Downtown Las Vegas’s exploding food scene is galvanizing the historic neighborhood north of the Strip.

By Andrea Bennett
July 06, 2015
Credit: Courtesy of La Comida

Las Vegas’s true roots are downtown—all the casinos around Glitter Gulch’s Fremont Street were at one point the epicenter of Vegas glamour. A comeback for the neighborhood has been promised for years, assisted by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s $350 million investment into The Downtown Project, a revitalization of 60 city acres featuring retail, restaurants, and the Container Park, a large outdoor mall and entertainment space made of shipping containers.

But a more grassroots movement among eateries is galvanizing the neighborhood as much as these public efforts are. New restaurants are luring power brokers, courthouse workers and Downtown hipsters, as well as increasing numbers of Strip visitors, with cutting edge approaches to food and congenial atmospheres. As recently as one year ago, Downtown was considered a fringe destination for the truly adventurous; now it’s a must-eat destination on every gourmet traveler’s list.

The domino effect of restaurant openings started with Le Thai, the tiny but explosive kitchen on Fremont Street turning out three-color curry and the aptly named Awesome Noodles. The same owners recently expanded their growing empire with sushi joint Bocho, and there’s a soon-to-open Vietnamese restaurant Le Pho.

Chef Natalie Young was another early mover, combining New Mexican and French influences in her perpetually crowded breakfast and lunch joint EAT, on the ground floor of a run-down apartment building. Now that she’s proven she has a way with chicken, you’ll want to catch her new downtown restaurant, the fried chicken and Chinese-themed Chow, opening late summer.

La Comida (pictured), with its back-alley entrance and delicious street food (it’s also tequila nirvana), was one of the first to move the party out onto the sidewalk. Several other notable openings followed (Tony Gemignani’s Pizza Rock, MTO Café, and the Container Park’s Pinches Tacos and Oak & Ivy), including “Rock ‘n’ Roll Chef” Kerry Simon’s Carson Kitchen. Housed inside a renovated former flophouse, Simon’s joint does indeed entertain rock royalty, though, like everyone else, they stand in line for sweet-hot bacon jam and donut bread pudding made from next door’s decadent O Face Doughnuts that are soaked in three-rum caramel.

Credit: Courtesy of La Comida

Just east on this newly gentrifying strip of Carson Street, you’ll find newcomers Vegenation (proving that vegan can be delicious) next door to Glutton (don’t miss its Pacific Northwest seafood, wood oven-fired flatbreads, and beautifully enhanced local produce). On the same street, brand-new Zydeco Po Boys serves classic Louisiana gumbos and po-boys.

About as far east as you may be willing to walk on Fremont Street, you’ll find PublicUs, an artisan bakery and coffeehouse whose ever-changing, creative dishes (think coffee-rubbed roast beef with brie and truffle aioli, fennel dusted ahi on baby bok choy and coconut broth) are good enough to make the canteen’s dismissive service an asset. Farther west, in the up-and-coming Ogden condo complex, Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky lets you construct your own ramen, and sommeliers help you pair it with Japanese whiskeys and sake.

There are more indications that Downtown has arrived as a dining destination. Chef Brian Howard (formerly executive chef of Comme Ca in the Cosmopolitan) and Nyman Group hospitality consultant and winemaker Corey Nyman have formed Grazing Pig Food Group, which will be opening Harvest & Larder and Grazing Pig Charcuterie in October in an industrial building in Downtown’s Arts District. Just off Main Street, they’ll be joining another revitalizing stretch, with the unique Makers & Finders Coffee and premium craft beer at Hop Nuts Brewing.

Andrea Bennett is the Editor in Chief of Vegas Magazine, and covers the Las Vegas beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @AndreaBennett1.

Visit T+L’s Guide to Las Vegas Restaurants for more food inspiration.