Friday, March 21, 2014

Where I Eat (in downtown Las Vegas)

This is NOT a complete list of dining establishments in Las Vegas and it is NOT intended to be. These are a few of my favorite restaurants that are generally within two miles, or walking distance, from my house.

First, a little about me.
I was born in Las Vegas, NV in 1977. I grew up on both the east and west sides of town almost simultaneously. From the age of 3 till around 13, I would spend weekdays with my Mother and Step-Dad, attending school and playing in neighborhoods near about Pecos and Owens (the Las Vegas-North Las Vegas border), while weekends would be with my father near Washington Ave and Michael Way.

My Father taught in the Clark County School District and as he would put it, had therefore taken a vow of poverty. Mom and Stepdad worked in Hotel-Casino food and beverage, a waitress and a chef, respectively.

What does this have to do with anything?

Dad’s frugality helped me teach myself how to get the most for my dollar and how to identify value over gimmicks, while living with my Mother and Stepfather showed me culinary expertise at it’s finest and behind-the-scenes action inside some of our city’s grand resorts.

This background is enhanced by my own personal experience as a solo singer-songwriter travelling, seeking and finding quality accommodations on an impossibly small budget.

Add to this equation, the fact that my partner and I have been live/work/walking in our downtown for the past 4-½ years and hopefully you will agree that I am THE person that you want to tell you WHERE I EAT (and drink).

I will include a separate list of vegetarian/vegan dining destinations for our friends who abstain from consuming animal-based products. I sincerely respect their choice and admire those who can maintain the diet and lifestyle.

Let’s get started with the most obvious. The most popular meal in all of America….

PIZZA ROCK, 201 N 3rd St/Ogden aka DT3
Slices come and slices go and we’ve tried just about them all, but nowhere in this town can beat (maybe tie but not beat) Pizza Rock. You can dine-in and get any number of sinfully delicious craft creations and they will amaze you. I (very seriously) suggest that you start with their award-winning Pizza Margherita and experiment from there. If you’re anything like me, the futuristic dystopia decor inside Pizza Rock will prevent you from wanting to ever return. DO NOT PANIC. Do what we do, forget the dine-in restaurant and grab a NY slice from the walk-up window outside or at the front counter. $3.50 for cheese, another quarter for pepperoni and $5 for the daily New Yorker special.The slice will likely be bigger than your head and you can pull up a chair in the sidewalk seating on 3rd st. You and your +1, two of the best slices you’ll find anywhere + gratuity = $10

VIVA LAS AREPAS, 1616 S Las Vegas Blvd/Oakey
Felix Arellano brought incredibly succulent, mouth-watering, authentic Venezuelan fare to Las Vegas Blvd when he opened his arepa stand in front of Dino’s bar. The American dream encapsulated, Felix works hard everyday and every day he’s expanding his legacy, his brand and best of all, his wood-fired grilled chicken. 3 piece plus beans, rice and a drink is $6.99 and chances are you can’t finish the entire plate in one sitting. No matter what you order, you can’t resist their signature habanero and cucumber salsas. I recommend getting the full bird with two sides for $14.99, or better yet the mixed grill; chicken, ribs, sausage and asada with two sides, it’s $19.99 but feeds two people for two days or 4 teenagers once. Again, I cannot express enough just how excellent the smoky goodness is that Felix and his crew infuse into their foods. He belongs on the Travel Channel with any number of their top eating destination programs.

ROCK N’OODLES 1108 s 3rd St (south of Charleston)
The brand new Arts District noodle shop is outstanding. Their “eclectic noodle creations” are top notch and leave you wanting more. I can’t promise, but in my experience, the portions are very large and enough to feed two people (or one person twice). Once or twice, this was not the case, but it doesn’t matter because you still get a great quality meal for a reasonable price. As I understand it, the kitchen staff were all hired from the culinary school at CSN, and you can taste it in everything these kids dish out. Even better still is the daily creations and soup of the day. Top this all off with the fact that they are always cranking out the jams, which brings vibrant energy to the neighborhood.

STREETCAR PO BOYS, 1624 W Oakey/Western Ave
This brand new discovery really excites me. I only learned just last year about the power of the magical, New Orleans-style Po Boy sandwich when dining at Las Vegas’ popular Louisana kitchen, Lola’s (at Holsum Lofts). I did not enjoy my entrees at Lola’s, but the shrimp Po Boy was out-of-this-world! If you’re familiar with Lola’s kitchen, you already understand that they are a very small facility and are almost always packed- which is fabulous for Lola. I, however, don’t really care for cramped dining. Lucky for us, Streetcar Po Boys has a large spacious dining room, is really close to our house and serves a BIG menu of Po Boys every bit as good as, IF NOT BETTER THAN, Lola’s. HINT: The large Po Boy is double the size of the regular for $2-3 more. It’s very worth it.

LOS MOLCAJETES, 1553 N Eastern Ave/Owens
OK, this restaurant is not downtown but it's very nearby and it's the best of it's kind, so it is completely worth a slightly longer trek.
I have lived in Las Vegas all of my life and I have eaten Mexican food in restaurants, Mexican families homes and all over Southern California too. I noticed sometime around the late 1990’s that Mexican restaurants (in Las Vegas) began to seriously wane. Quality ingredients and fresh spice were replaced by pools of poor quality, inexpensive shredded cheese smothered over beans, rice and sauce. The curious attribute to this phenomena is that it only occurs where restaurants also serve alcohol. Taquerias are speckled all over this valley still serving good home cooking at reasonable prices, yet if they start serving tequila… watch out. Los Molcajetes is the best Mexican fare I have tasted (in this town) in I don’t know how long. Don’t make me explain this, just trust me. Go on Wednesday, bottled mexican beers are $1, order whichever one of the there molcajetes sounds most appealing for you and your guest. When the boiling cauldron of goodness arrives at your table, all will be right with the world. $16-21 feeds two, plus however many dollar beers you can handle. It is a very good thing.

PASTA PIRATE, 12 E Ogden Ave/Main St
Sometimes you just NEED a good steak and downtown Las Vegas has many, really good places to choose from. From Oscar’s at The Plaza to Hugo’s Cellar at 4 Queens to Andiamo at The D. Go to any of the restaurants and you’re likely to pay $32 to $50 for a nice filet mignon plus a la carte side dishes. Try this one on for size; 6 oz filet with prawns, vegetables, choice of potato, soup or salad AND a glass of wine for a grand total of $18. Yes, eighteen American dollars for this entire meal which just so happens that the meal is served in the slightly finer dining restaurant right next door, The Redwood Grill for $10 more. Same kitchen, same cooks, same everything but it costs $10 less inside Pasta Pirate.

CHICAGO JOE’S, 820 S 4th St/Hoover
It doesn’t matter who you’re wooing. Whether you want to meet a friend over lunch, impress your new lover or you're having a quiet anniversary with your spouse- do this. Get a table at Las Vegas’ most adorable restaurant establishment, Chicago Joe’s. Order a carafe of burgundy wine and the escargot appetizer, enjoy them together with the crusty bread on the table. It is perfect all by itself, you don’t even need to bother with an entree. Prices subject to change but it should be about $25 total. In the event that you are hungry for their American-Italian fare, I recommend the lasagna or the eggplant parmigiana.

WHITE CROSS MARKET, 1700 S Las Vegas Blvd/Oakey
This traditional market/sandwich deli carries Boars Head products. The utterly decadent italian combo sandwich full of processed meats, packed with all the pickled trimmings and drenched in oil and vinegar is perfect for those who fear not for their heart’s health. But who wants to live a long life without eating this sandwich at least once or twice? A fella I have known for 20 years recently posted on facebook that the pastrami sandwich at White Cross was the best he has ever eaten in his entire life. Is this enough of an endorsement? $8-10

CLAM CHOWDER and so much more
TIFFANY’S CAFE, 1700 S Las Vegas Blvd/Oakey
Tiffany’s Cafe may be the very last great greasy spoon in Las Vegas. Open 24/7 365 and they deliver. God Bless Tiffany’s Cafe. Tiffany’s offers the full cafe menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner, daily specials and soup du jour. On Friday, Tiffany’s Cafe makes their famous clam chowder. Naturally, I prefer eating my chowder in Monterey Bay, CA, but since we don’t have that option, Tiffany’s does the next best thing.

ART OF FLAVORS, 1616 S Las Vegas Blvd/Oakey
This corner has been famous for Luv-It Custard for so long that I can’t remember it any other way. Well, you can forget about Luv-It, because Art of Flavor gelateria has arrived. Please don’t be hasty, just let your taste buds decide. Desyree comes from Italy and she is the real deal when it comes to gelato. Everything she creates is made fresh every day and she comes up with dazzling flavor combinations that you simply have to taste to believe. OK, so you want some examples? Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Rosemary, Salmon, Chocolate and Chili pepper. These are gelato flavors I am naming. Tiramisu, Pistachio, Pickle, everyday there is something new and unexpected, plus sorbets and espresso.

MAIN STREET STATION, 200 N Main Street/Stewart Ave
My very favorite aspect of “the new downtown” is that our new inhabitants never venture further west than 3rd st. From 3rd st to 9th is bustling with young urban professionals and bars where drink prices just keep growing taller and taller with each new establishment that opens attempting to become more elite than the rest. You can cram all that noise, I have zero interest in the crowded over-priced bar scene. It’s like kryptonite to me. When I want to drink, I want to a) be able to get a drink and b) be able to afford as many as (I deem) necessary. Until now, I have shied away from telling strangers about what they’re missing out on because I don’t want to see my favorite haunts turn into the insanity that is happening right down the block. On the other hand, however, I decided that it sure would be more fun if we could ever run into our friends by happenstance while out our bar. Friends, our absolute favorite bar in this town is the casino bar at Main Street Station hotel-casino. The bar itself is regal and magnificent stretching somewhere close to 100 feet long made entirely of marble and brass. The casino is the only downtown casino that smells nothing like those you are familiar with. It does not reek of smoke and air freshener. The classic southern train station decor feels like a step back in time to Las Vegas’ railroad origins. All of these attributes only enhance the fact that THIS IS A BREWERY. HELLO!?!? Not only does Triple 7 Brewpub create a variety of tasty fresh brew, but they sell it for $1.75 per pint. I said “one dollar and seventy-five cents”! If you are drinking anywhere else in this town you are probably doing it wrong. You don’t drink beer? Call drinks average about $3.50. Yes, that means Jameson. What do you say? Will we see you there anytime soon? I can still do you one better. Gentleman only, once you have swilled your fair share of the sauce, you will no doubt need to relieve yourself. Get ready for this. The men’s room (off the casino floor) inside Main Street Station has a big chunk of the actual Berlin Wall. The urinals are attached to it. YOU, yourself, get to personally urinate on a piece of the Berlin Wall (each and every time you have to go). The feeling is so gratifying that I get emotional just writing about it. There are photos along with the story of the Berlin Wall posted overhead so you can read about it while relieving yourself.
Now, how does THAT sound?


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day whether you eat it or not. Not only is breakfast essential to “breaking the fast” of overnight sleep and giving your body and brain sustenance to survive on, but it’s also ceremonious. There are so many ways to engage breakfast and there are different solutions for varying scenarios, which is why breakfast deserves it’s own list for the many different ways we indulge in it.

Lazy, Tired, Hungover and/or just plain out of food.

Tiffany’s Cafe delivers ultimate hangover medication 24/7 365. Steak and Eggs? Philly Cheese? Tiffany burger? Country-fried steak with biscuits and gravy? Your results may vary but they are at my house in under 15 minutes in most cases.

It’s a gorgeous day and you have time to take it easy.

Viva Las Arepas patio-dining. What’s better than the amazing food at Viva? Eating it outdoors on a pristine day. Viva does an amazing breakfast arepa with scrambled eggs, ham, onions and peppers. But who says you have to eat eggs for breakfast, dive in to the whole menu.

You’re not just hungry, you could eat a cow.

Hash House au-go-go at the Plaza Hotel is absolutely famous for their gargantuan portions and plate presentations. On my last visit, I finally discovered their sage fried chicken. Holy gee whiz! I will never order anything but ever again as long as I live. (maybe)

We are sitting down with loved ones on a Sunday morning.

Golden Nugget brunch buffet. Hey. It is what it is. But the Golden Nugget buffet serves a slightly better quality nosh at their buffet than anywhere else downtown and they have a great view overlooking the pool and shark tank. During particularly nice weather ask for a table by the window which makes for great people-watching too. Oh. thats right! All-you-can-drink champagne is also included.

It’s a weekday and you live or work in or near the Arts District and need food.
Rock'N’Oodles is open for breakfast at 7:30 am. Breakfast burritos are likely near the top of the list for mankind’s greatest inventions and you can get one here before the rest of the neighborhood has risen to meet the day. Also a nice place to sit outside weather permitting.

Nothing sounds good anymore, I need something else.

Nacho Daddy is located on 4th street (which is a northbound one-way street BTW), just north of Fremont St. If you see Ogden, you missed it. We have only dined at Nacho Daddy on one occasion (their opening day), but I found the menu to be quite reasonable with a lot of options for the adventurous and mild diner alike. My burrito was quite good and left me wanting more. The chips they use for their nacho fusion creations, you will either love or hate. There is no way to recommend, you just have to try them for yourself and decide.

Just show me to a good old fashioned diner.

Du Par’s at the Golden Gate hotel (Las Vegas oldest, still operating hotel). I have loved this San Francisco themed diner all of my life, or at least as long as I have been aware of it, which has been longer than I recall. Once, the Bay City Diner, The Du Par chain of family restaurants took over operations in 2009 (or 10) and kicked it up a few notches. Besides the adorable, vintage-style outfits worn by the wait staff, this diner is now famous for their homemade pies and preserves. I can’t attest to the pies but they do make the best preserves I have found. I could have toast and jelly with a cup of coffee and be completely satisfied. One thing that did change for the worse when Du Par’s took over is the menu pricing. Bay City was famous for classic breakfast combinations for very modest prices (very old school Las Vegas). Today, a simple bacon, eggs, potatoes and toast will run you about $11. Very similar to the prices right across the street at Hash House au-go-go.

I want good food and good-looking people all around me in a crowded, noisy environment.

Eat. Downtown. I’m not grunting, that is the name of the restaurant. Chef Natalie was procured by the Downtown Project to open her restaurant at 7th St and Bridger Ave and since their inception, they have been full. Turns out there really was a healthy swath of people pining for a decent breakfast/lunch destination (downtown). The vittles this kitchen cranks out are second to none and just about the only complaint I hear anyone utter is that the incessant noise of chatter, kitchen clanging along with background music is just too much to take while trying to enjoy one’s meal. So, maybe bring some earplugs just in case.


Not very long ago at all, restaurants catering to vegetarianism were few to none in downtown Las Vegas. In fact, in September of 2009, when my partner and I relocated (from the west side of town) to downtown Las Vegas, we were both practicing vegetarians and I think the only restaurant truly catering to the lifestyle was Paymon’s Mediterranean bistro at The Arts Factory. The have since left the neighborhood but I still crave their middle east sampler; dolmas, falafel, pita, hummus, baba ganoush, Aztec fries, tomatoes and parsley salad. Mmm! The whole plate would feed both of us for a mere $12.

That meal is still available at their UNLV and Summerlin locations, but this is very beside my point. In 2009, there was one vegetarian/vegan option and today there are scores of them.

BarBistro @ the Arts Factory
Wouldn’t you know it, the restaurant that currently occupies the space left from the former Paymon’s Mediterranean is still one of the leading vegan dining destinations in downtown Las Vegas. What separates BarBistro from other vegan menus is their lack of soy. Most vegetarian/vegan restaurants use many soy-based products to compensate for the animal-based product which they are abstaining from. Chef Beni Velazquez does not believe in using soy-based products citing them as not healthy for human consumption. He rather opts for oats in lieu of beef and tapioca-based faux cheese. Try the vega-bocadillo and stuffed piquillo peppers.

My favorite dish at Rock'N’Oodles just so happens to be one of there vegetarian dishes. Marrakesh Express; Israeli couscous in lemon vinaigrette with roasted eggplant, bell pepper, zuchinni, tomato and olives, topped with toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta and harissa sauce. Hold the feta and make it vegan. This being a “cold noodle” dish, it is the perfect anytime snack for people who don’t often get an actual sit down lunch during their busy day. Spectacular vegan soups on some days.

Pura Vida
Chef Mayra’s vegan bystro (spelled with a “y” to reflect the russian origin of the word) is a true vegan mecca. Mayra takes her food very seriously to the extent of where she sources her goods, how they are treated, right down the spirituality of the plants and vegetables she uses. This is a completely cruelty-free kitchen. In fact, the only cruelty that goes on here is the amount of time you may have to wait to get your meal. She’s not shy about telling you to relax and take it easy, have some water and/or coffee because you are going to be here awhile. The coffee and the non-dairy, coconut-based creamer are fantastic.

Bronze Cafe at The Center
The Center at 401 S. Maryland Parkway is the kind of facility that every neighborhood in Las Vegas could use. This particular center is intended to service the LGBTQ community in Las Vegas. Sponsored by some of Nevada’s biggest gaming heavyweights, The Center provides outreach services for any person seeking them, internet access, a reading room, an undeniably fantastic cafe/bakery and more. The Bronze Cafe brought to you by Steve and Andrea Wynn (both vegan advocates) serves vegan and non-vegan dishes alike and every incredibly scrumptious thing on their menu is made fresh and served on freshly baked bread.

Bier Garten at The Plaza Hotel
Do you know who else is vegan? Mr Sam Cherry of Cherry Development, the fella who brought you SoHo and Newport Lofts as well as Pop Up Pizza and now the newly opened Bier Garten at The Plaza. This German inspired beer and sausage joint made sure to keep save at least one place on their menu for vegans. The Naked City; veggie Tofurkey sausage with roasted sweet peppers, chopped raw onion, kosher relish, german mustard and Sriracha ketchup. If that doesn’t do much for you, you can stroll over to the south end of the property for a slice of SoHo (from Pop Up Pizza); vegan mozzarella, spinach, mushroom, artichokes and roasted red peppers.

Huntridge Pharmacy
I have to be honest, I have never eaten at this establishment (since Bill Fong and his daughter left way back in, I don’t know, 2008?). I may venture here soon merely for the classic decor of a lunch counter diner inside of a pharmacy, a dying breed in our town. Right next door to the famed Huntridge Tavern.

This very happening new restaurant features fresh ingredients “from farm to table”, gluten-free, vegan pizza, fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies and a full bar. I have never eaten here for several reasons. #1, I go to Pizza Rock for pizza and #2, the place is always jam packed with people each time I have passed by. That must be a good sign that people are loving the place.

I have never had a falafel sandwich better than Amena bakery, on Decatur Blvd and Obannon, in the Trader Joe’s shopping plaza. But if I want to get a falafel sandwich downtown, I will probably hit the corner of Wyoming Ave/Las Vegas Blvd for a Goodwich. This sandwich hut in front of Dino's bar is where Felix from Viva Las Arepas started his legacy. Jake from Goodwich was (allegedly) the first customer of Felix's back when he first opened his arepa stand. Great guy that he is, Felix, using his own equipment and business-launching know-how helped Jake and Josh get their concept sandwich shop off the ground. Vegans and vegetarians who consider themselves "hard core" may pass on this one due to the other sandwiches they serve in their little box. Be advised.

Thank you for reading.

Where do you eat?

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