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.
Yup, José Andrés earned a second spot in this lucky seven, and he nabbed 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.
Previously on "Parts Unknown":
Bourdain strikes vegetarian gold in Punjab
The dog-eat-dog turf of Detroit's classic coneys
Tasting Tokyo's treasures
– South Africa
Taste the Rainbow Nation
Sicilian food to soothe the soul
10 things to know before visiting Sicily
A sense of place in Copenhagen cuisine
– New Mexico
In New Mexico, choose a side: red or green
Bourdain cops to mistake on Frito pie canned chili claim
10 things to know before visiting New Mexico
- Granada, Spain
Traditional tapas in Granada
11 things to know before visiting Spain
– Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
In Jerusalem, even food origins are contentious
10 things to know before visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
Bourdain has traditional Palestinian meal
SPAM and coq au vin on the Congo River
Peruvian food, from guinea pigs to pisco sours
Peruvian food is having a moment
Make perfect pisco sours and ceviche
South America's pisco enjoys North American revival
Breakfast in Libya
Where fast food tastes like freedom
iReport: In Morocco, eating is the spice of life
Street snacking in Morocco
O Canada! Our home and delicious land
Come for the strip bars, stay for the poutine
Colombian cuisine – from aguardiente to viche
Americans just don’t understand the potato. Colombians do.
– Los Angeles Koreatown
The ever-changing flavor of L.A.'s Koreatown
Bridging generations and cultures, one blistering bowl of bibimbap at a time
Los Angeles food trucks are in it for the long haul
Fall in love with Myanmar's cuisine
In Myanmar, drink your tea and eat it too
Give the Hardhat Lounge a try, been slinging cocktails and shots at this location since it applied for its liquor license back in 1955. Great little kitchen with classic bar fair and a giant one of a kind oil on canvas by famed CA. artist, Frank Bowers that he painted for food and board when he went on a drunk in LV. 1675 Industrial Rd, LV NV 89102. It's in the shadow of the Stratisphere Casino Tower.
Passing through Las Vegas. Stopped at the Peppermill Restaurant. What a disappointment. I would NOT recommend this place. Clearly Anthony Bourdain should not be recommending places to eat.
This article brought to you by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
Don't I wish! You should see my credit card statement.
I just did my 15th year last week of visiting Vegas 2-3 times a year. Peppermill is a good greasy spoon as they go. Blueberry Hill is also a Vegas staple. My list of favorites includes Roberto's Tacos. Fried taco combo plate is my favorite. Earl of Sandwich in PH is nice. The PH's buffet is also good at $16.99 for lunch on the players card. In the 2800 block of East Flamingo in the Piazza Mio shopping center, there is this hole in the wall that makes fantastic hot wings. Its in the east corner of the L shaped center. Texas De Brazil is always fantastic. Do the $20 lunch as supper is $45. Or buy the $60, 12 meal lunch card but it only works Sunday-Thursday. America at NYNY is great as you sit under a big map of the USA. Its fun for kids. Breakfast buffet at Aria is nice and reasonable. On a wide tangent, many of the 7-11's and other convenience stores have sugar free slurpees. The on south of the Stratosphere has two flavors. The 7-11 north of MGM also has two sugar free flavors. My favorite is mango.
Rule of thumb for most fancy restaurants: The smaller the portion, the bigger the tab.
I'd rather be gagged with a spoon than be in Las Vegas, the city whose hospitals spread hepatitis by re-using contaminated syringes and whose government sends its homeless mentally ill people to California by bus.
Also highly recommend Off the Strip. Also, Jamm's for breakfast. Both are a ways from the strip but well worth the drive.
I travel often and abide by the motto 'eat local'.
somebody's off their feed – we went to the Golden Steer many years ago and found it overpriced and mostly empty. Not trying to bash an indie restaurant, we just were underwhelmed and sticker-shocked. Bobby Flays does a great steak as does Ruths Chris and Lowrey's.
We usually go to LV "Chinatown"; one mile west of the strip on Spring Mountain RD.
Many Asian restaurants an affordable price.
I wonder how much this adver......err... 'Article' cost Vegas business to publish.
If that were the case, I've yet to see a paycheck! You should see my AmEx bills - my personal ones, by the way. CNN doesn't send me out there, I just go.
Woohoo, you worked "titular" into the copy. You're a real internet writer now!
I just checked the menus on some of these places, and WOW...are these ever picked for the common man...of Kansas...
Picasso at the Bellagio- went there for after wedding dinner- was fantastic!
@Edward Firefly on Paradise got shut down due to a Salmonella Outbreak that sickened many and the other location in Henderson just received 38 Demerits and a C grade that it managed to finagle into an A rating the following day. Fool you twice...
Top of the World Restaurant at the Stratosphere. Level 107 Lounge above it!
Don't forget Nora's – to die for Italian. Everything from white pizza to Crazy Alfredo! West of the strip in a strip mall. Bail bondsman close by.
I would add Bautista's Hole in the Wall. You throw either one in a hat and no matter who you draw out, you can't lose.
My mistake...it's Battist's Hole in the Wall
what about eh 'resort fees.. we want that resolved..NOW
Because the best place to deal with that is on a list of LV restaurants and bars, most of which aren't in casinos.
Great list. We lived there for a few years and one big oversight is the tapas bar: Firefly. It's on Paradise and is absolutely amazing. The almond stuffed dates are the single best bite of food I've ever had.
That's what I look forward to the most in Vegas. THE FOOD!
Eiffel Tower. Best meal I've ever had in my life. Worth every penny.
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