August 26th, 2013
01:00 PM ET
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This is the fourteenth installment of "Eat This List" - a semi-regularly recurring list of things chefs, farmers, writers and other food experts think you ought to know about.

I go to Las Vegas for the food and booze. Yes, I live in New York, one of the greatest dining and drinking cities on the planet, but there's something about the unapologetic bombast of Sin City that just stirs my soul.

I've been to Vegas an awful lot over the past 15 years, and I don't gamble with my dining dollars. Neither should you. Here are seven sure bets I've made time and time again, and I hope they'll pay off for you, too.

1. The Peppermill
Since 1972, tourists and locals alike have sought refuge in the plush, rope-lit banquettes of this campy, comfy North Strip coffee shop and cocktail lounge. At any time of day or night, patrons can gobble down comically heaping platters of 10-egg omelettes and hash browns, towering club sandwiches and fishbowl-sized sundaes, but the real action is in the back at the Fireside Lounge.

Cozy into a seat around the lounge's titular fire pit: a bubbling pool of water with flames shooting up from the center. Your waitress will take your drink order, sliding into the seat next to you as gracefully as she can manage in her slinky, black high-slit cocktail dress - and she'll return with a hurricane glass or scorpion bowl the size of your head. You'll succumb to a sugar coma (or fugue state induced by the mysterious C-list music videos echoing infinitely around the mirrored room) well before intoxication sets in, but just go with it. And when you finally wander outside after a few Mai Tais, Bahama Mamas or Planters Punches, don't be surprised to find that it's several hours later than you thought it was. Time flies by the fireside.

2. Golden Steer Steak House
The Rat Pack were regulars, so the Golden Steer oughta do just fine by you. The joint's been tossing tableside Caesar salads and setting bananas Foster ablaze since 1958. While it may not be as haute and happening as the celebrity chef-helmed steakhouses on the Strip, it more than makes up for that with the help of a seasoned staff, faithful renditions of warhorse dishes like escargots de Bourgogne, oysters Rockefeller and Lyonnaise potatoes, as well as sturdy pours of classic highballs.

The steaks might not quite match up to the restaurant's claim of being the "best on Earth," but they're perfectly serviceable (and compared to their on-Strip offerings, quite reasonably priced) and besides, you're there for the company. Clink glasses with Frank, Dean, Sammy and all their ritzy pals and savor a last chance to experience a style of Vegas swank that may not be around for much longer.

3. B&B Ristorante
It doesn't seem like the word "sustainability" would be uttered within a 100 mile radius of landlocked, neon-lit, resource-sucking Las Vegas, but Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have prioritized environmental wellbeing in every aspect of the restaurant from direct-from-farmer sourcing and alternative fuel use to banning bottled water and composting kitchen waste. And they sure don't skimp on the food quality, either. Batali's signature offal and pasta-centric offerings stand out as adventurous and elegant in a city prone to safer, masses-pleasing fare, and it's a darned sight easier to get a reservation at B&B than at his flagship (and roughly equivalent) Babbo in New York City.

It's not cheap; consider this your big Vegas blow-out meal and splurge on the house-made charcuterie, every last one of the vegetable sides and an Italian wine pairing with whatever pasta or meat hunk you desire. Then wobble back to your hotel and take a disco nap to digest before you go out again. You won't need to eat for roughly another day and a half.

4. China Poblano
Since setting up shop at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino when it opened in late 2010, chef José Andrés has become the rogue king of new Vegas dining with his cheeky, inventive take on the world's classic cuisines. At China Poblano, dishes and ingredients from Mexican and Chinese street food play nicely together, without losing their unique identities.

More than a few food writers (including myself) have confessed to sitting down to both lunch and dinner there in a single day, and sneaking in at least one more meal during their stay. After you've had a good sip or two of your salt air margarita (see the gallery above), hop around the menu and select at least a couple of tacos (the Viva China - soft beef tendon, Kumamoto oysters and scallions in Sichuan peppercorn sauce is the single best item I ate in 2012), some pork buns and a vegetable or two (if Brussels are in season, ORDER THEM) to enjoy while you contemplate your next wave of food - which should include at least one noodle dish and some siu mai. If you skip a dish, don't worry, you'll be back.

5. Lotus of Siam
In 2011, Thai-born Saipin Chutima tied for the title of Best Chef, Southwest in the annual James Beard Awards, marking the only time such a distinction has been bestowed upon a restaurateur who shares a strip mall with a cowboy-themed gay bar and a world-renowned swingers club. Chutima earned that honor through her meticulous execution of authentic classical and regional Thai cuisine, including homey curries, drunken noodles, pungent larbs, pork blood chunk stew and a whole host of potential new obsessions. Don't skip the off-menu specials - or the opportunity to indulge in fresh coconut ice cream for dessert. You'll be stuffed, but muscle through.

Do yourself a favor and take a cab to the restaurant. It's nowhere near your hotel, and you'll want to (safely) avail yourself of the opportunity to enjoy pairings from the thoughtfully assembled, heavily German wine list.

6. The Double Down Saloon
"Just close your eyes and let the darkness settle in," the conservatively-dressed 50-something told her friend as she led her to a stool in the dingy, mural-decked punk bar. A couple of $2 happy hour Ass Juices and a bacon martini later, both women were palpably calmer, nodding in rhythm to a Buzzcocks song along with the rest of the patrons there to drink the afternoon away.

A sign above the front door welcomes patrons to "The Happiest Place on Earth" and what this 24-hour bar lacks in sanitized Disney pep, it more than makes up for with a different kind of cheer. Low-key celebrities and devoted locals alike make this friendly off-Strip dive bar their home away from home, reveling in the cheap but expertly-made signature shots, raunchy reel of vintage cartoons and B-movies, and free performances by local and national bands. "Puke insurance" is available at a premium, allowing over-served customers to ditch out on cleaning duties should those inexpensive drinks re-emerge at some point in their visit. Otherwise, as the wall sign warns, "You puke, you clean."

If you're extra-lucky, bartender Brett "Butters" Balu will be on duty so you can sample one of his soon-to-be-legendary "Fat Elvis" cocktails. Don't ask what's in it - just enjoy. You know The King would approve.

7. Jaleo
Yup, José Andrés earned a second spot in this lucky seven, and he earned it by way of whimsical, wondrous dishes rooted in classical Spanish cooking, and reaching for the stars.

A heady waft of woodsmoke greets customers ascending the elevator to Jaleo's floor. It's emanating from a wood-burning grill from which come massive crowd-pleasing pans of hearty paella - and that's just a fraction of the menu. Stack the deck with some tried-and-true Andrés offerings: croquetas de pollo (served in a clean running shoe, because why not?), deep-fried bacalao, bacon-wrapped dates, pan con tomate with Manchego and anything involving Iberico ham. Then roll the dice on seasonal vegetables, whatever potato treatments strike your fancy and items labeled "José's way." You'll come up a winner every time.

21 more hits (in no particular order):
1. Pig ears at Comme Ça
2. Any dessert at Sage
3. "My Wife's Favorite Salad" and a charcuterie pizza at Honey Salt
4. A light lunch at Eiffel Tower (ohhhhhh...the view...)
5. A Negroni at the bar at Sinatra
6. Ceviche and gazpacho at Julian Serrano
7. Spicy pork adobada tacos at Tacos El Gordo
8. Flatbreads and a Blood and Sand at Herbs & Rye
9. Afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge
10. Banana pancakes at eat.
11. Boudin blanc at Bouchon Bistro
12. Whatever cocktail the bartender cares to serve you at Vesper Bar
13. Truffle tater tots at The Henry
14. A Hunter S. Smash at Atomic Liquors
15. Trout and eggs at Tiffany's Cafe
16. Whatever punch they're ladling out at The Velveteen Rabbit
17. Late night snacks at Aburiya Raku
18. A gastromolecular adventure at the eight-seat é by josé andrés
19. A glass of wine at Aureole ("wine angels" select bottles from a giant tower on bungee harnesses!)
20. Burgers at Hubert Keller's Burger Bar
21. A cocktail and crowd-watching at Oscar's Beef, Booze & Broads

Go home broke, full and happy.

These just happen to be my favorites, but got a beloved Vegas haunt I should try? It's good luck to share your wisdom. Spill 'em in the comments below. And many, many thanks to fantastic writer and Vegas local Lissa Townsend Rodgers for introducing me to a good chunk of these places.

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Carn E. Vore

    There's a local guy named Denny that has a good place to get breakfast 24 hours a day. He must be a baseball fan because he calls one of his specials the "Grand Slam". It's a good meal to load up on before heading out for more free booze in the casinos.

    November 9, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  2. Taka

    Catch the Fuku Burger food truck, usually around China town. Monta Ramen in China town is awesome .... if you like ramen. Tacos el gordo on the strip near the encore, there's also one out east but I forget where.

    November 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  3. vespajet

    One spot that I ate at my last trip to Vegas was Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steak over at The Mirage. Best meal I have ever eaten and totally blew Gordon Ramsay Steak (which is really good place) out of the water. The menu changes somewhat regularly, so something they had one trip may not be there the next.

    Another spot I tried my last trip and enjoyed was Andiamo at The D Las Vegas. Old school Italian steakhouse that despite being a new place in Vegas (it replaced the steakhouse that was there when the property was Fitzgerald's), seemed like it had been there for years and had a level of service that hearkened back to Old Vegas (via Detroit). The pasta is made in-house and the meatball appetizer had to be some old Italian grandmother's recipe passed down over the years.

    November 7, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  4. sheinLV

    Try Nosh & Swig, west of the 95 off Flamingo just east of Pecos. Not much to look at but the food is so good. Try the spare ribs, they were my favorite

    October 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      Their carpaccio is excellent! I would have put 21 more places on this list if I could.

      Edited - actually, I was thinking of Herbs & Rye right there. Nosh & Swig had those super-fun shaker salads!

      November 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  5. LocalLasV

    Lot's of great, much less expensive food out in the Western suburbs. For starters, try Archie's (3 locations) or Basil and Lime on FtAp for great thai, Sambalatte at FtAp/Charleston for some of the best coffee around (try the nutella latte), and of course, there's always "Off the Strip", especially in Southern Highlands.

    September 3, 2013 at 2:02 am | Reply
  6. lasvegastraveltips

    I've been to the Peppermill before and it's a great restaurant. Peppermill even has a lounge with a fire place.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:32 am | Reply
  7. galwayrambling

    The Florida Cafe on the north end of the Strip, hidden in the Howard Johnson's motel, is some of the best Cuban food ever ever EVER. I dream about their arroz con pollo! The Blueberry Hill on Charleston is the best, great service, great food, great people watching. El Lindo Michoacan is great for fresh hot tortillas and creative Mexican fare. Always go off-Strip and out to the Chinatown area for good Asian food. The Peppermill is SO kitschy and fun! Definitely agree on Lotus of Siam for fantastic Thai fare.

    August 30, 2013 at 7:05 am | Reply
  8. Larry R

    I live in Las Vegas and IF you don't mind $40 for lunch then I guess it's ok. I prefer the buffets. Real food at a sometimes reasonable price depending on where you go.

    August 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  9. mjamms1

    We love the view from Alize at the Top of the Palms! We also enjoy dinner at Ferraro's Italian Restaurant. It's a local joint – across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel. Homemade everything – and the osso buco is mouthwatering. They also have a great reverse happy hour – we like to stop by there after concerts at HRH.

    August 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  10. Jessica Ray

    Mastro's Oceanclub in Crystals Mall. It's resort casual and has a wonderful menu. I'm always satisfied whenever I dine there.

    August 28, 2013 at 1:17 am | Reply
  11. Kathy Clark

    Big Dog's Draft House, W Craig Rd and N Rancho in Las Vegas.

    Most everybody working there has been there 5 yrs or more. Good sports bar, specially for Packer fans and even if your not. Friendly atmosphere, always busy so gotta be patient. But they aim to please. Any complaints, they'll handle it. Food was always good, specially twice baked wongs. Try em with a Big Dog brew. Even good jiust having a soda or water if you don't drink.

    They brew and now sell their own beers and you can see the vats here.

    Dave, main bartender who's been there about 17 yrs, can make you any mixed drink you want.

    Use to have live entertainment on Wednesday and if you want a momento to take with, they have tee shirts, caps, etc.

    Big Dog's also has events to introdice their new brews throughout the winter, spring and summer. One tee I have was a summerfest entitled Peace, Love & Hoppyness. Food, fun and music at all these events and beer tasting including guest beers.

    So, tey it. Hope you like it.

    August 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  12. Bill Knowles

    I highly recommend Cuba Café, on Tropicana Blvd., about a mile and a half east of the Strip. Outstanding cuba food, they made me black bean soup that wasn't on the menu, and the pork legs are as tender as you'll ever find on Calle Ocho in Miami or any other Cuban restaurant.

    August 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Reply
  13. VegasFan

    If you don't mind a drive off the strip, go to North LV and find a cozy little spot for the BEST sushi...Sushi Zen! A chef friend took us worth the drive!

    August 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  14. JWRoseberry

    If you go to Vegas, then you need to try Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant.

    They're reasonable in price and the food is great! it was a great find when we visited in 2010.

    August 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  15. Jimbo

    Went to Il Mulino in Caesars. $100/person without booze. My wife and I got food poisoning.

    August 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  16. PammB

    Try Waverly's at the Cannery in North Las Vegas. Less expensive than in town places and better service. I also like Hugo's Cellar in Downtown Vegas.

    August 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  17. Tea Party Patriot

    When I'm south of the Mason-Dixon line I put on my white sheet, hop into my dually and head for the nearest Chick-fil-A.

    August 27, 2013 at 9:46 am | Reply
    • Partisan

      Please kill yourself.

      August 27, 2013 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • Buck

      What do you honestly believe you're accomplishing by posting garbage like this?

      August 27, 2013 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • JP

      what a douche bag!

      August 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  18. George Bush

    Eggs and trout, mmmm

    August 27, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
  19. Sane Person

    List needs : Ping Pang Pong, inside Gold Coast, Hot N Juicy and Hush Puppy – for actual local's hangouts at decent prices.

    August 27, 2013 at 6:15 am | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      People keep mentioning Ping Pang Pong. I clearly need to try it next time! (But do the locals *want* tourists to know about their favorite haunts?)

      August 27, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • Bill

      Surprisingly, Ping Pang Pong was just meh to me. However, I may have had a bad experience.

      September 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  20. @timcwoodward

    These are all great choices...some that should be added to the list:
    Border Grill at Mandalay Bay–the Vegas satellite of Mary Sue Miliken and Susan Feniger's Santa Monica and LA locations. Chef Mike Minor has put together the best brunch menu in the city: creative, hearty, and adventurous.
    Sora Ramen or Monta Ramen in Chinatown. Sora has the better noodles, Monta has the better broth. The battle rages among Vegas locals for the title of top ramen. Try them both and judge for yourself.
    Koraku has the best Japanese curry in the city, and Kuma Snow Cream, right next door is the perfect dessert on a hot Vegas night.
    Someone already mentioned Mint Bistro. I agree.
    Bachi Burger in Summerlin is better than Burger Bar.
    And if you have a car and don't mind a drive, Retro Bakery in Centennial Hills (far northwest) has some mighty tasty cupcakes in a rotation of exotic flavors.

    August 27, 2013 at 4:25 am | Reply
  21. Burgermeister

    No mention of the WICKED SPOON? Seriously?

    August 27, 2013 at 4:10 am | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      I definitely liked Wicked Spoon, but it's just not on my "must-go" list like the rest of these.

      August 27, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • anitaalbright

      I love Wicked Spoon – the best brunch I've ever had, with something for everyone; beautiful presentation of tasty offerings.

      September 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
    • anitaalbright

      I love Wicked Spoon! Beautiful presentation of tasty offerings; something for everyone.

      September 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Reply
    • vespajet

      Wicked Spoon is my go-to buffet spot. To me, it's much better than Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars, which got the "best buffet" title within a week of opening. My last trip, I tried the Buffet at Aria and it was meh.

      November 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  22. Kris

    Hash House A Go-Go is my fav quirky, yet delicious, place in Vegas.

    August 27, 2013 at 3:11 am | Reply
    • DItto

      Ditto – GREAT breakfast. No need to have lunch afterwards.

      August 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • vespajet

      It probably depends on which HHAGG location you go to. My last trip, I stayed at the Plaza and the location there wasn't all that busy and had a couple trying to find a place to eat one morning tell me that they ate there the day before and didn't like it. My go-to breakfast spot Downtown is DuPar's over at the Golden Gate.

      November 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  23. Andy

    The Mint, Indian Bistro, deserves to get mentioned here. Hands down the best Indian restaurant in Vegas. Just a few blocks from the Strip, located on Flamingo, near the crossing of Swenson and Flamingo.

    August 27, 2013 at 1:05 am | Reply
  24. pkfops

    We always go to "Chinatown"; about a mile from the strip. Plenty of restaurants to choose from, the food is great and way cheaper.

    August 26, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  25. Pacific Merchants

    Love your suggestions, especially Lotus of Siam. It's a must-visit every time I'm in Vegas (and I'm in LA, where good Thai is plentiful.) I'd add a slice of pizza from the pizza joint tucked away in the Cosmopolitan to this list. The pizza is on the Good side of OK, but at 4 am, it's all you could possibly need. Also, an open faced turkey sandwich from ANYWHERE when you're still awake at 7 am.

    August 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • ready

      i've been to lotus of siam several times, it's easily some of the best food here

      August 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Reply
  26. Buck

    Cool, I'll have to try some of these suggestions next time we're in Vegas. As for one of the recommendations, let me first state that I love the Cosmopolitan in Vegas and that's where we went on our honeymoon. However, unfortunately I was not at all impressed with Jaleo. The croquetas de pollo for example were just okay overall. Furthermore, I honestly just don't find it appealing for them to be served in a shoe (even if it's never been worn). I can't even remember the other food we had there other than it just wasn't impressive at all. As far as restaurants in the Cosmopolitan, we were MUCH more impressed by the food at Scarpetta. The desserts, particularly the bombolinis, were incredible. Overall though, the best restaurant in Vegas I've ever dined at is the Bartolotta. Quite expensive so that probably explains some of the negative reviews. But its without a doubt definitely a great way to celebrate a special occasion. My wife isn't a huge seafood fan at all but even she absolutely loved every course from start to finish. We are definitely going back someday once we win the lottery....

    August 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  27. Emily

    Touristy as it may be, I have never failed to have my expectations far surpassed during brunch at Mon Ami Gabi. From the delicate perfect quiche Lorraine to the homey, perfect corned beef hash, I can't visit Vegas without eating here!

    August 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      I do really like Mon Ami Gabi! But I had to give this one to Eiffel Tower for the view.

      August 26, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
    • galwayrambling

      I agree, I love Mon Ami. They have a chopped salad that, while pricey, is the perfect accompaniment with an afternoon on the patio in the shade, watching the Strip and enjoying the water show at the Bellagio.

      August 30, 2013 at 7:01 am | Reply
    • vespajet

      The people watching from the patio trumps the view from Eiffel Tower, especially if you're up early (because of the time difference with the East Coast) and you see folks making the obvious walk of shame at 7:30 in the morning.....

      November 7, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  28. arlenewszalek

    These are all westside places: Try the hot pot at I-Naba. Try anything at Raku (although the fish two ways is spectacular). Brilliant Thai at Chada Thai and Wine (chef-owner is the former sommelier at Lotus of Siam). The latter two serve until 2am, and you're as likely as not to run into off-duty Strip restaurant pros post-11pm.

    August 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      Got Raku in that bunch at the bottom and will totally check out your other suggestions next time.

      August 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Reply

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