Updated: Oct 4, 2018
by Tori Klein:
Small Plates Lead the Pack
It’s true, Vegas is hellishly hot in the summer months, but air conditioning at most places and in your car makes those brief moments in the sun actually welcome, so you shouldn’t take it off your vacation list so quickly in the summer, particularly if you’re into food.
The flavors of summer are my favorite. I can't get enough of stone fruit, heirloom tomatoes, butter and sugar corn, and every single variety of greens at their vibrant best. This freshness and color shines brightly on the plates and in a glasses at my favorite restaurants in town. Let’s explore:
The restaurant that truly broke the mold and shook things up in town, hands down, is Sparrow+Wolf. It opened with a bang in a Korean bbq joint on Spring Mountain—what locals consider Vegas’ Chinatown—just a short cab ride off the strip. This unassuming location borders a Macy’s furniture outpost—but this just means ample parking! S+W bills itself as neighborhood fare, but I guarantee your neighborhood doesn't taste this good! If you’re a foodie, it’s a chef’s playground. You won't want to miss it on your next visit to town.
Helming the kitchen is Brian Howard, who has spent the last 17 years earning serious street cred around town, building working relationships and culinary influences that all play a role in his menu development.
Guests are welcomed with aplomb by Jon Anthony, S+W’s general manager, who has an equally impressive resume.
Just as the menu rotates seasonally, so do the cocktails. This past week I had an Easy Peasy—an English pea- and mint-infused vodka mixed with chamomile and lime that was light and refreshing. I never knew I needed to drink peas before! One early fall, I had their version of a frozen carrot cocktail complete with tiny carrot; which reminds me, don’t forget to ask what they’ve got whirring around in their slushy machine because it’s always divine. Are you a whiskey lover? This is one of the few restaurants in the country with Suntory whiskey on tap. It makes the perfect highball. So if you want double the action, grab a seat at the bar and watch the bartenders and the chefs in the kitchen behind them. You’ll probably be seated next to someone in the restaurant business if you do, so make sure to chat up your neighbors—if it’s me, I’ll even share!
Serving dinner-only nightly (closed Tuesdays), S+W will make the pickiest vegetarians and vegans happy, as well any carnivores in your group. Small plates dominate the menu. You can start with oysters—cooked or raw—or their majestic seafood tower or bento box if you can’t decide, but I personally adore so many of their dishes, I never have enough room.
S+W’s food is mind blowing; think layer upon layer of flavor and complexity. One of my favorite dishes is their barbecued salsify. In its raw state, salsify resembles a delicate black carrot, but once peeled it’s white inside. They take the peels and fry them for garnish, baste the salsify roots in Korean gochuchang as the “meat,” and then puree some of the root for three preparations of this humble vegetable on one plate. It’s a dazzling example of how they take a simple ingredient and “Sparrify” it.
Another favorite of mine is a large plate—their grouper in sambal chile that is brioche and pave potato crusted, served with garlic confit and ramp butter. It’s a show stopper. Some nights, the grouper may be replaced with a similar fish like snapper, don’t let that deter you. It’s a delicious set. Please don’t expect basics, come prepared to be surprised and you will enjoy the ride. The staff is well trained and can help guide your selection. You can keep it light and have a few small plates and cocktails or go all in and have the kitchen prepare a tasting menu for you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me how lucky I am to be married to a chef. I truly think they believe he is home for dinner nightly and cooks for me whenever I have a craving. My husband is a workaholic, but few chefs, particularly if they’re owners, are home much at all. It’s a tough life for wives, husbands, kids, family, and friends. How do I cope? Some days are better than others, and that’s usually because I’m doing something fun with one of my favorite chef’s wives, Jenny Su.
Jenny's husband, Sheridan Su, has a dazzling culinary pedigree. But when Jenny put her foot down and said she’d leave if he didn’t find a way to have more time for her and their only child, he listened. He left the glamour of the Strip and started a food truck serving up his bao buns and noodles. From there they found their first restaurant location located in a tiny kitchen in a hair salon. Guests quickly found out that this guy was the real thing, and his food was too.
Jenny and Sheridan have two restaurants in Las Vegas. The one inside located inside the Eureka Casino off of Sahara, not too far from the Strip, is called Fat Choy. It’s both old school diner and Chinese restaurant—not a fusion but a happy marriage. Their burger has been voted “Best Burger” for so many years that nobody can knock it off its throne. But if you go and don’t have one of Sheridan’s bao buns or dumplings, you’re missing out.
They also have a brand-new restaurant downtown—Flock & Fowl. After a well-deserved vacation and a transcendent bowl of chicken rice—Hainan chicken specifically—Sheridan became obsessed with perfecting his version of it, and they opened Flock & Fowl to pay tribute. What started out as a lunch-only, predominantly take-out restaurant serving this dish grew into their second location, and in order to focus completely on this new downtown location, they closed the original. This really is perfect chicken—poached, fried or roasted—it’s organic and luscious, served with rice rich with chicken schmaltz that is almost risotto-like in that you can taste each perfect grain.
Flock & Fowl is now dinner-only (serving brunch on weekends), and they offer a slightly larger menu featuring dishes that show Sheridan’s extensive repertoire such as riffs on foie gras on toast and, recently, a decadently delicious Dover Sole as humble fish and chips. His latest obsession, as is mine, is Nashville hot chicken. The moral of the story is that if you love chicken but never order it at restaurants because you make enough of it at home . . . get over it. This is the good stuff. This is worthy of a visit. Even the James Beard Foundation felt so and nominated him for a Beard award this year—regional Best Chef. Our Vegas chefs are rarely if ever nominated since we compete head to head with Los Angeles. Despite the wealth of culinary talent here, we are overlooked, so the community was thrilled with this recognition for Sheridan.
Protip: They have lots of special events—usually helmed by Jenny, who has a passion for tea ceremonies, creating nitro tea concoctions, and creating fun activities for neighborhood children. So check their website for updates.
One of my favorite places in Las Vegas is our Downtown 3rd Farmers Market, located in the old bus depot off Ogden at Casino Center, next door to the Mob Museum. Operated on Fridays only, it’s a wonderful spot for a bite of lunch. Chefs utilize ingredients found in the market that day. It’s great to see everything that can be grown in the desert with patience, love, and hard work. When you’ve finished your lunch, stop by the Museum to see real Vegas history. Hidden within is a real speakeasy, but check their website for hours.
A quick cab ride from there is one of the jewels of our desert—The Neon Museum & Boneyard. Here, you’ll find an outdoor collection of fabulous neon signs and landmarks that have lit up our valley throughout the years.
What started as a simple depository and storage facility has been lovingly arranged and curated to accommodate hour-long walking tours and photo sessions. If you’re a photo buff, daytime tours are great—but if you want to see them shine and sparkle, take the tour at night (space permitting, reservations required) and don’t miss their newest attraction Brilliant, a dazzling compilation of sound, light, music, and history woven together into a magical story about Las Vegas. It’s truly a not-to-be-missed experience.
Protip: Check Groupon for discounted tickets. Parking is free and adjacent to the Boneyard. I do not recommend walking.
One of our newest restaurants in town, Esther’s Kitchen, is definitely worthy of a visit. Located in our “Arts District,” Chef James Trees bills his food as seasonal Italian soul food. Open for lunch and dinner, Esther’s features handmade pastas, using market forward ingredients as well as unadulterated versions of dishes that he’s passionate about. If you’re gluten-phobic, this is not for you, because they even make their own sourdough with anchovy garlic butter that is impossible to resist.
There’s so much to love here. Cavatelli with sausage, smoked tomato and broccoli rabe; his tiny agnolotti—little pasta pockets—filled to bursting with preserved lemon, pea pesto, and brown butter; or a drool-worthy lasagnette nero-black from squid ink—layered with lobster, fennel, lemon, and truffle—will make your eyes roll back in your head.
Too “new”? Never fear, he has classics like cacio pepi, as well as meatballs and marinara. His porchetta, with its crackling skin, is addictive as are all his secondi. Salads using our locally grown Urban Seed lettuces are delicious. And yes, he’s even got pizzas. And save room for dessert—I know, drawstring pants come in handy! With service seven days a week for dinner, with lunch added during the work week, it’s a tough ticket, so reservations are suggested. Word is, he's getting started on a second location in Summerlin too!
Across the alleyway from Esther’s is Jammyland Cocktail Bar & Reggae Kitchen. Whether you’re into ska, reggae, or the flavors of the Caribbean, this is the perfect place to come to enjoy flavors perfectly paired with our Vegas heat. Jammyland serves up hospitality and refined cocktails and cuisine in a converted garage featuring two shanty-chic patios with a chilled vibe.
Grab a cocktail like their Natural Daiquiri or another favorite of mine, the Admiral Bailey, and share a few bites like their oh-so-British pasties or one of their addictive jammy sliders and it’s summer all year long—if you don’t feel like dancing, at least set your tastebuds free since big, fun flavors abound. Jammy is dinner only—so it’s a great place to start your evening for cocktail hour—or to end your night with a late-night snack since they’re open ‘til 2am.
Jammyland is great if you have a big group because there really is something delicious and fun for everyone.
Mordeo just opened in June of 2018, and the grand opening should be mid-September. Owned by Khai Vu of District One and Le Pho fame and his favorite sommelier, Luis de Santos, it’s hot as a pistol. Every seat is at a counter, but it’s the front seats on the line that I think are the most fun.
Another small plates forward menu, the food at Mordeo is delicious. Think San Sebastian meets Asian on holiday and makes deliciously beautiful babies kind of magic!
I think it’s fascinating, innovative, and a concept that’s perfect for folks who like to make an evening out of a meal. If you have time, and you should, sit at the front counter and ask Chef Manny or Chef Rachel to cook for you—and you’ll get riff after riff of deliciousness. Everything seems familiar, but nothing tastes like you expect it to, and I love that kind of experience.
My personal favorite was his off-menu Cloud, a light-as-air homemade rice cracker delicately layered with a very special pork unlike any belota you may have tasted—it’s much more delicate. If like me, you’re craving deliciously light summer-forward flavors, here you can enjoy four different ceviches, as well as classic robata favorites—Japanese-style skewers but not like any you’ve had before. Hospitality is on point, and for now it’s BYO, but not for much longer, so bring a couple of bottles to share. But beware, your glass will never be empty. Uber here, uber home.
Down the block in what used to be my favorite Thai restaurant, the second restaurant for French natives Chef Yuri Nicolas Szarzewski, pastry chef Vincent Pellerin, and manager Nicolas Kalpokdjian has opened: Partage. Whether you come to enjoy a tasting menu of 5, 7, or 9 courses or order small plates a la carte, this—like the other previously recommended restaurants that have recently opened—is proud to use locally sourced vegetables and seasonal ingredients.
"Partage" means "share" in French, and they have 21 small plates and 7 larger plates to choose from to create your own modern French experience. Many of these dishes are served up on gueridons (French rolling carts), creating theater in the dining room. Have a group of 10–14? This is a perfect location, because their private dining room is technology loaded and particularly perfect if you need to impress clients (or in-laws).
The owners are darling and kind. We met at their first restaurant, Eatt, and both my husband and I loved their lighter versions of classic French dishes. And now that they’ve expanded a little closer to the strip, I’m sure they will attract more guests from beyond Las Vegas to their doors. If you’re a Chopped fan, Yuri is a newly crowned Chopped Champion, too.
Hopefully, this has inspired you to look beyond the strip for your next meal. There is so much to explore in our great city.
First and foremost, every restaurant and venue that I’ve included would not be what it is without the immigrants who’ve contributed to its success.
You won’t find an operator in the bunch who isn’t devastated by what’s taking place at our southernmost border. Here in Las Vegas, despite our well-earned moniker as “Sin City,” we discovered how much more we are and how much heart we as a city and as a community have in the weeks and months following the tragedy on 1 October. Despite the overwhelming sadness, shock, and disbelief that anyone could be so evil and do something so vile here, we learned that our city has the capacity and goodness to work together to support each other with care, kindness, and respect.
I love Las Vegas and fully embrace it as my home.
Come visit us and explore the wonderful diversity that makes us who we are! I’m confident you’ll find how much there is to love.