Eat big — stay close. Three hyperlocal noshers claim their ’hoods have the best culinary clusters
Upscale meals within minutes
I live in the Pueblo, a pretty ordinary micro-neighborhood in the old, northernmost tip of Summerlin (think Lake Mead Boulevard at Buffalo Drive). It’s a nice place to live, but only in the last few years has it made the jump and become a nice place to eat.
I don’t know if Vegas has food neighborhoods. We’ve got the Strip, we’ve got a sprawling Chinatown, and then we’ve got a million mini-malls and shopping plazas sprinkled all over the valley. If you’re lucky, you find a house next to one that has a decent sushi bar and pizzeria. Clumps of fast food outlets, evil Applebee’s and the like don’t count. That’s why I know I’m lucky in the Pueblo; there are at least five very good actual restaurants within a couple of minutes from home.
Let’s start with the basics. Just on the other side of Summerlin Parkway, the Bagel Cafe (301 N. Buffalo Drive, 255-3444) is simply the best deli and bagelmaker in Las Vegas. It’s packed for weekend breakfasts, it’s bustling at lunch — when I power through the desert winter with a soulful bowl of matzoh ball soup and a half corned beef on rye — and there’s always at least a short line at the deli counter ordering homemade pastries or a dozen gigantic fresh bagels on which to spread some smoked whitefish salad. It gets no better than that. Moving north on Buffalo, we’ve got a solid burger joint, decent coffee shop cuisine and a little nostalgia at Shari’s Diner (1900 N. Buffalo Drive, 870-6424). Make a quick right, and next to Starbucks is our way-above-average fast food, the messy-delicious Smashburger (7541 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 982-0009), and the buttery-crusted Detroit-style pizza of Northside Nathan’s (7531 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 255-8822).
Your neighborhood might have grub like that. Maybe. But you’re missing out on the best French restaurant off the Strip, Marche Bacchus (2620 Regatta Drive #106, 804-8008). Chef Jean Paul Labadie does classic bistro fare and modern updates, the wine selection and prices are legendary, and the only other spot in town to find such serene lakeside dining is next door at Garfield’s (2620 Regatta Drive #118, 925-8333). The nautical theme here gets more charming every time my wife demands we go for eggs Florentine or split a flamekuche (French pizza). Grape Street Café (7501 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 228-9463) is another reliable wine and nosh spot.
What about prototypical homey ethnic joints? Mine have the great food without the funk. Parma Pastavino & Deli (7591 W. Washington Ave., 233-6272) doubles as a classic Italian deli by day and a chalkboard-special restaurant by night, complete with homemade pasta, ridiculous meatballs and a chef with plenty of personality (Marc Sgrizzi). And don’t even try to out-Thai me, unless you wanna get smacked with the one-two power-punch of Pin Kaow (1974 N. Rainbow Blvd., 638-2746) and Nittaya’s (2110 N. Rampart Blvd. #110, 360-8885). The former is the longtime neighborhood favorite with a menu full of authentic spicy-sweet treasures, and the latter just might be the next great off-Strip restaurant, blending the small plate trend into Chef Nittaya Parawong’s innovative cooking style.
I know, now you wanna move to the Pueblo. You can visit any time. — Brock Radke
The University District: Academic eats (and a few drinks) with a discount
As an editor of short-story anthologies for small literary presses, I do my mightiest drinking and schmoozing — er, I mean sober negotiations — over lunch. Top Vegas writers inevitably teach class, research and commiserate at UNLV, so grabbing a nearby bite is requisite. Luckily, the University District is rife with killer ethnic dining holes-in-walls.
Origin India (4480 Paradise Road #1200, 734-6342) is hardly a hole. Sure, there’s the obligatory lunch buffet steam table ($14.95), but explore the menu proper and you’ll see that this is Indian cuisine done with creativity, and for campus-crawlers who crave tasty yet affordable food. (Though prices went up slightly last year and the lunch wraps were 86-ed.) The Tandoor-roasted organic whole chicken leg ($7) is mouthwateringly marinated and served with coriander chutney and mixed leaf salad. Try the skewer-cooked seekh kebab ($9), or minced lamb coated with red onion and peppers. For the vegetarian in your study group, there’s vegetable samosa ($7), flaky pastry stuffed with potatoes and peas and served with tamarind and mint sauce. Elegant décor and a romantic atmosphere. Oops, almost forgot: There’s a UNLV discount!
On the grittier side, Yayo Taco (4632 Maryland Parkway #18, 262-0201) resembles a Baja surf cantina, but with a vast beer selection (Abita to Zafarrancho Reposado) that’ll make the hard-drinking prof in you hear waves lapping on the beach. For my money, nothing beats the tasty little two-buck tacos. My favorites: the Bombay, which offers roast chicken sautéed in green coconut curry and a tamarind chutney, and the succulent Shanghai, which boasts wasabi-seared steak in black bean salsa with crisp cabbage slaw and a dash of wasabi cream. Go with the $7.25 combo special and you can sample four different tacos, two sides (for instance, veggie black beans or sweet potato fries) and a can of your favorite soft drink. Intriguingly, Yayo transforms into an all-ages music venue at night, hosting the nation’s top, um, corpsepainted, fog machine-unhappy black metal bands with names like The Funeral Pyre. God bless the kids! UNLV discount? Check.
A hop, skip and still-famished jump from Yayo is the Greek delight of Stephano’s (4632 S. Maryland Parkway #14, 795-8444), where $5.55 gyro sandwiches — beef and lamb, chicken (shawerma), falafel pita — are cheap, plentiful and never chintzy on flavor. There’s a fantastic low-carb menu, in which you get double meat portions with a side of Israeli couscous salad, lettuce, tomato and onions; for example, a $12.95 kofta kebab, comprising ground beef patties cooked on a fiery grill, and the $14.95 rib eye steak kebab, which gives you four hearty skewers of perfectly seasoned steak. This is another terrific joint in which to sample imported beers — Spanish lagers (Alhambra Negra), Bulgarian pilsners (Zagorka), Polish malts (Zywiec). Nothing beats sipping a Mythos (Greek beer) while surfing the free Wi-Fi. No discount, but you can join Stephano’s lunch club for added value.
Thai-wise, your best bet is King & I (1107 E. Tropicana Ave., 739-8819), where authentic handcrafted artwork from Thailand hangs on the walls, giving this adorable eatery a cozy, far-away-from-Vegas feel. The $5.95 lunch curries (chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or $6.95 for shrimp) are superb, or you can indulge in seafood with items such as the crazy-good $6.95 crab rangoon, which gives you eight pieces of crab meat and cream cheese wrapped in wonton skin, deep-fried and served with sweet and sour sauce. Not to press the act of inebriation, but the Thai beef jerky ($8.95) goes divinely with a cold bottle of Singha. No discounts.
Finally, the best bánh mì (Vietnamese hoagie) shop in town: Thanh Huong (1131 E. Tropicana Ave., Suite D, 739-8703). Salivating as I write this, I must inform you that the sandwiches are made with a tongue-slapping-your-brains-out-good French baguette. My two $2.75 favorites are the pork sandwich and the meatball sandwich, each exquisitely fashioned with a light spread of mayo, white radish, carrot, cilantro, onions and green peppers. They don’t serve alcohol, so order a couple items to go, grab some Tsingtao and a Redbox flick at Vons next door, and suddenly you have a fun, appetizing afternoon ahead of you. — Jarret Keene
SouthWest: Diverse flavors, corner pocket
The neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Durango Drive and Warm Springs Road offers eclectic dining for every budget. For an inexpensive, family-friendly place, check out Mac Shack (8680 West Warm Springs, 463-2433). Created by Marcello Mauro, whose family owns Nora’s Cuisine and Nora’s Wine Bar, the place specializes in a diverse line of affordable pastas. You can order 11 different noodles with any of nine different sauces for just $7. Or you can spice them up with six different meats or 21 other ingredients that range from 50 cents to $1.75 apiece. With counter service, it’s a lot more casual than Mauro’s other restaurant. Think of it as a much healthier and tastier alternative to fast food.
If you head east on Warm Springs, past Durango, you’ll hit two more excellent places within the first block. At 8530 West Warm Springs Road, you’ll find Mantra Masala (598-3663), one of the town’s best Indian restaurants. It’s run by Tapan Bose, who opened Gaylord in The Rio, and put in time as a restaurant manager at Bellagio before bringing his cooking to the ’burbs. Bose prides his himself on his dedication to Ayurvedic cooking, which has roots in the traditional Indian medicine popularized by Deepak Chopra. He uses no oils, preservatives or processed foods, and he makes all the yogurt and cheese in-house.
Another half a block down Warm Springs on the corner of Cimarron Road, you’ll find Born And Raised (7260 S. Cimarron Road, 685-0258), which locals refer to simply as B.A.R. While it’s primarily a video poker bar with a funky, modern lounge, the food is outstanding, thanks to Chef John Courtney. Having put in time at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, Courtney has a knack for putting gourmet twists on otherwise predictable bar food. They include lobster corn dogs, chorizo on the chili cheese fries and 15 gourmet sliders.
Leave room for dessert. Because the Vons strip mall on the southwest corner of Durango and Warm Springs is also home to a Cold Stone Creamery (7435 South Durango Drive, 228-2300). Yeah, it’s a chain. But it’s a chain that dishes out some of the most decadent ice cream concoctions around — and after this epic food crawl, you’ve certainly earned it, haven’t you? — Al Mancini