Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eating Like a Queen for $6.50

Our friends at the Las Vegas Weekly just came out with their list of Vegas’ Best, and I’d eaten at all the restaurants that made the list minus one: Noodle Palace in Chinatown. That’s yet another unoriginal name for a restaurant. Perhaps they need to hire a copywriter? But I digress.

Noodle Palace won the “best place to eat under $10” category, and in times like these, that’s fantastic. We all generally know that eating at small, ethnic restaurants can be much more cost-effective than eating at their American-style counterparts, but this deal seemed too good to be true. With the Las Vegas Weekly in town, we set out for Chinatown.

Noodle Palace is located in Chinatown (Spring Mountain Road between Decatur and Lindell), in the same small plaza as one of my other favorites, Hue Thai Sandwiches, next to a less-than-legit-looking massage place and a Latin American imports place with an apostrophe atrocity in its name (Vegas Import’s). The place is spotless and simple, well lit with a semi-open kitchen.

Service is speedy and friendly, with two very efficient waitresses running the place. I told our server about the honor the restaurant had just won, but she seemed unimpressed, or perhaps it was a language barrier. I ordered the won ton soup that I had come for – a total of $6.50. I was amazed when it showed up on our table, in a huge bowl that looked more like a soup pot that you would get at a Thai place. They brought two soup bowls for us to share. The well-seasoned broth was full of noodles and almost ten shrimp dumplings, which were delicious and fresh. This dish alone could have fed both the very hungry husband and I. His eyes were bigger than his stomach, and he went for the dim sum plate (we declined the offer of adding chicken feet to the platter), which was a meal in itself. The ribs were particularly outstanding, as were the yeasty dumplings filled with meat.

Finally, we ordered the salt and pepper pork chops. We were envisioning one pork chop, but instead, we were served an enormous plate with pieces of pork chop that had been breaded and deep-fried and salted. They were crispy, delicious, and had just the right amount of salt – think French fries, only much, much better. The extensive menu includes mainly dishes for less than $10, including family combination dinners for two or more diners.

For a grand total of $21.98 excluding tip, our entire table was covered in food and we took at least one meal home. The green tea is on the house. For the convenience of non-Chinese speakers, the menu is in both Chinese and English (no pictures, though).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Real Mexico City Food at Los Antojos

Sure, you won’t run into Britney Spears here. Surely Criss Angel, any B-list celebrity or American Idol contestant won’t be anywhere near this place, but rest assured: Los Antojos is the best Mexico City food I’ve found in Vegas in more than 14 years.

I know my Mexico City food: I grew up there. There might be a few things you have never heard off, but you definitely won’t find any burritos here. Los Antojos is located on Eastern and Sahara (granted, not the best place in town), but it is very much worth a foodie excursion. Although it doesn’t hurt to bring someone who speaks Spanish, the menu is in English, with handy images on the wall so you know what you are eating. The Mexican tortas (basically, Mexican sandwiches) are to die for, and the tacos are prepared here as they should: only a corn tortilla, whichever meat you choose (recommended: al pastor, carnitas, alambre) and some cilantro and onion. There are salsas available on the very simple tables.

A caveat: this is not a place to take a client or impress a date. It’s a tiny place with a walk-up counter and Mexican telenovelas playing on the TV. The owner is an affable chilango (a person from Mexico City), and he truly loves his food. Regardless of the 20-mile drive from my house in Summerlin, I have a feeling this will be one of my new favorites. I briefly considered keeping this place the well-kept secret that it still is, but it’s too good not to be shared.

Los Antojos
2520 S Eastern Ave
Las Vegas, NV
Phone: (702) 457-3505

--By Judy Jenner

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lindo Michoacán: Best Guacamole in Town

Among the hundreds of Mexican restaurants in Vegas, there are a handful really good ones. The first one I ever went to, back in 1995, a few months after I had moved to town, was Lindo Michoacán on E. Desert Inn, between Eastern and Pecos. Back then, it was a little-known gem, and since I grew up in Mexico City, I felt almost at home there. In the years to follow, Lindo (as it is affectionately known), has become a bit less Mexican and more mainstream (who really wants fries with their Mexican torta, a pressed sandwich?), but still very good. The original Lindo burned down one Thanksgiving weekend, only to come back stronger than before, in its original location and beyond.

I am delighted with Lindo’s decision to open a restaurant for us Summerlin folks, on 215 and Flamingo (at Hualapai). They have dozens of fantastic lunch options starting at $6.99, which include a drink (oddly, with one refill). Their grilled shrimp with garlic (camarones al mojo de ajo) are excellent, and my husband really enjoyed his fish tacos. My father-in-law was happy with his decidedly un-Mexican taco salad. While this is a relatively upscale restaurant where you don’t need to bring a Spanish-speaker to help you decipher the menu, the owners give few translations under the lunch specials. It will say “carne a la tampiqueña” with no explanation. However, the friendly staff can help out.

My favorite part at Lindo is the guacamole, which is still made tableside, as it should. This practice is less common these days because of cutbacks in staffing (including at Agave). Lindo makes a guacamole to rival my own, and includes all the right ingredients: two Haas avocados, plenty of chopped cilantro, jalapeño peppers (as desired), onion, tomatoes, lime, salt, and pepper. The Mexican version of soft drinks, aguas frescas, are, unfortunately, made from syrup and not made in-house, but they are delicious nonetheless. Try jamaica (hibiscus).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Best Happy Hour + Tapas

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, on the street level of the Fashion Show Mall right across from Wynn, has been one of my favorite happy hour places for years. You can’t beat it: half-price on sangría pitchers (many varieties to choose from; typically, I go with the traditional red) and a good selection of tapas (small appetizers meant to be shared with the table) for $3. Many times, when I invite friends to go have tapas, for some reason, they think I am saying “topless.” I have to explain that no, we are not going to eat at a strip club, even though that is also possible in Vegas.

We choce Café Ba-Ba-Reeba again a few weeks ago during Earth Hour, when (almost) all of the lights on the Strip were turned off. The patio at the restaurant – I can’t resist al fresco dining – was excellent.

Some of my favorites include the traditional tortilla española (nothing to do with the Mexican tortilla; this is based on eggs and potatoes), the albóndigas (Spanish meatballs) and dates wrapped in bacon (just pretend they have no calories).

Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, bar area only, so get there early unless you enjoy fighting big groups of girls for tables after a long week!

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba at the Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
(702) 258-1211

--By Judy Jennner

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Himalayan food in Vegas

Let’s give a warm Vegas welcome (none of that jaded applause) to our only Himalayan restaurant in town, the not very originally named Himalayan Cuisine. It’s been here quite a while, but has remained largely undiscovered, which might be partially due to its location (in a strip mall, next to a payday loan office) on Flamingo between Maryland and Swenson and folks’ lack of knowledge of what Himalayan food is supposed to be.

My globetrotting husband, who ate his way across the Himalayas until he reached the base camp of Mount Everest, enlightened me. Basically, it’s an interesting mix of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine. We have a lot of fantastic Indian restaurants in town (India Oven, the newly remodeled India Palace, Origin India, Gaylord’s at the Rio, etc.), but this combination is certainly very unique in the valley.

The place is small and comfy, with simple décor (think Himalayan posters) and booths and tables. Our party of four ethnically diverse people started off with a nice bottle of blended white Californian wine (three types of grapes versus two seems to be the new hip thing to do) and, in an attempt at food democracy, chose the Nepalese and the Indian sampler platter. We weren’t sure if it would be enough for a haven’t-eaten-since-breakfast dentist, a very hungry lawyer, a foodie writer and a foodie HR manager, but it sure was, and would have prepared us well for a hike in the Himalayas. The Indian platter included many classics such as organic tandoori chicken (well seasoned), lentils, mixed vegetable curries (just right on the spices), a refreshing homemade yoghurt, lamb vindaloo, vegetable pakodas and a few other delicacies, all nicely portioned in small stainless-steel cups. The Nepalese platter, on the other hand, was full of unexpected and delightful flavors, including mighty momos (dumplings stuffed with ground turkey), kakro salad (Himalayan cucumber salad with lemon and sesame seeds), kwati soup (lentils and beans), and five other excellent dishes.

Himalayan Cuisine offers a creative weekday "recession lunch" for $5.99, which includes the entreé of the day.

Himalayan Cuisine
730 E. Flamingo Road
Phone: 894-9334

--By Judy Jenner

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vegas Food Finds Goes to Lake Tahoe: Best Sandwich

On a recent short business trip to Reno, I took some extra time the day after and headed to Lake Tahoe with Rossana, a business partner and friend, and her adorable 7-year-old girl, Allegra. My friend Rossana had lived in Incline Village for a few years, and I was delighted to hear that she had an insider's tip: buying a sandwich in Incline Village, at an unassuming convenience store, and then eating it on a picnic bench on the beach, right next to the lake.

We headed to Grog & Grist (800 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village, CA), a place I would have probably not stumbled upon myself. On a lazy Sunday, the two employees behind the very well-stocked sandwich counter weren't too thrilled or too quick, but it was worth the wait. I had my all-veggie sandwich (thick wheat bread, full of very fresh veggies, including cucumber, lots of sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.) right on the beach, on the park bench, as intended. The picture on the right is sans sandwiches -- they were gone too fast. Allegra, not a picky eater at all, really liked her tuna salad sandwich as well.

As much as I love fancy restaurants and white table cloths, I'd take a sandwich on Lake Tahoe, sitting in the sun, talking to a friend and looking out onto the pristine lake any day of the week. Ah, the simple pleasures in life....

--By Judy Jenner

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Café C'est Si Bon: Most Charming Desert Restaurant

This was our second visit to charming C'est Si Bon in tiny Shoshone, CA, roughly 1.5 hours from Vegas. On our way to Death Valley, we decided to drive through Pahrump versus Beatty with the sole purpose of having a late breakfast at this incredible food find. We were traveling with our very good friends Tina and Fritz from Europe, and we wanted to show them the other side of Vegas.

When we arrived in Shoshone, C'est Si Bon was closed. A few minutes later, owner David Wash um materialized, saying he'd been on vacation for a bit. We completely understood and were on our way to have lunch at say, the gas station, when David said that, since we were there, he'd be more than happy to make us breakfast.

All four of us had David's special crêpe, which we've had before. It's filled with delicious cheese, and comes with a drizzle of a Thai sauce and a portion of salad made with fresh tomatoes, lots of cilantro, pine nuts, and red cabbage (and perhaps a few other fantastic things). It was crisp, refreshing, and full of bold, unexpected flavors. Our European guests especially liked the Lavazza coffees -- lattes and espressos. The chef-owner runs his operation as green as possible, and the small restaurant is like a treasure hunt, chock-full of goodies, such as locally made items, books, brochures, carefully selected trinkets from around the workd, etc. You could just grab a book and read all day, or chat with David and anyone else who shows up about sustainable living, the gourmet food world, violence in schools, and desert living. We could use a place like this in Vegas, but doesn't look like David misses his old F&B world in the city very much...

Sure, it's not as close to Vegas as say, brunch at Simon's at the Palms, but C'est Si Bon is an truly memorable experience. As some other Austrians say: we will be back; soon.

Café C'est Si Bon
Highway 127
Shoshone, CA 92384

--By Judy Jenner