A 40-foot tall praying mantis stands watch over Downtown Container Park and shoots flames at sundown.
Las Vegas is a city of many high-end restaurants, celebrity chefs, and over-the-top dining experiences, and rummaging through the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. What I’ve found over the years is that the off-Strip dining can oftentimes be as impressive as what’s in the well-known casinos and resorts. The premium paid for the on-Strip dining experiences can be tremendous, leading many restaurateurs and bars to find more affordable, approachable places. With the explosion of Downtown Vegas as a viable attraction, there are now some impressive spots to visit, like one of the best Thai restaurants in the city, and a great cocktail bar. The ethnic dining in the Chinatown section of the city rivals some of the best restaurants in L.A., though no particular cuisine dominates. The following is a diverse guide to 16 of Las Vegas’ best restaurants and bars, listed in alphabetical order instead of in order of preference.
Raku presents one of the highest examples of the izakaya genre in the United States, at once restrained and in another, completely unexpected and extraordinary. The cuisine itself is derived from the Japanese drinking restaurant, or a type of gastropub. Chef Mitsuo Endo opened Raku in 2008 to great fanfare and critical acclaim, beloved by chefs across the city. The strip mall setting belies the elegant, if dark, interior, and the service remains more standoffish than particularly attentive. It still doesn’t detract significantly from the experience, which almost always starts with a serving of fresh house-made tofu that will shift your paradigm about how delicious soybeans can be. Agedashi tofu, served with a soy-dashi and topped with dancing bonito flakes, melts in your mouth. The foie gras egg custard is also extraordinary, unctuously stuffed with fatty duck liver. Finally the parade of charcoal-grilled yakitori skewers makes the meal last forever – a good thing at a restaurant like this.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Raku House Tofu, Foie Gras Egg Custard, Tsukune – Grilled Ground Chicken Skewer, Kobe Beef Tendon Skewer, Foie Gras Don
Bachi Burger [CLOSED]
This inventive burger joint deep in the suburbs does great takes on the simple American hamburger, adding things like foie gras, shishito pepper, and lap cheong sausage to go along with seared Wagyu patties. The oxtail fries are also a popular order at this strip-mall dining room that’s not particularly interesting on the design side, not that it matters. The burgers are too interesting not to order in pairs, with things like the banh mi burger, crab cake burger, and kalbi burger on the menu. There’s also a good list of Japanese craft beers.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Oxtail Chili Cheese Fries, Pork Belly Steam Buns, Ronin Burger, Miyagi-San’s Grass Fed Beef Burger, Shogun Burger
The Wynn properties have a very high level of quality on the whole, though prices are a bit on the expensive side (this is the Wynn). Botero is a nice mix of both the steak and seafood side in one of the best overall rooms in Vegas, highlighted by a massive Botero sculpture in the center. The plush seating, dark lighting, and view of the outdoor patio and swimming pool makes it an ideal early dinner when the sun is waning or a nice late supper just when the clubs are starting to heat up. Chef Mark LaRusso does a solid menu of crudos and seafood dishes while keeping a tight steak list that might not be better than the likes of CUT or Carnevino, but would be very good for most diners, especially when steaks are topped with a piece of seared foie gras. The wine service is also stellar, with plenty of good picks in the $80-100 range that would go great with the meal.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Crudo Tasting, Baby Beet Salad, Day Boat Scallops, Wild Mushroom Tart, Bone-In Ribeye with Seared Foie Gras, Branzino
Chada Thai [CLOSED]
Bank Atcharawan, Lotus of Siam’s former sommelier, started this unassuming Thai restaurant in a distant strip mall and has above-average dishes like ground pork larb, lobster pad kee mao, and panang curry, but the real advantage of this place is the amazing (and surprisingly affordable) wine list. The environs are dark, modern, and comfortable, allowing the food and wine to shine through. The pairings are simply fantastic, one of the best combinations of Old World wine with classic Thai flavors that result an experience that’s almost impossible to find anywhere on the Strip. One would be hard pressed to find a Thai restaurant in America with a better wine list.
MUST ORDER DISHES: Ground Pork Larb, Panang Curry, Pad Kee Mao, Spicy Duck Rice
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