There comes a time during most great meals when you realize you’re full. Fork in hand, conversation flowing just above the plates, you look down at whatever you’ve been devouring and make a decision: Do the smart thing and quit feeling satiated but unstuffed, or say to hell with it and dive back in. Me? I dive.
Over the past nearly seven years, I’ve had the pleasure of overeating all over Las Vegas, treating the city like a veritable buffet line packed with stunningly good steaks; charred, chewy pizzas; lovely plump dumplings and all manner of scrape-the-plate sweets.
I’ve had more than enough to put my napkin on the table and call it a night, and yet, there are still restaurants on my phone’s never-ending to-eat list—scene staples, lovable dives, culinary destinations that I’ve somehow missed. And suddenly there’s a deadline. With my Las Vegas exit date looming at the end of January, I set out to tackle six Valley eateries I’ve always wanted to try. I only wish I’d gotten to them sooner.
From France with calories
Choosing is the hard part at Patisserie Manon. Buttery and flaky? Smooth and creamy? Light and fruity?
From the rainbow of macarons (on our cover) to the rustic baguettes, I want it all, so my order sounds like a grocery list: a mini almond croissant and a chocolate one, too. An adorable French Oreo and a loaf of the campagne bread. A raspberry tartelette with its elegant berry dome, one of those doughnut things dusted in sugar and—I think I see the girl behind the counter raise an eyebrow—a hefty slice of the strawberry Fraisier cake.
The tart is a perfect balance of bright and rich, the pastry layers so light and crackling I pick up the crumbs on my fingertips. But it’s that single piece of classic French cake I can’t stop thinking about, strawberries and cream sandwiched between spongey layers moistened with syrup. Next time, I think I’ll buy the whole pan. Willpower is grossly overrated. 8751 W. Charleston Blvd. #110, 702-586-2666. Tuesday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Brunch, hold the attitude
It’s 1 p.m. on a Sunday and the wait for brunch is an hour and a half. Sigh. This is why I’ve never been to DW Bistro.
Today, however, we’re sticking it out, killing time with pedicures and waiting for the call, which inevitably comes early. Co-owner Bryce Krausman doesn’t seem to mind. He greets our wet-nail waddle with a smile and assures us he’s saved a table. I’m not sure why, but I’m surprised by his genuine friendliness, by the bistro’s hip-yet-unpretentious atmosphere, by the waiter who tops off my mimosa even though I haven’t ordered bottomless. No one told me it would be like this. This is my kind of place.
And the food only confirms it: warm chocolate croissants and stunning blueberry and white chocolate scones, slow-cooked pork in deep-heat chile sauce, and upgraded chilaquiles layered with pulled chicken, pico de gallo, avocado-tomatillo sauce, queso fresco and two eggs—over medium, thank you. Per Bryce’s recommendation, I add crumbles of jalapeño bacon, a salty, spicy slap of pig that takes my breakfast from damn tasty to next-level. The kind of meal worth waiting an hour and a half for. 6115 S. Fort Apache Road #112, 702-527-5200. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Closed December 22-31.)
The door is still locked when we arrive at Chinatown’s Kabuto for a 6 p.m. reservation. This is a meal I’ve been waiting for—since the tiny sushi temple first started serving pristine fish flown in from Japan and elsewhere in 2012, since it earned a 50 Best New Restaurants nod from Bon Appétit, since everyone began looking at me aghast when I uttered the words, “I haven’t been to Kabuto yet.” So here we are, pacing back and forth waiting for showtime. “I want counter seats,” I tell my fiancé.
And we get them, watching rapt as the chefs braid silvery fish for sushi, paint slices of tuna with soy, cut circles of giant octopus and press rice into small flowers to be topped with ikura or some other oceanic treat. Each fish has its own flavor and texture—some bright and firm, some melting luxuriously, some smacking of salt and the sea. We eat each one in a single bite, partaking in a meal that feels like a ritual, delivered and received with the utmost respect. 5040 W. Spring Mountain Road #4, 702-676-1044. Monday-Saturday, 6-10:30 p.m.
When people talk about Vintner Grill, they talk about cheese. The cheese list is the west-side restaurant’s hallmark, spilling onto two pages and broken up into categories according to firmness, blueness or cheddarness.
Most of the names are meaningless to me, so I do what any normal person would: I pick the cheeses with the funniest names. Idiazábal, a hard sheep’s-milk pick from Spanish Basque Country. Quadrello di Bufala, an Italian import made with water buffalo milk. Shaft Gorgonzola, a California blue aged for two years in a gold mine shaft.
Paired with a couple of cured meats, dried fruit, tasty spreads and a bit of bread, they’re a lovely start to an evening of bouillabaisse and halibut, wine and conversation. Date night in suburban Las Vegas, where there’s romance in the office parks. 10100 W. Charleston Blvd. #150, 702-214-5590. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4-10 p.m.
Cheesesteaks with Santa
I used to run by the corner of Decatur and Alta, soaking up the smell of meat and grease wafting out of the A-frame hut that houses Pop’s Cheesesteaks. It’s a frustrating scent in the middle of a workout. Perhaps that’s why I never actually stopped to eat at the sandwich joint whose name is an acronym for Pride of Philly Steaks.
Under the gaze of some half-hearted Christmas decorations, we place our order with the “grillmaster” through a metal screen: provolone, with peppers, and sure, onions too. An animatronic Santa Claus waves in slow motion as we perch on stools, serenaded by the sounds of “Silver Bells” and traffic.
Cradled in red-and-white checked paper and steaming, the cheesesteak looks like a promise: tender strips of paper-thin sirloin, gooey cheese, sautéed rectangles of onion and pepper, all nestled in a straight-from-the-source Amoroso bun that soaks up the good stuff without getting soggy. It’s warm, filling and somehow lighter than I’d expected. Then I look down, and it’s gone. 501 S. Decatur Blvd., 702-878-6444. 24/7.
The place next door
When I first moved Downtown three years ago, I remember driving past the taco shops and restaurants on East Charleston Boulevard, imagining all the unsung goodness that must be inside. I planned to eat my way down the street, searching out the best of the best, then becoming an evangelist for the tastiest al pastor or empanadas.
I failed rather spectacularly. In fact, until this month, I’d only tried one of the neighborhood mom-and-pop shops, a disappointing Filipino joint that promptly went out of business. There has to be something better, so I find myself at Mariscos Playa Escondida, the only lit storefront in this strip mall and a cozy Mexican seafood spot that practically defines hole in the wall.
An elaborately coiffed man croons love songs in Spanish while we dig into spicy house salsa and fresh-from-the-fryer empanadas filled with shrimp, onions, tomatoes and plenty of garlic. Red snapper is cloaked in chile-spiked cream and topped with onions, peppers and avocado, while langoustines Playa Escondida-style arrive in a smoky hot sauce that would be good on just about anything.
The rest of the menu is full of Mexican seafood staples, from aguachile and ceviche to shrimp a la diabla and massive parrillada samplers that let you try a bit of everything. I know I’ll be back to taste more at this tiny neighborhood gem, a fitting reminder that even when you think you’ve eaten it all, there’s somewhere new and delicious right around the corner. 1203 E. Charleston Blvd., 702-906-1124. Sunday-Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.