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Downtown Doesn’t Suck

Let’s face it, downtown dining pretty much sucks, and with the closing of Race Rock and Enigma—not that I was a fan of either—things aren’t getting any better. The conventional wisdom is that, to find anything decent to eat, one must go south to Paradise or Sahara, where the chain links keep the timid masses satisfied with no surprises.

Well I’m here to tell you that conventional wisdom sucks, and that there are plenty of great places to eat downtown. All you need is an inquisitive palette and an imagination and you can dine well and cheaply all over the dining no man’s land I like to call Hell’s Last Kitchen. This area is bordered by Sahara to the south and either Fremont Street or Washington to the north, depending on how brave you are. The joints in Hell’s Last Kitchen may not be much to look at, but they rustle up some mighty tasty grub at prices that are sinfully cheap. Some places like the El Sombrero, are both artifacts and bastions of good eats. It also happens to be our oldest restaurant, opened in 1947, and still puts out some of the best salsas and huevos rancheros around. Another perennial favorite—Chicago Joes—exists solely for the red sauce lover in you but it’s cheap, predictable and romantic…in other words, perfect for a date.

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More exotic fare can be found at Thai Barbecue, Salvadoreno on north main or the Vegas Thai-Chinese Restaurant at Fourth and Fremont. I’ve only had one meal at Horn of Africa, and that was two years ago, but I loved it and it’s still going strong. Likewise, no less a meat eater than the great Figler himself recommends the Cuban beef sandwiches at Rincon De Criollo, although to look at him you’d swear he was a full-time mung bean muncher. Each of these is a superb ethnic restaurant that will feel at home once you put down your pretenses, ignore the sketchy surroundings, and let the grateful owners treat you like family. Maybe the only thing that really sucks is people’s pre-conceptions about what makes a good restaurant.

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