It’s famous for gambling and general excess, but since when has Las Vegas been known for its foodie pleasures? Jack Southan reports
With the development of the hip (but lesser known) Downtown area of Vegas, food in Sin City has gone from a gambler’s necessity to a tourism draw all in itself. The streets are packed with cool bars and quality eateries and some very fine spots to hang out. Many have an urban Brooklyn feel, whereas others appear to be high-end Hollywood. Needless to say, with this epicentre of food and culture growing so rapidly, the entire city has had to pick up its game, with glorious results.
Here are a few favourites (with thanks to local foodie and Instagram star @eatmelasvegas)
1. Tacos el Gordo
“They’re best tacos in America,” says pretty much anyone I speak to about this place. Located halfway between The Strip and Downtown, this nondescript taqueria on the corner of a parking lot is the Koh-i-noor in the crown of Vegas Mexican food. The food is fast and unbelievably delicious. Try the sweet BBQ red pork Taco el Pastor and the loaded Adobada Fries for the best experience. The tacos are spicy, fresh and zesty and at $2 each allow you to eat a full tray.
Chef David Chang’s empire of incredible Asian-American restaurants is growing around the world, so it’s no surprise Las Vegas was chosen as a destination worthy of a new Momofuku. On the second floor of the Cosmopolitan Casino, this ultra-trendy restaurant may seem at first glance like another notch in Chang’s chopping board, but the complex fusion of flavours and exquisite cooking, the vibrancy and colour of the dishes, will amaze you. Try the spicy cucumbers with tagarashi and almonds, the shiitake mushroom bao bun or the insanely tasty whole steamed Branzino fish with brown butter dashi.
3. Evel Pie
This might not be the very best pizza you’ll ever eat, but seeing as it’s a rock ‘n’ roll bar themed around the legendary stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel, with great music and superb location on South Las Vegas Boulevard, it will certainly be one of your most memorable slices. For $5 you get a glass of decent beer and a slice of pizza. The crust is light and crisp but never dry and the sauce is delicious, rich and juicy. You won’t want to leave.
4. Atomic Kitchen @ Atomic Liquor
Known as the oldest bar in Las Vegas, this fantastic dive bar and now top-notch diner has been frequented since the times of the nuclear tests in the 1950s. Patrons would take a seat on the roof and watch the mushroom clouds form over the Mojave Desert as the bombs were detonated on the horizon. The bar has a 50s vibe, but the food and drinks – daily changing craft beers, custom cocktails and delicious comfort food – are anything but old fashioned.
5. Donut Bar
Voted best donuts in America, endorsed by the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Ryan Seacrest, purveyor of the iconic Homer Donut, with a daily-changing menu, this store has everything a donut-lover could possibly want. Vegan strawberry and cream-filled, candied bacon and apple swirls are a tiny selection of the varieties on offer. There’s cold-brew coffee on tap too.
6. Carson Kitchen
Conveniently situated next-door to the Donut Bar, this under-the-radar restaurant has some of the best food in Las Vegas. With its East London decor and stylish design, Carson Kitchen is at the forefront of what makes the Downtown development so successful. The food is exceptional, with classically-inspired dishes like crispy fried chicken skins with smoked honey given a update. They are worth the journey alone, but try the charred artichoke with chipotle mayo, the beet salad and the BBQ burnt ends with cured cucumber.
This is a new addition to the string of fusion tapas restaurants, opened by chef José Andrés. Another Cosmo Hotel joint with flash interiors and Vegas theatrics which far exceeds expectations and surprises with each course. The centrepiece to this restaurant is the glowing paella pit, where the dish is cooked to order on an open fire, as the true paella valenciana should be. The rest of the tapas menu is advanced and beautifully designed with balanced flavours and creative flair.
8. Other Mama
This is a restaurant by chefs for chefs (and thankfully us mortals too). The quality and standard of the food is extremely high. Located a way out of central Vegas, this place might not look like much from the outside but the food will rival anything in the city. As with a lot of frontrunner restaurants, the food is a combination between Japanese and Asian-American. The oysters topped with sea urchin and roe is extraordinary and the Amberjack crudo with Ponzu salsa is incredible, but for the hearty option definitely try the Kimchi fried rice.
9. Sparrow and Wolf
This is an @eatmelasvegas favourite; in common some other spots on this list, it’s producing some exciting ‘future foods’. The sleek restaurant serves up stunning-looking dishes which draw on the inspiration of classic American food of the last 100 years, but it tweaks and adapts the flavours with an Asian flourish, adding subtle umami tones to classic flavours we’re used to in the west. It is a place you can feel at home and in a distant land all in the same moment. This is what the new Vegas is all about.
10. Cocktails at The Velveteen Rabbit
This earns an honorary listing because, well, cocktails are essential in Las Vegas. The ladies at the Velveteen Rabbit have opened one of the most discreet (and sought-after) bars in the city. Behind a wood-panelled door on the quiet part of Main Street, it’s easily missed. Step inside and you’ll find a custom cocktail menu, beautiful art installations, and comfortable, shabby-chic furniture. An old-fashioned treat.