Eat Where the Locals Eat in Las Vegas

Previously published on Matador Network Travelstoke.

Las Vegas is one of the most under-rated foodie destinations in the country with options for all palates and budgets. To find the real culinary gems, get off the Las Vegas Strip and sample these amazing (and affordable) local eateries off the beaten tourist path.

1. The Kitchen at Atomic

Tri-Tip Sandwich

“Those Potatoes.” Two words conjure up a spectrum of flavor memories at Chef Justin Kingsley Hall’s deeply-satisfying Kitchen at Atomic Liquors. Hall began serving his Central Coast-inspired tri-tip sandwiches out of a stand on Las Vegas Boulevard; now, you’ll find his elevated American comfort food (think slow-roasted hunks of meet and locally-sourced vegetables) at Downtown Las Vegas’ breakout gastronomic destination.

2. Other Mama

Assorted oysters

Fresh seafood in the middle of the desert? Your best bet is Other Mama. This intimate restaurant offers the freshest available (and sustainably-sourced) seafood and oysters from around the world. At this industry hot-spot, chances are you’ll be seated next to the chef from your previous favorite restaurant.

3. Sparrow + Wolf

Grilled Skate with Citrus

Sparrow + Wolf doesn’t seem to belong in Vegas. The cuisine is high-minded and inventive, almost avant-garde in its approach. Taking inspiration from the different food culture of America and the cooking techniques of the past, Sparrow + Wolf serve dishes like Beef Cheek + Bone Marrow Dumplings to the local community they celebrate above all else.

4. Esther’s Kitchen

Porchetta

This gorgeous Italian restaurant is a newcomer to the Las Vegas Arts District, and long may it stay. Executive Chef James Trees’ pedigree is a mile-long, and he applies this wealth of experience in perfecting house-made pasta, seasonal vegetables, and hearty regional favorites like porchetta. The best item on the menu, however, might be “buy the cooks a round of beers” which, after being totally satisfied by your meal, you won’t think twice about ordering.

5. Bajamar Seafood & Tacos

Fish Tacos

A newcomer to the Downtown Las Vegas dining scene, Bajamar does one thing and that one thing quite well: fish tacos. Biting down into one of Bajamar’s shrimp (camaron), octopus (pulpo), or marlin tacos immediately transports one’s taste buds to a beachside eatery in Baja California. The owner Manny is a warm and friendly presence every time we visit.

6. El Dorado Cantina

Paco’s Mole Sampler

El Dorado Cantina is one of those restaurants whose reputation far precedes it. Opened in 2014, El Dorado Cantina serves traditional Mexican food using high-quality organic, non-GMO, and natural products in a romantic fine-dining environment… that also happens to be next to the largest gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas. It’s the perfect “only in Vegas” dining experience in that respect, capturing the duality that is Vegas’ (for lack of a better term) sensual offerings. Don’t be discouraged by the location: the chilaquiles, al pastor tacos, cochinita pibil, and mole are some of the finest this side of Mexico City.

7. Fat Choy

Short Rib Rice

Lots of love to Chef Sheridan Su’s Hainanese chicken rice joints Flock & Fowl, but his original diner Fat Choy wins my heart over every time. Few can boast a James Beard Award nomination and a Guy Fieri Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives appearance, but once inside Fat Choy it will all start to make sense. The Fat Choy Burger, Fatty Melt, and Short Rib Rice are as harmonious as they are flat-out decadent. You’re now entering Flavortown by way of the South China Sea.

8. Monta

Ramen (photo courtesy: Monta)

It is a blessing that Vegas has such a wide array of authentic ramen options, let alone some of the savoriest transplants from the different ramen traditions of Japan. Monta excels in Kurume-style tonkotsu (pork) ramen, considered the original way tonkostu ramen was prepared. Get yours with the black garlic oil and you will be saying “美味しいですよ” no matter how hot the temperature is outside.

9. Pho Kim Long

Vegetable Pho (photo courtesy: Pho Kim Long)

Get your chuckles out now. Go on. We know what the name sounds like, and trust us we’re laughing, too. That aside, Pho Kim Long is every local’s secret drunk Vietnamese spot. Located just a few minutes off the Strip in Vegas’ Chinatown, Pho Kim Long is open 24 hours and does not disappoint with its humongous bowls of pho and Bún thịt nướng (vermicelli noodles topped with grilled pork and herbs). As the 3am Sunday morning munchies start setting in, prepare to get to the back of a long waiting list of fellow revelers that are all having the same idea.

10. Curry Zen

Chicken Katsu Curry (photo courtesy: Curry Zen)

Few outside Japan realize the curry (introduced by the British) is one of the most popular dishes on the island. Curry Zen in Chinatown offers simple plates (curry and rice with a number of customizable options) but don’t let the minimalist presentation fool you. This curry is a flavor bomb, containing over 15 different spices. After the initial spice shock wears off, you’ll enter into your own Zen-like state of satisfaction.

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