) have little to do with this outpost any more (other than a licensing deal with the Bellagio), but the food, wine and service remain as spot-on as when Sirio himself was kissing cheeks and badgering waiters. The food – under culinary wunderkind Wilfried Bergerhausen – has gotten more inventive and less stuffy.
Picasso (Bellagio) – Where else in the world can you walk around a restaurant and see a dozen works of the master himself? Even if you wouldn’t know a Picasso from black velvet Elvis, you’ll still be impressed by Julian Serrano’s menu that, after eighteen years, continues to get the best venison and scallops west of the Hudson. The wine list could keep you occupied for days.
Raku/Raku Sweets (5030 W. Spring Mountain Road) – Mitsuo Endo was the first chef to bring elevated, izakaya cooking to Las Vegas (in 2008), and he still does it best. Raku is for a certain kind of adventuresome food lover, but its sweet sister a few doors down serves finely crafted desserts that can be analyzed, consumed wholesale, or admired for their art.
Estiatorio Milos (Cosmopolitan) – The best fish in town, period. Also the best Greek food in town by a Peloponnesian mile. You’ll pay through the nose, but you’ll also be shouting “Opa!” with every bite. Come for the $30, three course lunch if you’re on a budget.
LOCAL’S HIDDEN FAVORITES
- Settebello (2 locations – 9350 W. Sahara Ave., 140 S. Green Valley Pkwy.) – Smoke-tinged, wood-fired, Napoletana-inspired pizza at its absolute best.
- EATT (7865 W. Sahara Ave.) – Three young French fellows are trying to prove that real French food (and desserts!) can be as healthy as it is delicious. And they do. And it is. (See picture above)
- Japaneiro (7315 W. Warm Springs Road) – Perhaps the best food in the unlikeliest location in Las Vegas. Kevin Chong’s fusion fare is spot on, whether he’s mixing and matching uni with oysters, or putting out an umami-laden rib eye for two.
- Other Mama (3655 S. Durango Blvd.) – Seafood in all its guises, tucked away in a strip mall, overrun nightly with intrepid foodies and chefs on their day off.
- Chada Thai & Wine (3400 S. Jones Blvd.) – The name says it all: incendiary food married with the wines (mostly white, mostly Riesling) that match it so well.
- Yuzu Japanese Kitchen (1310 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd) – A little slice of Tokyo hidden behind a car parts store. Authentic sushi; amazing kaiseki; off-the-hook omakase.
- Carson Kitchen (124 E. Carson Ave.) – Small but mighty. The restaurant that started the downtown food revolution. Good, inventive small plates; good cocktails; good luck getting a seat.
- Bratalian (10740 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson) – Traditional Neapolitan Italian in a quirky dining room dished by the sexiest Brazilian-Italian dish ever to vongole your linguine. Carla Pellegrino is a local legend who gives Henderson denizens a reason to go out at night.
- Standard & Pour (11261 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson) – Cory Harwell’s newest venture (just down the road from Bratalian) is a Carson Kitchen clone in all the right ways. Everyone gets the escargot, and the meatballs. You’ll want to get everything on the menu.
- Marche Bacchus (2620 Regatta Drive) – Al fresco dining connected to a wonderful wine store. The markups are gentle ($10 over retail) and the tables are filled with oenophiles day and night. By all means, buy that second bottle and tuck into the best brunch in the ‘burbs.