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
2. Golden Steer Steak House
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'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
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.
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
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.
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):
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":