Five winning restaurants off the Las Vegas Strip
While the culinary attractions of the Las Vegas Strip are rightly world-renowned, visitors who never turn their attention to the larger Vegas Valley don’t know what they’re missing. Many of the top Strip eateries are budget-bruisingly expensive. The legendary buffets operate in a cafeteria din, with the smoke and jangle of the casino floor greeting you at the exit.
In 15 minutes or so — about the duration of a three-block stroll up Frank Sinatra Drive, depending on the crowds — you can hop a car to great independent restaurants with original menus, attentive servers, moderate prices and a lot more riding on your satisfaction than the dining spots tied to high-volume casinos.
During a recent trip there, I skipped the Strip and found five ace food destinations worth a quick side trip. No dancing fountains, no kaleidoscopic neon dazzle, just memorably good cuisine.
Todd’s Unique Dining
4350 E. Sunset Road, Henderson, Nev.; 1-702-259-863; www.toddsunique.com
Last year and in 2012, readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal snubbed the big hotels’ celebrity-chef palaces, awarding its Fine Dining award to Todd’s Unique Dining. It wasn’t an anomaly. An unprepossessing eatery in a nondescript Henderson strip mall, Todd’s for years has been the hush-hush choice of airline pilots on the Vegas route. With main courses from $25 to $35, owner/chef Todd Clure promises “Steaks, Seafood, Unique Dining” — the restaurant’s subhead — which is misleadingly humble.
The kitchen serves creative, high-quality dishes with seasonal ingredients and flavors both bold and subtle. Clure’s innovative signature dishes include grilled skirt steak “on fire,” a peppery, meltingly tender cut served beside a mound of sinful chili-cheese fries. There’s a braised boneless short rib, slow-cooked for days and served in deep, earthy red-wine gravy smothering a bed of jalapeño mashed potatoes, the pot roast of the gods.
If you’re after lighter fare, the quinoa and pomegranate salad is a winner. Clever Continental and Asian touches cooperate to give the dishes an element of surprise. Sculpturally beautiful enoki mushrooms garnish smoky barbecue; creamy goat cheese bursts from a crunchy wonton shell, and Japanese pumpkin-filled ravioli drizzled with truffle butter will do more for cross-cultural good feelings than a week of speeches at the G-8 Summit.
The wait staffers are wine-pairing wizards. Clure is the man who turned a blah brunch at Bally’s into a national sensation, so imagine how carefully he runs his own operation.
2620 Regatta Dr., Suite 106, Summerlin, Nev.; 1-702-804-8008; www.marchebacchus.com
Marche Bacchus began as a top-shelf wine emporium and evolved into a French-inspired restaurant with an invitingly tranquil view. Situated on wee manmade Lake Jacqueline, smack dab in a residential area, it’s a perfect spot to watch gliding swans and relax to classical music. The Sunday brunch menu here concentrates on classic fare. The standout was stuffed French toast, a lighter-than-air brioche full of strawberries and bathed in Chantilly cream and maple syrup.
For lunch it’s cheese and charcuterie selections, salade Lyonnaise, soupe a l’oignon (French onion soup), and a bleu cheese burger with pommes frites; at dinner, steak frites and seared sea scallops. Entrees and salads are in the $10 to $15 range. There’s a $10 corkage fee for the vast selection of retail wine. If you’re looking for a low-key spot for a romantic date, Marche Bacchus is hard to beat.
Lotus of Siam
953 E. Sahara Av., Las Vegas; 1-702-735-3033; www.saipinchutima.com
There’s no secrecy about the Lotus of Siam, a Las Vegas — no, a national — institution. Chef Saipin Chutima and her husband, Suchaym, who came from northern Thailand by way of Southern California, opened the restaurant in 1999. The next year, the Lotus of Siam moved Gourmet magazine to declare it the best Thai restaurant in North America. It hasn’t received a serious challenge since.
On a random midwinter Monday, a line of 150 foodies and local habitués snaked out the door. The setting is the Commercial Center, a dilapidated mall where sick businesses go to die. But the Lotus is vibrant with activity, aroma, bustling servers and patrons groaning in delight while relishing their meals.