This is my 25th year in Vegas, and I’m not very old or very smart, but I never thought there would come a time when Downtown would be more talked about and hyped up than the Strip. Seems like that’s happening now.
Much of the hype is anchored in the Fremont East Entertainment District, pretty heavy considering it’s one small city block. A handful of interesting bars and an excellent Thai restaurant may not be enough to consistently draw hordes of people Downtown, but we know there is quite a bit of stuff on the way. This is where the excitement is. But on the other side of Fremont, consistency lives on.
The Golden Nugget continues to be one of the nicer Downtown joints, a trend that began in the early ’70s when 31-year-old Steve Wynn grabbed this well-positioned gambling hall and started building a dynasty. It’s big and clean and pretty fresh for a 66-year-old casino, thanks to renovations like the Rush Tower addition three years ago. It might not be as hip as the new Downtown, but it’s modern and classic all at once, as is its collection of restaurants.
- Golden Nugget
- 29 E. Fremont St., 385-7111.
Just off the lobby is the best overall eating experience, Vic & Anthony’s steakhouse. Here you will find that almost-extinct casino gourmet room feel, terrific service and updated food. High-quality, pricey beef—a giant bone-in ribeye is $56.95—is complemented by deliciously creative appetizers like maple-glazed quail ($16.95) and scallops with apple slaw ($18.95). The other premium eatery at the Nugget is Chart House, a sleek, aquamarine seafood palace with a huge aquarium behind the bar, decent fish tacos ($11) for lunch and mix-and-match surf and turf ($31) for dinner.
The quintessential casino coffee shop, Carson Street Café is not as tasty as I remember. But I was just a kid feasting on French dips and fried shrimp platters back then; it seemed like the second-best restaurant in the world. (Peppermill, duh.) Its current neighbor in this older part of the Nugget is Lillie’s, a quiet pan-Asian nook with decent wor wonton soup ($10.99).
Better casual eating can be found on the opposite side of the Tank, the resort’s kitschy-cool swimming pool/lounge/shark observatory, at the Grotto. Until Pop Up Pizza opened at the Plaza, the Grotto’s roasted chicken pizza ($15.99)—crispy crust with bird, garlic, caramelized onion and goat cheese—was my favorite Downtown pie. There’s more easy grub here. If you ever find yourself wandering the original Vegas drag at lunchtime, you could do worse than the burger at the Grille near the Golden Nugget’s sports book.