Eat Like a Local: Off-Strip Vegas

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

For Yahoo Food’s travel summer series, Eat Like a Local, we’re taking you on a cross-country food crawl, city by city. Here’s where to chow down in America’s lesser-known destinations without sticking out like a sore thumb.

The Amangiri resort, nestled in the desert’s rocky landscape. (Photo credit: Courtesy Amangiri)

Vegas has led the charge on celebrity chefs—you can dine under Gordon Ramsay’s roof one night and Wolfgang Puck’s the next—but “there has been a shift from fine-dining, meal-of-a-lifetime experiences to much more approachable ones,” says Melinda Sheckells, an editor at Vegas Rated and Vegas Seven magazines. 

The city has also become more friendly towards those with dietary restrictions. Once the land of buffets and steak dinners, Vegas is now a place brimming with gluten-free options, among others. “Sure, we would all love to eat Joel Robuchon’s potato purée with a pound of delicious butter in it every day, but the reality is that after you eat that, you want to pass out,” laughs Sheckells. A number of the new hotspots these days are well-removed from the famous Strip (another shift!) Here are some of Sheckells’s favorites.

Best Hole in the Wall: Chicago Joe’s 

“Downtown Las Vegas is now really becoming a hip epicenter, as most downtowns should be, but there are a couple really great spots peppered in there that have been around for years,” says Sheckells. Chicago Joe’s is one of those spots, and it serves up rich, Southern Italian food. “It’s everything you think a Chicago Italian restaurant should be: it’s got ten tables, red checkered tablecloths, no air conditioning, and when you leave, you smell like garlic.” Speaking of which, the garlic dressing is a must. “It’s not really a dressing, it’s so thick—it’s like pure whipped garlic served on crisp romaine lettuce in little wood bowls from the ’70s.” (820 S. 4th St.; 702-382-5637)

Best Dive: The Bonnie Springs Ranch Restaurant

You’ll spy dollar bills on the ceiling and a stellar burger on the menu at the Bonnie Springs Restaurant, a Wild West ghost town about 30 minutes from the center of Vegas. “It’s that simple fire-grilled burger with the perfect amount of American cheese, and you don’t even need condiment,” says Sheckells. “Saddle up to the bar, get a Bloody Mary, sign up for horseback riding, and forget that you’re in Las Vegas.” (16395 Bonnie Springs Rd. 702-875-4191)

Freddie Glusman. (Photo credit: Courtesy Piero’s)

Best Dark and Sexy Date Spot: Piero’s

Yes, “Casino” was filmed here. “You’ve got that Joe Pesci/Sharon Stone vibe,” says Sheckells. “You can sit in their booth and live out your 1970s or 1980s Vegas fantasy.” The food is Italian, the clientele is old Vegas—Steve Lawrence, Lorezno Fertitta, Tim Poster, Pia Zadora—and the owner Freddie Glusman “looks like he hasn’t been outside in about 40 years.” He’s also a huge flirt, so if your evening doesn’t play out right, “you might end up with a date with Freddie!” The dish to order: “Everybody loves the veal and peas,” says Sheckells. It’s not on the menu, but she got turned onto it by locals in the know. (55 Convention Center Dr.; 702-369-2305)

Honey Salt’s comforting fried chicken. (Photo credit: Courtesy Honey Salt)

Best Lunch: Honey Salt

The first venture from restaurant consultant Elizabeth Blau and her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla, Honey Salt offers “the kind of food Kim makes at home,” says Sheckells. “They’re into down-to-earth cooking and have a strong New England sensibility mixed with California flair.” Sheckells votes for the steak salad and the people-watching: “I love seeing who’s in the corner spot and what they’re talking about,” she says. “Robin Leach was there last time I went in.” For a place with such a star clientele, though, Honey Salt has a laid-back vibe and a strong local following. It’s the perfect place to “go for lunch on a Friday, have a glass of wine, and then hang around until happy hour.” (1031 S. Rampart Blvd.; 702-445-6100)

Best Coffee Shop: Sambalatte

“We have been lacking in the coffee department until recently,” admits Sheckells about the Vegas scene. “All we had was Starbucks and The Coffee Bean.” Now, though, there’s Sambalatte, a homegrown, born-and-bred Las Vegas business that started as mom-and-pop and now has three locations all in town. They’ve recruited some great talent in the coffee industry, they roast their own beans sourced from all over the world, and they’ve for a true “meeting place, coffeehouse vibe.”(Click here for locations.) 

Best Ethnic Eats: Kabuto Edomae

“Our Chinatown is not just for Chinese food,” says Sheckells. “It has every kind of wonderful Asian food.” Kabuto Edomae, for example, serves the best sushi. “You have to make reservations in advance, and it’s a 6- to 9-course tasting menu—they only offer a tasting menu—but it’s one of the best experiences.” These sushi chefs are purists: As the website states, “Everybody loves a spicy tuna or California roll. This is, however, not part of the Edomae Sushi experience.” (5040 W. Spring Mountain Rd.; 702-676-1044)

A scene behind the bar at Herbs and Rye. (Photo credit: Courtesy Herbs and Rye)

Best Serious Cocktail: The Laundry Room and Herbs and Rye

“Obviously, Vegas is a town where we love to drink, and you can drink 24 hours a day, so there are a lot of options,” says Sheckells. Inside of a bar called Commonwealth is the Laundry Room, a speakeasy-style cocktail joint with just over 20 seats and a strict door policy. You have to text the number to get in, there are only as many people allowed inside as there are seats at one time, and “there’s just one bartender and one bar back.” They cover all the classics, “but you can order things off-menu, too.” (525 E. Fremont St.; 702-445-6400) Last but not least, Nectaly Mendoza, who just won big at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, opened Herbs and Rye “in a legendary spot that used to be called the Venetian” in 2009. Five years later, he’s still making the best Ramon Gin Fizz in town, and serving it in a sexy, moody room lined in red flocked wallpaper(3713 W. Sahara Ave.; 702-982-8036)

The pool at the Amangiri resort in Utah. (Photo credit: Courtesy Amangiri)

Road Trip Destination: Amangiri

While the Amangiri is a good four-hour drive from Las Vegas, as one of only two Aman luxury resorts in the United States, Sheckells says it’s “the most spectacular thing that no one talks about.” Its location in the midst of Utah’s beautifully bleak sandstone cliffs warranted it placement in Conde Nast Traveler’s “Room with a View” series, and its design blends in with the rocky landscape. “You feel like you’re in the Middle East somewhere. Or, really, on anther planet.” This is the place to detox after a very Vegas weekend: climb the via ferrata (or a host of other, less challenging trails on property), take private yoga lessons, or backstroke through the stone-lined pool while you gaze at the stars. And don’t worry, dining options go way beyond juice: Meals cooked in the wood-fired oven still count as detox food in our book. (1 Kayenta Rd., Canyon Point, Utah; 435-675-3999)