Venture off the Las Vegas Strip for some of the best eats and drinks in Sin City.by Rachael Crawley Sigsbee
There are 66 celebrity chefs, 13 master sommeliers and 375 buffets in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, with the most notable restaurants concentrated on the famed Las Vegas Boulevard. When we moved to Vegas from Los Angeles in the fall of 2013 (yes, people do live in Las Vegas!), we searched high and low for less expensive but just as tasty dining options away from the crowded, overpriced Las Vegas Strip. (A meal for two at Guy Savoy, the two Michelin-starred restaurant at Ceasars Palace whose French food is as good as it gets outside of France, can easily run you over $1,000.) We’ve tasted and sipped at restaurants all around the city, so here are my top picks for the coolest dining spots, straight from a local.
Coffee: Sambalatte Torrefazione
If you’re looking for a quick cup of joe for your morning commute, then Sambalatte Torrefazione isn’t the spot for you. At this Boca Park coffee shop in Summerlin, baristas spend time learning about your palate before helping you decide which blend, mainly of the Brazilian variety, to choose. Once you’ve placed your order, which may take upwards of five minutes, cozy up at one of the bistro tables next to the upstairs library while you sip a carefully blended cup of coffee, latte art included.
It might be located near the Strip, but it’s a rare occasion you’ll spot a tourist dining at EAT, a homegrown breakfast and lunch spot located two blocks from the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. Popular among locals living and working in the Downtown area, EAT offers diners a combination of soul food and healthy ingredients, all with an organic and sustainable twist. It’s difficult to find an option on the menu that doesn’t delight the taste buds, but I recommend going for breakfast and ordering the cinnamon biscuits with warm strawberry compote and the golden-brown pancakes served with a side of chicken-apple sausage (pictured).
Lola’s, located in the Arts District of Las Vegas, found a spot on the foodie map thanks to Guy Fieri who profiled this Cajun kitchen on an episode of Diners Drive-ins and Dives. (He sampled the Roast Beef “D’Brees” Po’Boy.) With Canjun music playing in the background and walls draped in Mardi Gras paraphnaelia and LSU and Saints flags, diners are transported to the Big Easy while sampling some of the most authentic cajun food around. Start off with a glass of raspberry sweet tea or the Louisianna-brewed Abita beer, along with an order of crawpuppies (hushpuppies made with crawfish) served with a cajun aioli sauce. You’ll have a tough time choosing between the shrimp po’boy, fried catfish platter and the shrimp and grits, but whatever you choose be sure to leave room for the bananas foster bread pudding and a cup of chicory coffee for dessert.
Dessert: Luv-It Frozen Custard
After opening their walk-up window in 1973 just a block from the northern part of Las Vegas Boulevard, Luv-It Frozen Custard has drawn visitors looking to beat the desert heat for more than four decades. Its surroundings may have changed dramatically since the old-time custard shop became a fixture of the Las Vegas of yesteryear, but the sweet, creamy taste of the custard has remained the same. The menu changes daily, with flavors including Sin-A-Buns, Champagne Cherry and Death by Chocolate.
Mexican: El Dorado Cantina
photo courtesy El Dorado Cantina
The atmosphere may be a quintessential Vegas dining option, with red walls lined with black leather booths, but the recipes at El Dorado Cantina stay true to the rich flavors of authentic Mexican cuisine. El Dorado, located next door to a gentlemen’s club (hey, this is Vegas), believes in serving responsibly-grown food free of pesticide, antibiotics and steroids sourced from organic farms, according to the website. Start with the table-side guacamole that is made with a fresh blend of pico de gallo, and then choose between the Al Pastor Street tacos with marinated pork and pineapple, or the chicken bowl, a blend of grilled chicken, cilantro rice, black beans and queso fresco. Pair it with an organic El Dorado strawberry margarita on the rocks that has a blend of tequila, patron agave and muddled strawberries.
Steak: Echo & Rig
Steak is king in Vegas, but what makes Echo & Rig stand out in a town known for its $9.99 prime rib specials is a natural, organic approach to beef. With a butcher shop on the first floor and the main dining room and al fresco dining on the second, the Tivoli Village restaurant emits a California vibe thanks to its airy atmosphere and attention to serving sustainable, fresh ingredients.
Cuts, which are sourced from the Western U.S., include classics like the Tri-Tip and Flat Iron, along with more unique versions including the Spence Steak and the Bavette. Portion sizes are on the smaller side, so there will be plenty of room for dessert, like the Berry Shortcake made from fresh berries and citrus shortcake topped with hibiscus syprup and candied flowers, or the Caramel Turtle pie made from peanut brittle pieces and bourbon sauce served with a side of salted caramel ice cream.
photo by Jakrapan Atcharawan
Thai food is a dime a dozen throughout the city, but unlike the other usual suspects, such as the Anthony Bordain-approved Lotus of Siam, Chada offers diners a more sophisticated tasting experience with their extensive wine list and fresh Thai staples. Items not to be missed include the Nua Dad Diew (homemade beef jerkey), the Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodle) with lobster tail and the Thai sweet sticky rice with mango for dessert, a traditional Thai dessert that consists of a mango icing on top of a bed of hot steamed rice, the perfect ending to a spicy meal.
photo courtesy Kabuto
Arguably one of the top sushi spots in the country for those who’ve dined at this small, 5-table, 10-person sushi bar, Kabuto offers only three three menu options: Nigiri, Yoroi or Kabuto Omakase. Each comes with a refreshing house-made cold sake served over crushed ice, usually in a fruit variety like plum, and a selection of the freshest nigiri and sashimi (usually caught less than 48 hours prior) that ranges from the richest cuts of tuna belly to the mildest bites of baby japanese sea bass.
With only two seatings a night, one at 6:30 and one at 8:30, reservations are a must if you want to sample some of the best sushi outside of Japan. Watching the top sushi chefs from Japan put so much passion into their craft is a show in itself, so ask to be seated at the sushi bar. Because tradition calls for enjoying sushi in the moments after each piece is made, the chefs will hand you each individual piece of sushi to eat with your hands. The result is a chilled slice of fish atop warm rice with a layer of fresh wasabi in between and a brush of aged soy sauce on the top. This is how sushi is meant to be enjoyed.
Drinks: Tokyo 365
Good luck finding much information on Tokyo 365, the underground, members-only bar Downtown Las Vegas. It’s tucked away in the Inspire building on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Freemont Street, and bodes a hidden entrance behind a bookcase that is only accessible by fingerprint scan. If you’re lucky enough to make it inside, you’ll find mixologist Seong Ha Lee behind the cramped, 10-seat bar that he has stocked with liqueurs of all nationalities, a large ice block for carving custom ice cubes and an organized row of bitters and steampunk-like contraptions.
You won’t recognize a majority of ingredients on the leather-bound cocktail menu, so your best bet is to ask Seong Ha, who hails from Tokyo and brings an extensive resume of mixology awards with him, to recommend a cocktail based on your tastes. He may recommend a smoke-infused cocktail that he creates by burning a small piece of wood like hickory or oak over the cocktail, filling the room with the smell of campfire. Or you can ask him to make you a cocktail of his choice where he’ll whip up a one-of-a-kind creation that’s never been served before.