The Best New Las Vegas Restaurants Are Off the Strip
It’s a Saturday night in Las Vegas, and the traffic on the Strip is a mess. It’s one of those evenings where driving from the new Park MGM resort to The Palazzo, less than 2 miles away, can take 20 minutes. So we hop in a car at Park MGM and head off-Strip to the new Locale in Mountain’s Edge. This is a 10-mile journey that takes less than 20 minutes.
Locale is where Nicole Brisson, who most recently was executive chef at Park MGM’s Eataly and previously ran the kitchen at The Palazzo’s Carnevino, serves some of the best pastas Las Vegas has ever had. We marvel at the meatiness, creaminess, and comfort of the perfectly composed rigatoni Bolognese with veal, beef, and pork. We enjoy the sweetness of Brentwood corn and the zing of jalapeno pesto in the luxurious lobster spaghetti alla nero with blistered cherry tomatoes. Brisson’s pici carrettiera with cherry tomatoes, local garlic chives, and peperoncino is beautiful simplicity that makes us want to lap up every single bite of tomato bliss along with the thick noodles. Ricotta and mint ravioli with braised rabbit ragu is simultaneously refined and rustic in the best ways.
Brisson, of course, was known as one of the city’s foremost meat mavens at Carnevino, so you should know that Locale also serves charcuterie, guanciale-filled croquettes, tripe, baked chicken, saltimbocca, brisket meatballs, mortadella pizzas, and big steaks. On the night we visit, the restaurant is offering a 72-ounce Creekstone Farms double tomahawk for $120. Even though there’s no way we are ordering this colossal dry-aged steak (because our goal here is to try many other dishes), we verify the price with the waiter twice because we’re astonished. This tomahawk would easily cost double this much on the Strip.
Brisson and her partner, restaurateur Andy Hooper (who’s standing at the pass while wearing jeans, cool-kid gray sneakers, and a patterned dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves), are here to give you Strip quality and Strip spectacle without the Strip prices or Strip pretension.
“We kept our prices very affordable because we knew we were going to be a neighborhood restaurant,” says Brisson, who opened Locale in June. “It’s not only for people who come from the Strip. We also want to appeal to the locals and families.”
Brisson wants Locale to be a no-fuss place where you can drop by for cocktails and a quick meal of ricotta fritters, salad, and sausage pizza. But she’s also noticed that there are many former Carnevino customers who’ve come because they crave some of the dishes she served on the Strip. They’ve asked her to make beef-cheek ravioli, so she recently did it as a special and sold 40 orders in one night. She charged $19 for each order of beef-cheek ravioli at Locale, about $10 less than what this typically went for at Carnevino. The other pastas she has on the menu start at just $11, and the $16 rigatoni Bolognese is a special kind of Vegas jackpot, every bit as invigorating as counting chips after a marathon poker session and realizing that you underestimated how much was in your stack.
Eating off-Strip is about finding tremendous values and some of the city’s most deeply pleasing food. At Hatsumi, the new robatayaki restaurant that Other Mama chef Dan Krohmer opened at the Fergusons Downtown complex in May, you can eat $3 chicken-thigh skewers while you drink sake, Japanese beer, or Suntory Toki highballs. You can also order an omakase feast that ranges from $35 to $55 per person. We pick the $55-each option for two, and our meal begins with beef tataki that features ponzu crunchy rayu (chili sauce) and local greens. It’s a nice balance of spiciness, acidity, umami, and freshness. The ocean trout lomi lomi with red onion, cherry tomato, and chili ponzu also hits similarly pleasing notes. Krohmer (who cooked at Morimoto in Philadelphia and traveled from city to city making food for A-list touring musicians like Taylor Swift and Jay Z) and chef de cuisine Bobby Silva (a Strip veteran who worked for Mina Group, SushiSamba, and Momofuku) are adept at jolting your palate during a leisurely night of eating and drinking.
Then the procession of grilled items comes: chicken meatballs, chicken thighs (with spring onions), beef tongue, king crab. There is also exemplary boneless fried chicken. It’s much more food than we imagined we would get for $55 per person.
We’re excited that Krohmer is also working to open a Mexican restaurant, La Monja, at Fergusons in the coming weeks. That should help turn Fergusons, with its neon signage, artist community, and festive monthly outdoor market, into even more of a downtown scenester destination.
A block away from Fergusions is indie music venue The Bunkhouse, where Vegas street-food pioneer Ricardo Guerrero opened Gaucho’s Sacred Flavors in March. Guerrero, who founded the Slidin’ Thru food truck that debuted in 2010, is to Vegas what Roy Choi has been to L.A. But the indefatigably jovial Guerrero somehow gives off an even more, uh, loose vibe than Choi. And remember, Choi is a chef who once had a restaurant called Pot.
At Gaucho’s, Guerrero and partner Gerardo Avalos are serving street tacos, empanadas, sandwiches, and a guacamole-topped crispy tortilla that they call an “avocado toast(ada).” Gaucho’s makes over-the-top Mexican pizzas with proteins like juicy carnitas, carne asada, and jumbo shrimp. The stand pours CBD-infused “cannabliss kombucha” with pineapple, ginger, and turmeric. Guerrero’s eager to tell customers about the magic of his “electric tea” with butterfly pea flower that changes from blue to purple when lime is added. We get a housemade soda, and Guerrero urges us to guess what’s in the recipe. We correctly guess ginger correctly and whiff on the second ingredient, which is bay leaf, because why not?
Gaucho’s is a fun and funky place to eat. It sort of feels like a house party with delicious Mexican and Argentinian food prepared on a wood-fired grill. You take your order and dine outside at The Bunkhouse, maybe on a table made with reclaimed wood, and you might be alongside punk rockers and a big group of tattooed revelers dressed in biker gear. You might see beer-drinking locals wearing gold lamé boy shorts and pink tank tops inside the flatbed of a pickup truck. The Bunkhouse is just a few miles away from overheated casino nightclubs, but this crowd makes you feel like you’re in a completely different world that rocks to its own beat. That’s the kind of thing you can easily discover when you decide to leave the Strip for an evening.