Spanish Inquisition – Part One

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As a first-time tourist in any country, I’m usually an easy lay. Buy me a drink of good, indigenous hooch and I’ll lift my skirt. Seduce me with the tastiest local vittles and I’m yours for the asking. Show me your historical sites and I’ll show you my…er…uh…you get the idea.

With Spain though, I left my roll in the jamon not so much begging for more, but rather, wondering if what we ate was all it had to give. It did not sweep me off my feet as much as leave me feeling that our first date might be our last.

Which is another way of saying I liked Spain but didn’t love it. Not the way I’ve fallen numerous times for countries as diverse as Germany is from Mexico.

With Japan it was love at first sensory-overloaded sight. China captivated me with its gritty, cacophony, as did London with its starchy-sexy stiff upper lip. Hell, occasionally I even catch myself lusting for Canada, in all its bland, whitewashed politeness. And Jamaica still inspires bamboo levels of turgidity, even though I haven’t seen her coconuts since 1975.

But Spain was different, and maybe my expectations were to blame.

You see, I’ve been trying to get to España for thirty years and through three wives, but something has always derailed me: lack of funds (the 80s) or lack of time (the 90s), divorces (also the 90s), terrorist attacks, Great Recessions and Covid shutdowns have all conspired to thwart my plans. So when the stars finally aligned late last year, we were off on a trip I hoped would have me swooning more than a flamenco dancer in full vuelta quebrada.

Alas, twas not to be, and therein lies a tale as to why I wasn’t hoping for a return the moment I left — the way I always feel when boarding a flight home from Paris or Rome. Was it the cities themselves? Hardly, as they are fascinating and immaculate. The people? You can’t blame them, as Spaniards may not be Mexican- or Italian-friendly, but they’re darn close.

The wine? Well, it doesn’t come close to the polish of French or the varietals of Italy, but it’s a perfect fit with the food. And cheap! More on this below.

Nope, when all my ruminations were done, it came down to the food, which, for all its savor, failed to stir my soul.

Let’s take our Spanish gastronomic capitals one by one, and try to figure out why…

BARCELONA

Image(El Palatial)

We started in Barcelona, a city I’ve been enchanted by (from a distance) since 1994, after seeing the Whit Stillman movie of the same name.

(Actually, we landed in Madrid, grabbed and excellent eclair and coffee at LHardy, and then bombed around Mercado San Miguel for an hour or so before catching the very fast train to Barcelona the same day, arriving just in time to check into our palatial digs at Hotel El Palace (above) and freshen up for dinner on-premises at the Michelin-starred Amar.

The hotel was everything its name suggested: expansive, old and grandiose, with an eye-popping lobby and solicitous staff, we couldn’t have been happier with our choice. It is also a bit off the beaten track (a half-mile or so from La Rambla), but in a nice neighborhood full of sights and sounds of the city, but also quiet, with a couple of hipster coffee bars on the block, and good shopping just minutes away. With this kind of overture provided by the hotel, Barcelona’s opening act would have to be a showstopper, and unfortunately, Amar, for all of its performative appeal, was not.

Amar checks a lot of boxes: the room is as comfortable and modern as its surrounding hotel is classic. Service was exemplary and there was no faulting the provenance of the seafood.

Image(Amar you ready for some Spanish shade?)

What it seemed to lack was sense of place or warmth, or anything evoking the city it claims to represent. As sparkling as our oysters, and as flawless the fish, it was a meal that could’ve been served in a thousand restaurants around the world. Indeed, we’ve eaten such a meal, a thousands times. The only things that change are the accents of the waiters.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record: Michelin stars are more reliable in Europe than anywhere else, but still need to be taken with a bit of brine. A Michelin one-star in a European capital will have a certain standard of accoutrements and service, and often a menu more predictable than a Waffle House.

Carpaccio to crudo, caviar service, innovative(?) oysters; a little crab here and a free-range there — the progression of courses (straight up the food chain) is so similar they might as well be AI generated. This is not to say the food wasn’t top-shelf, only predictable. And we didn’t travel 5,000 miles to feast on the familiar.

Image(Don’t go to the truffle)

To be fair, certain dishes did command respect: Peas with cod tripe and Catalan black pudding (above, adorned with truffles which brought nothing to the party); white beans with tuna and pancetta; and red prawns tasting like they had leapt straight from the boat onto our plates:

Image(Shrimply irresistible)

Most of it felt like gussied-up peasant fare, and when the formula progressed into high-toned gastronomic fare, it wasn’t for the better.

Our classic sole meunière —  was draped with the weirdest, whitest beurre blanc we’ve ever seen; spider crab cannelloni proved, once again, that pasta should be left to the Italians; and the most impressive thing about the cheese course was the expandable trolley it came in.

Perhaps is was the jet lag, but we wanted to be blown away by our first bites in Barth-a-lona and weren’t. We left thinking of it as just another exercise in generic dining, brought to you by the Michelin Guide.

Image(Searching…for…selfie wall)

Things got better when they turned less formal the next day.  The better parts of two mornings were spent at La Boqueria, with its sensory assaults tempting us at every step and testing our resolve not to spoil lunch by chowing down on everything in sight.

Be forewarned: in the age of Instagram, half of the hoi polloi is there not  for the food, but rather to photograph themselves filling their little buckets of narcissism. It becomes a madhouse after noon, so get there at 8 am, so you can cruise around (and chow down on your own, personalized Spanish food crawl) for a few hours before the selfie crowd shows up.

The good news is: this being Spain, no one will bat an eye if you want a cerveza at 10:00 am:

Image(Beer o’clock)

On day one, we stuffed ourselves silly with jamon:

Image(Hamming it up)

By day three, we strapped on the blinders and made a beeline to El Quim before a hundred other vendors could tempt us with their wares.

Think of the world’s most hectic lunch counter, located in the middle of one of the world’s most famous urban markets, and you’ll get the sense of Quim’s cacophony. Only in this case, they’re serving patas bravas and croquetas instead of pancakes and hash.

Quim has been called the best Catalan tapas in Barcelona, high praise indeed from no less an expert than Gerry Dawes. What seems intimidating at first (you hang around the counter waiting for a seat(s) to open up) becomes less so as soon as you catch one of the waiters’ eyes and are directed to a stool, then are handed a one-page menu which will fight for your attention with all of the prepared foods and signboard specials tempting you.

We settled on a pork loin sandwich with asparagus, toothsome deep-fried artichokes, eggs with foie gras, and patas bravas for breakfast, forgoing other egg and potato dishes which looked heavenly, but also would have filled us up for the day. Each bite packed a wallop – seriously succulent pork on incredible bread, seared duck liver atop eggs (a belt-and-suspenders approach to richness which will ruin you for bacon and eggs forever), while the fluffy-crisp potatoes were lashed with two competing mayos — one, creamy white, the other possessing serious kick.

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Quim is the sort of place you need to go with a group and order a dozen things. Two people and four items don’t make a dent in its delectation. But it is the first place I would recommend to go to any first time visitor, and the one locale I wish we could’ve returned to.

Which is probably something we should have done instead of cruising through the Gothic Quarter  to our next venue.

Image(Can they be less welcoming?)

Dinner at Can Culleretes (the second oldest restaurant in Spain) was punctuated by a surly teenage waitress and a hostess with all the poise of a hemorrhoid. But the historic rooms were a sight to see and the tariff soft – especially wine, where bottles cost what a glass does in Las Vegas. (This held true in both Barcelona and Madrid, in restaurants both humble and hi-falutin’.)

The food, however (a decent mixed seafood grill, lots of stewed proteins), was one b-flat sensation after the next. Anchovies and olives are everywhere (by day three we decided there must be some kind of law against not serving anchovies with every meal); they put a fried egg on everything; and seasonings are remarkably mild. Anyone who tells you there are similarities between Mexican and Spanish food needs to have their head examined. Mexican food is to Spanish what a habanero is to a bell pepper.

The charms of Culleretes’ famed brandade-stuffed cannelloni also escaped us, and with every bite we kept thinking how traditional Catalan must be the three-chord rock of Spanish food.

But I digress.

Can Solé 1903 redeemed Old Barcelona in our eyes with sparkling paella served by friendly folks who seemed genuinely happy to have us. We arrived a few minutes early for lunch and there was already a crowd outside, pretty much split 50-50 between hungry natives and tourists:

Image(Olé Solé!)

We booked on-line about a month earlier, and, as soon as the doors opened, were shown to the best seat in the house, right under the curtains in the picture above. From there we could watch the steady stream of patrons and various dishes flying forth from the kitchen — all of it washed down with pitchers of white sangria:

Image(Sangria – the official drink of “just one more glass”)

Can Solé is only a block away from the marina so the scents of the shore permeates the food the way it does in all seaside seafood restaurants. (Whether this is an objective fact or simple sensory suggestion is debatable, but briny creatures always seems to taste sweeter when consumed within eyesight of an ocean.)

Our seafood paella was so infused with the sea it was like breathing a spray of salt air with every bite. A steal at 43 euros:

Image(I’m on an all-seafood diet: when I see food, I eat it)

What you’ll find in these old school Barcelona establishments is sticker shock in reverse. The most expensive Spanish wine on the Can Solé list was 34 euros. At Can Culleretes it was 29.50 for a very good Priorat red. Even in fancy joints, the pricier offerings were often well under 100 euros. It didn’t take long to figure out what a bargain wine is in Spain, so our group made no apologies for overspending like a bunch of drunken sailors, since even at their highest, the prices were a welcome respite from Las Vegas’s eye-watering tariffs.

Keep in mind, Barcelona, like Vegas is definitely a tourist town too, but we saw little evidence of price-gouging anywhere, and once you get a few blocks off the tourists paths, you can eat like a local and feel like one too.

Image(Gresca at lunch)

Such was our experience at Gresca — a gastro-pubby hallway of a space so narrow even the vegetables have to enter in single-file. A few blocks west of the tony Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s Fifth Avenue, this shoe box houses a row of four-tops along one cramped wall, and an open kitchen which straddles a second parallel space. The few waitstaff scramble between tables, while in the kitchen, a half-dozen cooks toil away, churning out small plates (not really tapas, despite what the interwebs say) that were the most compelling dishes we had in Spain. Of course, all of the usual suspects were there on the menu, but with a little guidance we crafted a menu of dishes that showed both ingenuity and restraint. A rarity in “modern” restaurants these days.

Rabbit kidneys, sweetbreads, bacon-thin bikini cheese toast, cod “gilda” pintxos, grilled quail, all of it so toothsome we were fighting over the last bites:

Image(Itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis)

Image(Thymus be in heaven)

Everything washed down with excellent wines from regions we barely know made by producers we’ve never heard of — which is why god invented sommeliers.

WINE GEEK ALERT: These wines were some of the best of the trip, and we quickly learned Corpinnat is the new Cava. Much as Valdobbiadene has replaced Prosecco, these premium Corazón de Penedès sparklers were tired of being lumped with mass-produced plonk, and have re-made and re-marketed themselves into world-class bubbly.

Image(Life is too short to drink bad wine)

 If Gresca made us feel like an in-the-know local, Lomo Alto brought out our inner carnivorous connoisseur.

What resembles a slightly antiseptic butcher shop upon entering, leads up a stairway to a second floor of capacious booths designed for one thing: to showcase the best beef in Spain. Before you get to your dictionary-thick steaks, you’ll first plow through some beautiful bread, three kinds of olive oil, “old cow” carpaccio with smoked Castilian cheese,  and some of the softest artichokes known to man.

Then the carving starts and you are transported to a higher level of beef eating:

 

The Spanish way to cook beef is basically to yell “fire!” at the meat as it is leaving the kitchen. Need proof? This is what they call medium-rare:

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Make no mistake, though, it was an aged steak for the ages. We did a side-by-side of two steaks (a vaca vieja chuleta – beef aged both on the hoof and in the fridge), the other a very lean, 60-80 day aged strip of Simmental beef from Germany. Neither was cheap. (145 euros and 118 euros) together amounting to about $300 of European, grass-fed beef split between four people. As compared to an American steakhouse (remember, we practically invented the genre), I’d give it and A- for food (the Simmental was as chewy as overcooked octopus and not worth the tariff) and high marks for service, despite the room exuding all the hospitality of a hospital. But I’ll remember that steak and those starters for a long, long time.

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Was Barcelona worth it after thirty years of anticipation? I wish I could say yes, but nothing we ate was memorable enough to draw me back there.

Not to end on a sour note, but much of the traditional Catalan cuisine left us cold. Bread, stews, olives and anchovies are nothing to scoff at, but when you see them at every restaurant for days on end, the template gets tiresome. Anyone expecting vibrant seasonings, or a little spice with their ultra-fresh ingredients will quickly discover they’ve landed on the wrong shore.

In spite of the gorgeous Gothic quarter, the shimmering seafood, and those steaks, and the tapas of Quim and the precision of Gresca, we left Barcelona feeling there wasn’t much left for us to try.

Before you take me to task, I know all cities are full of surprises, and a single visit barely scratches the surface. Perhaps next time someone like this big guy will show us a range of flavors we didn’t experience.

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After all, some of the world’s greatest romances started with a whimper instead of a bang.

This is the Part One of a two-part article.

Peter Luger Steaks Its Claim

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“You’re not being rude enough,” was the first thing I said to our waiter (Tony) as he was cheerfully guiding us through the menu and drink order.

He just smiled and shrugged, “That’s not the way we do things around here,” and then kept on being more solicitous than a billboard lawyer at a fender-bender.

stephen colbert oh no you didnt GIF

Which is another way of warning you that when  it comes to atmosphere and service, Peter Luger Las Vegas is as far from the actual Peter Luger (the one located at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in actual New York), as Caesars Palace is from actual Rome. Except for the food — which hits most of the benchmarks established in the glory years when Luger was widely considered the best steakhouse in the country.

Back then, Luger was famous for several things: cash only (unless you had a PL credit card), rude waiters, and having the best beef in the city. These were the days before any Podunk purveyor of prime could access superior beef from around the globe — a time when New York City got all the best steers, and few in America even knew what dry-aging was.

Trading on that reputation, the family (yes, it’s still family-owned) has finally started to expand, opening first in Tokyo in 2021, and a week ago in our humble burg.

Before we get to the food, back to that rudeness thing. From our experience, it has always been an apocryphal complaint — the sort of gripe jaded New Yorkers hurl at any place where “Do you know who I am?” has no currency.

For those who wish to believe such malarkey, here is a pic of me in Brooklyn, twenty-three years ago, being totally abused by a waiter:

Image(Obviously hates his job)

On both of my visits in the 90s, I went early without a reservation (the second time with three teenagers in tow), and humbly asked if they could squeeze us in. And they did, remarkably quickly, with a smile, in one of the stark, Teutonic rooms — more German beer hall than American steakhouse — at bleached wood tables saturated with a century of beef fat, smoke and history.

Service was cheerfully brusque, the kind you get from sassy diner waitresses when they tell you, “You’re not having that; you’re getting the _____ and he’ll have the ____, and anymore questions?” Causing everyone at the table to win by conceding defeat to those in the know.

The porterhouse steaks we ate then were life-changing: a study in mineral-richness, shot through with tangy, gamey beefiness, singular in their haunting intensity. For perspective, the only steaks  I thought were in the same league at the time were from the original Palm, Gallagher’s, and Keen’s in New York, and Gibson’s in Chicago, but Luger was in a league of its own. Dry-aged beef was a rarity then, today in New York it’s as common as Yellow Cabs.

Then and now, Luger stubbornly avoids anything fancy. The dry-aging still permeates the beef, causing textures to tenderize, and flavors to intensify and “double-back on themselves” (Pete Wells) — the sizzling plate spitting butter and melted tallow so hot you can finish cooking your slice on the sloped sides of the platter if you want it a percentage more done.

Image(Iconic porterhouse)

Is the beef as good today as the steaks I remember?  Tough to say, as I consider those Luger steaks in the 90s as the apotheosis of the porterhouse which has rarely been equaled — even after tucking into hundreds of slabs of dry-aged steer from Soho to Tokyo. But the buttery mouthfeel and nutty, umami undertones I tasted at the fourth Peter Luger will no doubt send some fetishistic foodies into fits of tantric foodgasms, placing this beef at or near the top of any in town.

Some menu items, struck me as better crafted here than there: an incredible crab cake, pristine cold seafood, crispy/creamy German potatoes, along with some non-food improvements: well-spaced tables, better stemware, large circular bar brought front and center into the restaurant (the former Rao’s in Caesars Palace) — all calculated to produce both as sense of masculine comfort and a “wow” factor which the original lacks, all while catering to the demands of a three-hundred seat Vegas steakhouse slinging 2,000 lbs. of steaks a day.

Image(Finally, a place to go for a $139 shot of gin)

Upon taking one of those seats, they give you a fancy cocktail menu, and a wine list full of interesting bottles. The one in Brooklyn has always been infamous for being barely above the “red, white, or pink?” level of choices, unless your tastes run to overpriced Cali cabs. (Regulars — the ones with that coveted private credit card — usually bring their own.)

You will then be given a menu with a large letterbox in the center outlining steak for two, three or four, priced from $148.95 to $285.95. Those steaks are all porterhouses — for the uninitiated, a thick, t-bone containing part of both the sirloin and filet. All are broiled and brought to the table sliced amidst the hiss of fat coming off white-hot plates. They are what you order at Peter Luger in the same way you go to Mott 32 for the Peking duck. Everything else is window dressing.

This is 60-day, dry-aged beef, cured on-premises in a 4,000 square foot meat locker below the restaurant, so it ain’t cheap, but $150 for a “steak for two” will easily feed four, unless you have an NFL tackle among you. If you insist, lamb, chicken, and Dover sole are there for the pikers, and the bar burger (if it’s anything like the original we had in Brooklyn) will be a showstopper.

Image(This crab doesn’t filler round)

The rest of the menu is unapologetically old school. I happen to be a fan of the Luger steak sauce, even though Pete Wells (in a New York Times take-down in 2019) described it as ketchup and horseradish fortified with corn syrup. Unlike his though, our shrimp were not the consistency of “cold latex,” but pristine and perfect.

And the signature tomato and onion salad may be a bit bizarre, but it’s as much a part of the Luger legacy as sizzling fat:

Image(Just like Grandma used to make)

Wells insults the dish by stating it “tastes like 1979” but that’s exactly the point: this was your grandma’s idea of sweet-sour salad in 1966. It is  outdated, un-seasonal and about as voguish as a dickey… and all the more glorious for it.

Desserts are no-nonsense classics: hot fudge sundae, properly-crusted New York cheesecake, chocolate pie – all of them served mit schlag (“with unsweetened whipped cream”) reminding us of this place’s German roots and sending everyone home with a satisfied grin.

The staff is an all-star lineup of local restaurant pros who have put in their time from the biggest operations to the smallest sandwich shops. Jacob “Jake” Leslie is now Director of Food and Beverage at Caesars. We’ve seen him come through the ranks from The Goodwich, to Libertine Social to now running the whole shebang at a gigantic hotel.  Executive Chef Eric L’Huillier has gone from Pinot Brasserie (Joachim Splichal’s once-underrated bistro in the Venetian) to being top toque at Wally’s, to now heading a kitchen with ten broilers expected to feed hundreds of customers an hour.

Image(Dynamic Duo)

Front of the house is anchored by David Oseas (pictured above with L’Huillier – who was previously at Rosa Ristorante in Henderson), along with one of our favorite wine guys: Beverage Director Paul Argier. Argier is responsible for the vastly-improved, multi-national wine list, which isn’t cheap, but still possible to mine for relative bargains — once you understand that $125 is the new $75 when it comes to Strip wine lists.

Walking into PL and seeing them all running the place made it feel like old home week, rather than another soulless Strip branding exercise. It is a huge restaurant but also a welcoming one. How it stacks up against our other top-shelf purveyors of prime probably depends upon your expectations when approaching a restaurant with such a storied history.

Image(Super somm Paul Argier is there to serve)

Peter Luger started in 1887 as a cafe and billiard parlor. It had hit hard times when the Forman family resuscitated it in 1950, turning it into a cathedral of beef (and the template for the modern American steakhouse) in the latter half of the last century.

Back then, the Formans were known for being the toughest customers in town when it came to sourcing prime grade beef. But in the twenty-first century, these kinds of top-shelf, tender, well-marbled cuts — which used to be the  exclusive province of a few select steakhouses — are now sold world-wide. I used to consider it a treat to fly to Chicago or New York to dive into a Brobdingnagian, dry-aged porterhouse. Now there are a dozen steakhouses within 20 minutes of my house where I can indulge my Flinstonean fantasies.

The final question thus becomes: Is the meal worth the tariff?

Lezbee honest here: You don’t go to Peter Luger for innovation or chef’s creations. You are not here for the appetizers, or the side dishes, or seasonal eating; you here for the main event: the meat and the bragging rights to having taken down one of the world’s greatest steaks. One hundred and thirty-five years on, from the point of view of a palate who has eaten them all, this one is still one of the best ones, and more than worth boasting about.

And, as always, it will be served with a smile.

Our meal for two came to $341 (including one cocktail, three glasses of wine, and a comped shellfish tower), and we left a $100 tip.

Image(Mit schlag is German for “more please”)

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Best New Restaurants 2023

Image(Another one bites the crust)

It’s been a banner year for new restaurants, but most of the growth has been confined to the ‘burbs. (Face it: the Strip is now more boring than an Elon Musk boondoggle.)

Whether the engine is a booming economy, pent-up demand or big money finally stepping into the food game (Hello, The Sundry and Lev Group!), the greater Las Vegas area is teeming with worthy newcomers, some done on a shoestring, others well-financed, each seeking a slice of the hunger pie. In years past we might’ve had trouble coming up with half a dozen lip-smacking joints, this year has been a bounty of riches, with more to come in the final four months.

And yes, I know the year is only 66.6% over, but whether it is out of habit (10 years of writing my guidebook, and 25 of doing the Desert Companion/KNPR Restaurant Awards), I seem to be congenitally wired to start writing about the “year’s best” when summertime is on the wane.

So consider this a partial list, which bears updating, but a good start if you’re looking for what is recent and deserving of your dining out dollars:

The Best New Restaurants of 2023 (in no particular order, with commentary):

138 Degrees Craft Chophouse CLOSED

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Image(…and then this lawyer dude asked for ketchup…)

Henderson has a steakhouse to call its own, aging everything from the sirloins to the salmon.

Basilico Ristorante Italiano

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Image(Surf and turf risotto alla Francesco Di Caudo)

It’s hard to get excited about Italian anymore, but I can almost work up a woody over this one.

1228 Main

You will not find me here most mornings only because my waistline won’t allow it.

Image(ELV’s usual at 1228)

Image(I can resist anything but temptation)

Image(Shrimply the best)

As good as the pastries are, the lunch/dinner options (including the best pasta of the year pictured above) here are every bit as technically perfect as you would expect from a Wolfgang Puck operation.

Azzurra Cucina

Image(Not your father’s Water Street)

If this keeps up, we’re going to have to retire the word Hendertucky and start eating crow….with a proper demi-glace, of course.

Aroma Latin American Cocina

Nueva Latina in Green Valley makes about as much sense as a salsa band at a Mormon social, but here it is, just waiting to be discovered by the mortgage-poor crowd. Full disclosure: we haven’t been, but Eat. Talk. Repeat. co-host Ash the Attorney raves about this place.

Ocean Prime

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Vegas needs another chain steakhouse like I need another ex-wife, but when the payoff is this spectacular, the heart goes where the heart goes.

Kaiseki Yuzu Sushi Bar

ImageJonathon Mau knows his Maguro)

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Strictly for purists; no sushbags allowed.

00 Pie & Pub

Image(A crust above)
Mike Vakneen is a pizza savant and Chinatown is now his playground.

Image(Not pizza; too delicious not to post)

The starters — including the roasted Calabrian peppers with anchovies above — are Esther’s Kitchen-worthy.

Mizunara at The Sundry

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Image(Bun-Bun Hiyashi Chuka)

Homie don’t order off no QR code. Home boy (who hasn’t been a boy for 50 years) demands old-fashioned service…and cold ramen noodles like these.

Marche Bacchus – Bradley Ogden edition

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MB has been through so many incarnations we’ve stopped counting. So has Bradley Ogden for that matter. But the menu here hasn’t been this good in a decade, and though things might look the same, you’re basically eating in a whole new restaurant.

Naxos Taverna

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Think of it as a slightly cheaper, local’s Estiatorio Milos, with free parking and without the fish displayed like jewelry… and thank me later. (Efcharistó, Mark Andelbradt)

Taste of Asia

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Chinatown-level Chinese in Summerlin makes about as much sense as haute Latina in Henderson, but the times they are a-changin’. Karrie Hung is out to raise the Asia steaks in a part of town who finds Panda Express too “foreign”. There’s plenty to placate the sweet and sour pork crowd, but the real gems are in the chef’s specials and seafood, plus the best Peking duck deal ($80) this side of New Asian BBQ.

Daeho Kalbijjim

https://twitter.com/i/status/1686209325663244288

Years of dining with our Korean komrades has taught us that Korean restaurants are usually known for doing one or two things well, and the rest of the menu is just filler. Daeho does its justifiably famous sweet-spicy beef rib stew, with promiscuous cheese pulls for those infected with Tik Tok brain….like us above, straining to influence the f++k out of this place.

B.S. Taqueria at The Sundry

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The B. S. stands for “Broken Spanish” and it’s the best Mexican food we had this year. Second only to Viva! by Ray Garcia in Resorts World. Same chef, terrific tortillas, serious south of the border stuff.

Lamoon

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Lamoon packs a one-two punch of fiery food and highly-curated wine that will leave you fit to be Thai’d. The decor (in an old Dairy Queen!) is pretty snappy too.

Hola Mexican Cocina + Cantina

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I once made the mistake on KNPR radio of pronouncing “cocina” as co-CHEEN-a instead of saying co-THEEN-a  or co-SEEN-a — which apparently meant I was describing a local restaurant as a prostitute instead of a kitchen. No matter how you pronounce it, the food here tastes great no matter how much Mexican you speak.

Yukon Pizza

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Why a burger and not a pizza pic? Because of all the griddled, frilly smashed cheeseburgers in town, this one meats all expectations…as do all their kick-ass pies.

Yen Viet Kitchen

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Not strictly new this year, but new to us, and best Vietnamese food we have eaten in Las Vegas, ever — and we’ve eaten in all of them, up and down Spring Mountain Road. What this video lacks in dynamism and drama, it makes up for in information. A must-stop on SMR, and the definition of a hidden gem.

Speaking of hidden gems….

Yummy Kitchen

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They don’t get much more tucked away than Yummy Kitchen, tossing its chili crab and other Singaporean-Malaysian delights inside an Asian supermarket, far across a parking lot at Spring Mountain and Decatur. The crabs are still-moving fresh, and the garlic shrimp, roti, Hainanese chicken, and Malay curries will save you plane fare to Disneyland-with-the-death-penalty.

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While we’re at it…..

Worst new restaurants of 2023:

M.Y. Asia (Closed!)

From stunt noodles to chicken so bad it left us yearning for a Panda Express, this tourist trap was D.O.A.

Told. You. So.

Vic’s

Comically < average Italian at the Smith Center, brought to you by folks who’ve never dined at Brezza or Basilico….and wouldn’t understand them if they did.

Bespoke Kitchen

Nothing bespoke except the name.

Cathédrale

By-the-numbers dining for the selfie wall crowd, brought to you by the Tao Group — who haven’t had an original idea since 2005. Soulless decor, jaw-dropping prices, insulting wine list — the symbol of every unimaginative ripoff late-stage Las Vegas has become in one, overdecorated restaurant.

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Did we miss a few on both sides of these equations? Probably, but this list should get you started, and we have three months to keep eating and augment things.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and cheers!

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