Monday, April 16, 2012 | 6 p.m.
1. The riserva steak
Carnevino, at Palazzo, 789-4141.
Dry-aging is rightfully all the rage, but 60 days is for wusses. Carnevino does it the right way with the riserva—minimum 240-day dry-aged steaks. Yeah, I said it: eight months. The riserva displays the pungency of gorgonzola while conveying the essence of pure meat in every bite. After experiencing this, you’ll never look at steak in the same way.
2. Chicken fingers
Crown & Anchor British Pub, 1350 E. Tropicana Ave., 739-8676; 4755 Spring Mountain Road, 876-4733.
This homey British pub hardly looks like a culinary must from the outside, but belly up to a plate of the chicken fingers and you’ll quickly reconsider. Crispy, golden breading wraps impossibly moist chicken with wide bowls of hot sauce and ranch for dipping. Good luck keeping them to yourself.
3. Hot N Juicy style shrimp
Hot N Juicy Crawfish, 4810 Spring Mountain Road, Suite C-D, 891-8889; 3863 Spring Mountain Road, 750-2428.
Sure, the place is called Crawfish, but those mudbugs offer scant meat for such effort. Better go with the shrimp Hot N Juicy style in a seasoning mix that combines all the other flavors for a garlicky, Cajun kick that will have you licking your fingers long after the last crustacean has disappeared into your belly. Just be careful not to rub your eyes.
4. Consome loco and cochinita pibil tacos
Los Antojos, 2520 S. Eastern Ave., #B, 457-3505.
This family-run hole-in-the-wall turns out authentic Mexican food that’s the antithesis of drive-thru fare, like the consome loco, a crazy-good chicken soup with rice, avocado and lime that’s as comforting as anything your mother makes. Follow it with a pair of cochinita pibil tacos, spicy pork cooked in banana leaves and topped with pickled onions. You’re favorite carnitas will seem boring by comparison.
5. Khao soi
Lotus of Siam, 953 E. Sahara Avenue #A5, 735-3033.
Thai food is based on four flavors—sour, sweet, salty and bitter—and this dish off the famed restaurant’s Northern Thai menu melds them all in one addictive meal. Coconut cream curry packs a sweet, mellow heat over egg noodles and your protein of choice, garnished with red onion, lime and pickled vegetables for some essential balance. Order it once and you’ll be hard pressed to get anything else.
6. Honey toast
Ichiza, 4355 Spring Mountain Road, 367-3151.
Save room for dessert. After you’ve sampled this Japanese izakaya’s savory nibbles, it’s time for the honey toast—a loaf of chewy white bread with the top lopped off, baked till the crust is crisp with butter and honey melted into its gooey center then topped with heavy scoops of vanilla ice cream. It’s hot and cold, salty and sweet—the kind of simple, gratifying dessert that lingers long after you’ve put down the spoon.
7. The counter
Tiffany’s Cafe, inside White Cross Drugs, 1700 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 444-4459.
We all love quiet corner booths, but sometimes nothing beats the buzz of an old-school counter. At Tiffany’s, being up close means getting to watch the cook as he works the grill (yeah, we said cook, not chef), scope out the strange assortment of wall hangings and eyeball the ... unique cast of characters coming through the door. Oh yeah, the classic, greasy-spoon food’s pretty good, too, especially after a long night at the bars.
8. $20.12 lunch
Estiatorio Milos, at Cosmopolitan, 698-7000.
Three courses. Twenty dollars. The lunch special at this Mediterranean seafood palace is not only an incredible deal, it’s incredibly delicious. While it’s hard to go wrong here, for our Jackson, the best lineup is charcoal-broiled octopus (additional $10), grilled lavraki (sea bass) and the sinfully rich Greek yogurt martini.
9. Miso ramen
Monta, 5030 Spring Mountain Road, #6, 367-4600.
The salty bite of fermented soybean paste mellows into steaming pork broth for a nutty, whisperingly sweet bath for tender wheat noodles and wood ear mushrooms, green onions and mustard leaves, paper-thin wheels of pork belly and a hard egg showing off a perfect, golden yolk. The dish is almost too beautiful to eat. But the wicked blend of tastes and textures will have your spoon scraping the bottom of the bowl.
Sen of Japan, 8480 W. Desert Inn Road, #F1, 871-7781.
Sen of Japan chefs Shinji Shichiri and Hiro Nakano know their food better than you, so why bother with actually ordering? That’s the beauty of omakase—you leave the choices up to the experts. Your only responsibility is to enjoy the trip. Whether or not the dishes are on the menu is irrelevant; it’s going to be a memorable night.
11. Soup dumplings
China Mama, 3420 S. Jones Blvd., 873-1977.
Beloved among local foodies, these petite steamed dumplings are the ideal start to an authentic Chinese meal. Scoop them onto your spoon carefully—each bite contains a mouthful of tasty pork bathing in rich broth—then slurp and chew your way to dumpling bliss.
Everyone has favorite dishes at this local Spanish mainstay, where the food comes fast and furious and the crowd is young, boozy and on its way to a great night. Gather a group of friends and pass around plates of bacon-wrapped dates, Manchego mac and cheese, chorizo clams and tortilla Española, all washed down with a pitcher of sangria or mojitos, (preferably the blood orange variety) liberally poured.
Guest Pick: Rick Harrison, Pawn Stars
13. Lamb Tagine
Vintner Grill, 10100 W. Charleston Blvd., #150, 214-5590.
Braised in a terracotta pot with dried fruit, cumin, coriander and hot Tunisian chili, an entire leg of Colorado lamb gets extravagantly tender. Executive chef Matthew Silverman says steam locks in and infuses the juices with bursts of date and apricot. Served with currant-almond couscous and a drizzle of preserved lemon and yogurt, it’s a Moroccan-inspired feast. Or, as Rick says, “It’s ridiculously good!”
14. Monthly Wine Dinner
at Todd’s Unique Dining 4350 E. Sunset Road, 259-8633.
Well-known and loved dishes like skirt steak on fire and seared ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes keep the regulars coming back to this Henderson institution, but the monthly dinners with varying wine pairings are where chef/owner Todd Clore offers exciting kitchen experimentation and expands his patrons’ tastes. It’s not unusual for one of the featured plates to make its way onto the permanent menu.
15. Osso bucco
Ferraro’s, 4480 Paradise Road, 364-5300.
Nothing less than a Vegas Italian institution, Ferraro’s didn’t miss a beat when it relocated from West Flamingo to Paradise (across from the Hard Rock) in late 2009. The signature braised veal shank remains one of the city’s favorite dishes, impossibly tender and rich with red wine reduction. It’s as good as you remember.
16. Bouchon’s weekend brunch
At Venetian, 414-6200.
Brunch options on the Strip have never been more varied and bountiful, but no restaurant’s baked goodies and savory-sweet combos are more consistently awesome than Bouchon’s. Brioche and jam, pecan sticky buns or scones alone could be a feast, but then you’d miss out on housemade sausages, roasted chicken and waffles, incredible salmon rilletes, and for God’s sake, don’t skip the profiteroles.
17. Melrose Shrimp
Nora’s Cuisine, 6020 W. Flamingo Road, #10, 365-6713.
Frank Sinatra croons while you’re on hold, desperately hoping Nora’s has a table. Once you’re seated it’s a dream of spotless white linen, perfect wine pours and plates of rustic, elegant food served steaming from the chef’s pan. The Melrose typically comes with linguine, but fresh gnocchi ($3 extra) is even better with silky basil pesto bejeweled with pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and tender zucchini. Add the briny ambrosia of giant, juicy shrimp and you have pasta that flat out refuses to play second fiddle.
18. The Western
Luv-It Frozen Custard, 505 E. Oakey Blvd., 384-6452.
Luv-It’s rotation of custards changes daily and is outlined two months in advance on the website. You need no advance notice, however, for the Western. Your choice of custards is drenched in hot fudge, caramel and pecans. Get fresh banana nut if they have it; otherwise, just pick whatever’s calling your name and enjoy a classic from a Valley institution.
Guest Pick: Jack Houston, Editor, LVM:
Border Grill, at Mandalay Bay, 632-7403.
“It was late into my first brunch at Border Grill when executive chef Mike Minor implored me to try the chilaquiles: crispy tortilla chips topped with tender beef brisket, chilies and cheeses and an egg cooked to order (over easy, please). The resulting explosion of flavors and textures made certain that I would order it first next time around—which, thanks to the incredible price point ($29.99 for all-you-can-eat small plates, $5 for bottomless mimosas), ended up being the following weekend. If you crave Roberto’s or Taco Bell after a long Friday or Saturday night, the chilaquiles beg you to reconsider.”
20. Kaiseki menu at Raku
5030 W. Spring Mountain Road #2, 367-3511.
Raku is the quintessential chef’s hangout, perhaps the industry’s favorite late-night haunt for refined yet approachable grub. But most chefs are too busy working to experience the artistic Kaiseki dinner, 10 courses for $100 or 15 courses for $150 spotlighting seasonal ingredients in chef Mitsuo Endo’s signature simple, pristine style. Call ahead for your chance at special plates like edamame tofu, amazing sashimi with fresh wasabi and Kobe beef tataki.
21. Nachos Nachos Nachos
Peppermill, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd., 735-4177.
The Peppermill’s Fireside Lounge is Vegas iconic, a must-visit and must-imbibe destination for us all. But after a few Mai Tais, you’re going to need something powerful, and that’s where the (equally iconic?) Nachos Nachos Nachos come into play. This massive mountain of tortilla chips covered in melty cheese, spicy ground beef, refried beans, salsa, jalapeños, tomatoes and black olives will hit the spot in every way. You haven’t really done the Peppermill until you’ve attacked this junk-food masterpiece.
22. Risotto ai frutti de mare
Bartolotta, at Wynn, 248-3463.
Bartolotta is now unequivocally the signature dining experience at Wynn and Encore, famous for providing a fresh-from-the-Mediterranean seafood experience in a luxurious atmosphere. Whole roasted fish is the calling card, but this simple, beautiful (and quite affordable at $22) risotto combines perfect Italian tradition with shrimp, lobster, clams, crab, cuttlefish and more, a hearty yet refreshing must.
23. Vegan donuts
Ronald’s Donuts, 4600 Spring Mountain Road, 873-1032.
Odds are, when you hear the words “vegan” and “donut” in the same sentence, the first word that comes to mind is not “yum.” Think again. The glazed alone will have you forgetting all about Krispy Kreme, but experiment further and try the apple fritter and maple bar. How do they do it? Who knows, but why question perfection?
24. Black cod
Nobu, at Hard Rock Hotel, 693-5090.
Existing somewhere between a culinary cliché and a game-changer is the miso-glazed black cod from Nobu. Who knows how many on-the-way-to-the-club types and trendy foodie folks have wolfed down this dish, from the flagship Nobu in New York to the Vegas outpost and everywhere in between? It’s okay to poke fun since it’s so good—delicate, almost buttery fish lacquered in a slightly sweet, umami-laden sauce.
25. Secret pizza
At Cosmopolitan, 698-7860.
If the Cosmo’s third-floor pizza joint had a sign (or a name), its New York-style pizza would surely taste just as delicious and inspire late-night lines just as long. Still, there’s something extra scrumptious about feeling like an insider, knowing that one of Las Vegas’ best slices lives down an unmarked hallway, footsteps from some of the Strip’s finest dining destinations. Perfect before a pool concert, after a night at Marquee or really anytime you don’t feel like getting on an airplane to hunt down great pizza.
26. Chicken fried lobster
Binion’s Ranch Steak House, at Binion’s, 382-1600.
This dish was originally created for the rodeo cowboys, and for a long time it wasn’t even on Binion’s menu. That’s all changed now, and for good reason. This baby, a large piece of lobster tail, breaded and fried, can hold its own with any steak or prime rib in the place. Along with a baked potato and the rest of the fixins, you’ll be lucky if you can finish the whole meal. But it makes great leftovers, too.
27. Chicken Benedict
Hash House A Go Go, multiple locations.
How big is this Man vs. Food favorite? Put it this way—it takes a minute just to process this dish. A layer of mashed potatoes topped with a huge biscuit, breaded chicken, bacon, tomato, cheese, spinach, eggs, ... if you’re up to the challenge of finishing the whole thing, take plenty of pictures—no one’s going to believe you. Did we mention it’s delicious?
Guest Pick: Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief, Bon Appétit Presenting Vegas Uncork’d, May 10-13)
28. Adam’s progressive Vegas dinner
Rapoport would start his dinner with a spicy crab salad from Alain Ducasse’s Mix at Mandalay Bay. (“Who doesn’t love guacamole? Even Alain Ducasse loves guac!” Rapoport says.) Then it’s off to STK for the 20-ounce bone-in rib steak, “the most flavorful steak you can buy,” accompanied by a side of “pillows of deliciousness” aka ricotta gnocchi from Bellagio’s Sensi. For dessert, it’s the Louvre from Payard Patisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace, a chocolate and hazelnut mousse with a hazelnut dacquoise.
29. Six-course tasting menu
Twist, at Mandarin Oriental, 888-881-9367.
Pierre Gagnaire wasn’t the first French legend to open a great restaurant in Vegas, but he did take the cuisine to new and innovative heights on the Strip. At Twist, chef de cuisine Pascal Sanchez reflects Gagnaire’s creative spirit, best experienced through six ever-changing courses ($189) driven by the best ingredients of the season, such as roasted venison with black pepper, juniper berries, salsify and yellow beets.
30. The Parma Chef’s
Table Chef Marc’s Pastavino & Deli, 7591 W. Washington Ave., #110, 233-6272.
Tasting menus are common on the Strip, but not so much off. At the Parma Chef’s Table, Chef Marc serves four courses of expertly prepared Italian offerings using whatever ingredients are freshest that evening, presenting and explaining each dish tableside. Let him do what he does best and bask in the liberation ... and pray he’s serving the ahi tuna Bolognese. Trust us on this one.
31. The Bobbie
Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, multiple locations.
Thanksgiving anytime you want it. It’s a genius concept, and Capriotti’s has been executing it expertly for years. Hunks of turkey, scoops of stuffing and dollops of cranberry sauce, piled high on a sub roll. Why wait till November?
Guest Pick: Wesley Gatbonton, Associate Art Director, Las Vegas Weekly
32. Oxtail soup
Market Street Cafe, at the California, 385-1222.
“It’s tough to say why this Hawaiian favorite is so damn good, but oxtail soup doesn’t discriminate. The meat is ridiculously tender, and the broth could drive someone to inflict bodily harm. I mean it, I would stab someone with a plastic spoon for a bowl of this soup. Another part of the experience is picking up that oxtail bone and sucking out the meat. Some people think it’s rude, but I say anything less would be uncivilized. Sometimes I find myself dreaming about the Cal’s oxtail soup and literally drooling all over myself. In fact, I just drooled writing this. A perfect drunken night Downtown almost always ends with my face in a big bowl of oxtail soup. Hallelujah.”
33. The Settebello
Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana, 140 S. Green Valley Parkway, 222-3556.
Sausage. Pancetta. Roasted Mushrooms. Pine nuts. Basil. Crushed tomatoes. Fresh mozzarella. Starting up the car? We haven’t even gotten to the best part, Settebello’s authentic, to-die-for crust. It’s hand-worked, cooked in a wood-fired oven and chews like nothing else you’ll find in town. Get a pie for yourself and you’ll understand why we’re always talking about this place. There’s pizza, and then there’s Settebello.
34. 16-course degustation menu
Joël Robuchon, at MGM Grand, 891-7925.
If ever a meal could be worth $425 per head, it would have to be composed by the Chef of the Century. Robuchon’s lieutenants, Claude Le Tohic and pastry chef Kamel Guechida, wow those willing to make the ultimate splurge with an endless array of modern, sophisticated culinary artistry. Not down? Take the less intense route next door at the equally sublime L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where the Seasonal Discovery Menu ($155) will blow your mind with poached baby Kusshi oysters and the decadent white onion tart with quail egg “mirror.”
35. Tamago burger
Fukuburger truck, follow @fukuburger.
A fried egg is the obvious piece de resistance on Fukuburger’s Tamago burger (tamago being Japanese for “egg”). Runny yolk intertwines with Asian-inspired ingredients—furikake, teriyaki and wasabi mayo—atop a perfectly medium-rare patty for a majestic mound of messiness. The pinnacle of Vegas street food.
36. Buffet Bellagio
At Bellagio, 693-8111.
The perfect casino buffet (quality, quantity, low price, no line) does not exist in Vegas. And if it doesn’t exist here, it doesn’t exist anywhere. That said, we’ve got one that comes pretty damn close: Bellagio’s. Year after year, the Bellagio buffet offers up a diverse selection of fresh eats (seafood, Italian, Chinese, Japanese) in a spacious room, at a fair price. Head there for a $29.95 dinner, Sunday-Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Weekends and holidays only mean higher prices and longer lines.
37. Foie gras custard ‘brûlée’
Sage, at Aria, 230-2742.
The dish that put chef Shawn McLain on the Vegas culinary map is an amalgam of sweet and savory, while the addictively salted brioche alongside serves as a perfect foil for its richness. This is foie gras for those unwilling to try foie gras. And the versatility of the “brûlée” is its hallmark—order it as an appetizer, entrée or dessert. Or all three.
38. White chocolate bread pudding
Mon Ami Gabi, at Paris Las Vegas, 944-4224.
Sure, Mon Ami Gabi has the most ridiculously entertaining Strip view (people watching, Bellagio fountains), but this is what you’ll really want to look at—a savory chunk of chocolate-infused bread pudding, topped with glaze, powdered sugar and a huge, perfectly rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s amazing how many Las Vegans still haven’t tried this. For shame.
39. Top of the World
At Stratosphere, 380-7711.
Don’t be fooled by the gimmickry of a revolving restaurant 845 feet in the air; the food at Stratosphere’s Top of the World is as good as it gets. Avoid the tasting menu and create your own experience, taking your time to savor roasted pork belly with chimichurri sauce, foie gras with berry gastrique and Mediterranean Colorado rack of lamb while enjoying unparalleled views of the Valley.
40. Prime rib
Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House, 6250 Rio Vista St., 645-1399.
Virtually unchanged since 1955, the Ranch House is a portal to the real Wild West days of Vegas, when everybody took a dusty trail north to get the best steak in town. There’s more competition now, but few places still serve big, luscious cuts of smoked prime rib of beef with soup or salad and a baked potato for 30 bucks.
RM Seafood upstairs, at Mandalay Place, 632-9300.
RM upstairs is where Rick Moonen showcases his sustainable dining options in a high-end setting. The best part? The free taramasalata Moonen serves as an alternative to butter with every meal. The dip is a combination of almonds, onions and potato whipped with carp roe, lemon juice and oil, and the result is sublime with just a hint of the saltiness normally associated with roe. You won’t even miss butter.
42. Jim’s bulgogi fried rice
KoMex Fusion Express, 633 N. Decatur Blvd., Suite H, 646-1612.
I don’t love this dish because they named it for me. They named the dish for me because I love it so much. This Chinese/Korean plate nestled firmly among KoMex’s Korean/Mexican favorites is awash in smoke with just enough sweetness. It’s among the most addictive dishes in town and undoubtedly one of my personal favorites. –Jim Begley
43. Bone-in veal Parm and meatballs
Rao’s, at Caesars Palace, 877-346-4642.
We’re lucky to have our own outpost of Rao’s, since the original is effectively a member’s-only supper club in East Harlem. Don’t pass on the opportunity to delve into the bone-in veal Parmesan with a side of meatballs. The veal Parm is immaculate (finding the bone-in variety is a rarity), while the meatballs—a combination of veal, beef and pork—exhibit the perfect ratio of fat to meat. Vegas is so much better than New York.
44. All-you-can-eat sushi
Sushi Mon, 9770 S. Maryland Parkway #3, 617-0241.
Sushi lovers know, eating your fill of raw fish can be a costly endeavor. And price typically equates to quality; reduce the first and you’ll usually sacrifice the latter. But Sushi Mon has found the magic formula, one that allows it to serve mountains of first-rate food for an affordable flat rate ($21.95 at lunch and $26.95 at dinner). Sushi rolls, pieces, appetizers, desserts—it’s all included, and it won’t leave you hungry. Or looking for a second job.
45. é at Jaleo by José Andrés
At Cosmopolitan, [email protected].
There are rumors—nay, legends—of a speakeasy-esque restaurant somewhere inside chef José Andrés’ Jaleo. The rumors are true. It is é, a culinary performance room that showcases a 26-course tasting menu, which intimately displays Andrés’ avant-garde Spanish cuisine. The eight-seat restaurant is so reclusive, you can’t even call for reservations—they’re accepted only by email. Sure hope you’re on the interwebs.
Guest Pick: Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, Pawn Stars
Lavo, at Palazzo, 791-1800.
Where’s the beef? Corey Harrison would tell you it’s at Lavo, where the meatballs are the “best I’ve ever had. Best in the world.” Chef Ralph Scamardella’s meatballs aren’t your typical pasta topper. They’re big as softballs, made from ground A5 Kobe (the really good stuff) and served individually as very share-able appetizers. Get one with whipped fresh ricotta and eat like Big Hoss.
47. Red velvet pancakes
Babystacks Cafe, 2400 N. Buffalo Dr., #145, 541-6708; 4135 S. Buffalo Dr., #101, 207-6432.
Atop a menu strewn with wonderful brunch options sit Babystacks’ red velvet pancakes. Harkening to the dessert favorite, they’re dressed with housemade whipped cream and chocolate crumbles, served alongside cream-cheese syrup. Low calorie this is not—but it is one of the Valley’s most delectable brunch surprises.
48. Jazz Brunch
The Country Club, at Wynn Las Vegas, 770-3315. Sunday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., $59.
A good brunch feels like an event—cocktails before noon, leisurely dining that goes on for hours and a spread on both sides of the sweet/savory spectrum. When that spread includes New Orleans-style gumbo and elegant pastries, all the better. Few places do the meal of meals as well as the Country Club, where chef Carlos Guia’s Jazz Brunch channels his Big Easy past right into your belly. Bring it.
49. Athens fries
Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe, 8380 W. Sahara Ave., 804-0293; 4147 S. Maryland Parkway, 731-6030.
Paymon’s has long been a locals’ favorite, and the Athens fries are a big part of that popularity. Cayenne is the key ingredient here, elevating these crisply cooked potato slices from the realm of delicious to absolutely addictive. Wait until you try them in the spicy dipping sauce. There’s much to enjoy at Paymon’s, but this is where you want to start.
50. Surf and turf
Golden Steer, 308 W. Sahara Ave, 384-4470.
Open since 1958, the Golden Steer Steakhouse is more famous for its well-known visitors (Sinatra, Sammy and Elvis, to name a few) and sticking-to-the-throwback vibe than its classic cuisine. But order that most vintage Vegas meal—mixing and matching filet mignon or a juicy New York strip with a lobster tail or crab legs—and you’ll be impressed with how fresh and flavorful old-school food can be.
This story first appeared in Sun sister publication Las Vegas Weekly. Compiled by Jim Begley, Sarah Feldberg, Ken Miller, Spencer Patterson, Brock Radke and Erin Ryan.