Secrets of the Vegas Strip (Mall)
Lotus of Siam
The Scene: At Commercial Center, stores run the gamut from Serge's Showgirl Wigs to a Filipino Christian church to a variety of sex clubs licensed (but poorly disguised) as novelty shops and health spas. But there's also the best Thai food you'll eat in Las Vegas, if not in the U.S. Easy-to-miss (just left of Serge's), this diminutive dining room has walls plastered with hundreds of press clippings that justifiably praise chef Saipin Chutima's cooking.
What to Order: Ask for the Chiang Mai menu (it's a special request) to sample Chutima's northern specialties. Try sai ua, the country pork sausage full of basil, or kai soi, curry noodles garnished with pickled vegetables, red shallots, and lime. (A warning: Trust the waiters on the heat levels. After insisting on "Thai spicy," we left with seared taste buds.) From the main menu, try seared spicy scallops with mint leaves; tangy beef jerky; and fried, salted fish chunks. Cool down with the other big surprise: Lotus's incredible wine list, full of hard-to-find Rieslings that perfectly douse the flames.
953 E. Sahara Ave.; 702/735-3033
The Scene: What began as a wine shop called Marché Bacchus has evolved over the years into Bistro Bacchus: Pass through the little wine store and you'll find yourself on a tiered patio on a man-made lake—as unlikely as passing through a wardrobe and ending in Narnia. The waterfront tables are the most romantic in town, lit by torches and tiny twinkling lights.
What to Order: Wander the aisles inside and select your own wine (competitively priced for the Strip, even with the $10 corkage fee), and order the charcuterie plate with pâté, French salami, prosciutto, and red onion confit; or moules frites steamed in wine with Parmesan-crusted frites.
2620 Regatta Dr.; 702/804-8008
Nora's Wine Bar & Osteria
The Scene: Opened in 2006, Nora's Wine Bar & Osteria brought wine-bar culture to Vegas. It's the younger, hipper sibling of the original Nora's, a 15-year-old neighborhood restaurant on Flamingo Road whose scrumptious thin-crust pizzas and fresh pasta have inspired a cultlike following. You'll find similarly homey, simple food at the osteria, but the draw here is the Enomatic Wine Dispenser, which pours temperature-controlled wines in one, three-, and six-ounce servings. The metal contraption affords you the luxury of tasting nearly 60 wines by the glass without committing to some expensive bottles (a three-ounce taste of the 2003 Sassicaia from Bulgheri is $47).
What to Order: The best way we've found to eat here is to sit at the broad granite bar and order some cicchetti (small plates) to share, including Parmesan-stuffed dates and polpette agro dolce (sweet and sour meatballs). Don't take the disinterested and downright inattentive service personally (the last time we visited, it took nearly 10 minutes to secure a menu at the bar). Just enjoy orchestrating your own flights; if you find a winner, you can purchase bottles to take home at 30 percent off.
1031 S. Rampart Blvd.; 702/940-6672
Editor’s Update 2011: jennj99738 points out correctly in the reader comments that Nora’s has unfortunately closed since we initially published this slideshow.
The Scene: Las Vegas's most incongruous college hangout is also one of its best restaurants. Named after Iran-born Paymon Raouf—who began cooking his childhood favorites here in the late 1970's—this former Mediterranean deli morphed into an incredible Turkish, Persian, and Greek restaurant. But skip the location near the UNLV campus on the east side of the Strip and head to the new place, 20 minutes west on Sahara.
What to Order: Here you'll find a more grown-up crowd, but eating the same intricately spiced dishes like fesenjan, chicken in crushed walnuts and pomegranate sauce; and cinnamon-spiced moussaka. Or just spend the entire time in the hookah lounge next door, slouching in its velvet banquettes beneath sexily lantern-lit, tapestry-bedecked walls—as authentic as any Middle Eastern sheesha café. Order one of the fragrant fruit and floral hookahs to pass around (try the rose), and a selection of appetizers like meat-stuffed grape leaves and hummus.
8380 W. Sahara Ave.; 702/804-0293
The Scene: On Sunday nights, when Strip sommeliers and chefs put their restaurants on autopilot and go elsewhere for dinner, you'll likely find them at Rosemary's, a 10-minute drive west. Here, every bottle is half-price on Sundays, the service is warm and attentive, and you won't encounter crowds of conventioneers frantic to find fun at all costs. Chef-owners Michael and Wendy Jordan turn out French-influenced food that also draws on their roots in the Midwest and Deep South.
What to Order: The menu changes seasonally, but thankfully some dishes are always available—including Hugo's Texas BBQ shrimp, a wonderfully tangy recipe served with Maytag blue cheese-laced coleslaw. Other standouts include thick pork chops with hoppin' john and Creole mustard reduction sauce; and a crisp-skinned striped bass fillet, served atop a hash of andouille sausage, rock shrimp, and fingerling potatoes.
8125 W. Sahara Ave.; 702/869-2251
Editor’s Update 2011: jennj99738 points out correctly in the reader comments that Rosemary’s has unfortunately closed since we initially published this slideshow.
TC's Rib Crib
The Scene: It's not uncommon to see chefs Paul Bartolotta and Alex Stratta parked at cafeteria tables under fluorescent lights at T.C.'s Rib Crib, savoring the moist pulled pork, spare ribs, baby backs, and beef ribs with sides like spicy collards and fried okra. In a town with its share of barbecue pretenders, this is Southern barbecue at its most authentic, from a man who left Katrina-ruined Louisiana with family recipes in his pocket.
What to Order: Ask for sweet tea or Kool-Aid, and check the chalkboard for the glazed-doughnut bread pudding. We like to order one of the giant "Lots O' Meat" meal deals, which come with sides named after various uncles and cousins, and take it back to our hotel room—the fancier the better—for a night of in-room, sticky-fingered indulgence.
8470 W. Desert Inn Rd.; 702/451-7427
The Scene: At the new Vintner Grill, the only indication you're not in the Hamptons is that you reach the front door by walking through an office park (look for the "VG" sign, visible from the street). The blinding-white, opulent modern dining room sits on the western side of town, 20 minutes from the Strip and close to the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa.
What to Order: The Mediterranean menu includes crispy wood-fired flatbreads, Moroccan-spiced lamb spare ribs, and halibut with orzo and lemon gremolata.
10100 W. Charleston Blvd., Ste. 150; 702/214-5590