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Posts from the ‘Las Vegas’ Category

Chains of Love: Benihana

I was in Las Vegas for business, which sounds more important than it was, but I can’t not mix business with pleasure so I turned it into a mini-vacation since I happened to be there during my boyfriend’s birthday (who has the same birthday as my ex-boyfriend and my sister’s ex-husband, all different years) and flights from where he lives (Portland) are fast and cheap.

We’d planned the Benihana birthday when I was in Portland a few weeks prior. Neither of us had ever been. There is one in Beaverton, the only in Oregon, but on spur of the moment there were no reservations until 8:45pm (the restaurant closes at 9:30pm) and as I’ve learned (once years ago when I attempted to walk-in at the Edison, NJ location) you have to have reservations if you want to be subjected to the whole dinner and a show thing. I even signed up for the $30 off coupon if you dine in your birthday month. That’s really the only way to do it because Benihana is not exactly cheap, though you do get soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, rice, and ice cream. My Splash ‘n Meadow (hibachi steak and shrimp) was $42. (Strangely, this combo doesn’t appear on the Oregon or NYC menus).

benihana interior

There is a newer Benihana location on the strip but I was not risking it with a new-and-improved modern version. Benihana should not look like it was designed in 2016. This restaurant at the Westgate, neon visible all the way from my hotel, the El Cortez, downtown Vegas (distances are super deceiving in this flat, plunked-down city–Benihana was three miles away) was sprawling with little indoor fountains, bridges, and semi-private rooms. And most impressive to me was a roving photographer who would take your photo before the meal had begun, posing and staging diners like I haven’t encountered since my senior portrait, and putting two images in a padded display binder to sell you as you left. I had never encountered this practice, which I thought was extinct, yet there was a woman with a camera doing the same thing at the Peppermill where we went afterward, my third time at the infamous fire pit lounge. This time I had a valid excuse, “Thanks, but we just got our picture taken.”

Usually I’m opposed to communal dining. On my left was an adult child and spouse taking parents out to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary. The father, wearing a baseball cap, arms crossed and stony nearly the entire meal, was not having any of it. On my right were women from somewhere in the South, one 30something and single, the other 40ish with a teenage daughter at home who was also celebrating a March 22 birthday, and were there for a different conference than mine and appeared to already have a few drinks in them. They were old pros at Benihana, made sure to tell staff it was the boyfriend’s birthday and were even trying to finagle free photos (no dice). Two of the six strangers had dietary restrictions (one, no shrimp, the other no meat at all, which if you have a legit allergy, um, the food is all being cooked on the same grill) and concerns were voiced about the sauce being too spicy.

benihana trio

I haven’t spoken about the food because it’s not really the point. You get your onion soup, salad with miso-ginger dressing, and chicken fried rice. My steak and shrimp had fine texture, and my medium-rare request was granted, but the beef barely tasted of anything despite lots of a vaguely teriyaki-ish sauce and butter splashed on it while it was grilled.  It reminded me of when I get desperate and buy meat at a C Town.

Whatever, Yan, who was Chinese, did the shrimp flipped into the toque trick, made lots of puns, “Have you ever seen butter fly?” as he plopped half a stick with his spatula, and…

benihana love

…clearly was a romantic at heart. All that you could hope for celebrating a birthday in Las Vegas.

benihana photos

And I even paid $40 for the not-super-flattering, dough-faced (far more common than doe-eyed, I’m afraid) photo, something I normally would not do, but being in a long distance relationship, I’m a little more frivolous when we get together every few months. The photographer said I reminded her of her sister-in-law “she has pin-up bangs too” and was trying to find a photo of her and I was cringing inside because I was worried she’d show me a chunky rockabilly chick. (I’ll own my growing plumpness but I think I dress fairly modern/contemporary. The default style in Vegas if you’re not touristy or preppy is ‘90s burlesque. I did not see a single person in four days that could be characterized as “hipster,” despite that tired term now being devoid of meaning.) The sister-in-law ended up being an attractive blonde with a flower in her hair, similar age as me, honestly a little too old for that look if I were being judgy. (Dita Von Teese is the only example I can think of as a 40+ woman who can get away with that retro style. It ages you after a certain point.) But everyone, servers, bartenders, Lyft drivers, was so nice in Vegas–or maybe everyone is chatty everywhere except NYC–I felt obligated to engage when my instinct is to brush off. It’s kind of scary now that I think about it. Considering I work at home 2-3 times per week and rarely go out on weekends these days, I think I had more extended conversations with people I just met in those four Vegas days than a month in NYC.

Benihana * 3000 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV

Magnolia’s Veranda

Even though I'm not crazy about gambling or prime rib, I have developed a bit of an obsession with downtown Las Vegas's Four Queens, the only casino where I ever win anything, which I attribute to my long-gone great grandmother, and the cheap meat meal deals advertised all along Freemont Street. If you dine at Magnolia's Veranda, both can be experienced at the same time.

Magnolia's prime rib

From 4pm to midnight, you can get a slab of meat, complete with baked potato and steamed carrots. No, the prime rib doesn't really taste like much of anything (that's what the gravy or jus, whatever, is for) and it's a little gristly. I only had two bites anyway. We were too late our first Friday in town (thanks to an asshole who got into a fight with the flight attendants just as we were about to take off from JFK and had to return to the gate and get security to boot him off and retrieve his luggage from the hull, which wasted an hour) to make the midnight cutoff, and on New Year's Day we were too early at 2pm and drove to get a Double-Double and animal-style fries to hold us over until 4:30pm when a line (!) had formed up the carpeted stairs of Magnolia's Veranda (there were plenty of seats; they were just understaffed).

Magnolia's salad

First you get a salad, though.

Magnolia's shrimp cocktail

Shrimp cocktail and a $4 mini bottle of Gallo merlot exemplifies the Four Queens ethos. Risky maybe, but the iceburg lettuce and chilled shrimp in a glass parfait was one of the only non-carby thing on the menu, and I was trying to save my appetite for dinner, three-and-a-half hours away at Lotus of Siam where my $116 in Caveman Keno winnings were well-spent. 

Magnolia's interior

I would only recommend Magnolia's Veranda for hardcore old Vegas enthusiasts.

Magnolia's entrance

To the left of the entrance and downstairs is Hugo's Cellar, a not inexpensive restaurant that has not seen a remodel since the day it opened–the video says it all (click into dining). I really wanted to go experience the tableside Caesar salad, flambéed desserts, and free red rose for the ladies, but with limited time in town ended up doing the early bird $69 prix fixe at Jean Georges Steakhouse in modern, tastefully flashy Vegas, where you still end up spending more than $200 when you add in a side and wine pairings (though not a bad deal). I wondered what the difference would be between the upstairs prime rib at Magnolia's  and Hugo's $42 version.

Magnolia's Veranda * Four Queens Casino, 202 Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV


China Poblano

Just as you can't really assess a restaurant's true nature based on a Christmas buffet, I can't say that China Poblano's New Year's Eve tasting menu is necessarily representative of a typical meal in Jose Andres' more casual casino restaurant. Many of the dishes served that evening aren't on the regular menu. For a traditionally price-gouging evening (if I were crazy, senseless rich I would've done the $1,300 Times Square T.G.I. Friday's event) I thought the two $45 (nine courses) and $65 (ten courses with slightly more luxurious ingredients) tasting menus were fairly priced. I ended up trying the latter.

My only issue was that dishes came out rapid-fire so that at any given moment, there were four sitting on the table at once. More like tapas than a tidy procession, (combined with a propensity for slow eating) at least half ended up being cold by the time we got around to eating them. I don't know how they would've possibly executed the four-cocktail drink pairing also being offered. So, I can't say if my favorite dishes were just the ones I happened to sample at their optimal temperature. The sense was that the staff was trying to wrap everything up by midnight.

Us, we had no desire to be on the strip to ring in 2012 as our eyeballs had already maxed out on stumbling packs of ladies squeezed into barely-butt-covering sausage casing dresses. It's one thing to be surrounded by small packs in casinos, The Cosmopolitan in particular (those ubiquitous kooky TV ads must work–or maybe it was the giant stiletto sculpture where I had to force myself not to take pictures of the girls taking pictures of themselves sitting inside the oversized shoe. Besides, Flickr is fertile ground for such shots already), but packed in among thousands felt apocalyptic.

China poblano 1

Carne Apache tenderloin crudo/ chile pasilla de Oaxaca/pickled cactus and  Traditional Sui Mai shrimp/pork/ water chestnuts/mushrooms/peanuts. The chile-spiked beef tartare was a hit, but the pork and shrimp dumplings dusted with gold leaf soon distracted. It wasn't a battle, but the tartare prevailed. The more successful–or more exciting, rather–dishes almost always were the least conventional.

China poblano 2

Ceviche de Kampachi grapefruit/ mint/serrano pepper and Hawaiian Blue Prawns with Salsa Negra prawns/chipotle chile/piloncillo/garlic. The ceviche and sweet-and-smoky prawns that almost seemed Indian, were the two favorites of the evening. Maybe I'm just responding to the micro-herbs and flower petals as haute cuisine signifiers. The green puree is a mystery; the texture was like saag but not spinach, and didn't distinctly taste of cilantro, mint, or parsley either. Neither dish was overtly Chinese nor Mexican.

China poblano 3

Carnitas Taco braised baby pig/pork rinds/ spicy salsa verde cruda and Flautas de Pato slow braised duck/mole Mihateco. The  flautas and tacos got ignored for the competing seafood above, so they weren't at their prime. (Also, I may have ruined my appetite by making a late lunch in the hotel room with carnitas and corn tortillas purchased at Mariana's Supermarket. NYC desperately needs a real suburban-style Latino grocery store, like a Hispanic Hong Kong Supermarket, not a glorified bodega.)

China poblano 4

Dragon’s Nest pan fried egg noodles/whole live lobster/shiitake mushrooms/ carrot butterflies
Twenty-Vegetable Fried Rice fresh vegetables/fried rice. The lobster (half, for what it's worth) dish was very Cantonese with the crisp-bottomed egg noodles and a light brothy soy-based sauce. We barely made it past the seafood component and couldn't even think of eating the fried rice (somehow the carrot butterflies ended up here) after a few bites of noodles. We actually brought the rice back (as well as Lotus of Siam beef jerky, jackfruit curry, and chile basil duck, and those carnitas and corn tortillas from earlier–we hate waste and love leftovers) in our luggage to NYC because there was nothing post-holidays to eat in the house. I didn't have the wherewithal to count the vegetables, though the baby turnip (more like a zygote) no bigger than a pinkie toe, was adorable.

China poblano desserts

Cajeta Flan goat’s milk caramel/pineapple and Chocolate Terracotta Warrior caramelized banana/sesame/ginger. I don't think we were supposed to get both desserts, and we certainly couldn't finish them (though I appreciated the gesture, prompted after we couldn't decide between the two). I preferred the flan simply because caramel feels lighter than chocolate. The chocolate warrior  was very impressive even if the figurine (filled with chocolate mousse, by the way) was probably not supposed to be lying down on the job.

China poblano drinks

When I first heard of the Salt Air Margarita, I imagined a glass entirely filled with foam like a Czech pilsner served mliko-style. No, the "air" is simply a layer of salty fluff atop the cocktail, that works perfectly to balance the lime juice's sourness–unless you're one of those freaks who likes their margaritas frozen with no salt rim.  Normally, I would branch out and try a different style drink for round two, but I rarely encounter sal de gusano, the chile/salt/powdered worm condiment drank with mezcal in Oaxaca, in the US. Why not use it as a margarita rim?

China Poblano is probably best experienced in small bursts. If I were back in Vegas I would likely stop in for a duck tongue and lychee taco and pork buns, two enticing things I didn't have a chance to try.

China Poblano * The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV


Whether it’s on Twitter, blogs or even Nightline, I can’t seem to escape mentions of The Cosmopolitan. It’s unsettling. If you’re allergic to hype yet aren’t quite in the market for Robuchon, Sage, Chicago chef Shawn McClain's farm-to-table (not yet done to death in Vegas) restaurant in the Arias, strikes a satisfying balance. It’s stylish and adult with serious food.

As we now know, Las Vegas is the most expensive dining city in the US and indeed, there are entrees at Sage that approach the $50 mark. It’s why the four-course $79 signature menu—which is more of a prix fixe than a tasting—is good value. An additional $40 for wine (or beer) pairings didn’t seem outrageous either as long as you’re not set on prestige bottles.

Sage tuna tartare with marcona almonds

Tuna tartare with marcona almonds was the one-bite amuse. I was surprised at how accommodating the restaurant was.  (Then again, I imagine that non-stuffiness is part of the city's attraction for many.) An older Russian couple who were seated next to us weren’t drinking alcohol, only ordered soup and stated that they did not like seafood, so they were brought a different opening treat (I couldn't see or hear what it was).

Sage wagyu beef tartare

Wagyu Beef Tartare 
Crushed Caper Aïoli/Slow Poached Egg/Crispy Chocolate

I might eat beef tartare one or two times a year, so it was very strange that I ended up being presented with the dish and ordering it two nights in a row, though technically in two separate years. Obviously, the chocolate was wild card, and the wafers were bitter and a little nutty like cocoa nibs, not sweet.

Sage maine dayboat scallops

Maine Dayboat Scallops
Braised Oxtail/Wild Mushrooms/Salted Caramel Reduction

This also sounded like it had the potential to be sweet, but wasn’t. The broccoli rabe helped balance the richness.

Sage 48 hour beef belly
48 Hour Beef Belly
Chestnut Puree/Fig Glaze/Celery Hearts

Once again, a sweet-meat combination. The other choice, an Iberico pork loin also had a candied component: smoked dates.

Sage brioche bread pudding
Brioche Bread Pudding
Roasted Pecans/Meyers Rum Sauce/Brown Butter Ice Cream

I’ve stated my preference for gooey, substantial American desserts before, and this is exactly what I got.

Sage * 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV

Lotus of Siam Las Vegas

Manhattan’s Lotus of Siam has been getting a lot of buzz. I liked it well enough, but I won’t be surprising anyone if I said I like the Las Vegas original much more. Even if the food served at is exactly same, it’s difficult to separate flavors from context. Sure, it’s a bit too obtusely Chowhoundish to posit that cheap, out-of-the-way and shabby is inherently better than upscale, accessible and comfortable. In this case, however, it’s just the truth.

For the same reasons I prefer downtown Las Vegas over The Strip, spicy larb and a bottle of Josef Leitz Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz from a storefront tucked into a sprawling half-empty strip mall that’s populated by Korean bbqs, a wig shop, a country western gay bar and churches of all denominations, just has more charm than when served on Fifth Avenue.

Onto the northern larb. One byproduct of being in a lengthy relationship is that old married couple roles start emerging even if you’re neither old nor married. This is how a meal might unfold:

“This tastes Chinese.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

“I’ve never eaten this before.”

“Um, yes we have. Do you want me to pull up a photo?

Here we go again. The conflict of not-paying-attention butting up against the know-it-all. I used to think I had been blessed with a good memory, but more and more I realize it’s pretty crappy and selective (friends will bring up things I did or said a decade ago and I will have completely forgotten). Food-wise, though, I always remember what I’ve ordered previously. One of the benefits of maintaining a food blog, even if few read it, is that you have a virtual record of meals past.


Lotus of siam northern larb

The northern larb is often noted as differing from the more common Thai larb in that it doesn’t use lime juice. It’s not tart, and it does indeed have a Chinese undercurrent that’s reminiscent of five spice powder. Maybe it’s soy sauce? The ground pork is definitely stained darker than in typical versions.

Lotus of siam curry catfish

Catfish fillets in red curry because the whole fish they had that night, while tastier with fried skin and bones, was too large and pricey for two.

Lotus of siam moo dad deaw

Moo dad daew, a meaty snack that’s described as jerky but much less desiccated and fattier than the American version. 

Lotus of siam yum woon sen seafood

Yum woon sen seafood. Salads tend to be where you really feel the heat and are a good test for a restaurant’s spicing level. At Lotus of Siam you can choose from one to ten. This is an eight, which I thought was perfect. It was fiery but not painful and still let the shrimp, scallops, mussels and squid have a presence.

I’ve been thinking about a second-hand comment (do I even need to mention that it was from Eater?) that took issue with my disappointment over the mildness of the green curry at Lotus of Siam New York, insisting that gaeng keow wan is not supposed to be spicy. I’m aware that not all Thai food is rife with chiles and that not all Thais enjoy crazy heat. My newish Thai coworker has complained that Sripraphai has made her food too hot despite requesting medium heat and our waiter at Lotus of Siam in Vegas said that he eats a level six. But not-fiery isn’t the same as bland, which was exactly what I was served in Greenwich Village. Dullness was never a problem during this meal. And if I return in another two years, I’ll be certain to remember a third encounter with northern larb.

Lotus of Siam * 953 E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV

Fireside Lounge

Peppermill facade

As easy as it is to poke fun at the increasingly cliched mixology trend (do you need me to make a waxed mustache or suspenders reference?) Vegas could use a little creativity with their cocktails. Well drinks were $11 in most glitzy casinos (yes, you can drink for free if you gamble long enough, but I don’t), a dollar more might get you a sweet and/or fruity drink in a lounge where you can reserve VIP bottle service tables online very democratically. The one time I attempted to order a specialty Manhattan (at the Aria), the bar ended up being out of the advertised fig-and-vanilla-infused bourbon.

Peppermill lounge bar

I also played faux-anthropologist and checked out a “hipster bar,” The Griffin, on the edge of downtown, on the same block as the Vegas outpost of Beauty Bar, which was closed on a Sunday night (the same thing occurred the night before at Raku, a much lauded Chinatown izakaya that’s supposed to be open till 3am on weekends but was dark at 1am). The H-word means many things to many people. Here, it meant girls doing “birthday cake” shots (Absolut Citron and Frangelico, which I gathered from the bartender pouring a steady stream of them during my brief vist), men with gray mustaches in leather jackets, others in football jerseys and a few dudes in skinny jeans with bushy hair. One drink was plenty.

Peppermill lounge firepit

The Fireside Lounge (in the rear of the Peppermill restaurant) I knew to be safe haven and it did not disappoint. Chrome, black gloss, neon and flames blasting from a pool of water circled by red, squishy seats, this is the kind of bar I could imagine being the height of cool when I was a kid. I see it and think waterbed. There’s certainly no small batch moonshine or hand-crafted bitters on the‘80s photo menu showcasing tequila sunrises, pina coladas and something new-to-me called a pancho villa.

Fireside lounge cocktails

I hesitantly asked for grasshopper. Wrong era? Our waitress, a young Eastern European in the black high-slit evening gown uniform, seemed incredulous, “Of course we make grasshoppers.” Finally, I could relax. The Fireside Lounge likes using the blender, pre-made mixers…and the drinks are kind of weak, yet I highly recommend the experience for the fireplace alone, especially if you happen to be around when rare snow flurries begin blanketing Las Vegas.

Fireside Lounge * 2985 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV


You kind of know what you’re getting into going to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. Swap Times Square with a closed-off strip, and fill it with a sea of women tottering in stilettos and stuffed like sausages (bratwusts and pepperoni sticks) into skimpy casings. I consider this going-out look to be LA style because it’s certainly not NYC style unless you frequent the meatpacking district.

My criteria were to stay indoors, to avoid restaurants with jacked-up prix fixes and to steer clear of so-called ultra-lounges. Based on Twitter-checking, I could see that the food media was having fun at the newly opened It casino, The Cosmopolitan, but my brief peek on New Year's Day at the glossy complex full of oglers, families (I was more surprised at the number of restaurants and shopping centers/casinos that had No Stroller signs posted than the fact that many parents thought it was good idea to tote infants in the middle of the night through clouds of cigarette smoke and drunken mobs sipping two-foot-tall whalebones. Clearly, I’ve been in Brooklyn too long because babies in bars now seem normal) and the mob roughly lined up to get into Marquee, had me turning right back out the door (besides, I've already eaten at Jaleo in D.C. and we have Blue Ribbon Sushi and Scarpetta here). That’s just Vegas being Vegas, I suppose. I have low glitz tolerance, which is why I prefer the dowdy '90s casinos. I will be happy to return to The Cosmopolitan in 2025 when it will be nicely patinaed.

Fleur, Huber Keller’s freshly retooled (some would say dumbed down) Fleur de Lys, was a welcome antidote even if small plates aren’t the height of fine dining. (Alex at the Wynn just closed this week, so restaurateurs do what they must to stay in business.) The extensive wine collection is still visible behind glass upstairs, but gone is the $145 tasting menu, tablecloths and calm privacy (the open seating provided no buffer from the classic rock cover band blasting from a central pavilion, which I doubt was unique to New Year’s Eve). Now it’s just the flower, no lily and certainly no gilding it…well, for $550 you can order the entire menu and there’s always the $5,000 foie gras, Wagyu, truffle burger served with a bottle of 1995 Petrus.

Fleur sliders tartare

I was fine with an inexpensive bottle of prosecco and angus sliders (I know, technically mini-burgers) with blue cheese, bacon and pear. The fries were almost superfluous. My favorite dish was the rectangle of steak tartare with dollops of béarnaise vinaigrette and a raw quail egg. Not a forced small plate, just a little delight by design.

Fleur ribs shrimp

The unusually sticky, maple-glazed smoked pork ribs were served with flourish; a dome is lifted at the table and a poof of smoke is released. I wouldn’t say that the theatrics add to the flavor, though the presentation is fun. The filo-wrapped shrimp in a tropical banana curry sauce combined interesting flavors, but were gone in a second. Maybe too fast for their $17 price.

Fleur pate mushrooms

Similar to the tartare, I appreciate a simple fatty terrine. The rustic French dishes excelled over the shrunken American comfort food. This slab paired nicely with the tartly dressed salad full of sliced cornichons. However, our server said it wasn’t very popular and I noticed that it has been removed from the current menu online. The wild mushroom ragout was a concession to the vegetable-deficient meal we had assembled and with the exception of marinated olives, the softened fungus sautéed with thyme and garlic is probably the healthiest, non-meaty dish on offer. They do advertise a $45 “vegetarian indulgence” tasting.

Not that anyone cares about such things in Vegas. In fact, at 9pm, we were practically the only ones at Fleur focused on dining. Cocktails, and a plate or two shared amongst a group, was how Fleur was functioning on New Year’s Eve and how I imagine the newly casual restaurant will be utilized in the future.

I wondered where I’d end up when the clock struck midnight. Who knew it would be at an uncool, no cover bar in the Excalibur, next to a theater advertising Carrot Top, drinking a frozen pina colada from a machine with a shot of rum floating on the surface. I toasted the elderly woman sitting alone (what appeared to be two teenage granddaughters showed up shortly thereafter and I felt better) in a booth next to mine and saw my future.

Fleur * 3950 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV

Prime Time


New Vegas, which is to say the amped-up theme park strip that’s captured Middle America’s heart since the ‘90s, has its merits. I like fun, so I stayed in the Palazzo, home to gondolas that will ferry you beneath a Barneys New York store and past commedia dell'arte performers across from Mario Batali’s Otto. And there’s steak. A lot of steak. In the Palazzo/Venetian complex alone, there are five steakhouses. I even ate at one, Wolfgang Puck’s Cut. It was the most expensive meal of the entire mini-vacation.

Cut nebraska 35-day-aged rib eye

But my heart will always belong to downtown (which is technically uptown from the strip), the old Las Vegas they’re trying to revitalize with electric light shows on ceiling canopies beaming Queen and Kiss on the hour and stages blaring Aerosmith cover bands. There are panhandlers, wheelchairs, women in their 20s who look two decades older, dolled-up in satin Playboy Bunny suits, luring tourists to take photos with them for a fee.

This was my great-grandma’s Vegas when she lived there in the middle of last century. I’m half-convinced she’s haunting (this is the only context where I want to see that adjective–I've seen a lot of big names use haunting to describe food and that will never seem right) the Four Queens, her old favorite, because it was the only casino where I won any money: $18 on an antiques roadshow-themed (lowercase because it was just Antiques Roadshow-esque) slot machine and $35 on caveman keno. Plus, $5.25 cocktails when the Venetian’s standard well drinks were $11? You could buy a lot of prime rib with that winnings-to-savings ratio. Grandma Weaver knew best.

Yes, prime rib rules downtown Vegas. Every casino has a bargain prime rib special. Corn-fed? Grass-fed? Dry-aged? Wagyu? Who cares? It’s meat, it’s cheap and probably comes with a baked potato and a pile of frozen vegetables. I certainly only captured a fraction of these advertised specials. $7.95 seems to be the going rate.







One more day in town, and there would be no doubt that we would've sampled Binion's bargain chopped steak.


Pescavores need cheap eats too.


Beef-avoiders might also enjoy Pasta Pirate, announced in barely-readable-from-a-distance neon. Huh, they serve crab rangoon (my favorite junk food) for a penny more than the average price of a downtown prime rib.

Hash House a Go Go

1/2 Ok, I wanted to get all of my Las Vegas food ventures written up by the new year, but here’s a straggler that I don’t feel I can just shit can because it’s 2007. I never start with a clean slate until the second week of a fresh year anyway.

Despite the kitschy name, the food at Hash House a Go Go isn’t silly. I only tried breakfast but their M.O. appeared to be creative country style standards, served in enormous portions. We chose this place after getting scared by buffet crowds. I figured that any place requiring a car to get to (and good enough for Martha Stewart) would be wiser.

Hash_house It’s practically like three buffet trips on a single plate anyway. The dish looks bizarrely flattened and smaller in 2D—the thing took up like half the table. My Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken from the “Indiana Favorites” section, did contain a chicken wing but that wasn’t really the bulk of the dish. It came sitting on a giant pile of bacon mashed studded mashed potatoes that also had strips on top for good measure, and was matched with two eggs, a massive biscuit, numerous tomato slices and the edges of the plate were glazed in a maple reduction. Oh, and there was a watermelon wedge, which I didn’t touch because I don’t eat melon.

I washed it all down with two giant $7 bloody marys, garnished with cornichons, olives and pickled beans. I love green beans in a bloody mary—it reminds me of the days and nights spent at Holman’s in my old Portland neighborhood (I’ve never understood why monte cristos are so scarce in NYC and why they put them on the breakfast menu when they’re sandwiches for any time).

I hate wasting food but it’s just not sensible to wrap up leftovers on vacation. I’ve learned this the hard way many times (for instance, eating cold, gelatinous Sichuan beef and ma po tofu while packing in Hong Kong because I couldn’t bear to toss it out). James still insisted on getting his jalapeno, chorizo hash to go, only to throw it out the next morning. He’s even thriftier than I am.

Hash House a Go Go * 6800 W Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV 

Mariana’s Supermarket

While digging up info on Mariana’s, I stumbled upon an odd best of review in local Vegas media that compared it to Trader Joe’s. That seemed off the mark in print and even more so in person. Other than being busy and well-curated by design, it’s more like a Pathmark or Stop & Shop . It’s a large (by NYC standards) Mexican grocery store, nothing, trendy, gourmet or healthy about it. It's even a chain–there are three locations in the area.

Mariana’s is impressive because we just don’t have mega marts like this in New York. Despite the Puerto Rican/ Dominican dominance there aren’t Latino equivalents to these supermarkets with food stands, which feel more Asian to me. Bakery counter, butcher, deli, take out, all under one roof. I’ve always wondered why there are no Latin American Hong Kong Supermarkets (or  Ranch 99 to you west coasters). “Ethnic” food needn’t be hole-in-the-wall bodega-style. I love suburban sprawl.

Mariana’s makes me wish I was more Mexican. I glom onto Southeast Asian food culture because I love it, but I do have roots as root-less as I often feel. I didn’t even know the names for half the things I encountered and sometimes I hate the sensation of being a tourist in my own country. I should know this stuff but my dad did such a good job of assimilating that I know more about kueh than pan dulce.

Tacos_1If I had access to refrigeration and a kitchen, I would’ve spent more time exploring the groceries. But I had to limit myself to dried goods and snacks like chile garbanzos. My sister had asked me to send her dried chipotles, which are truly foreign in Western England where she lives. I went a little overboard snatching up at least five varieties of chiles to mail her way.

James commented on something foreign to him, Squirt. There’s nothing Mexican about Squirt (when I could afford private Spanish lessons, there was an issue with the verb squirt. My Columbian tutor had never heard the word and I had a hard time trying to describe it without referring to ketchup bottles). I’m not a soda drinker so it had never occurred to me that you never see that brand on the east coast. It made me happy to be reminded of it even if I had no desire to imbibe.

The real gem was the take out counter with seating in the front of the store. It was late in the afternoon so I think many of the weekend specials like pozole and menudo were running low. I tried the menudo anyway, just because it’s not something I frequently see here (I'd do well to find a local source pronto, as it's a reputed hangover cure and it seems that I'll be working New Year's  Day). It didn’t come with sides like lime slices, cilantro and chopped onion but the warm, freshly made corn tortillas were absolutely amazing. It’s hard to understand what’s so great about a simple tortilla if you’re used to buying them in packages that have sat around for who knows how long. I felt guilty about throwing more than half of my stack out, but we had Joel Robuchon in our future and I didn’t want to completely spoil my appetite, tiny portions or not.

Menudo I had two tacos, a carnitas and an al pastor. Double pork. Despite what west coast transplants say, there is good Mexican food in NYC. I suspect they just haven’t properly mined pockets of Queens and Brooklyn. I’ve had wonderful tacos here, but these slap-dash grocery store versions were a notch above. The words moist and juicy immediately came to mind. Oh, and they were only a buck apiece.

There’s also a stand with agua frescas in giant glass jars nearby. Like I said, I’m not crazy about sweet beverages but the horchata and vivid watermelon, hibiscus and tamarind juices were enticing.

Las Vegas has so much more to offer in the way of food culture than people might realize. If I’d had more than a weekend to spend, I would’ve tried tapping into the Filipino scene that appeared to be floating just under the radar.

Mariana's Supermarket * 3631 W. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV