Tuck into a steaming bowl of ramen, or other Asian-inspired meals in Las Vegas’ Chinatown. (Photo: Alamy)
Drive into Las Vegas on the I-15, and a parade of billboards offers a preview of the edible options tucked into casinos just minutes away — restaurants from Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali, steakhouses by Tom Colicchio and Wolfgang Puck. But while casinos taut their celebrity chefs and Michelin stars, blocks from the sparkling Strip’s chaos you’ll find a culinary corner that’s home to some of the city’s best eateries and most exciting menus: Chinatown.
More of a pan-Asian district than a traditional Chinatown, the cluster of restaurants around Spring Mountain Road is an eater’s delight. It’s a place where tongue-searing noodles live near pungent Thai curries and conveyor-belt hotpots, and where you’re likely to pull up a stool for late-night yakitori skewers next to an off-duty chef fresh from a Strip kitchen. Start your edible exploration at one of these spots and go where the night takes you.
This year-old eatery from chef Bank Atcharawan dispenses with the Thai menu greatest hits in favor of street food-inspired fare you won’t find everywhere else. At Chada Street, you’ll make your own lettuce wraps with whole grilled tilapia, dig into crab curry with rice noodles or opt for the grilled Cornish game hen, served whole. For a more upscale experience, head down the street to big sister restaurant Chada Thai & Wine, where the expertly curated wine list complements cooking that dances between sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
Feeling fancy? Of course you are. Treat yourself to dinner at Niu-Gu, a relative newcomer where elegant, Strip-style Chinese is served at neighborhood prices and a robust tea list offers a break from the standard pot o’ lightly flavored water. You can play it safe with standards like kung pao chicken, but you’re better served by venturing into less familiar territory and trusting the kitchen to deliver.
This minimalist Spring Mountain nook, which earned a best new restaurant nod from Bon Appetit in 2012, introduced Las Vegas to the art of Edomae sushi: stunningly fresh fish married to perfect rice for a singular bite that’s so much more than the sum of its parts. No cream cheese, no eel sauce, no screaming anything, dinner at Kabuto is culinary performance art that tastes even better than it looks. Just bear in mind: Pristine seafood in the desert doesn’t come cheap.
When winter hits Las Vegas—yes, it does get cold in the desert—you need a big bowl of meaty broth, thin noodles and tender roast pork. One of the the city’s original ramen shops, Monta Ramen delivers with a simple menu that eschews gimmicks for classic flavors and a handful of key toppings. Go forth and slurp.
The Golden Tiki
What’s a tiki bar doing in the heart of Chinatown? Who cares when that bar is Golden Tiki, open 24/7 and serving classics drinks like Mai Tais and painkillers, potent punch bowls, and cocktails made creamy with Dole Whip. Shack up in one of the thatch-roofed booths, pose for a “shelfie” and embrace the glorious kitsch that grows more delightful with every sip of your cocktail.
If you consider mouth-searing chiles child’s play, it’s time you try Chengdu Taste. This LA-export specializes in Szechuan cooking and makes ample use of the Szechuan peppercorn, an innocent-looking spice that inflicts a tongue-numbing sensation on unsuspecting diners. Down for some sizzle? Try the toothpick lamb or green pepper fih, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Fans of Anthony Bourdain will recognize this understated izakaya from a Vegas episode featuring magician Penn Jillette. But Raku’s charm is less about who you might bump into grabbing a late-night bite (the restaurant stays open till 3 a.m. six nights a week), and more about the cooking that draws local chefs and diners in the first place: homemade agedashi tofu, yellowtail carpaccio, robata-grilled beef liver and bacon-wrapped mushrooms and ikura don. It’s well worth making a separate trip to sample affiliated pastry restaurant Raku Sweets, where sculptural desserts pay homage to Mt. Fuji and the planet Mars.
Is Chubby Cattle a gimmick? Sure. But it’s hard to care about notions of culinary integrity when you’re dipping paper-thin slices of beef into a bubbling hotpot of “Deepest Level Hell” spicy broth and simultaneously watching the refrigerated conveyor belt for whatever temptations might float by. Fried tofu! Wood ear mushrooms! Udon noodles! Is it a gimmick? Sure. But it’s also a damn good time.
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