Downtown Las Vegas goes big

A band of visionaries is pushing past the glitz and looking toward the future. There’s this thing called downtown. And it’s blowing up

Wayne Curtis


Sin City’s most exciting cooking happens away from the jingle of the slots.

Chocolate & Spice Bakery. Chocolatier Megan Romano sculpted desserts at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole for more than a decade before decamping to this new venue on the Westside. You’ll find the usual assortment of indulgent creations (like dark chocolate hazelnut bonbons), but also a first-rate lunch menu with surprises like a Black Forest ham and cheddar panini with sun-dried tomato aioli. $; 7293 W. Sahara Ave.; 702/527-7772.

Le Thai. The chintzy metal façade and unadorned tables might be annoying if you didn’t know what was to come: Bangkokian cuisine like pad Thai noodles redolent of green onions and cilantro, with no cloying sweetness. The three-color curry and the beef meatball noodle soup—made from a stock slow-simmered with bones and tendon—make this one of the toughest reservations in town. $; 523 Fremont St.; 702/778-0888.

Monta Japanese Noodle House. This tiny soup kitchen in ever-expanding Chinatown gets credit for launching Vegas’ ramen revolution. The broth, rich and salty with a hint of marrow, animates the snappy al dente noodles. Choose between the shoyu (soy) and the heartier, thicker miso ramen before piling on the toppings—hard-cooked egg, tender slices of roasted pork. But hurry up about it; there’s a line of people out the door waiting for your seat. $; 5030 Spring Mountain Rd.; 702/367-4600.

Eat. Chef Natalie Young’s breakfast-and-lunch joint attracts a discerning downtown crowd with comfort-food classics like buttery pancakes and steel-cut oats with cinnamon roasted apples and pecans. Her best dishes come with a hint of Southern accent: soft and pillowy beignets, shrimp and grits. She also makes the best grilled cheese sandwich in the area code. $$; 707 Carson Ave.; 702/534-1515.

Raku. Chef Mitsuo Endo uses binchotan, a special Japanese charcoal, to grill mountain trout, pork cheek, and a long list of robatayaki at this elegant izakaya. But the big star is the agedashi tofu, silken housemade tofu topped with salmon roe, a favorite with the local chefs who crowd the counter after their shifts. $$$; 5030 Spring Mountain Rd.; 702/367-3511.


Because it’s time to say no to vodka and Red Bull.

Downtown Cocktail Room. Downtown Cocktail Room feels exactly like a downtown cocktail room, with a slight speakeasy vibe, harlot-lipstick red walls, and mildly alarming abstract art. The crowd skews young, drawn by the DJ spinning tunes. Must-drink: The Carciofo Swizzle, which is essentially a full-fledged tour of Italian amaros in a glass. 111 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;

Frankie’s Tiki Room. When you walk into this bar, you’ll think, Whoa, it’s dark in here, and take off your glasses. Nothing will happen. Once you grow accustomed to the permanent twilight, you discover you’re amid thatch, bamboo, woven grass panels, and carved tiki heads. Must-drink: The Lava Letch, with a lush raspberry taste that tangos nicely with ginger beer, a combo that extinguishes the late afternoon exhaustion. 1712 W. Charleston Blvd.;

Herbs and Rye. The elaborate menu at Herbs and Rye is categorized by era, from 19th-century classics to modern adaptations. Must-drink: The Ford Cocktail, a classic’s classic. It’s a perfectly balanced mix of gin, dry vermouth, Benedictine, and orange bitters. 3713 W. Sahara Ave.; 702/982-8036.

The Griffin. The woody, walnut-hued ambience in the Griffin never fails to invite vivid comparisons. Grampa’s smoking parlor? Norwegian hunting lodge? Whatever the case, this watering hole is wedged between a tattoo shop and a clothing boutique in a former check-cashing joint. Must-drink: A shot and a beer. Then spend some time at the jukebox, widely hailed as the city’s best. 511 Fremont St.; 702/382-0577. 

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