Pizza My Mind

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Ed. note: We got thrown out of the Las Vegas Pizza Festival last Saturday. Here is the story:

Human beings are funny creatures, by turns fiercely independent and slavish devotees to never thinking for themselves. No other creature goes to such lengths to assert its individuality (e.g. tattoos) while mindlessly going along with the herd (cf. tattoos).

Crowds, events, concerts, rallies, have never been my thing. My idea of hell is being corralled into any space along with thousands (or hundreds) of others in order to witness something. This is not claustrophobia (although I am mildly claustrophobic) as much as it is a visceral reaction to being treated as something lesser than myself.

Even as a teenager, the idea of going to Woodstock was less about my revulsion at the idea of (literally) shitting in the woods than it was about the thought of sitting on a hillside with 200,000 smelly hippies, all grooving to the same tunes in unison. Even then, I preferred listening and enjoying the music my way:

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If getting me into a crowd is harder than enticing me to an Asian buffet, asking me to stand in line (to eat anything) is an insult to my intelligence.

If I’ve learned one lesson in fifty years of rabid restaurant hopping it is that no food in the world is worth standing in line for. America is the land of plenty. Lining up like starving cattle for a taste of something (and wasting valuable time doing so) is a soul-deadening experience where the payoff is rarely worth it. (“Look at me! I stood in line for an hour for a cronut!”)

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You are basically sacrificing your time while beseeching someone to take your money, when it ought to be the other way around.

(Exception: Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington Texas, which is only open one day/week. But that’s it.)

With all of this in mind, there I was last Saturday, against my better judgment, waiting in some stupid, roped off VIP line, being marshaled by more security than a presidential debate, to eat a few slices of pizza at the Las Vegas Pizza Festival. But we never got there, no pizza tasting. No kibbitzing with pizzaiolos, no whooping it up with friends over some tasty pies.

Nope, we were kicked out and here is the tale, told as it happened, along with some perspective about why the foodie events like this might not be worth it.

Favorite Movie Quote Fasten Your Seatbelts GIF - Favorite Movie Quote Fasten Your Seatbelts GIFs

A certain queasiness grips me as we approach. What’s with all the brawn? Did they give a pizza fest and a hip hop concert broke out? Are they expecting a riot over insufficient pepperoni?

At least a hundred poor sheep…er…uh…I mean souls are queued up in the non-VIP line, waiting for the velvet ropes to open up. Inside, there are giant men in matching golf shirts treating the situation with all the solemnity of a state funeral. Not wishing to waste time, I stride past these behemoths and get our press passes without a problem. (My father’s advice: “Just act like you own the place, works every time.” And it does!)

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Then, just beyond the press table, there they are, the dreaded switchback queues — the bane of airport travelers and amusement park goers everywhere — but before we even get to them we have to confront our first security check. (Yes, there are multiple security checks…for….let’s not forget…eating a few slices of f**king pizza.)

Musclebound baldy guard in too-tight T: “I need to see your ID.”

Me: “But we already have our press passes.”

Him: “I need to see proof that you are over 21.”

(Fun factoid(s): The Food Gal® may not look 50, but she’s way past 21. I may be young at heart, but no one has mistaken me for a college kid since Jimmy Carter was President.)

Me:

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Food Gal (pleading sweetly): “I left everything at home; can’t you see I’m over 21?”

Him: “I’ll have to check with my supervisor.”

Supervisor gets checked with, within a minute or so we are waved in. To the second security/wristband table. Then a third. To get a slice of pizza. A sense of dread fills me. Little did I know what I was in for.

By this time, I have TWO wristbands on (Fun Factoid #3: I consider wristbands one step below cattle prods on the dehumanizing accoutrement scale). and my eyes have been rolling back in my head so much they’re practically glued to the ceiling, but we press on, patiently, with a forced smile on my face.

The good news: by now the VIP line has dwindled to a dozen or so folks, who themselves are enduring these small humiliations, but regardless, pizza nirvana is only seconds away, and we still will have fifteen minutes or so to load up before the barbarians enter the gates.

Then, the fun begins. As we are standing in line behind a few folks, and maybe in front of a half-dozen others snaking their way through the absurd roped gauntlet, we spot two close friends (prepaid VIPs) who have cleared checkpoints one and two. So we wave to them to get in front of us at the (by now almost nothing) final entry point so we can walk in together.

No different than when you’re standing in line to order tacos at a food truck and your good friends show up to partake with you, right? Or maybe a better example is a bunch of ticket holders filing into a sporting event together. No harm no foul…

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Wrong.

Faster than you can say “overreacting rent-a-cop”, a plus-sized female comes racing through the ropes screaming “No cutting in line!” at my two friends who have just walked around a stanchion to join us. I ignore her; my male friend does not.

Pleasantries are exchanged to the point where I’m fairly certain neither will be sending the other a Christmas card, and before I can chime in with, “Look, Miss, it’s my fault: I invited him to get in front of me.” she shoves him, and is threatening to call the cops.

Things settle down after a minute of jawboning so the wife and I head in thinking it will get sorted out between them as grownups.

Wrong again.

When our friends don’t appear after a few minutes, we return to the scene of the egregious crime, where our male friend is now surrounded by four men in matching rent-a-cop shirts. I approach this scrum, annoyed but civilly, thinking the matter has been resolved, so we can get down to the margherita at hand.

Me:

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New logo’d guy who I’m fairly sure coaches youth football after he leaves the car lot: “Sir, we are way beyond that now, you need to leave.”

Me:

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Him: “The police have been called; you’re being trespassed.”

At first I’m unaware if he’s directing this at me or my buddy, then I blurt out:

“Hold on a second…Youre gal was way out of line.”

Then he repeats the “you’re being trespassed” line several times (painfully, as if he took a great deal of time to memorize the words), and faster than you can say “quatro fromaggi, par favore” the four of us are being led to the door. 86’d, as it were.

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(Several times during these various inane exchanges, I think about videotaping them, but I don’t because I don’t want to be “that guy”. Hindsight: I probably should have.)

Later the same day I hear through event organizers that the security company is thinking of “pressing charges” against us.

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This is the world we live in today.

Since adult perspective was sadly lacking in the whole kerfuffle, allow me to end with some.

These days, even something as innocent as a pizza tasting must be treated with the same heightened level of apprehension as rock concerts and political protests.

We have created a world that is both full of fear and afraid of missing out. Everyone wants to participate and have a good time, but even the most innocent of gatherings is fraught with concern over bad behavior. Because of this, businesses and governments seek to insulate themselves from allegations of failing to “protect us”, by, literally, keeping us in line.

What happens next is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Once the decision is made to ramp up security to absurd levels, what you get is a work staff that is looking for something to do. If all you have is a box of hammers (with IQs to match), everything is going to look like a nail. It is the perfect recipe for overreaction that doesn’t match the infraction.

There is no evidence that heightened security actually works, or that its effectiveness could be proven even if it did. (How do you gauge the level of bad things that don’t happen?) All we know is that loathsome, boorish, even murderous behavior is at an all time high, and all the security theater in the world hasn’t changed that. (I’ll grant you that big, beefy dudes are probably useful when it comes to tossing out obnoxious drunks at bars, concerts, and sports events.)

If you feel safer going through the ridiculous gauntlet in airports these days (even if they are wholly ineffective at their job), then I am happy for you, even if you’re fooling yourself. And if you enjoy walking up to a food festival and seeing a phalanx of puffed up guards scanning the crowd like low-rent watchmen looking for drugs, then enjoy your hall monitors.

As for me, as usual, my instincts were right. I should’ve turned tail as soon as I saw the guards and the queues. Incidents like this give me yet another reason to avoid the sheep-herding, shoulder-rubbing, warmed-over shitshows of food events.

Give me a decent meal at a good restaurant any day.

Postscript:

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After our defenestration, We repaired to Esther’s Kitchen and Garagiste and had a fine time tucking into a fabulous lunch with no lines, no security, easier conversation and better seating. Then, later the same day, we drove to Rosa Ristorante for a bite of one of Rob Moore’s gorgeous pies (below).

Better food. Better wine. Better people.

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Postscript #2: If you want to hear more about this tempest in a teapot, tune into our new food podcast, Eat. Talk. Repeat. this Friday for the full Monty.

Of Cabbages and Kings…and Pizzas and Pia Zadora

The Wisdom In Carroll's Nonsensical Poem, The Walrus And The Carpenter – The Wisdom Daily

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,

‘To talk of many things:

Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –

Of cabbages and kings

And why the sea is boiling hot –

And whether pigs have wings.’

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

Image(And all the little oysters stood, and waited in a row)

Oyster season is upon us. The days in Vegas aren’t quite so hot; and the nights are even a bit cool. Spirits brighten, paces quicken, appetites increase, and Las Vegans come out of their shells, as do bivalves…inasmuch as the latter involves being on the end of an oyster fork.

Summers you see, are for hibernating, both for certain shellfish, and people accustomed to enduring 108 degree heat for weeks on end. Oysters mate in the summer (and get watery and flabby in the process), while residents of the High Mojave do the same, at least as it involves staying in our air conditioned shells, or in a swimming pool, as much as possible.

Every year, almost like clockwork, we get hungrier on September 15th. Labor Day may be the unofficial end of Summer, but for us, the weather always seems to break about two weeks later. Sure, the hot days don’t disappear entirely until mid-October, but as soon as we feel a nip of cool in the morning, we start celebrating. And by celebrating we mean going out to eat like a starving man attacking a banquet.

Through happenstance as much as planning, this year we found ourselves overwhelmed by Italian, suffused with seafood, and awash in oysters. Below are some impressions of our more noteworthy meals…and by “noteworthy” I mean ones we either loved or hated.

Image(Never eat ‘ersters in any month without a paycheck in it)

Like the Walrus and the Carpenter, we eagerly await the arrival of plump, firm ‘ersters from both coasts, and the best and freshest collection in town can usually be found at the Water Grill. Unlike the Walrus, we feel little guilt in luring a couple of dozen of these eager little creatures into our greedy maw. Instead of poetry and persuasion, we use cash…in this case around $42/dozen. Stick with West Coast is our usual mantra: they have traveled less and have more of the mineral-rich salinity we look for. The WG may be part of a chain, but it’s a chain restaurant with sole…that knows it plaice, and hasn’t floundered since landing on the L.A. scene 30 years ago.

After gorging ourselves on Fanny Bays and Indigos, we next found ourselves inundated with Italians. (In case you haven’t noticed, Vegas is lousy with Italians these days.)

An old friend met us at Piero’s for a birthday party (and we stayed for a bite); another epicurean acquaintance lured us back to Lago; everyone said Amalfi was amazing, so we had to see for ourselves. Then RPM opened for lunch, and of course we had to go. In between all these, we also squeezed in multiple lunches at Cipriani, a lunch at Esther’s Kitchen, and dinners at Milano and Rosa Ristorante. Between the eight of them, we noshed on enough noodles to numb a Neapolitan.

But you do not come here to hear about our digestion, dear readers, you come for the piquancy of our opinions. So let us get straight to the nitty Pecorino.

SHIPWRECK

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Lago has always suffered from unfortunate nautical design that puts one in mind of a cruise ship. Which is fine if you like dining with people whose idea of culinary adventure is a carving station with a salad bar. There is truth in advertising, though, because the food here lives down to the decor.

The cheesy design also commits the sin of raising expectations. “You’d think with a contraption that impressive, they’d turn out something less crappy,” one of our companions  observed after being confronted with a pizza oven that had to cost more than a Ferrari, and is the size of a walk-in closet (above). Another dining companion (let’s call him the Restaurant Pro) said: “If they were serving this stuff in a neighborhood Eye-talian joint, you could forgive it.” What he referred to was a meal of seven different items, each more sloppy and less worth it than the first

What is unforgivable is a mini “pizzette” tasting as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy poured a thimble of so-so sauce on a saltine:

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….followed by gloppy, overpriced pasta, pedestrian, puny panzanella (bread salad), and pathetic chicken parm (see below) — the whole tourist-trapping shebang aimed at separating the credulous from their cash.

Lest you forget, Lago is located smack dab in the center of the Bellagio — a hotel which once had the greatest assortment of restaurants in Las Vegas, and maybe the world. It replaced Circo, a gastronomic gem of design, wine, solicitous service and Tuscan excellence. All Lago is servicing is the bottom line.

Sirio Maccioni must be rolling over in his grave.

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If you’re interested (and you shouldn’t be), lunch for five, with tip and a single, modest bottle, set us back a cool $411. This included seven tubes of rigatoni for $32 which in quantity and taste would’ve been a perfect meal for a three-year old.

LET’S GO FISH

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Amalfi by Bobby Flay was a pleasant surprise, and RPM blew us away so much we can’t wait to return for dinner. Both feature by-the-numbers fare, with nothing to scare, tweaked here and there to give the place some flair.

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The whole point of Amalfi is pesce, and it takes its template from Milos by pricing fish by the pound and letting you choose it from a display at the back of the restaurant:

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As with Milos, the fish is impeccably fresh and eyebrow raising-ly expensive (although we noticed a couple of species priced a buck or two/lb. less than at Milos). Appetizers toggled between ordinary (tuna tartare) to interesting (lemon-oregano prawns) to impressive (soft scrambled eggs with bottarga and tomato toast). Pastas were surprisingly astonishing, with a spaghetti limone that was loaded with Dungeness crab, and pasta “rags” (below) that showed spice, brightness, and restraint.

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These pastas prey among the pecunious, though, as they’re priced from $28-$38.

As splendid as the food was, the crowd was even more inspiring, because 1) there was one (it was packed on a hot, Tuesday night); and 2) everyone looked their best, rather than the cargo shortswearing/hat-backwards/flip-flopping/t-shirt sporting/mouthbreathers who usually infest this hotel in summer.

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Image(“This guy Curtas says we should get the turbot…”)

If Bobby Flay can motivate people to dress for dinner (and by “dress for dinner” we mean put on a collared shirt), maybe there’s hope for humanity yet.

ENDLESS PASTABILITIES

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RPM is the latest Italian upgrade on the Strip, and like its competition, it plows no new ground, preferring to concentrate on quality cooking over cartwheels. One lunch for two people does not a good sample size make, but we found our charred pepperoni pizzette to be almost perfect — a slightly spongy charred crust supporting a thick layer of strong, melted cheese and good sausages:

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Look closely (above) and you’ll see dough, properly proofed and baked with just the right amount of a tomato sauce  — smothered in an amalgam of nutty, serious cheese — so vibrant and umami-rich it practically explodes in your mouth. Finding a better mini-pizza in Vegas will not be easy. The cacio e pepe (above) and carpaccio were also first rate, as was the torta meringata, which roughly translates as “baked Alaska.”

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I’d rate the pastas at RPM (carbonara, pappardelle, pomodoro...) as a little more basic than the seafood-forward ones at Amalfi (scialatielli, squid ink fettucine, gnocchi, agnolotti, and the like), as well as being slightly lower in price ($17-$42). Both show real commitment to careful cooking of Italian classics, which is a lot rarer than you’d think in this genre — it being painfully easy to throw any slop on a noodle and have Americans beat a path to your door.

A final bonus: RPM may have the best Italian wine list of any place in town that isn’t named Ferraro’s. Organized by region, it is full of interesting, off-beat bottles at acceptable markups. Only time will tell if they stick with such an ambitious wine program — Vegas is littered with the remains of interesting lists which regress to the mean once the original hoopla dies down, and the incessant demands of satisfying the less adventuresome grabs the bottom line.

Until that happens, you’ll find us scouring it for Sagrantino, Aglianico, Primitivo and all sorts of bottles you won’t find elsewhere:

TIME FOR YOUR PIA ZADORA BREAK…

Pia Zadora Photos (4 of 9) | Last.fm(Pia’s not Fonda Jane )

Why Pia, you ask?

Because Pia Zadora, like Piero’s is a pleasant reminder of days gone by — when men were men, women had big hair, and Vegas wasn’t run by a bunch of bean counters. A time when a young man could make his way in Las Vegas by sheer chutzpah, shameless womanizing, and a tolerance for substance abuse that would make Keith Richards blush.

Or so I’ve heard.

For the uninitiated, Piero’s is a Las Vegas institution I have loved to hate since 1985. Perhaps I am softening in my old age, or maybe the time has come for a reassessment, or maybe I was wearing rosé colored glasses on the night we dined. Whatever it was, it has to be on me, since the restaurant hasn’t changed a thing about itself in decades.

You still valet your car in the port cochere; enter a short hallway leading to the hostess stand; admire the giant chimps adorning the walls; and then find one of two large bars which flank a warren of dining rooms (some cozy, some huge), which are packed with a crowd who thinks nothing of slugging down a few martinis with their marinara.

Film Scene: Mad Max and Pia Zadora bring Savannah film magic(Cheers to you, Pia!)

The pint-sized chanteuse now entertains the conventioneers at “Pia’s Place” inside Piero’s on weekends, and as if on cue, we bumped into her on our way in. She’s starting to shrivel at bit (like all of us), but it’s nothing that muted lighting, pancake makeup, and an appreciative crowd can’t fix. Since sunlight and Piero’s are strangers, everyone can watch her show, and tuck into their (decent) osso buco, and (very good) linguine with clams with the confidence they look twenty years younger in these subdued rooms.

I”m not saying this place is a time warp, but if Dan Tanna walked in sporting poly-quad, triple knit bell bottoms and ordered a Harvey Wallbanger, no one would bat an eye.

Pia’s still belting them out like it’s 1982. Like all of us, she is fighting the ravages of time they only way she knows how: by sticking with what works. Piero’s works, both as a memory and institution. The food won’t win any awards but there’s plenty of it and it fits its clientele like a Tommy Bahama trunk show. The drinks are huge (and well-made) and the servers are always on it like a bonnet. When it and Pia depart this mortal vale, Las Vegas will be a poorer place.

DEEP POCKET DIVING

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Speaking of being poorer for it, if deep sea diving (into your wallet), is how you cast about, then snorkel on down to Estiatorio Milos, where dropping 400 sand dollars on a 5 lb. fagri (red porgy, below) is a delicious way to get soaked.

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On the plus side, this beauty easily feeds six. But do the math: any way you sashimi it, you’re still dropping a lotta clams. Milos does a wonderful job of casting for (and landing) those angling for trophy-sized seafood, as well as others bobbing for much smaller fry. The latter usually can be found taking the bait at lunch — where the $30 special is still a steal, which allows you to drink like a….to drink a lot.

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Take us home, Lewis:

“O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
      You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They’d eaten every one.”

 

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.

Image(Mumbo gumbo at Legends)

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. 

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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