BY SUZANNE ZUPPELLO
Las Vegas can certainly overload the senses, to say the least. But not everything there is defined by the bright lights, Elvis impersonators and drunken revelers that seem to swarm every block. A big—maybe the biggest?—reason to visit Sin City is the food. Indeed, some of the country’s most notable chefs are running innovative, headline-grabbing restaurants in Vegas, and then there's the seemingly endless array of kitchens without the mainstream culinary clout, which are usually found tucked away in modest strip malls serving up food that's equally as memorable. What both types of eateries have in common: they’re almost always found off the Strip, giving diners a chance to enjoy the city in an entirely new element—without neon, slot machines, or masters of illusion beckoning from the next room. Here are our top picks for a stellar Vegas meal that you won't find in some labyrinthian resort.
The Foodie's Guide to Las Vegas
The Black Sheep
Chef Jamie Tran’s Vietnamese-American restaurant, The Black Sheep, is on the smaller side at just 50 seats, and it's only open for daily dinner service and Sunday brunch, making it kind of difficult to snag a seat. If you’re lucky enough to score a reservation or one of the few walk-in tables, though, an order of the salmon skin tacos should be placed as soon as you hit your chair. The skins replace tortillas, and they’re filled with salmon tartare and smoked shishito peppers. For the raw-fish averse, opt for the bao sliders made with pork sausage, fried quail egg, and a jalapeño aïoli. No matter what you order, plan to share everything and leave with a full belly.
8680 W. Warm Springs Road, Las Vegas, NV 89148
Sparrow + Wolf
Chef Brian Howard cut his teeth at restaurants on the strip—like Thomas Keller’s famous Bouchon Bistro—before opening Sparrow + Wolf, one of the key fixture's in the Chinatown dining scene. Described as the “evolution of American Cuisine,” the restaurant is definitely hipper than your standard white tablecloth bistro, and the menu is upgraded, too. The clams casino forgo the traditional bacon and breadcrumbs and replace them with shitake mushrooms and uni hollandaise; the wood-fired lasagna incorporates lamb (rather than beef) and miso. For the not-too-famished set, the bento box is like an adult sampler platter: oysters, shellfish, cured meats, terrines and cheeses with seasonal condiments make for a truly eclectic spread.
4480 Spring Mountain Road, Suite 100, Las Vegas, NV 89102
Located in nearby Henderson, Kitchen Table was inspired by Chef Javier Chavez’s mother, who called the kitchen the heart of the family. Chavez’s metaphorical, delectable heart is open for breakfast and lunch only, but it’s cracked wide open with a hearty menu filled with classic dishes. He spins tostadas and empanadas away from tradition, using suckling pig and roasted poblano peppers, respectively. Monkey bread, the perennial childhood favorite, is also on the menu, upgraded with the addition of salted caramel. The sandwiches give diners a chance to try into various regional items: New Jersey’s pork sub, New Orleans’ crab po-boy, and Philadelphia’s ribeye cheesesteak are just a few of the offerings.
1716 W Horizon Ridge Pkwy #100, Henderson, NV 89012
Another breakfast-and-lunch-only spot, The Stove incorporates Mexican, Italian, and French flavors into their eclectic menu of benedicts, BLTs, and bangers and eggs. But the real appeal is the “twisted tea room”, where diners can enjoy tea and champagne with their non-traditional canapes. For guests who prefer to keep their day moving, the “coffee chill room” has grab-and-go pastries and coffee, but it’s for sure worth stopping to admire the restaurant’s indoor garden, which is a nice alternative for guests who didn’t score a seat on the restaurant’s patio.
11261 S. Eastern Avenue, Henderson, NV 89052
Lotus of Siam
The menu at Lotus of Siam, located just off the strip near the UNLV campus, is not for the faint of heart—both in terms of size and flavor. It’s an epic experience and each dish will compete for a spot on your table. Chef Saipin Chutima, who won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest, grew her restaurant out of a small space tucked in the Commercial Center into a bigger, bolder version of itself. Still serving northern-style Thai cuisine using recipes passed down through her family, Chutima’s specialities are charbroiled prawns and savory curries. This is the type of meal you plan your night around rather than stumble into, so don’t make your reservation for the same night you’re seeing Lady Gaga perform. Can’t get a reservation? Tables are easier to get for lunch walk-ins, so plan accordingly.
620 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119
Opened in 2014 by the late Chef Kerry Simon, the downtown staple Carson Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner and carries on the “rock ‘n’ roll” chef’s legacy. The industrial design and wide-open spaces encourage friendly conversation with passersby, and the menu is also built around group experiences as all of the dishes are designed to be shared. Pro tip: The “social plates” side of the menu is the optimal route to take. Dishes like crispy chicken skins, bacon jam with toasted baguette, and veal meatballs with sherry foie gras cream are can't-miss; it’s worth noting this is not an ideal spot for vegetarians or vegans, because even the “farm & garden” menu items include a dose of animal protein.
124 S. 6th Street, Las Vegas, NV 8910
Maybe you’re not from the west coast or maybe you simply enjoy the tried-and-true joy of a double-double, animal style, with a chocolate shake chaser. Regardless of the reason, In-N-Out will take you off the strip and into its idyllic red and white fast-food bubble. With locations in Henderson, Summerlin, Spring Valley, and Paradise, the cult-favorite chain makes it easy for guests to find them.
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