I envision these reviews as a friend talking to another friend about restaurant recommendations. If someone asks you where to go, you don’t lead off and talk about all the bad places. You wanna talk about the best places! So first and foremost, my job is to tell you about all the best places to eat in town and, from time to time, to tell you about why I think the places that everyone else love really aren’t that worthy of praise.
These are some of my favorite restaurants serving Japanese food in Las Vegas.
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.
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.
Trying new things used to be one of the scariest things for me, mostly because I grew up as a very picky eater. Now I set a policy where I have to try everything once, which usually isn’t a tough thing for me. One thing that I think picky eaters have some sort of crazy preconception of is curry from any type of cuisine.
I’ve talked about Indian and Thai curries here before, but never Japanese (which I didn’t even know was a thing until a few years ago). Apparently there are a lot of people who believe that the spices in Japanese curries prevent many diseases and illnesses, so it is at this time that I must admit something I’ve never told the general public. I suffer from hungryitis and Zen Curry saved my life. *sigh* It feels good to get that off my chest.
Luckily, Zen has multiple locations. I live nearby to its southwest location, which has the same compact menu as its original, but is a small space with no full service. I was happy to bus my own plate for a stomachful of tasty curry, so off I went.
Oh, hey, a new restaurant! What’s this place sell?
AAHHHHH. BURN IT. SEND IT TO HELL. (I really, really hate sushi burritos.)
Right next door is our restaurant du jour.
Right inside, it’s pretty much barebones. 4-5 small tables with chairs, a really tiny bar and a kitchen extending as far back as the restaurant will go. The menu is 3 sizes of curry, 3 sizes of rice and a meat choice along with a few small side dishes. You can also customize spice level and be forewarned, cause this shit is FIRE. This stuff goes up to “revenge for the a-bomb” level spicy. I went with a pork katsu large curry with white rice and a side of gyoza (potstickers).
While waiting five minutes for my food, I took a second to take in the atmosphere. Christmas music, stockings on the wall, and a Christmas tree in the corner?
This sounds like it has some backstory or is some weird level of pandering, so I didn’t ask too many questions. I didn’t have long to think about it though, because my food came up real quick.
The gyoza were fine. They were deep fried, there were only 4 of them to an order and they were fairly small for a $5 side dish. The ponzu they came with was definitely the highlight but the little container was so small it was hard to really dip them without spilling it everywhere. I probably will order something else next time or skip them altogether, since they seem to be on the menu just to be able to say they have them.
Luckily, my tiny gyoza were overshadowed by the veritable Lake Loch Ness of curry that arrived next.
The focus of this plate is definitely on the curry itself and not the meat. I will admit, it’s not the most attractive plate of food. Brown on brown is not an attractive look for a plate. Almost all of the meats provided are deep fried which really cuts down on the flavor impact they have on the dish, but that doesn’t even really matter because the curry is the star. Japanese flavors are traditionally pretty subtle and though this dish was no exception, it’s incredibly hard to stop eating once you take the first bite. I ordered a spicy level 7 which was enough to get me needing extra napkins and a bunch of drinks. I’ve heard there are secret levels of spicy beyond 10, but even a 7 is usually enough to get a look of “uh, really?” when you’re as white as I am.
Japanese Curry uses a different set of base spices for their curry powder than other forms of cooking, but it’s very high in cardamom which has kind of a citrus flavor which results in a much different taste than you might expect. This feels very much like eating a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy with a piece of turkey or chicken (in a good way). When it’s getting cold outside, it’s very nice to just settle in a big bowl of Japanese comfort food (and a good prescription for Hungryitis. I’m cured! It’s a miracle!)
Overall, I definitely recommend checking out Zen. It’s not the most mindblowing experience, but when you want something comforting and spicy for not much cash, this is a quick meal that can get the job done. I paid $18 for this pile of food and a drink, but a normal human sized portion can be had for under $12.
Zen Curry House (2 locations)
5020 #1 Spring Mountain Road, Las Vegas, NV, 89146
I get the staggeringly difficult question “what’s your favorite restaurant” quite a bit and I think it’s because people either want to know what my favorite kind of food is or they want to immediately know what the best place in town is. I think my favorite restaurant depends on a lot, but Vegas is home to a lot of very expensive restaurants that have dinners that are closer to experiences rather than meals. So to me, having a “favorite” restaurant is different from saying something is the “best.” Kabuto is in the running for both of these.
When you’re talking about most kinds of cuisine in town, there are rankings that people naturally talk about. To me, Chada Thai is probably my favorite restaurant because of all the factors combined including price, location, how late it’s open, etc. It edges out Lotus which some people say is blasphemy. But the difference between the two is pretty close and I have no problem admitting that.
I can’t speak as to the great sushi restaurants in LA or NYC or Japan because I’ve never been there. But I have been to most of the so called ‘good’ sushi restaurants in Las Vegas over the years and I can say without a moment’s hesitation that Kabuto is so far above everything else in town that you’ve basically been eating cat food all this time. Those who have been to those major sushi hubs have told me that Kabuto is likely better than them. This is mindblowing to me. I hope one day I can experience those restaurants to know for myself, but I hope I can convince you that Kabuto is an experience that proves that chefs are worthy of our respect and admiration and food is more than just something to keep you living and breathing in between activities.
Cliffs: This shit is ART.
You only have to take a look at the building and see how plain and unadorned this is to know that they only care about making great sushi here. I’ve never been to Japan, but most people say it’s like stepping back into Tokyo.
They have an 8 seat bar and 2 small 4 person tables. When you make reservations, specify the bar for maximum interaction with the chef.
You know how I like to say I like limited choices on a menu? Kabuto turns it up to 11. 3 choices here. I would advise anyone coming here for the first time opt for the largest menu to experience everything and repeat customers to get the smallest one and purchase a few a la carte pieces of nigiri at the end of the meal. For the purposes of this review however (lol yeah that’s it, they’ll believe that), I and my dinner companions opted for the large menu.
Also, if anyone enjoys a good ginger ale, they carry a Japanese brand called Wilkinson made by Asahi which is closer to a ginger beer than the extremely sweet versions found in the US. Sip it slowly, for it will knock you on your ass.
Very first up, they serve a cherry sake made by the chef himself. This is something I always forget about. It’s a small glass with small pieces of crushed ice on top almost making it feel like a sorbet. Extremely cold and very pleasant to drink, this goes fast. It only has 2% alcohol so even a lightweight like me can barely notice the alcohol.
The small appetizer plate has a large variety of different items I’ve never had before. King squid, orange clam, fresh scallop and monkfish liver served with pickled Japanese cucumber, seaweed and currant leaf. To be honest I had no expectations of basically anything on this plate going into it which is always nice. Most things served at Kabuto are things you can’t get in a normal sushi restaurant since they constantly change their menu to what they have that’s at its peak in the restaurant. The squid, clam and scallop were all sliced very thin and had a very nice briny flavor with just a dab of seasoning around them. Very subtle flavors which is what Japan is great at. The pickles and seaweed added some great texture and the monkfish liver was a serious delight. When they were cutting it, it looked like foie gras which makes sense. It was very fatty and luscious but not overpowering which liver sometimes is.
I’ll be honest, since I haven’t experienced what can be considered a ‘bad’ version of these items, it’s hard for me to say they’re ‘blow you away good.’ This might be the weakest course of the menu but it’s certainly no slouch. I would be happy to eat this at any meal, but the real gems come later.
The sashimi course is next, and I really enjoyed it. Starting from the left and going clockwise, there is bluefin tuna, winter butterfish, a Seattle oyster with ponzu sauce, sweet shrimp, and giant octopus. Served with a side of aged soy sauce that tastes like it came from an oak barrel.
I would drink the soy sauce like wine. The wasabi they use in this restaurant is real wasabi root rather than the green powdered stuff they use in most American sushi restaurants that’s literally just horseradish and food coloring. The bluefin is definitely the best sashimi I have ever had. Absolutely huge depth in flavor, texture is perfect and goes perfectly with the wasabi. The butterfish is something I’ve never had before and it definitely lived up to its name. It almost feels like it starts to melt in your mouth and it was cut super thin so it almost vanished after a few chews. The oyster’s texture is unlike any I’ve had before with the ponzu sauce adding to the briny flavor without taking away. The sweet shrimp was definitely the best I’ve had, without the rubbery texture that normally accompanies a lot of raw shrimp. The giant octopus was probably the most subtly flavored item. I don’t think I know enough about octopus to truly appreciate it and to my palate it was by far the most dull of the flavors on the plate.
The last dish before the nigiri is a grill plate of several different meats. Top left and going clockwise, there’s seared fatty tuna topped with ponzu, sea snail, snapper with a sweet miso sauce, Japanese seabass, and seared kobe beef with scallions.
All 4 of the meats were phenomenal. Taste comes out much better in warm foods though the texture changes completely and some things can be lost. The ponzu overpowers a bit of the natural fatty tuna flavor but the fat starts to melt and it still stands strong. The sweet miso sauce is absolutely delicious and though they say it’s sweet it’s also delightfully savory as well. The seabass is very briny with a bit of a crispy skin top. I made a remark to my friends with me that it’s rare that beef is the lightest thing on the plate when it’s with 4 pieces of seafood but it was definitely the case here. It’s very thinly sliced kobe rolled around herbs and is definitely the most refreshing thing on the menu compared to the heavier flavors of the cooked fish.
I must say that though I am not a sea snail connoisseur, I do not understand the allure here. The texture was slightly rubbery and though the flavor and seasoning was fine, there was a definite grittiness in the snail that was very offputting and not something that I enjoy with shellfish. The only absolute letdown of the night in my opinion.
To be honest, the next course is a complete barrage of absolutely incredible nigiri. I won’t do a review on every single piece because I really think that it’s impossible to describe just how perfect every bite is. Please look at each picture though to just see the beauty of what they created.
However, I feel as though it is right to speak of this one piece on its own.
This. THIS THING RIGHT HERE. I think this may be the best bite of food I have ever had in my entire life. That’s really saying something. It’s perfectly seasoned, perfectly textured. You take a bite and it starts to melt like butter and release all the amazing juices inside of it. It’s soft but not too soft and the rice adds this amazingly warm finish to everything that just makes you wish you had a whole barrel of this stuff. Absolutely incredible. I’ve had shitty o-toro and I’ve had good o-toro, but this is in a class all on its own. This is the Guernica of fish. A masterpiece.
It’s hard to really talk about just how awesome all these items are. I won’t say that everyone needs to try these things because you have to want to appreciate great sushi before you can really find it as mindblowing as possible, but I can’t imagine there ever being better in Las Vegas.
After all those small bites of amazingness occurred, we are left with a few courses to end the meal. First up was a miso soup with mushrooms.
Though it’s good miso soup, it’s hard to find it too impressive after the previous minutes were full of such joy and wonder. Dessert, however…
The desserts available constantly change, but I’m a sucker for black sesame ice cream. It’s very hard to describe the flavor to someone who’s never had it. It’s something like chocolate and something like nuts but absolutely not either one of them. They actually top the scoop of ice cream with a grind of black sea salt which really made the texture something interesting and brought it to the next level. I think it was my dessert of choice of all the times I’ve been here.
Thus concludes my quarterly trip to the best sushi place in Las Vegas, possibly the west coast, possibly the country? I’ve heard bold claims affirming and contradicting that statement but the fact that it’s even up for debate is really something. The whole meal including several extra pieces of nigiri, ginger ales and tip came to $175 a person which for such an experience is not something to begrudge. At most places it could easily be 2 or 3 times that amount. In a casino, there’s no way they could possibly charge so little for such a perfect meal. But that’s because just like everywhere else awesome, Kabuto is in a shitty strip mall.
As a final note, I will say that a place such as this may not be for everyone. I think sushi is a style of food that favors those who are not looking for a tasty thing to eat but something more expressive of the chef and the ingredients. I know it sounds condescending or dramatic to say it, but I truly feel like a place like this is something special and the chef is a true artist and not everyone can appreciate fine art. But I truly invite everyone to go and to let me know what you think because when you get right down to it, there’s probably no better meal in the city of Las Vegas.
Address: 5040 W Spring Mountain Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Done properly, ordering at an All You Can Eat (AYCE) sushi restaurant in Las Vegas will change the staff from looking at you like this:
I’m not saying that you should order a ton of food and I’m certainly not trying to preach to you about how you’re doing it wrong and the only way to eat it is MY WAY… but okay, yeah, I’m kinda doing that. It annoys me that most Americans think of fried tempura rolls that may not even contain fish (or at least raw fish) as sushi. The Japanese call those maki rolls and they are a very different kind of thing. Sushi generally refers to nigiri which is just fish and rice. It’s impossible to tell actual quality of fish if it’s jumbled up in a roll with a bunch of extremely strong flavors like avocado, cream cheese, and mayonnaise.
Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE Avocado, cream cheese, and mayonnaise. I generally get a roll when I go out to eat at one of these places. But none of them should be what makes you think of great sushi. There are tons of great AYCE places in Vegas, and all of them serve a ton of rolls that are mostly similar but also a little different from every other place in town. But they also serve some great fish and the quality of that is how you should determine which chef really knows what he’s doing.
If you want to know how I order sushi, here’s what I do:
Sit at the bar.
Order a few appetizers that are unique and look like they’ve put actual thought into them. Every place has different appetizers and sides and this is how I think I distinguish between different AYCE places. Oyshi is the one I frequent the most and it has a sweet and spicy pork dish served on a bed of grilled onions that’s probably the best grilled side dish on any of these menus.
If the place isn’t completely slammed, ask the chef to make you nigiri in the quantity you’d like, but tell him to completely decide which fish to serve you. A lot of chefs in these jobs are bored and have a lot of really cool ideas. The job mostly doesn’t allow them to be creative. If you let them decide what to serve you, any good chef will immediately have 4-5 different things they’d love to make you and get your opinion on it. If the chef refuses or gives you completely boring BS, don’t go back there. If you like it, tell him it was great and ask for more.
If the place IS slammed and they’re too busy to get creative, order a nice variety of nigiri. Salmon, yellowtail, tuna, hand rolls, etc. Sometimes they will have special fish and you could take a look at those too. Look at the quality of the fish and feel the texture. It took me years to start to appreciate the really good stuff but the first time I went to Kabuto I was absolutely blown away. Kabuto is Vegas’ sushi end boss.
Finally, I fill the rest of the empty space inside of me with this:
Since all the places around town that do AYCE sushi have pretty much the same price, same menu, and similar service, it really comes down to what you enjoy and if anything is closer to you. But if you’re the kind of person who gets a few fried rolls and posts on yelp about how high the quality is, I really implore you to try ordering your own little tasting menu and trying to level up your palate. The end boss is waiting.