Desert Companion

All Things Streetwise

Tropicana delight

Orbiting on an outer ring of the University District, the Trop-Eastern quadrant offers cheap clothes, cocktails and even haircuts — and a handful of delis and restaurants proving that authenticity comes in many flavors.


Cuba Café

1. Just as much a Cuban cultural hotspot as a restaurant — if you want to polish your merengue moves, come on a loud and lively Friday or Saturday night — Cuba Café serves up a strong menu of classics. Their ropa vieja, literally “old clothes,” is said by expats to be some of the best in town: a steaming heap of tender shredded beef served with black beans, rice and fried plantains. 2055 E. Tropicana Ave. #1, 702-795-7070,


Fox’s Spy Outlet

2. So, the owner puts a cigarette lighter on the counter. I look at it — and it turns out I’m peering into a tiny bug-eye camera lens! Then he pops off the lighter’s top to reveal that it’s also a USB stick, so my shocking indiscretions as a nanny are easily downloadable! Also: lie detectors, surveillance cameras, infidelity tests and cell-phone pepper spray. In other words, the accouterments to modern romance. 2055 E. Tropicana Ave. #10, 702-262-9313

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Pinball Hall of Fame

3. O, glimmering shrine to clamorous machines of electromechanical zen, I will forever flip, shake, rattle and nudge your praises. 1610 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-597-2627


Village Meat & Wine

4. This bustling bodega of gourmet noshables is what Trader Joe’s is trying to be — except Village Meat & Wine boasts an actual meat and deli counter. Exotic meats range from antelope to buffalo to camel. Ever wanted to chew on a kangaroo drumstick? You can hop to it here. (“Kangaroo is sweet,” says the owner.) 5025 S. Eastern Ave. #23, 702-736-7575,


A Simple Life

5. Dedicated to the fare of Wisconsin, A Simple Life is part café, part specialty food shop, part HOLY MACKEREL THAT’S A BIG WALL OF JAMS AND JELLIES. Testament to their Midwestern chumminess: I barely had the “hello” out of my mouth when they handshook me into a chair and next thing I know I’m eating hearty vegetable soup with new friends. 5025 S. Eastern Ave. #21, 702-490-4916,



6. Found some unlikely scores in this reliable outpost of the thrift store chain: a literature subsection in the book aisles and boxed vinyl sets of Beethoven. 2300 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-433-1402


Dispensary Lounge

7. Once a daytime drunk’s sleep-away hole with a kitschy, ponderous water wheel, the Dispensary has blossomed into a hub for weekend nightlife, with live jazz and a late-night menu (mothership: half-pound burger and fries, $5.95). Most importantly: The beloved kitschy, ponderous water wheel still turns. 2451 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-458-6343,


Aveda Institute Las Vegas

8. The future hairdressers of America need your head — and starting at $15, these bright young cosmetology students will give you a shampoo and a thorough snip. If you’re tight on cash but have a high-maintenance ’do, know that these understudies thrive on follicular challenges. 4856 S. Eastern Ave., 702-459-2900,



9. Formerly known as BLOKHAUS, this building now houses an Internet domain startup. Consider it when you’re driving down Trop. Architecturally, I always found the building playful — its insistent stoutness humorously at odds with its silver suit, like a fat kid in a spaceman costume. 2121 E. Tropicana Ave.

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