Las Vegas Off the Strip, a City Tasting Tour
In a city where everything is available for a price, the Las Vegas Strip, with its casinos and lights, is definitely the destination of choice for fine dining. But heading off the strip to neighborhoods ranging from beaten down to suburban bliss, can lead to delicious results – including some of the best Japanese, Vietnamese and Mexican options where to eat in Las Vegas. There are even places to drink like locals and a Saturday morning farmer’s market in the middle of the desert.
Your off the strip experience should start in old downtown, an area of old casinos (some still have machines that take nickels), a pinball arcade, and a slew of hipster restaurants, dive bars, speakeasies and clubs without the sleek veneer of the strip.
You can’t miss the 40-foot praying mantis that blows 12-foot flames on your way into the Container Park. This multi-level, up-cycled food park is an initiative to revitalise the downtown area and support local artisans. The patio at Pinches Tacos has the best seats for taking in all the crowds of people enjoying the galleries, shops, and walk-up eateries housed in repurposed shipping containers. Order handmade shrimp and fish tacos, chorizo cheese dip (aged cheddar, roasted peppers, Mexican chorizo, queso fresco and cilantro with tortilla chips), a plate of pinche carne asada fries (beans, cheese, onions, guacamole, cilantro and pico de gallo and sour cream served on crispy French fries – think of it as Mexican poutine) and wash it down with a blood orange margarita.
On the First Friday of every month, the area’s galleries stay open late and downtown turns into a dance party with live music and pop-up bars on Fremont Street. So take the zipline above the crowds on your way to the Downtown Cocktail Room for some peace and alcohol. The dark space is made up of cozy booths, velvet curtains and a friendly bar. The well-curated menu includes punches, coupes and classics as well as an impressive list of nine absinthes. Start with an “El Santo” (Tequila, Aperol, Tajin, PBR and chili-speckled mango) and move on to the counterintuitively restorative “Water of Life,” a punchbowl of rum, coconut water, lemongrass and lime.
For a different kind of cocktail experience, head to Frankie’s Tiki Room. This 24-hour bar feels like a luau with Vegas flare (you can gamble at the bar). Owner P Moss also owns the more traditional Double Down Saloon, but here the décor includes wooden carvings, Polynesian statues and a large neon-pink sign. Moss bought this landmark tiki bar in 2013 with the goal of reviving rum-drinking tiki culture. He renovated and turned it into a tiki destination. He even published a tiki cocktail recipe book called Liquid Vacation for the landmark establishment. Try the “lava letch” with demon rum, brandy, raspberry liqueur, and ginger beer (the menu says to “lock up your daughter”) or the “Wild Watusi” with rum, mango, lime, orange, and a 160-proof float of coconut milk and banana liqueur. The $23 version comes with a souvenir mug (you might need the glass to remember the night).
For lunch the next day, head to the west side strip malls along Spring Mountain Road and Desert Inn for the most under-the-radar and affordable Asian food in the city. At I-Naba, get the cold zaru soba on a bamboo mat with a flavourful soy-based tsuyu sauce, wasabi and scallions on the side, and nori on top. Don’t forget to ask for the hot water that the noodles were cooked in to add to the tsuyu and drink it at the end.
Or go north to Lake Mead Boulevard for Viet Bistro’s spicy Hue-style beef noodle soup (Bun Bo Hue) with bone broth, lemongrass, cilantro, green onions and sprouts. The family run restaurant serves Northern Vietnamese cuisine, not pho, like the beef carpaccio salad (Go Bo Tai Me) with thin slices of rare beef over shredded cabbage and other fresh vegetables, topped with carrots and onions, all smothered in a tamarind-fish sauce.
The most famous ice cream in Las Vegas is probably the gelato in the Venetian, which is perfect for strolling under the artificial blue sky while gondolas pass in the nearby canal. But for another kind of iced treat, there’s the off the strip Snowflake Shavery on Spring Mountain Road, which describes itself as “when ice cream and shaved ice fell in love, got married and had a baby.” Thank goodness for marital bliss and customised bowls of cookie butter shaved ice cream with strawberries, cake crumbs and sweetened condensed milk. Located next to Asian heavy-hitters including late-night raku, monta ramen and zen curry, the shop also does good business in its green tea shaved ice cream with red beans or black sesame with lychee jelly and sweet egg pudding.
In a city known for never sleeping, it shouldn’t be hard to get to the Downtown Summerlin Farmer’s Market early. Located in the middle of an outdoor shopping complex in this upscale west side neighborhood, the market offers row after row of sprouts, freshly picked shelling peas, made-to-order fruit and vegetable juices and Hawaiian satay and shaved ice. A farmer’s market in a desert? you ask. Most of the produce comes from farms in California and other parts of Nevada. And while a lot of the vendors are artisans rather than farmers (try the local honeys and jams), the Intuitive Forager Farm Shop at the market’s tail has all the fresh produce you’ll need, including candy-sweet strawberries and huckleberries, five varieties of organic dates, raw goat’s milk cheese, and rich and creamy vegan cashew kefir and yogurt.