We mean, of course, no disrespect when we use the term greasy spoon, but rather a wistful sort of affection. The term originated in London, where it referred to working-class joints and not specifically to the oil slicks at the bottom of dishes served by inept line cooks. Greasy spoons, what's more, can be found in almost any country, without regard to cuisine. Japan may be world capital of the genre, a country of three-stool noodle shops and more restaurants per capita than any other. In France, truck drivers crowd into roadside bistros, the better to chow down on dishes like veal brains or beef Burgundy.
And here's to the British (and Irish) pub, well represented in Vegas at places like Crown and Anchor, Nine Fine Irishmen and many others. Nothing says Mylanta like such delicacies as the Scotch egg, banger sausages or a greasy plate of fish and chips.
So, with apologies to those shining examples, here are some of our favorite greasy spoons in Las Vegas.
Schoop's at the Food Basket
These are greasy, delicious burgers that soar on the wings of hand-formed patties, huge hunks of meat weighing in at one-third of a pound, inside chewy, yeasty buns that may be the best I've ever tasted. Mustard, ketchup, relish and onions are the default, but you can also have mayo, lettuce, pickles or tomatoes on request. I couldn't resist adding bacon. Hey, they don't pay me to pussyfoot around.
(Note for your next trip to Southern Cal: A Schoop's burger reminds me of Meatty Meat Burger, an LA burger stand that a few years ago was renamed to Mo' Better Meatty Meat Burgers. Go.) Crisp, burned around the edges and spewing grease and juice with every bite, no mouthful tastes the same. Yes, it's wonderful when you live in America. 9151 Las Vegas Blvd. S., inside the Antique Mall of America. 688-4145.
Strip Sandwich Shop
On my first visit to this locals spot, I actually drove past this tiny building three times before spotting the sign, but the effort was rewarded. Apparently, many agree. During lunch, you will probably wait for one of the four tiny tables or a seat at the restaurant's eight-stool counter.
Owner Hans Aaresjold is from Jersey, and he understands the concept of the submarine sandwich. The one with Italian cold cuts is amazing, especially if you ask for soppressata. There is a good homemade soup every day, too, such as turkey-noodle or vegetable-beef.
But the reason I come by is for what I consider the city's best brisket sandwich, piled high with huge slabs of tender beef. Aficionados have it sloppy Joe-style, slathered with Cole slaw and Russian dressing on steamy slices of rye bread. 603 LV Blvd. S., corner of Bonneville. 382-6292.
This energetic, cushy little joint has all-you-can-eat fish and chips, clams steamed in garlic beer broth, not to mention the delicious mini-burgers and the Sunday special—peel-and-eat shrimp for peanuts. The crowd favorite remains the Chicago beef sandwich, which has mounds of Italian beef piled to the sky on a Gonella Roll, and served with a side of au jus or hot pepper sauce. 3342 S. Sandhill Road, at Desert Inn. 454-6100.
Michael T. Toole
Tiffany's Café at White Cross Drugs
The food here is homey and consistently good. Hamburgers are fat and juicy, and liver and onions is grilled in front of you, a huge portion. Cabbage soup, generally available, is on the sweet side, and completely delicious.
If you're flush, by greasy spoon standards, have the New York steak, at $11.95, with a choice of soup or salad. This may be pricey by drugstore standards, but the quality rivals that at tonier steakhouses. And there's always 21 shrimp, a mountain of batter-fried shrimp with fries, or that ethnic treat, the gyro, here nicely broiled and tasty. 1700 LV Blvd. S. 444-4459.
Diamond China at Sonny's Saloon
What could be more Vegas than eating Chinese with strippers, video-poker players and Cantonese-speaking customers in a local's saloon at 3 a.m.? Welcome to the Diamond China at Sonny's, where the eggs are preserved, the clams are tossed with black bean and the bird's nest is fresh from the wall of a Thai bat cave.
It's boxy and claustrophobic in here, and the service can be a tad surly, but the food is sheer poetry, some of the best and most authentic Chinese cooking in town, at fair prices.
Barbecued duck is terrific, and so is spicy salt squid, tofu and sliced pork with fish-flavor hot pot, and beef chow fun with dark soy sauce. For stalwarts and those who are nostalgic for Cantonese-American favorites, there is even a reasonable version of egg foo young. 3449 Industrial Road. 796-8982.
Big Mama's Rib Shack and Soul Food
Big Mama's Rib Shack is good, honest soul food. The place is completely lacking in décor—it's basically a big, empty box with mason brick walls; look past this, and you'll be in for a treat. All the hallmarks of great Southern cooking are here (read: anti-Atkins friendly): gumbo, barbecue ribs (not just splattered with barbecue sauce, but slowly smoked with real hickory), Southern-fried chicken, fried oysters and catfish. Better still, the sides are nearly as filling as the entrees: spicy cabbage, black-eyed peas, sugar-laden corn muffins, deep-fried okra, moist, tender collard greens and spicy Cajun fries. If you survive all this, then go head-first into the dessert tray—the sweet potato pie or warm peach cobbler will finish you off in fine style. 2230 W. Bonanza Road, off Martin Luther King Blvd. 597-1616.
Michael T. Toole
The meat is spectacular, alternately crispy and soft, in gelatinous hunks on ribs or in small pieces from the hindquarter. The broth is as flavorful as a French stock. First come bowls of halved limes, chopped cilantro and chopped onion. When the meat arrives, you get a basket of hot corn tortillas and roll your own.
This is a handsome place. You eat at tables topped with the Mexican tiles called azulejos, in a room stocked with colorful pottery and Aztec sun symbols. Waitresses speak minimal English, but it doesn't matter, since there is no menu. They'll bring the Corona, while salsa music blasts away on a jukebox. If you must, have flan for dessert. 953 E. Sahara Ave. 892-9711.
Soul Food Paradise
Zip north on Las Vegas Boulevard, make a hard right on Hamilton in old North Las Vegas, turn into the Food 4 Less parking lot, and, bam, you're at this stand-alone eatery, which calls itself "Soul Food Paradise" yet doesn't have any indoor seats on which to enjoy its briskety hot links, heavenly farm-raised catfish and a wafery banana pudding so good you'll slap your grandmother. (There is a place to eat on the side of building, if you don't mind sitting on hard green benches that feel like cold steel, under what looks like strung-together pieces of tarp.) Clearly, ambiance ain't the thing here. It's the grub people come for. And come they do—one guy was there at 9:15 a.m.; the place opens most days at 10. His lips smacked over the cholesterol-spiking daily specials: neck bones, smothered chicken and turkey wings. Just as popular, I'm told, are the eatery's spins on the holy triumvirate of soul food: oxtails, pig's feet and the world-famous (or infamous) chitterlings (pig intestines). Me, I'm a smothered chicken and yams kind of guy. Big Mama's and M&Ms get the lion's share of the press, but Soul Food Paradise can certainly challenge them, as well as the cholesterol-processing capacity of your gizzard. 2245 Las Vegas Blvd. N., in the Food 4 Less parking lot. 452-1231.
Decatur Drugstore Restaurant
Located right next door to the Decatur Liquor store (where those in the know have porked out on their free hot dogs on Friday afternoons for years), this surprisingly hearty diner has all the homey charm of a trailer park from Odessa, Texas. The staff is laid-back and friendly, and the food—from gyros to meatloaf dinner specials on Saturday night—gets the job done. But the thick-ass milkshakes—you'd need a brace drill to work through one—will be the catnip that keeps you coming back for more. 542 S. Decatur Blvd., at Alta. 870-2525.
Michael T. Toole
No place feels more old-Vegas than this east-side pharmacy, which can be entered through a dark bar filled with denizens that look like they are from the shallow end of the gene pool. Food is prepared from scratch by an adept Italian-American chef, so if you are not here for the hearty breakfasts, it's best to rely on anything even vaguely Italian.
Seating is at one of the restaurant's two enormous, Formica-topped counters, on stools that appear to have been built for the vertically challenged, or in red leatherette booths. The stuffed peppers, bursting with meaty, rice-based stuffing, are delicious, and so is the meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs and the chef's homemade lasagna. Liver and onions is one of the menu staples, and there is an exemplary Patty Melt. Go elsewhere for dessert, though. The only two available, chocolate or vanilla puddings, at $1.35 a dish, are from a can. We're not that nostalgic. 1122 E. Charleston Blvd., at Maryland Parkway. 382-7373.
Polaris Street Café
There's enough grease on the menu to offend any cholesterol-watcher and make a real American proud. You know by their business hours—6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday—that they do simple things well. For example: lots of egg dishes (omelettes and egg scrambles), and the steak and egg and biscuits and gravy aren't bad, either. The super-fast service is a bonus. 3635 Polaris Ave., off Spring Mountain Road. 253-9405.
Michael T. Toole