The first real restaurant review I ever wrote was published more than a dozen years ago in an alt-weekly magazine that doesn’t exist anymore. The subject was Canter’s Deli, at that time a small sandwich spot near the sportsbook at Treasure Island. Like so many Strip eateries, it was a scaled-down, tourist-friendly version of a famous restaurant from somewhere else. Canter’s is one of the great names in American delis, opening first in New Jersey in 1924 before moving to LA in 1931.
That review was meaningful to me beyond the fact that it marked my official food-writing debut. I’d eaten lunch at the landmark Canter’s on North Fairfax just once, as a teenager, accompanying my father on a one-day Vegas-to-LA trip. It strengthened my love for pastrami but also for restaurants in general, something Dad instilled in us even earlier when we lived in Oregon and he operated his own sandwich shops and managed restaurants and produce-distribution companies. We remain a food-obsessed family.
When the original Vegas location of Canter’s arrived in 2003, I went frequently for the pastrami. It probably wasn’t as good as that LA lunch, but the sentimental connections were overpowering. Such is the kosher deli experience, right? Old-world food, vintage-diner atmosphere and the knowledge that it’s all slowly fading away forever ... that’s an equation for emotional eating. When the TI closed its Canter’s in 2012, I missed it.
But Gary Canter, whose grandfather Ben opened the original, wanted a new Vegas location, and he and his new partners found two. A large, tourist-friendly Strip site opened at the Linq Promenade some four weeks ago, but it was preceded by suburban version a few weeks before that. Having a Canter’s in my own neighborhood qualifies as too good to be true, but there it is, in the shiny new part of Tivoli Village near the massive Restoration Hardware store.
My Canter’s has a full-service dining room and a takeout counter with its own seating, and I’d recommend the latter. It’ll be that much quicker to get that tender, ultra-savory pastrami (or corned beef) on rye into your face. Get the combo ($17) and stack plenty of both meats on one sandwich, or mix it up with turkey or melt-in-your-mouth brisket.
These sandwiches are better than the old TI Canter’s stuff, because this kitchen is hand-slicing everything, resulting in thicker, more luxurious slabs of meat. And it’s all about the meat; no crazy toppings here to get in the way. The Rachel ($17-$18) adds Swiss and coleslaw, and Kevin’s Choice ($17-$18) uses slaw and Russian dressing. No matter what sandwich you get, you’ll be lucky to finish half.
Though I have a hard time deviating from pastrami, Canter’s Deli has a full menu of soups and salads, bagel platters with good stuff like white fish salad or chopped liver ($13.50-$16), burgers and other entrées. All the deli standards are here, from a New York-style hot dog (listed under appetizers! For $5) to knishes, latkes, matzo ball soup and a big plate of meatloaf with mashed potatoes, gravy and onion rings ($17). I’m super curious about Canter’s fish and chips ($17), since a great version of that dish is almost as hard to find in Las Vegas as the other classic deli fare, but, you know, pastrami.
It remains to be seen if the new version of this old restaurant can compete with longtime local standard bearer Bagel Cafe, or if the Strip location can draw more hungry tourists than the Linq’s other SoCal legend, In-N-Out Burger. How many of us emotional eaters are there?
Canter's Deli Tivoli Village, 330 S. Rampart Blvd. #160, 702-444-0407. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.