Fairly often, a new strip restaurant opens up with a big celebrity chef named stamped on it. Rarely will the chef ever go there, and the food suffers as a result. It makes sense to cash in on your newfound celebrity if you’re one of these people, but those are the exact restaurants that give Vegas its negative reputation of overpriced tourist trap places. Reasonable enough restaurants, but nothing worth the money and often boring and underseasoned food that caters towards rich and trendy people.
I’d heard tell that Momofuku in NYC is the real deal. David Chang is, by all accounts, a brilliant chef. He has a sterling reputation, but is by no means nearly as famous as Gordon Ramsay or some of the Food Network darlings. I was super excited to try his restaurant with its simplified menu at his Las Vegas location and see for myself if I can add another actually good strip restaurant to my list.
The restaurant is located on the less traveled 2nd floor of the Cosmopolitan off in a corner next to the chandelier bar. It’s a gorgeous space, and I can imagine the rent on this place to be astronomical. The menu has a few extremely expensive items nestled among some reasonably priced entrees, and though I love truffles as much as the next guy I stuck to the mainstays and most of the popular dishes that Momofuku is somewhat famous for since I’ve never been to the original restaurant.
Everything is served family style and they just bring things out as they’re ready, so the first thing we received was sashimi of citrus cured fluke and pickled plum and seaweed. I’m a huge citrus fan in general, and the fish was cut thick enough that it had a really satisfying bite to it. There was a lot of acid and a lot of sourness which went along really well with the fish, which was a good choice. The powerful flavors didn’t overpower the flavor of the fluke and everything meshed extremely well together, which is sometimes hard to do with sashimi. I told my friend Matt that it was a good start, and I was excited for the dishes to come.
Excitement was appropriate, because the chicken katsu with pepper gravy was absolutely the best new dish I’ve had in months. Simply good fried chicken cutlets were covered in a thick, peppery gravy that looks like it’s going to weigh down your stomach and make you regret finishing the plate, but the acidic bite of sherry vinegar completely cuts through the heaviness of the sauce and makes it an absolute joy to spoon up once the chicken is all gone. It was absolutely impossible to put down the spoon until we ate all the sauce. This dish is simply a must order.
In this enigma of a bowl are up there as the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. Seemingly deep fried for intense caramelization and covered in a vinaigrette with possibly fish sauce, these are crispy treasures that give just enough bite to satisfy a sprouts fan. Not necessarily the most inventive dish, but sometimes you just want something done extremely well and this bowl delivers.
The ramen came very highly recommended and was Matt’s absolute “must try” dish. It wasn’t hard to see why; fairly typical noodles but in a tonkatsu broth packed full of savory goodness with a soft poached egg that popped with the slightest touch. And instead of an anemic piece of pork belly with unrendered, unappetizing chunks of fat, braised pork was in the bowl adding a small layer of melted pork fat to each bite. Super simple, but absolutely delicious. At $18, one of the more expensive ramen dishes I’ve ever had but worth every penny. I can imagine coming here just for this. Matt concurred.
The service was fine, but a little spotty at times. Near the end of our meal it took a frustrating amount of time to get someone over to us to be able to tell them that we had yet to receive our (intended appetizer) pork belly buns which are renowned in NYC. After a few minutes, we had a nice little steamer tray set down along with a little squeeze bottle of sauce for each bite. A nice touch! Sometimes the sauce is so good you need a little more than they give you. And boy, was this the case.
My problem with pork buns generally is that the buns are big, doughy and overpower the sometimes paltry amount of meat and sauce within. Absolutely not the case here. Beautifully made pillowy buns acted as a taco shell for crispy, well rendered pork belly and cucumber and a hoisin sauce that sent literal shudders through me. The chili sauce on the side added an acidic bite as well, and the whole thing felt like an out of body experience. I can definitely see why these are so famous and they’re yet another dish I can’t see skipping when I come here.
All told, aside from a somewhat slow end to the meal due to inattentive servers, I was blown away by the quality of the experience and $135 for two people after tip was well within what I would consider to be a steal for a strip restaurant. I absolutely can’t wait to go back again and try out more of the menu.
Note: I am on a bit of a Mexican food kick recently. Is this a problem? No? I thought so.
Fusion food gets a bad rap. Well, good fusion food does. Bad fusion food can go right to the garbage where it belongs. I’m no expert on what makes Asian food authentic, but I know a good version of food when I see it. Changing something just so you can say you changed it doesn’t make the food good or the ingredients cohesive. The flavors still have to work well and you can’t jack up the price just because you put kimchi on a burger. For those of you who want a menu full of delicious and familiar food options that are still new to you, welcome home to Komex.
Komex is a super bare bones restaurant that looks like it might have opened a week ago. It has a home cooking look and taste to it (in a good way) that is very hard to replicate. You may get some less than homemade ingredients, but in a way… what could be more home cooking than that? The savings are completely passed on to the customer, however, and this may be your cheapest meal in town during your visit.
It’s worth noting that fivethirtyeight.com did a bracket of the best burritos in the USA and included Komex in the competition.
BOOM FREE APPETIZER WITH THE MENUS.
Chips and salsa, the easy way. Can’t complain here.
The menu is set up in a way that has all your classic Korean, Mexican and American food with fusion twists to them. The specials menu is where a lot of the best stuff is, so make sure you check it out in addition to the staples. This was a quick lunch with a friend, so we ordered a few things to share and a few to ourselves.
It’s hard not to order the fried wontons. They’re nothing mindblowing and pretty basic, but at $1.50 for a plate of 5 they’re pretty much the cheapest appetizer you can get in any restaurant in town. Hell, a restaurant I went to today charges $3 for a fried egg. ONE EGG. It’s cheap sweet and sour sauce served with them, but who cares. Nom.
Bulgogi tacos are a thing and they have been sadly lacking in my world. $2 a taco is a very fair price for such a thing that makes my life more than $2 worth of happy, and the bulgogi marinade goes extremely well with the salsas and toppings on the taco. I also recommend the pork belly tacos, which are not even really fusion because everyone eats pork belly because IT’S AWESOME.
One of the specials I received word on was the PBBBLT which is a pork belly, bulgogi, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Bacon is technically pork belly already, but you know what? I didn’t think of that at the time because I was too busy stuffing my face. I attacked this thing like a starving man. The toothpicks were almost ingested. Yes, that’s toasted wonderbread and iceberg lettuce, two of the worst atrocities that have no business in a restaurant. No, I don’t care. Sometimes a sandwich just hits every nerve in your being and tells you that everything’s going to be okay. And if it isn’t, GUESS WHAT, WAFFLE FRIES. Of the sweet potato variety. It’s like a hug from grandma, only grandma didn’t have spicy mayo on the side. (thanks for nothing, grandma)
This was basically the best possible version of a club sandwich and I totally recommend trying it on your visit (if it’s still on the specials).
All the above food was “the most expensive meal ever eaten at this restaurant” and we got out for $20 a person. This should be in any local’s rotation and worth a trip from the strip for lunch.
Komex Fusion (two locations)
Buffalo & Flamingo 4155 S Buffalo Dr. #103,104 (702) 778-5566
Closed Mondays Tue-Sat 11 am – 9 pm Sun 11 am – 8 pm
633 N Decatur Blvd Suite H Las Vegas, NV 89107 (702) 646-1612
I can hear you snickering through the screen. Chicago style pizza is NOT a casserole. It’s not a lasagna, it’s not a joke. IT’S OURS OKAY STOP MAKING FUN OF IT. Jon Stewart famously said “it’s not only not better than New York Pizza… it’s not pizza.”
Listen, if I’m gonna grab a quick bite to eat and keep walking on the way to a hipster meetup, New York style pizza is great. It’s thin, it’s tasty and easy to eat. Chicago pizza is difficult. It takes a while to cook, you kinda need a fork to eat it, it’s so filling that one of them can feed a whole family… but these are not necessarily bad things. Chicago is a much more laid back city, one where sit down meals with your family are common and a 45 minute wait to get your food is a good time to talk and be with loved ones (as well as devour delicious sides).
You can rattle off 5 great pizza places in every city and all of them will be either authentic Italian or New York style pizza. Very rarely will you find a real Chicago pizza outside of Illinois. However, a new day has risen, my friends. In the outdoor mall at Bally’s just off of Flamingo and Las Vegas BLVD, one of the mainstays of Chicago pizza has opened up a newcomer for the crown.
Let’s try again.
I won’t lie, I was underwhelmed at the outdoor seating offered here. I was blown away that they’re open 7 days a week from the morning to 2 AM, mostly because I expected a place serving midwest style food to happily close at a reasonable 9-10 PM. But the seating itself makes no sense in a volatile weather place such as Las Vegas. The roof over the seating area isn’t solid, so when there’s wind or rain it blows right through. There’s also dust everywhere, to the point I had to clean off my place when I sat down. And on a cold night like the one I visited, the considerable 40 minute wait felt twice as long. I remarked to our server what a bad decision they made to make the only seating outside and he told me everyone was saying the same thing. (MAKE NOTE OF THIS)
We quickly ordered a side of parmesan garlic fries and a small stuffed pizza with sausage and onions (sausage is a must with Chicago style pizza). The fries were quick to come out, and we were happy to munch down on them to stay warm.
Solid fries, though I’m sad they came with a side of ranch dressing. The garlic was pretty well caramelized, to the point of getting stuck in your teeth when you tried to chew it. If they fix the garlic, they’ll be pretty damn good fries.
After way too much talk about how cold it was and how we wish they had an indoor seating area, our pizza arrived.
I don’t know how anyone can look at such an item and not be immediately filled with carnal thoughts. It tasted as good as it looks, obviously. There are places that sell Chicago style pizza frozen that can get most of it almost perfect, but the one thing that they can’t get right is the crust. The crust in this pizza was fantastic; crumbly, tender but still tough and thick enough to hold together this huge slice of cheese, sauce and stuffed toppings. Eaten with a knife and fork for true flair. Two adult men were stuffed after 2 pieces each with 2 pieces left to take home afterwards.
The whole meal was less than $20 a person with tip, making it one of the best values on the strip. With such prime real estate, you would expect this place to be significantly more expensive. If only they had reasonable seating, I would come here a few times a month! Alas, I left satisfied but ultimately sad that I would probably not come here too often to dine because of exposure to the elements.
Imagine my surprise a few days later when picking up a few carry out pizzas for a get together.
There’s an upstairs! I’m a fucking moron! There’s a huge bar and an absolutely beautiful interior! The servers let me go on and on about what a terrible decision not having an indoors was! It took me about 10 minutes for me to be able to get my foot out of my mouth when I realized this.
After this discovery, I see no reason not to rate this one of the absolute best restaurants for the money on the strip. Open until 2 AM, I think this is a must visit for anyone who likes Chicago pizza and a good spot for simply anyone who likes food. I’ll be back a lot.
There are a few jokes that are sure to get laughs, and a lot of them include making fun of the food at gas stations. This is not one of those gas stations.
The man who runs Chile Verde (and the woman who I presume is his wife) at the Choice Sinclair gas station in the southwest of Las Vegas is probably one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. He’s there every moment of the day that the restaurant is open. Taking orders, cleaning up, preparing food. From 9 AM to 5 PM, 6 days a week. This is the Terminator of mexican food. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t feel hungry. Or sleepy. Or sweaty. And he absolutely WILL NOT STOP… until you are full.
It has a fairly standard, somewhat too big a menu for such a small operation. It’s all extremely well done, but the tacos are so good I think it’s a shame to go for anything else. It’s the only place I’ve been to that rivals quality such as Taco Y Taco, but for a somehow even smaller price. And the portions?
Make sure you ask for their green sauce on the side. They’ll give you a giant squeeze bottle of liquid gold. I went for a similar order to what I had at Taco Y Taco; carnitas, carne asada, and adobada and they absolutely did not disappoint. Because they were so stuffed with meat, they were definitely extremely messy eating at the counter but there’s something so viscerally satisfying about licking your fingers clean over such a meal.
It’s really hard to describe what exactly makes these tacos special. It’s one of those situations where you just have to taste them to believe it. But trust me, these are the kind of taco that dreams are made of.
Those 3 tacos were $8.25 altogether, which is worryingly cheap. The food terminator wants me to tell you to come with him if you want to eat.
Chile Verde Mexican Grill
Inside the Choice Sinclair Gas Station
8095 S Rainbow Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89113
Open Monday-Sunday 9 AM to 5 PM
Las Vegas is often called Los Angeles’s playground due to its proximity and how often the denizens of LA tend to jump back and forth on a weekend or whenever it becomes convenient. As a result, the culture is pretty similar between the two cities and we tend to receive a lot of the trends that are working their way through LA. Escape rooms are one such example, where you find your way out of a locked room that you paid to get into (what a genius idea that one was). But we also get a lot of food trends too, and the one sweeping the city right now is sushi burritos.
I almost titled this review “get off my lawn” because I frankly feel old when someone brings up a new and scary trend to me, but sushi burritos just make absolutely no sense to me. John Curtas at Eating Las Vegas already covered this one, but we share an opinion on this.
Good sushi is supposed to be about the fish. Really high quality fish seasoned with minimal ingredients made by expert hands delivered at the absolute peak moment to maximize enjoyment by the diner. Sushi burritos are just elaborate hand rolls made with so many ingredients that it becomes absolutely impossible to taste the difference in the very subtle flavors of raw fish.
However, I would like to make a confession. I like poke bowls.
No, you can’t really taste the extreme quality of the fish. Yes, pretty much all of them are exactly the same. It’s a seafood themed Chipotle (which I absolutely love). But god dammit, it’s satisfying and tasty and pretty damn cheap. They’re not going to give them a michelin star anytime soon, but I don’t think time travelers are going to come stop me from saying that I LIKE POKE BOWLS.
And now we come to Soho Sushi Bowlrrito (who needs to find a catchier name). I’ve been to a few Poke bowl places in LA and a few here, and Soho might actually be my favorite location I’ve found. The quality of ingredients is very very similar across the board, so it comes down to the little things. First, they’re available for delivery on a bunch of different services. Second, they’re absurdly cheap at $10 for a double salmon bowl. That’s really hard to beat for a tasty bowl of semi healthy food.
I don’t know how long the fad of sushi burritos and poke bowls is going to last. I’m not sure there needs to be one on every block. But as long as they don’t take themselves too seriously, I’m fine with the poke bowls at least sticking around for a while. At least you can taste the fish.
If there’s one skill that I possess that borders close to a superpower, it’s being able to sleep on an airplane. I once boarded a flight to Australia, took one over the counter sleeping pill at takeoff and woke up when we were walking off the plane. The second closest skill I have is being able to order optimally at restaurants.
Ordering for people is one of the reasons that I started writing this blog. It’s very important to me that once I recommend a restaurant or a few dishes that someone enjoys them, which is usually more a curse than a blessing because the default feeling I want someone to have is “omg that was so good” which just makes me kinda happy. If they hated it though, I’m devastated.
The side effect of this crushing urge to get people to like what I recommend is that I am very good at ordering off menus the first time I eat there with literally no prior notes given to me about what is good. Which is great, because if you’re eating at some restaurants in Vegas you will need outside help, given their absolutely ridiculously large menus.
So here’s my 3 tips on how to order optimally at a restaurant(without ever being there before).
NEVER pick something that you think is going to sell well regardless of how good it is. At most places, this includes the stereotypical stuff you expect to be there. Filet mignon at most places, fried rice at most generic chinese or japanese places, pad thai at thai places, chicken parmesan at Italian places. They’re classic and insanely popular, so the chef there for the most part has to include them on the menu but they are not especially inventive or exciting so they don’t devote that much time to them. If the chef spends too much time working on them, they may become something that the people who order them (who are generally boring as hell) don’t recognize as what they ordered, so they get pissed off. So it’s better for them to make it super plain and ordinary and not rock the boat.
In a tourist restaurant (most strip places), ask the server what their worst selling item is. That’s what you want. Corporate restaurants work thusly: The worst stuff gets culled fast. This includes stuff that no one likes and stuff that doesn’t sell. So if something isn’t selling very well but is still on the menu forever, the chef is FIGHTING for that dish because they really really believe in it. If that’s the case, that’s definitely what you want to get. At Julian Serrano at the Aria, I went for the tripe stew after asking 5-6 times for something the server hasn’t sold in months and it was a fantastic dish. I had to drag that out of her, but it was a great dish. Sweetbreads fall firmly into this category, because they sell absolutely terribly and they are really delicious at good places
Order something you’d never expect to be on the menu. I’m not talking about ordering a steak off a chinese menu (that’d be closer to tip 1 status), but if you see a dish containing some sort of absolutely crazy combination or accompaniment, that’s generally something you want to try. Restaurants try out dishes for months before actually adding them onto their menu, so they will be tested and will almost always work. And going back to tip 2, the chef will generally be fighting for stuff they think is great. If you can trust the chef, you can trust the dish. The pear jalapeno marmalade pizza at Settebello is a great example of this.
Use these three tips and you can avoid the worst and hit the best stuff at restaurants. Or if you really want, you can just ask me (that’s the best way).
Growing up in the rural midwest, my experiences with real Mexican food started late. Those of you in SoCal (as the kids call it) will laugh at my inexperience with legit tacos. I’ve only had the chance to get LA tacos on a few occasions and was absolutely blown away at how cheap and good they are. That is why I am so happy Vegas has started to get some great options, the best of which seems to be Taco Y Taco.
This place is streamlined for high volume like you wouldn’t believe. 3 separate lines for tacos/vampiro/tostadas, each one with different meats. I had to visit all 3 lines and 3 different people, which is kind of weird when I was the only person there at the time, but it took less than 90 seconds to get all the food. There’s a huge salsa/sauce bar in the middle of the restaurant, and one man was very angry he was unable to take salsa home with him for free.
After having an insanely good vampiro (open faced taco on a crispy tortilla with cheese sauce) in my last LA trip I decided to get another one here and see how it measured up. I ended up with a carne asada vampiro and cochinita pibil, al pastor, and carnitas tacos.
I decided to only grab some extra limes from the salsa bar to see how they dress it when they ask “with everything?” and I respond with a reverent nod. The answer:
Whereas the LA tacos I had came with basically just meat and tortilla and you were expected to sprinkle on your extras, the array of salsas and toppings for these tacos were such that they were an absolutely explosion of flavor in your mouth. Tangy, acidic, crunchy onions and peppery cilantro. The pork marinade and spices shone through extremely well and everything mixed together into this absolutely incredible few bites of happiness.
All of the above food and a drink came out to only $14, which for the size of the tacos (folding them up resulted in some of the filling to spill out, a problem rectified by me eating it anyway) is super reasonable. Most mere humans would be completely satisfied by this amount of food. The vampiro taco, with its two tortilla sandwich appearance, was incredibly messy to eat but even at $4 was a remarkable deal since the amount of filling seemed to be 2 or 3 times as much as each taco had. The cheese seemed to be just melted cheese rather than a coherent sauce and the carne asada was clearly the weakest of the 4 meats I decided to try, but it was still delicious.
I feel like carne asada falls into the trap of being the “safe choice” for gringos at taco places and they don’t want to do too much to it because they know it’s going to sell extremely well no matter what, so I was disappointed that I chose that meat for the vampiro because I felt like it handicapped it.
I don’t like bias. I rectified it.
Pibil vampiro numero uno.
Go here yesterday.
Taco Y Taco
9470 S Eastern Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89123
3430 E Tropicana Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89121
Open til 10PM on weekdays, 12AM or 2 AM on weekends depending on location.
Vegas is a pretty new city, even by American standards. People have ideas of Vegas being like it was in the 1960s, but that’s basically as far back as its history goes. It was a super tiny town until halfway through the 20th century, and Fremont street was where a lot of the early buildings were built.
Golden Gate Casino is as old as they come. The address of the place is 1 Fremont Street and their phone number when they opened up was literally “1” (I am deadly serious). A big part of this tiny building is the diner Du-Par’s, world famous for its shrimp cocktail.
There’s definitely a reason that these things have survived the rest of time. Even after going through 4 price increases in the last few decades, these things are $4 for a huge glass full of shrimp. The cocktail sauce is a standard cocktail sauce, but something about this just feels right. It might have to do with the hokey decor of the place, which just reminds you of how many tens of thousands of people have sat in this room and eaten this exact dish which has mostly stayed unchanged for the past 50 years.
Most of the food at Du-Par’s is standard, overpriced diner food. There are a few deals if you’re really hungry, but there are 3 items on the menu that are absolutely worth checking out if you want to come to Fremont and hang out for a bit and see a bit of Vegas history. Shrimp cocktail is one of them. The pancakes are another.
I can’t say much about pancakes other than these are very well done ones. Fluffy, buttery, and unbelievably filling, it is basically impossible to finish an order of them.
Last, but possibly the best, Du-Par’s is one of the best places in the valley if you want a slice of pie. They have a person on hire to come in every day and make dozens of pies fresh, with rotating seasonal varieties. Luckily, the coconut cream pie is a staple and my god is it satisfying.
(When I remarked that half the crust was missing, they apologized and brought out another slice. They’re good people at Du-Par’s.)
You’re not going to tell stories of this place when you get back home, but if you’re looking for a dessert and some Vegas history, there is basically nowhere better to visit.
A friend of mine told me about this gaming bar that had a late night happy hour food special: $5 skirt steaks. I was skeptical because gaming bars usually have fine but usually overpriced food, but that seemed like a great deal, and 3 years later I’m still eating at Sporting Life once a week.
The menu here was designed by a former chef of Bouchon Bistro at the Venetian, a Thomas Keller restaurant. He left a year or two ago to work elsewhere but his menu lingers and it’s extremely well rounded and satisfying. There are not many entrees that disappoint.
Everyone has one of those foods that other people aren’t that into for whatever reason, but dollar for dollar the steak sandwich at Sporting Life is my favorite sandwich of all time. It’s the ultimate comfort food for me. They even started carrying sweet potato fries at my request, and the two go together so well it’s crazy. When it’s cold outside and I’m not feeling especially social, being able to sit down and enjoy this absolutely delicious plate of food is so bizarre when compared to the normal depressing experience at most gaming bars.
This isn’t a place that’s going to win any awards, but PSYCH, OH YES IT IS. It actually won Best New Restaurant AND Best Bar Food by the LV Weekly the year it opened. If you’re looking for classic American comfort food done well and for a good price, you’re home.
(PS, if you tell them Jimmy sent you, they’ll let you order some of my sweet potato fries. And tell Neal hi for me.)