WE'D LOVE NOTHING more than to spend this introduction pondering with guarded optimism the future of the Las Vegas restaurant scene in our fragile New Normal but, at this point, we’re a little afraid of jinxing things.
That said — okay, we’ll bite — there is reason for optimism. (Isn’t that the Vegas way?) This year’s Restaurant Awards honorees are both local stalwarts and fresh upstarts who’ve embraced simple, enduring values amid an age of so many uncertainties: quality food, outstanding service,
and inviting ambiance. Going back to basics never tasted so good — and witnessing the resolve and determination of Las Vegas restaurant professionals amid such challenging times only sweetens the menu.
Congratulations to the winners of Desert Companion’s 2021 Restaurant Awards.
Asian Restaurant of the Year
In his new Chinatown spot, Chef Kaoru Azeuchi perfects his culinary vision
READERS WITH a good memory may recall that Kaiseki Yuzu was a previous recipient of this same award in 2017. However, this incarnation of Kaiseki Yuzu is decidedly different: Instead of being tucked behind an AutoZone on East Silverado Boulevard, Kaiseki Yuzu has been nestled next to a Chinatown repair garage since early 2020. This move allowed chef/owner Kaoru Azeuchi to build out the space as a true kaiseki-only restaurant, the vision he aspired to since coming to the valley in 2014. He’s certainly making the most of it; Kaiseki Yuzu remains a unique dining experience in the valley.
For the uninitiated, kaiseki is a progressive, multicourse dining experience highlighting seasonal ingredients, but the presentation is as ornate and refined as the food. While sushi is a part of the experience — sashimi is highlighted in the tsukuri course and a brief nigiri offering arrives later in the meal — it is not necessarily the focus. (Right, chutoro, skipjack, and snapper.)
At Yuzu, after being led down a simple hallway into the cozy dining room with a six-person counter overlooking the kitchen, the meal progresses through a series of courses with traditional designations. These include tsukidashi, the opening salvo of cold appetizers ranging from a delectable pressed cod to jellyfish swimming in a mild vinegar; yakimono, the grilled course which, on a recent visit, included buttery A5 wagyu cooked atop a binchō-tan grill; and agemono, the fried course showcasing delicate tempura. But — and this is the charm and appeal of Kaiseki — every experience is different. One thing you can rely on, though, is that the food remains as exemplary as ever. Jim Begley
3900 Spring Mountain Road #A-5, 702-778-8889, kaisekiyuzu.com
Restaurateur of the Year
Gino Ferraro, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar
With iron discipline, Gino Ferraro and family have built an irreplaceable culinary institution
TO BE A GREAT restaurateur, one must be a world-class worrywart. Gino Ferraro certainly fits the bill. He seems to be continually bracing himself against some imminent, operatic tragedy about to befall his restaurant — a misstep in service, some fine detail not quite up to snuff. This is not to say Gino Ferraro is never happy. To see him touching every table, decanting an aged Barolo, or advising customers what to order, is to see a professional at the top of his game — albeit one who knows how vigilant he must be to stay there.
His passion for food and wine runs deep. What began as a wholesale/importing business in Las Vegas in the early 1980s quickly became a tiny trattoria/retail store on West Sahara Avenue, then a full-blown Italian ristorante, replete with wine and piano music, then to its current digs on Paradise Road, where he and his family have flourished since 2009. Three versions of the same restaurant in 35 years, each one bigger and better than the last, is a feat almost unheard of in this industry. Ferraro’s has always been classic without being stuffy and old-school without being hidebound. The formula: A hospitality-first philosophy backed with a menu of favorites (a legendary osso buco) and Italian standards (a simply perfect spaghetti aglio e olio), along with lighter fare (a gorgeous Caprese salad) guaranteed to satisfy the old guard and adventurous gastronomes alike.
To pull off this feat for a decade takes the soul of an entrepreneur, the stamina of a bricklayer, and the discipline of a drill sergeant. The fact that Gino and his family — aided by his wife, Rosalba, and chef/son, Mimmo — have kept Ferraro’s at this level of excellence while surviving the rigors of COVID is a feat as impressive as his award-winning wine list. Come any night and you’ll see Gino on the prowl, eagle-eyed, surveying his guests like a paterfamilias looking after his flock. Look a little closer and you’ll see a twinkle in those worried eyes — a sense of satisfaction from knowing he and his staff have done all they can to ensure your happiness, since 1985. John Curtas
4480 Paradise Road, 702-364-5300, ferraroslasvegas.com
Neighborhood Restaurants of the Year
Elia Authentic Greek Taverna
The recipe is simple: Every dish is cooked from the heart
THE CUISINE OF GREECE is a victim of its own clichés. Ask an American to define a Greek restaurant, and they’ll describe a sea-blue and white room reeking of garlic and bouzouki music, along with boring gyros, wet-cardboard souvlaki, and baklava as dense as a doorstop. Elia challenged those tired tropes when it opened a few years ago, and in doing so, immediately became our best Greek restaurant, right down to the indecipherable Greek lettering and unpronounceable names on the menu. (Not to worry — translations are provided.) The aim is to make you feel like you’re on a side street in Athens, sipping Retsina at a local taverna, and Elia hits the mark. Better yet, when everyone else was simply trying to survive 2020, owners Savvas Georgiadis, Alexandros Gkikas, and Keti Haliasos made a bold move to a larger location on West Sahara Avenue, and never missed a beat. The new digs, complete with bar and outdoor patio, have given their cooking a larger stage as they serve up fresh roasted lamb, salt-baked fish, fried zucchini chips, and spicy tyrokafteri (cheese dip). (At right, Elia's spanakopita, a spinach and feta pie.) Thus has Elia become a taverna to call our own (and practically a club for the local Greek-American community), but also an education in how real Greeks eat (more fish and veggies, less pita bread and chickpeas). Nothing is by-the-numbers here. It is cooking from the heart, by Greeks eager to share their country’s food and wine. “Authentic” may be a problematic word in some food circles these days, but this is the real Greek deal, and Elia wears its name like a point of Hellenic pride. John Curtas
8615 W. Sahara Ave., 702-284-5599, elialv.com
Johnny C’s Diner
This retro-style diner takes American classics to a new level
LOCATED BY A MASSIVE motorcoach park packed with RVs, Johnny C’s Diner isn’t the easiest place to spot — but once you find it, you won’t forget it. Created by renowned chef John Church, this retro-style breakfast and lunch eatery has become a must-go casual dining destination for local food lovers. Formerly a top toque at leading Strip spots such as RM Seafood and Aureole, Church (along with his skilled open-galley kitchen staff) serves up enhanced versions of Americana classics, like a perfectly rolled “OG” omelet filled with creamy Boursin and melty American cheeses with abundant snipped chives on top. Love flapjacks? Here, silver dollars are topped with griddled foie gras, black pepper, orange segments, and maple syrup. The restaurant’s avocado toast is among the prettiest (and tastiest) in town; the lemony Hollandaise sauce on the eggs Benedict is outstanding; and the stuffed “mashed browns” are a dream.
The lunch menu is equally as impressive. The house burger and the Hen House fried chicken stackers are stellar, and both the fried mortadella and Cubano sandwich take layered meats to the next level. For chilly weather treats, the gooey mac is gonzo with its five kinds of cheese and a Cheez-It dust crust, and the poutine is as savory as any brown gravy this side of Quebec. Don’t forget the orange creamsicle cake (pictured right) for dessert — it’s a Church family recipe from Michigan. Greg Thilmont
8175 Arville St., 702-263-0146, johnnycsdiner.com
Pastry Chef of the Year
Florent Cheveau, Burgundy Bakery & Café
A ‘thousand layers’ of delicious in every bite
LOVERS OF FRENCH PASTRIES could not have been happier when, seemingly out of nowhere, Florent Cheveau (a former MGM executive pastry chef and World Chocolate Master), opened the Burgundy Bakery & Café on West Sahara Avenue earlier this year — at a time when the prospects for success looked as sunken as a fallen soufflé. After Cheveau took over a fast-food smoothie space across from the Village Square Theaters, his timing turned out to be as perfect as his croissants. People were hungry for handmade food, and anyone who bit into one of his macarons or cinnamon rolls knew they were in the presence of something special. These are baked goods on par with the best restaurants in the toniest hotels, and here they were, for taking home or eating in, seven days a week. His savory quiches, croque monsieurs, and sandwiches are just as compelling as his sweets, but what keeps us coming back is a mille-feuille (“thousand layers”) of incomparable buttery-lightness woven into breakfast pastries that take us straight back to Paris. John Curtas
9440 W. Sahara Ave., #105, 725-204-6557, burgundybakery.com
Excellence in Service and Management
Al Solito Posto
Tivoli Village finally has the crown jewel it’s long deserved
CREATED BY James Trees, the restaurateur behind the wildly popular Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District, this epicurean hotspot has been a city-wide draw since it opened earlier this year. Bringing an upscale take on East Coast Italian-American cuisine to the edge of Summerlin, Al Solito Posto has achieved a hallmark in offering the finest front-of-house service in the Las Vegas Valley.
Led by Carlo Cannuscio, development partner, and David Bonatesta, beverage director, echelons of team members — bartenders, captains, servers, runners, and bussers — work together seamlessly. It’s more elaborate, structured, and precise than the service programs you might find at other Italian restaurants, but just because it’s regimented doesn’t mean it’s rigid. Rather, Al Solito Posto’s customer-facing team is filled with lively personalities. (And every one of them is ever-ready to deftly but inconspicuously knife-sweep crumbs off your tablecloth at a moment’s notice.)
Of course, the back-of-house staff under Executive Chef Steve Young is essential in this well-honed customer service system, and in a few classic dish presentations, you can see the teamwork come to tableside fruition. For the bread course that starts each dinner, a captain or server creates a melange of kitchen-roasted confit garlic cloves, sea salt, fragrant minced herbs, and olive oil for focaccia dipping. With the classic minestrone, a pottage of garden verdure and cannellini beans is artfully bathed in tomato-basil broth. And for dessert, each serving of tiramisu is enrobed in espresso sauce for a sweet production. No matter what dish is served at Al Solito Posto, it’s delivered with thoughtful style and class. Greg Thilmont
420 S. Rampart Blvd., #18 702-463-6781, alsolito.com
Bar of the Year
The Silver Stamp
It is the perfect Platonic ideal of a beer bar
EVERY BAR WANTS to create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere; few bars achieve this beyond a wall of graffitied-up dollar bills or Polaroid gallery of smiling regulars. The Silver Stamp instead opts to re-create the finished Midwest basement bar of your cool bachelor uncle who hosts the Friday Odd Fellows meetings: wood-paneled walls, oil landscapes, a wall of vintage beer cans, and just about every unique piece of promotional beer furnishing made in the 1970s. Owners Rose Signor and Andrew Smith put love into every stitch and nail, and it shows. Not to be outshined, their tap and bottle list is one for true connoisseurs, boasting barleywines, sours, and imperial stouts.
One of the enterprising minds behind the rise of Atomic Liquors after its renovation, Signor poured her hard-earned expertise into Silver Stamp, assembling a set of the best 20 taps Downtown. Besides great beer, they offer just three other things I’ve found to be imperative to a convalescent night out, compared to a dyspeptic one: Underberg digestif bitters, pickled eggs, and hot dogs. No matter what bacchanalian debauchery preceded it, those three items are guaranteed to erase all bad decisions.
The Silver Stamp is the beer bar that all other beer bars want to become. It’s the Platonic ideal of beer bars. It is effortlessly genius, utterly unserious, and yet lovingly refined. Mitchell Wilburn
222 E. Imperial Ave., 702-527-1784, silverstamplv.com
Strip Restaurant of the Year
Bazaar Meat by José Andrés
This steakhouse that’s so much more than a steakhouse continues to excel
WHEN HE ISN'T out saving the world, José Andrés oversees a galaxy of restaurants that are the envy of every chef in America. He’s more of a philanthropist than a working chef these days, but his ThinkFoodGroup has been running four gorgeous eateries in Las Vegas for more than a decade, and their excellence continues to impress, from the molecular (‘e’ by José Andrés), to tapas (Jaleo), to the Mexican-Chinese mashup that is China Poblano. But the one restaurant that is sui generis and without peer is Bazaar Meat. It is all about meat, of course, but it’s also a tour de force of Iberian cuisine — from the wacky (foie gras cotton candy) to the sassy (chicken croquetas served in a shoe) to the substantial (haunches of some of the best beef on the planet). Calling it a steakhouse doesn’t do it justice, since you can compose a meal here any number of ways — from completely vegetarian to nothing but raw fish — and it remains the go-to place in Vegas for all those iterations of Spanish pork. COVID put a crimp in this restaurant’s style as it did all up and down the Strip, but Bazaar’s bounce-back has been impressive. Amid layoffs and capacity restrictions, José’s showplace soldiered on in its back corner of the Sahara Las Vegas, enduring more hardship than any gastronomic restaurant deserves — much less one that’s easily one of the top 10 steakhouses in the country.
Bazaar Meat is more than a steakhouse. It is also a wine bar, a ham bar, and a raw bar. It announces its brilliance from your first look at the meat locker (behind a wood-fired grill the size of a small truck), and keeps the magnificence going from one course after the next. The menu is shorter than it was two years ago, and the wine list is now two pages instead of twenty, but the precise cooking (now headed by veteran executive chef Candace Ochoa), impeccable service, and sharp management remain intact. Bazaar Meat has weathered quite a storm, and still operates in choppy seas, but through it all, José has kept his Spanish flag flying high. John Curtas
Inside the Sahara, Las Vegas hotel-casino, saharalasvegas.com
Restaurant Hall of Fame Awards
Golden Steer Steakhouse
It’s a beloved, bona fide Vegas classic for a reason
IF THERE'S AN ultimate type of Las Vegas restaurant, it’s a steakhouse. And if there’s an ultimate Las Vegas steakhouse, it’s the Golden Steer. Beloved by longtime locals and first-time tourists — as well as celebs from Dean Martin to Nicolas Cage — the Steer has been icing cocktails and grilling steaks for more than six decades.
The first step into the restaurant takes you back to classic Sin City: red velvet wallpaper, polished oak bar, Western-themed art, the Great American Songbook playing quietly in the background. Many of the booths bear brass plaques engraved with the names of legends who made them “their” seats, whether it’s Muhammad Ali, Mario Andretti, or Marilyn Monroe. During COVID, the Steer maintained distancing by filling some booths with mannequins styled as the celebrities who once occupied them. Dining across from a plaster replica of John Wayne may sound unnerving, but it was exactly the sort of whimsical weirdness that makes Vegas.
Of course, all the style in the world means nothing without substance on the plate. The Golden Steer menu has remained largely the same — ribeye, porterhouse, filet, chateaubriand, wet-aged for 30 days and handled by butchers who’ve been there for 30 years. Sides are the steakhouse standards, but expertly rendered (the mushrooms are worth a trip in themselves). Appetizers have the same Mad Men flair — shrimp cocktail, Oysters Rockefeller, escargot, and the Steer’s legendary tableside Caesar salad. (Some of the veteran staff actually spun their Caesar salad bowls, or flambéed Bananas Foster, pictured right, for Sinatra back in the day.) Tableside service may seem like a quaint throwback, but at the Golden Steer, it’s a flamboyant floor show that also creates spectacular dishes.
Since opening in 1958, the Golden Steer has seen several owners, bankruptcies, ups and downs. Michael Signorelli bought the restaurant 20 years ago; his daughter, Amanda Signorelli, has taken over operations, tweaking the wine list, enhancing the dining room, and expanding the Golden Steer brand into mail-order. In a world that never stops changing, let’s raise a glass to constancy: When it comes to capturing the flavor of Las Vegas — its history, its atmosphere, its food — the Golden Steer remains the gold standard. Lissa Townsend Rodgers
308 W. Sahara Ave., 702-384-4470, goldensteerlasvegas.com
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Guy Savoy ushered in a new era of Vegas dining that endures
SINCE OPENING in May 2006, Guy Savoy has presided like a chapel of fine dining over the Las Vegas Strip. Its splendor announces itself from the huge double doors that greet you at the entrance, leading to a dining room with a ceiling that reaches even higher, resulting in muted conversations and hushed tones. The cathedral metaphor is apt; the French treat their cuisine as a religion, and their greatest restaurants are temples of the culinary arts. There are only a handful of restaurants in America where such reverential attention is paid to what’s on the plate, and Restaurant Guy Savoy is one of them.
What Guy Savoy means to our dining scene cannot be overstated: When Savoy arrived with his brigade de cuisine 15 years ago, it confirmed Las Vegas’ stature as a world-class dining destination, one that even the supercilious French had brought to their bosom. In planting his flag here, Savoy, along with compatriots Joël Robuchon and Pierre Gagnaire, recognized our tourist industry as an eager market for their impeccable cooking, with a restaurant scene (and talent) on par with much larger cities with much deeper culinary traditions. Having the world’s best in our own backyard fostered a climate of excellence that raised everyone’s standards. (Right, a selection of fanciful root vegetable preparations.)
The significance of their arrival was felt for more than a decade. International acclaim, national media, food festivals, awards, and other world-renowned chefs followed. Suddenly, people from all over the world were coming here just to eat, and our very own French Revolution from 2005-2009 was the reason for it. Savoy’s influence has been unmistakable, but what garners him Hall of Fame status is doing it so well for so long. Through the Great Recession and now a pandemic, this dining room has never faltered. When everyone was still on their heels from shutdowns in mid-2020, Caesars Palace made the bold move to reopen this dining room, and was rewarded with an avalanche of reservations — pent-up demand for one of Las Vegas’ most expensive meals, for cooking that sets a world standard and embodies the ultimate haute cuisine experience, from one of the world’s greatest chefs. It reinforces how important Guy Savoy has been, and continues to be, to Las Vegas’ culinary reputation. John Curtas
Inside Caesars Palace, caesars.com
Chef of the Year
James Trees, Esther’s Kitchen/Ada’s/ Al Solito Posto
He’s a prolific perfectionist with nearly flawless culinary instincts
AFTER SERVING under a variety of world-renowned chefs, in early 2018 Las Vegas native James Trees returned to his roots with the opening of Esther’s Kitchen. Amid the Arts District’s ascent, the casual, hip spot for his take on Italian fare wowed diners with stunning housemade pastas, innovative cocktails (including an incredibly impressive selection of amari) and an in-house sourdough served with a seriously addictive anchovy butter. It quickly became one of the hottest seats in town, embodying Trees’ culinary traits: an eye for detail, a willingness to tweak tradition, and a commitment to sourcing the best ingredients. 2019 welcomed his second restaurant: Ada’s Kitchen at Tivoli Village. The more casual spot focusing on pizza, pasta and, yes, ice cream was also well-received, bringing his simple but precise flavors to the west Valley. It’s no secret that Tivoli Village is a notoriously difficult location for sustaining concepts, but Ada’s persevered. Then 2020 happened.
But 2020 doesn’t seem to have stopped Trees; it only seems to have motivated him further. After being named a James Beard Finalist for Best Chef: Southwest, he nimbly navigated pandemic complications with the construction of outdoor dining pods at Esther’s (which have since become a mainstay) and even closed for a deep clean when his staff came down with some cases. In 2021, he proceeded to open a trio of new restaurants. First was Al Solito Posto in Tivoli (see p. 69), just steps away from Ada’s. Think of it as Esther’s older sibling with a higher-end, more traditional menu that exudes culinary confidence and subtle flair. This debut shifted Ada’s Kitchen to reopen as Ada’s Wine Bar, a wine-lover’s venue with excellent Mediterranean and Spanish tapas, representing Trees’ first local venture outside the Italian peninsula. And with the opening of Resorts World, Trees’ ultracasual Mozz Bar, focusing on sandwiches and mozzarella, opened in the Famous Foods food court. This quartet of destinations puts Trees among the most prolific of local chefs — but one whose zeal for perfection and unerring instincts for bold, simple flavors elevate him to a class of his own. Jim Begley
New Restaurant of the Year
Main St. Provisions
At once rustic and refined, Main St. Provisions is thebest thing to happen in 2020
IT TOOK NERVES of steel to open during the pandemic, but that’s what restaurateur Kim Owens and executive chef Justin Kingsley Hall did with Main St. Provisions. Construction delays, common to renovations of older Arts District spaces, pushed what was intended to be a 2019 opening well into COVID. The wait was worth it. The arrival of Main St. Provisions became one of 2020’s few bright spots.
The bright, inviting venue represents a long-awaited return to a regular kitchen for chef Hall. As Main St. Provisions’ opening date drifted, the longtime valley chef made numerous appearances at various charity and other public events, keeping him and the restaurant in the public eye. For anyone who knows Hall’s cooking — think rustic Americana with classic techniques — Main St. Provisions’ menu is a welcome sight. Paper-thin venison tataki (right) wades in an oaky whiskey shoyu dressing, complementing the delicate meat without overwhelming it — demonstrating the Hall’s deftness at establishing balance with flavor-forward ingredients. The strikingly savory roasted new harissa carrots are a throwback that had originally gained notoriety at Hall’s SLO Boy pop-up. The whipped cheddar potatoes are an epiphany; on this exceptional dish, Hall doesn’t shy away from the butter or the Beehive cheddar cheese from Utah. The rich rabbit boudin is not just a superb rabbit dish, it’s simply one of the valley’s best dishes of any kind, swimming in a savory jus practically worth bottling. Main Street’s bench of culinary talent is deep: Don’t miss executive sous chef Jessica Perlstein’s rotating crudo, combining whatever’s market-fresh with her ever-changing whims. It’s an easy excuse to make a weekly visit.
Owens’ warm hospitality directs a friendly, efficient front-of-house operation which, alongside a charming drink menu (the world needs more pickle-infused drinks like the sharp Harvey Dent) round out the dining experience. As does an utterly unforgettable Basque cheesecake, the exclamation point to any memorable Main St. Provisions meal. Jim Begley
1214 S. Main St., 702-457-0111, mainstprovisions.com
Restaurant of the Year
A timeless paragon of elegance and excellence, Cipriani takes us back to the future
CIPRIANI IS NEITHER new nor cutting-edge nor unique to Las Vegas. Nevertheless, it represents something special to our restaurant scene: an outpost of a luxury brand celebrating a style of dining that seemed in danger of extinction just a few years ago. In an era overrun with casual gastropubs, a retro-chic restaurant trading in classic Venetian recipes might have seemed as out of place as Dolce & Gabbana at a beer bash. But it opened in 2018, appealing to locals and tourists alike looking for something more refined than formulaic Italian. Then COVID hit, and Cipriani became more than just a restaurant. It was a beacon to all seeking a good meal on the Strip, a lunch and dinner stalwart, open every day, keeping hope alive that Las Vegas might yet return to its former glory.
For a restaurant tracing its origins to 1931, the cuisine is remarkably timeless: simple, sophisticated Northern Italian fare with nary a garlic clove in sight. In place of tomato sauce and cheese you get refinement: top-shelf salumi, carpaccio (pictured right, invented by founder Giuseppe Cipriani in 1933), spoon-tender baby artichokes, baked tagliolini with ham, and pastas that celebrate rich noodles rather than disguise them. The unsung heroes of the menu are the meats (including the elusive fegato alla Veneziana, a liver dish so coveted by connoisseurs it is almost mythical), pizzas (expensive but worth it), and vanilla gelato so good it ought to come with a warning label.
And then there’s the service: snappy barkeeps (always ready with a Bellini), crackerjack waiters, and sharply dressed managers, all at the top of their game. The staff does everything from cosseting celebrities (yes, that was Jay-Z and Beyoncé making an entrance) to boning fish to spooning up desserts in multiple languages. (The Cipriani brand is huge with jet-setting internationals.) Here it all flows effortlessly: old-school attentiveness done with an understated flair in synchronicity with the posh surroundings. More than anything, this ristorante signifies a return to a time when atmosphere and elegance went knife and fork with good food, when classic cooking was the rule, when meals were something to be celebrated with family and friends in high style. Everything old is new again, and Cipriani is taking us back to the future with the most stylish Italian in town. John Curtas
In Wynn Las Vegas, 702-342-9600, cipriani.com