We’re all suckers for a new food discovery, the experience of trying an ethnic or regionally specific cuisine for the first time. As Las Vegas’ restaurant landscape continues to grow and diversify, these discoveries become rare. We have lots of different kinds of food now. We’ve tried everything, right? Nope.
Just a few months ago, what seems to be our only Chamorro restaurant arrived on food-rich Eastern Avenue. This is the cuisine of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, way out in the Pacific. Las Vegans are very familiar with Hawaiian and Philippine food, which are good reference points for Chamorro. Nevada also has a relatively sizeable Chamorro population, all the more reason for you to check out Red Rice, a small, friendly spot operated by the recently transplanted Tenorio family.
Here’s the crowd-pleasing gateway dish: the Hafa Adai (which is sort of the Chamorro “aloha”) plate ($11.50) is piled high with juicy barbecued chicken marinated in soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and ginger; a meaty pork spare rib with uncompromising tenderness and a similar, soy-focused flavor; a golden, flaky, addictive empanada; a bit of green salad with creamy, zingy dressing; and chicken kelaguen, a cold, citrus-blasted dish kinda like Peruvian ceviche. The foundation, of course, is the red rice (hineksa’ aga’ga), deep orange from cooking in annatto seed (achiote) broth. That’s a whole lot of tasty.
The Fiesta Plate ($12.50) tacks on crispy lumpia, barbecued beef and shrimp patties. You can lighten your load with nene (baby) plates (under $6), with just one meat, a smaller portion of rice and salad.
Instead of chicken, kelaguen can also be made with beef, shrimp, or my favorite, octopus ($6.75 à la carte), where the citrus sting resonates through enjoyably chewy bites. Sour, tangy and vinegar-influenced flavors appear throughout the cuisine, especially in cold side dishes like the spicy cucumber finadene ($2.25) and cucumber and radish kimchee ($3.25).
After one bite, I’m obsessed with Red Rice’s version of a Spam musubi ($2.75), a nori-wrapped rectangle of that smoky hineksa’ aga’ga, a slab of grilled Spam and yellow pickled daigo radish. I’m used to the too-sweet, too-salty, still-awesome musubi available at every Hawaiian plate lunch joint; this one has rich, round flavor, transforming a goofy, low-brow dish into something special, if not much more respectable. (Spam is not for everyone, I guess.)
Red Rice is something unique for us, but more importantly, it’s just great, easy comfort food. There are a lot of lunch options along Eastern Avenue, but for now, this is mine.
Red Rice 9400 S. Eastern Ave. #106A, 702-912-4826. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday, noon-7 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, noon- 8 p.m.