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Desert Companion

Best of the City: Food & Drink

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Tacos
Photo by Brent Holmes

Leticia's Cocina & Cantina

Best Tacos

Leticia’s Cocina & Cantina

Tacos might simply be hand-held tortillas folded on three sides around fillings, but they come in a plethora of styles, and local taqueria Leticia’s seems to have mastered them all. The queso tacos are gooey with cheese, and other selections range from chicken tinga to sautéed veggies. For Northern Mexico flavors, grab Ensenada beer-battered fish tacos or deep-fried crispy shells crammed with pork carnitas. Go Tex-Mex with puffy corn masa containers brimming with fragrant chile rojo. Say “¡órale!” to upgrades like ribeye steak and shrimp. Or, tuck in for $20 all-you-can-eat street taquizas on Mondays. Fiesta Henderson, leticiascocina.com (GT)

 

Best Burger

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

Las Vegas is a veritable burger bonanza, but for those times when the In-N-Out drive-thru just isn’t going to cut it, we ditch the desk early and sneak over to the bountiful beef-o-rama that is Del Frisco’s. Here, where steaks are hand-cut and expense accounts are bloated, the plebes among us can savor a house-ground prime burger for just a couple bucks more (really!) than a Double Double with fries. This juicy, flavor-packed burger also comes with fries, and would be a bargain at twice the price … which it is, outside of happy hour. 3925 Paradise Road, delfriscos.com (JPR)

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Best Appetizers

The Kitchen at Atomic

Chef Justin Kingsley Hall doesn’t play it safe with his appetizers, and neither should you when you begin your meal at Atomic. Make sure you get yourself a plate of Nashville hot chicken hearts, which Hall prepares so cleanly, you’ll hardly know you’re eating, well, chicken hearts. Curried hushpuppies are accompanied by the chef’s spicy namesake sauce and harissa carrots are a staple from his SLO Boy pop-up days in the Dino’s parking lot. The challenge isn’t finding an appetizer you’ll love; it’s not filling up before your entrée. 927 Fremont St., kitchenatatomic.vegas (JB)

 

Best Wings

Naked City Pizza

Nearly every bar offers them, but not all sling the wings well. Venerable venues like Four Kegs and Tap House reserve a spot in our fowl hall of fame, and some nontraditional newcomers (the incredible lemon pepper variation at Cleaver) offer something completely different. But leave it to Buffalo brothers Chris and Michael Palmeri to give Las Vegas a bounty of beautiful wings that is consistently top-notch and exactly what you crave. Now in its 10th year, Naked City is seemingly everywhere these days, but we prefer the original window serving into Moon Doggie’s. multiple locations, nakedcitylv.com (JPR)

 

Best Pizza

Metro PizzaMetro PizzaJohn Arena’s Metro Pizza is a prolific local success, supplying pies to the masses for almost 40 years while garnering numerous national awards. Even though there are five locations, those in the know are keen to the fact Arena’s young Jedi pizzaiolo Chris Decker works at the Centennial location, where he experiments with diverse pizza styles. Keep an eye on his Instagram feed @everythingbutanchovies for the crispy Detroit-style with griddled cheese crust, an inexplicably airy 86th Street Square Sicilian
 topped with vodka sauce,  or the Stella, smuggling meatball-stuffed garlic knots in its crust. multiple locations; Centennial location: 6720 Sky Pointe Drive, metropizza.com (JB)

 

Best Buffet

Bacchanal Buffet

My countless buffet visits have taught me one thing: All buffets have a dollar-per-pound ratio which closely mimics that of penal colonies — that is, no matter how fancy the buffet says it is, there’s always a sneaking sense of bulk efficiency undercutting all the hype about quality. Except for one strong outlier: The Bacchanal Buffet. Bacchanal Buffet’s food is as fine as any dish from a restaurant with a Food Network star’s face on the billboard. And better yet, it boasts a variety and bounty that screams to the world: Vegas is to America as America is to the rest of the world. In Caesars Palace, caesars.com (MW)

 

Best Japanese

Kaiseki Yuzu

If there was ever a restaurant in Vegas that truly embodied Japanese fine dining — without a hint of influence from French, pan-Asian, or New American — it would definitely be Kaiseki Yuzu. The multi-course, seasonal tasting menu showcases elegant, artful sashimi (and so much more) fit for dignitaries, hidden in a Henderson strip mall. 1310 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd. #105, yuzukaiseki.com (MW)

 

Best Mexican

Chile Caliente Tacos y Mariscos

Along a curving Henderson backway, a kooky, googly-eyed, sombrero-wearing hot pepper mascot on a sign beckons diners into this lesser-known Mexican eatery. Inside Chile Caliente, find unexpected deliciousness. Molcajetes — the house specialty — are cauldrons gurgling with spicy sauce and combinations of shrimp, octopus, chicken, steak, Oaxacan cheese, strips of nopales (cactus pads), and other savory morsels. Each bowl is a festive, savory Popocatépetl perfect for sharing. More subdued dishes like ceviche tostadas, housemade chorizo burritos, and asada fries are equally fantastic South-of-the-Border finds. For a bonus, there’s karaoke on Saturday nights for your smoking rendition of “Despacito.” 1017 Whitney Ranch Drive, chilecalientetym.com (GT)

 

Best Italian

Chef Marc’s Trattoria

Chef Marc’s Trattoria is a little difficult to find, tucked on the backside of an older retail complex at Sahara and Durango. But you should seek it out for its multitude of pastas prepared in-house; sufficiently spicy Utica hot greens layered with hot cherry peppers, cheese bread crumbs, and crispy pancetta; and one of his hallmark specials, tuna Bolognese rife with ground yellowtail mimicking beef. Chef Marc knows Italian, and you should know him. 8615 W. Sahara Ave., chefmarcstrattoria.com (JB)

 

Best Chinese

Chengdu Taste

Named for the capital of the Sichuan province, this restaurant is a bastion of spice in all its complexity, ranging from the subtle toothpick lamb with cumin to the unsurprisingly spicy numb-taste wontons, which, rest assured, deliver on their promise. Even a Chinese menu mainstay like Kung Pao chicken is elevated, while the memorably named Diced Rabbit with Younger Sister’s Secret Recipe is worth navigating among the bone and cartilage for spicy morsels that lay within. 3950 Schiff Drive, chengdutastelasvegas.com (JB)

 

Best Vegan Food

Chef Kenny’s Asian Vegan Restaurant

Vegan RestaurantSay farewell to that bland standby, the veggie burger. It’s time for meatless Kung Pao beef and General Tso’s chicken to take the spotlight. At this Korea Town Plaza eatery (on the western edge of Chinatown), the vegetable-forward menu features exquisitely crafted specialties from China, Japan, Thailand, and beyond. Traditional dishes abound, like Buddha’s Delight, orange chicken, pad Thai, and wonton soup — all rendered meatlessly. Check out the nigiri sushi with jackfruit and vegan swap-outs for tuna, salmon, and eel. For a novel refresher, go for the fragrant cilantro and turmeric salads. 6820 Spring Mountain Road #111, chefkennysasianvegan.com (GT)

 

Best Korean Barbecue

Hobak

There’s good Korean barbecue all over town: Choice cuts of meat, attentive servers who keep an eye on your tableside sear and sizzle, and plenty of fresh banchan (those little side dishes of pickles, veggies, and more that come with your meal). But for a truly festive barbecue experience, you can’t go wrong with Hobak: It’s a boisterous, buzzing venue with interior décor that recalls vintage Seoul dining districts, with hand-lettered signs and steel awnings. Go for a birthday — servers come out singing, bearing a rice puff ice cream sandwich with a crackling sparkler candle on top. 5808 Spring Mountain Road #101, hobakkoreanbbq.com (SS)

 

Best Neighborhood Restaurant

Vintner Grill

Thirteen years after opening, Summerlin’s low-key, high-style Vintner Grill remains a hidden gem and a neighborhood fave. Tucked in an office park off West Charleston, Vintner invites with a warm dining room, a comfortable lounge, a cozy patio, and a chatty bar — all of which pair nicely with a well-selected wine and crafted cocktail list. The Modern American menu (sprinkled with a touch of France and Italy) remains familiar, while the Hamptons-esque vibe has aged very well, enveloping guests like a comfortable pair of designer shoes that still draws the looks. 10100 W. Charleston Blvd. #150, vglasvegas.com (JPR)

 

Best Desserts

Sweets Raku

This is the city where a Strip pastry chef can be treated like royalty, given a fiefdom and a ridiculous budget to make jaw-dropping, Instagram-ready masterpieces. That makes the creations coming from Sweets Raku all the more amazing. They’re no less jaw-dropping than anything on the Strip, but you can eat these legendarily precise, complex confections without having to drop four figures on the 12 courses preceding it — that is, you can skip straight to dessert. Sweets Raku’s menu changes almost daily, but when it’s available, try “Mars”, a Hennessy-soaked yuzu mousse with white chocolate, worthy of the Roman god himself. 5040 W. Spring Mountain Road #3, raku-sweets.com (MW)

 

Best Bar Food

Aces & Ales

Aces & Ales helped start the Southern Nevada craft beer revolution more than a decade ago, and its program remains a leader. But its brew-friendly bar bites are part of that success. Buffalo wings doused in “hoti yaki” sauce will pop your top, and cheese reigns supreme with Wisconsin-mode fried curds and Arrogant Bastard Ale-infused balls. Burgers arrive with house-ground prime beef, including the Juicy Lucy, which conceals an oozy mother lode of American cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, chorizo, and onions inside a Black Angus patty. Want to carb-load to the max? Order the deep-dish Eddie Spaghetti pizza garnished with noodles and meat sauce. Or keep it light with a vibrant, kaleidoscopic Kick Ass house salad with sweet honey mustard dressing. Wash everything down with a choice of dozens upon dozens of finely curated brews. 2801 N. Tenaya Ave.; 3740 S. Nellis Blvd., acesandales.com (GT)

 

Best Breakfast

Served

By some whim of the kitchen gods, Henderson has become the hotspot for locally owned, up-market breakfast spots, with Served leading the pack. Most of all, this sunny nook on the border of Green Valley Ranch and MacDonald Highlands is Hollandaise Sauce Central. Nearly a dozen varieties of eggs Benedict enliven the morning menu with adventurous ingredients from beef short rib and roasted pork belly to grilled portobello mushrooms and soft-shell crabs. Seasonal specials like duck à l’orange Benedict are also draped in the astoundingly butter-rich, lemony sauce, too. Other inventive dishes are the parsley-laden Thai “green eggs” with griddle-fried Spam and garlic rice; baked herb-roasted prime rib hash; and baked French toast with berries. But seriously, this place is all about the Hollandaise — don’t pass it up. 1770 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway #100, servedlv.com (GT)

 

Best Brunch

Bardot Brasserie

Every chef and his mother has put second-stringers on an early shift slinging bennies and “French” toast, but Bardot is rare in putting the entire force of a brand behind it — not to mention the one and only Chef Josh Smith. Truly the only brunch in town where one feels underdressed without a tie. In Aria, aria.com (MW)

 

Best Diner

Vickie’s Diner

Vickie’s Diner has been serving two eggs any style since Eisenhower was in the White House and Bill Haley was topping the charts. It used to be Tiffany’s Cafe and the building used to be the White Cross, but former waitress and current owner Vickie Kelesis is still keeping her Uncle Pete’s diner legacy alive. There’ve been some changes to the hours (not quite 24/7 anymore) and the menu (they’ve added salads), but you can still get a hubcap-sized Greek omelet, quicksand-thick chocolate milkshake, and the best patty melt in Vegas. 1700 Las Vegas Blvd. S., vickiesdiner.com (LTR)

 

Best Late-Night Dining

Ferraro’s

Even in a city that never sleeps, late-night dining options are often limited to wings and pizza. However, Ferraro’s offers options that are more sophisticated and more filling. From 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., a “Mezzanotte” menu offers discounts on everything from burrata to osso bucco, as well as a three-course tasting that lets you sample the joys of calamari, fettucine, and tiramisu without your tummy keeping you up until dawn. Combined with 50 percent off bottles of wine, it is, indeed, an offer you can’t refuse. 4480 Paradise Road, ferraroslasvegas.com (LTR)

 

Best Donuts

Real Donuts #1

donutsFancy donut shops are all the rage as bakers engage in an escalating arms race, attempting to outdo one another with edgier ingredients and toppings. But for a taste of the classics, venture to the old West Charleston strip mall housing Real Donuts, where maple logs and apple fritters reign supreme. If you’re feeling adventurous, the inverted cinnamon roll is what qualifies for edgy here. Best go elsewhere for your bacon-crumble-Fruity Pebbles-whatever; classic donuts are the sole and rightful breakfast food here. 1811 W. Charleston Blvd. #1 (JB)

 

Best Coffee

Vesta

VestaBlessed as we are by the percolation of independent coffeehouses across the valley, Las Vegas is benefitting broadly by the third-wave coffee renaissance. No longer must we suffer the over-roasted bitter burden of the behemoth chains, especially when local joints like Downtown’s Vesta have their own roaster parked right inside the cafe. Vesta’s sustainably sourced beans are house-roasted to a bold yet creamy smoothness that glides over your palate rather than attacking it. Even the decaf will have you jumping (perhaps a little less high) for joy. Savor on site, or take some home to brew your own. 1114 S. Casino Center Blvd. #1, vestacoffee.com (JPR)

 

Best Beer Program

World of Beer

Sure, it’s a chain, but the impressive World of Beer at the Galleria at Sunset does suds with total gusto. Order a giant Bavarian pretzel with brown ale-infused beer cheese to tide you over as you peruse the head-spinning list of brews, including pours from Southern Nevada crafters such as Able Baker and Bad Beat, and international luminaries including Modern Times and Petrus. The chalkboard-decorated room is fun and convivial, and you can even toss some cornhole bean-bags out front. 1300 W. Sunset Road #2940, worldofbeer.com (GT)

 

Best Wine Selection

Marché Bacchus French Bistro and Wine Shop

Call it a smashing success. Last year, an errant truck driver plowed his rig through the front door of the venerable Marché Bacchus in picturesque Desert Shores. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but the foyer and retail area were demolished, along with many bottles of fine vintages. The owners rebounded with a handsome new entrance; a beautifully expanded front lounge area; and an upgraded, Gallic-inspired culinary program that’s perfect for oenophiles. Order by the glass from the impressive wine list, or uncork a top-notch bottle from the shop’s nearly 1,000 wines in stock. Whether you go in for a flinty white or a tannic red, clink glasses with friends and gaze across glimmering, palm tree-framed Lake Jacqueline. Santé. 2620 Regatta Drive #106, marchebacchus.com (GT)

 

Best Juice Shop

ColdPress Express

Whether you’re a true believer in juicing or a casual sipper, ColdPress Express in Downtown Summerlin has primo botanical combos like the sunshiney Liquid Defense with orange, apple, carrot, lemon, lime, and basil. That Good Green glows with cucumber, celery, kale, mint, spinach, and chlorophyll. Or try a decadent Bee Sting — hot chocolate spiced with cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, and bee pollen. 2010 Festival Plaza Drive, coldpressexpress.com (GT)

 

Best Cocktails

Electra at the Palazzo

On the Strip, the massive nightclub seems to have given way to glossy, glitzy lounges shaking and serving exotic libations. The latest is Electra Cocktail Club at the Palazzo, a glittery space that sparkles from crystal highballs, neon tubing, and digital art displays. The menu top-shelfs the lower-profile liquors like Chartreuse and Amaro in elegantly crafted cocktails. There’s also chic renditions of plebe beverages like frozen drinks and shots with the standard Scotch/smoky Scotch Penichillin and the vodka-coconut-cold brew Quick Charge. The Palazzo, palazzo.com (??)

 

Best Happy Hour

The Barrymore

You can find a happy hour in Las Vegas pretty much 24 hours a day, but some nosh-and-cocktail deals stand out. The Barrymore’s “social hour” offers excellent deals on food and drink in its shimmering bar or conventioneer-view outdoor patio. Drinks range from two bucks for a PBR to well drinks for a fiver to $20 bottles of champagne. An array of small bites include wedge and Caesar salads, as well as more elegant options like Oysters Rockefeller and roasted bone marrow. 99 Convention Center Drive, barrymorelv.com (LTR)

 

Personal Best

Best Place to Eat After a Long Night

Triple Seven

Triple 7As a full utilizer of this city’s 24-hour ethos, I find great satisfaction in our late-night dining options. Along with my standbys — Ichiza, Blueberry Hill, Pho Kim Long, and Du-Pars among them — this little gem at Main Street Station has recently risen to the highest place in my heart and tummy. Triple Seven hits the right spot for the right price every time I swagger in after midnight. Whatever you’re hungry for, this culinary polymath has a great version of it. Tasty burger? They got you. Saimen noodles with barbecue pork (ramen’s little Hawaiian cousin)? Some of the best in town. The oysters on the half shell? Freshly shucked. And, if you’re feeling old-school, the prime rib is on-point, too. This city is rife with excellent dining options at all hours; nonetheless, it would be a mistake to overlook this Downtown wonder. mainstreetcasino.com (Brent Holmes)

 

Old vs. New

Old school

Bob Taylor’s Ranch House

Bob TaylorBob Taylor’s isn’t a splurge in terms of price. But it is a splurge in the experiential sense. Dinner at this historic steakhouse in the northwest valley is never anything less than a lambent, vivid event. The completely unironic Hollywood cowboy memorabilia adorning the walls; the bustling kitchen perpetually launching juicy, mesquite-grilled steaks of every size and cut; the veteran servers who are all smiles, quips, and menu advice; the pervasive whiff of dealmaking and milestone-marking — it all conspires to encourage an expansive mood of genial abandon. You may not have come to Bob Taylor’s Ranch House to celebrate a special occasion, but rest assured that the occasion will be special. 6250 Rio Vista St.,
bobtaylorsranchhouse.com (AK)

 

New school

Carbone

CarboneIt is absurd, you think, to spend this much on pasta, until you taste it. It is crazy, you are certain, to shine your shoes for veal parmesan, until you realize that the gorgeous crystal chandelier above you originated in a 1960s Ferrari showroom. Captain service. Classic tunes. Private, high-back banquettes. Service that reminds you of the Las Vegas you know only from the movies. And perhaps the best Italian-American food in, well, America. This place was made to seal deals. Dining alone? Sit at the bar and let Robert treat you right. In Aria, aria.com. (JPR)

 

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