'Psst! Have you tried ...?'
The Neon Feast food app puts food critics' whisper network in the palm of your hand
NOWHERE IS LAS VEGAS' penchant for excess more apparent than in our seemingly limitless choice of restaurants. From the tourist corridor’s celebrity kitchens, to the Arts District’s gastropubs, to East Charleston’s taco shops — not to mention the mom-and-pop joints dotting all corners of the valley — we revel in our embarrassment of culinary riches.
For the layperson, this can prove both boon and bane. Heck, even seasoned food writers in this town (like me) have to work to keep up. But here’s a secret: We media industry folks have an informal whisper network through which we share obscure finds and must-try delicacies, while ardent foodies outside the industry know who to follow for the inside scoop. Food writers spend their careers consuming untold calories, so everyone else can benefit from their expertise, whether they’re in the mood for pho or foie gras.
Neon Feast is the culmination of this institutional knowledge, made available to the public online. Veteran food journalist Al Mancini conceived of the dining app as a place where the city’s most plugged-in gastronomic enthusiasts would share, for everyone’s benefit, the dining recommendations that they give to people they know.
“Now, I want to make it clear: I’m never saying that these are the best restaurants in town,” Mancini says. “I’m just opening it up with the people that I know and trust, where they send their friends and family. And I think that makes it a very niche market.”
Mancini boasts a buffet of food journalism bona fides. He was most recently a food and beverage reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and he has written for national and local publications including Las Vegas CityLife, Las Vegas Weekly, Luxury Las Vegas, Vegas magazine, Vegas Seven, and this publication. He also co-authored the first three editions of the dining guidebook Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants. In creating Neon Feast, he employs the same practices he used in his decades-long reporting career.
“I’m really just trying to take the same model that journalists have always used, which is you interview experts. You create lists of their recommendations that are highlighting certain aspects of the local food scene,” Mancini says. “We’re not trying to say that we’re the authority 100 percent, that this is the best and we gave it our award, and it’s better than every other place out there. What we’re trying to say is, Las Vegas has a vibrant food community that understands the benefits of talking with each other, sharing the news on what’s good.”
Neon Feast is a communal labor of love, and that’s what ma
kes it fun. Mancini (right) began the curation process by surveying (without compensation) his most trusted friends — local and national food writers, chefs and other foodies — about the places they would recommend to their inner circle. The app now includes almost 500 curated restaurants that can be searched via filters, such as cuisine type or location.
As a food writer and editor in this town, I can attest to the industry’s convivial spirit: We love nothing more than to talk about the dishes we’re passionate about. And the food aficionados here are equal-opportunity boosters: The arrival of a marquee-name chef garners as much excitement as a local chef doing a pop-up at Vegas Test Kitchen downtown.
Diana Edelman, founder of the website Vegans, Baby and a Neon Feast contributor, says the celebratory spirit in which the app was founded distinguishes it from other guides.
Neon Feast “is curated by experts in the industry who have spent a good portion of their career writing or sharing their food and dining knowledge and expertise in the media. If someone is having a bad day, etc., there isn’t an opportunity to damage a business,” she says. “Rather, this app celebrates the best of the best and offers an expert review by thought leaders and those who are trusted in the community when it comes to dining in Las Vegas.”
Mancini says the app, for as long as he is at the helm, will be free of charge; restaurants can’t “buy” their way onto it. The only way to get listed is to be recommended by one of the experts, but once listed, chefs and restaurateurs have the option of paying for premium features, such as uploading their own photo gallery, listing specials, or linking to a reservation system.
“Getting an insider tip — that’s very much a part of the experience,” Mancini says of Neon Feast. “Here we are — we’ve got 50 insiders sharing their tips, written up by seven or so of the top food writers in Las Vegas and managed right there in the palm of your hand, and it’s free. What else can you ask for?”