The restaurant business is tough. Add extra risk points if you’re an independent operator trying to carve out some space in a comeback neighborhood like Downtown Las Vegas.
The Smashed Pig was destined to be an uphill slog and didn’t need additional hardship in its early days. But after opening in November, it suddenly and tragically lost chef Linda Rodriguez, who died in December. Her husband and partner Martin Swift has soldiered on somehow.
The couple had developed a bit of a local following from their time at a Japanese restaurant at the Red Rock Resort, but this project moves in a different direction. Fremont already has a handful of pubby, chef-driven comfort-food spots, but the Smashed Pig is decidedly English, delivering a well-executed version of something the area was lacking.
The menu is small, but the only things missing are misfires. Along with oysters on the half shell and a rotating tartare or sashimi of the day, little pub snacks like crispy fried deviled eggs ($8), French bean tempura with chipotle mayo ($7) and a cheese and charcuterie platter ($12) bring big flavor.
And then there are two next-level appetizers. Mini Yorkshire puddings ($7) with savory onion gravy are pure crispy, puffy bliss, priming you for meaty offerings ahead. Lamb tacos ($9) use crunchy eggplant discs as vessels for eye-rollingly rich meat topped with sour cream and tangy pepper chutney. Let’s be clear: You must order both of these dishes.
The Smashed Pig’s signatures are its peerless fish and chips ($16)—certainly the best I’ve tasted in Las Vegas, served with mushy peas and creamy tartar sauce—and the changing butcher-block special ($35), which serves two (with side dishes) and could be beef shortrib curry, barbecued pork ribs, spicy lamb stew with vegetable cous cous or who knows? Jump on the Pig’s Facebook page for a sneak peek. It’s a hearty deal.
For entrées you won’t plan on sharing, the perfectly sized, fresh-ground, cheddar-topped burger ($15) wants to battle it out with Glutton and Carson Kitchen for the title of Downtown’s best. The garlic and sea salt fries are pretty awesome, too. Getting more British, the bangers and mash ($16) will warm you through the desert’s last lingering days of winter.
The food fits nicely into the space, a long, skinny place with plenty of bar seats, a half-dozen taps, lots of cans of beer and soothing cocktails that get more creative with each visit. Considering what this young restaurant has been through already, it’s quite a miraculous feat how everything feels right here. New restaurants have and will continue to pop up Downtown, but it’s hard to recall or foresee one being such a well-formed complement to this burgeoning scene.
The Smashed Pig Gastropub 509 Fremont St., 702-444-7816. Monday-Saturday; lunch, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m.