On the spur of the moment and without reservations, my brother and I descended on Lotus of Siam at 9:00 p.m. and they were absolutely slammed -- more than 25 people waiting outside, with 15 or so more in the waiting room.
My brother had not only never been to Viva Las Arepas (just north of the Stratosphere at 1616 S. Las Vegas Blvd.), but never had an arepa. This deficiency had to be rectified, so we called an audible. When we got to this Venezuelan treasure, we noticed that the taco stand that the Viva folks had been working on was finally open, so we decided to do a little crawl and start with an al pastor taco. It was definitely one of the best in town. It is located right across from the strip mall where Viva is -- Olympic Gardens is across Las Vegas Blvd. Although the passersby were grubby, the stand was immaculate (there are stools and a narrow counter to put your food on), and so was the fully-loaded condiment bar, with impeccable onions and cilantro, a great hot sauce, and untested white and green sauces. I can't wait to test their other food (including tortas) -- they are open late, and still working on what their hours will be).
We then ambled over to Viva Las Arepas. My brother had a shrimp in garlic sauce arepa and I had my beloved cachapas. On an earlier trip last week, a friend tried the cachapas with the same beef as is used in the arepas, and I scoffed, but had to admit it was great. The idea way to experience Viva Las Arepas is to go with a group, split the superb mixed grill, and each get an arepa (although I vote for the cachapa!).
We saved the best for last. As far as I can tell, the best gelato ever in Las Vegas can be had right next door to Viva, at The Art of Flavor. I've been there six times, and have enjoyed almost all the flavors. Best of all is meeting the gelato maker, Desyree Alberganti, late of Valentino's, who produces all natural, clean gelato. When she is there, Desyree will offer you samples of any and all her offerings, probably starting you out with fior de latte, just dairy and sugar (think vanilla ice cream without the vanilla). She is a sweetheart, and she deserves great success. I was Some favorites of her rotating parade include a cucumber and ginger sorbet, white coffee bean (it tastes a little like a latte), a chocolate and biscotti, and chocolate with chiles (pasilla peppers, I believe). I don't usually like chocolate ice cream, but hers are vibrant (try the chocolate sorbet -- it's hard to believe there is no dairy in it).
What a great night amidst what was once a Chowhound desert. Add Fat Choy, and there's much to like in the area.