Dining is a big draw at almost all Strip resorts, but at SLS, it’s the centerpiece. With six fresh-to-Vegas restaurant concepts, it’s clear why early opinions of the new casino draw comparisons to Cosmopolitan. But SLS food is more approachable, which is marketing speak for less expensive, and since we’re all curious how good these new eateries will taste, let’s start with the most approachable of approachables.
We’re talking burgers and noodles: Umami Burger, which quickly developed a cult following in LA and beyond after culinary innovator Adam Fleischman debuted it in 2009, and Ku Noodle, a brand-new concept created by José Andrés in homage to casual Asian cuisine. Both are easy, fun experiences.
The question for Umami is not whether its thoughtfully composed burgers—the Original ($12), with a Parmesan cheese crisp, roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions and deeply flavored house ketchup, is a wonder of rounded tastes and textures—are awesome. They clearly are, especially the aptly named Manly Burger ($12), topped with beer-infused cheddar, bacon and smoked-salt onion strings, and the decadent Royale, piled with braised short ribs and truffle cheese. The debate will be where Umami lands on the Vegas burger map, densely packed with other awesomeness.
Umami’s burgers remind me of Venetian’s B&B Burger & Beer: loosely packed beef patties seasoned with subtlety, sandwiches where the toppings play most prominently. Salads and sides are adequate at Umami (think onion rings), while the sausages are superb, highlighted by a Korean-style pork belly link ($11) with kimchi, ketchup and sesame aioli.
Armed with an expansive “beer garden” patio that stretches along the Strip, a fantastic beer list and a William Hill sports book, Umami Vegas is sure to become an easy all-hours hang. Ku Noodle is a much more specific experience. Not all diners will feel its pull. More for me.
Sure, the all-white design seems cribbed from Caesars Palace’s stalwart Beijing Noodle No. 9, and yes, Andrés has been doing Chinese—half Chinese, at least—for four years at Cosmo’s cool China Poblano. But Ku’s food is different, and also clean, graceful and exceptional.
Freshly made dim sum and hand-pulled or –cut noodles are the focal points. Share the Lucky 12 basket ($20.88) to sample all the dumpling goodness, from chicken and cloud ear mushroom siu mai topped with goji berries to shrimp, pork and curry wontons.
The noodle dishes are immaculate. Soup? Ku Monk ($16.88) is loaded with vegetables and chewy thin noodles and served with addictive, puffy rice crackers. Spicy? Ants Climbing a Tree ($16.88) looks simple, but its cellophane noodles are laced with pork, pea shoots and searing chile bits. Cold? Long wheat noodles are mixed with sesame cucumbers, crunchy carrots and peanuts in soy dressing. Meaty? Golden Pork Mein ($19.88) is the ultimate, thick belt noodles with succulent slabs of red braised pork belly, plus fried garlic, pickled watermelon radish and, for no good reason, gold flake. We haven’t even arrived at lo mein, seafood or lamb options. Keep coming back.
Ku is a pristine addition to our long-standing tradition of casino noodle bars, and hopefully the first of several exciting discoveries at SLS. After these two spots, we’re even more amped to move on to Andrés’ buzzy Bazaar Meat and the rest of this fresh resort’s restaurant lineup.
Umami Burger SLS, 702-761-7614. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m; Saturday & Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 a.m.
Ku Noodle SLS, 702-761-7615. Daily, 11 a.m.-midnight.
One beautiful bao
Everybody’s doing a version of bao, steamed bread filled with pork or other goodies. Some are puffy buns hiding a barbecue piggy surprise inside, while trendier iterations have less bread folded around the rich meat almost like a taco. At Ku Noodle, José Andrés goes full sandwich, and it’s beyond satisfying. It’s simply called the Crispy Bao Bun ($10.88), but it’s a full-sized, texturally wondrous bun sliced in half and filled with big juicy slabs of belly, decadence offset by pickled veggies, peanuts and cilantro. You have to try it, even if it means less dim sum this time around. It’s one of the best sandwiches on the Strip.