I came back a few weeks ago from a long, but not particularly food-oriented trip to Las Vegas. Many of the restaurant selections were not mine, but I did not starve.
Probably the biggest disappointment to me is that of the places I tried for the first time, none of them were outstanding, although none was a complete dud.
The biggest disappointment was El Dorado Cantina, which shares a wall and parking lot with Sapphire, the largest strip club in Las Vegas (but has a separate entrance). I was with one friend for lunch and we didn't get to sample many dishes, but my queso fundido with chorizo was virtually tasteless, and the vegetable salad was desultory. My friend's enchiladas were slightly better. Almost every table ordered guacamole, and it looked good, but I'm not in a rush to go back. One huge attraction: it's open 24 hours a day.
Olivia's, in the mostly barren Boulevard Mall on Maryland Parkway, is an upscale Mexican place that has some Latin non-Mexican dishes. The service is extremely friendly, although in our case, also slapdash. We were served the wrong scallop dish, although that turned out to be our favorite offering. The chef was in the kitchen at Mundo, so he has a pedigree.
Honey Pig, at 4725 Spring Mountain, is a Korean restaurant best known for its all-you-can eat barbecue meals. And although the price point is not as low as others, the value is excellent, with not only unlimited meat and fish, but banchan and kimchi. The quality of the meats varied (I particularly liked the pork belly and surprisingly, chicken) but it is great fun and the servers, who will do most of the cooking at the table if you'd like, were unusually friendly and upbeat. Good, not great.
Niu-Gu took over the space from Shaanxi Gourmet, the noodle specialist from SoCa -- it’s in the great 3400 Jones mall that includes District One, Chada Thai, and China Mama. Niu-Gu is helmed by Jimmy Li, late of 1900. Niu-Gu opened as a noodle house, but has rebranded as a more formal restaurant. I went with QAW on an extremely hot day, and we split the lemon-pepper beef soup and the 3 Chili Tiger Shrimp and frankly, the food was fine but uninspiring. We shrugged our shoulders. I’d try it again, and order some more unusual dishes.
I miss Shaanxi.
Finally made it to Rollin’ Smoke. Every review I’ve read of RS mentions that the brisket is overcooked. And mine was no exception. The St. Louis pork ribs were the best of the 3 meats I tried (the other was the hot links). The employees are exceptionally friendly and the faux-roadhouse atmosphere works. But this is unlikely to displace favorites in Texas, Missouri, or Kentucky. I still don’t think I’ve ever eaten better than good BBQ in Las Vegas.
Part 2, about old favorites, soon to come.