(Originally posted on May 3, 2007)
Food, Glorious Food
It's a funny thing when you meet a former New Yorker here. You'll always be asked if you've found a good pizza place - I can almost guarantee it. This is like the quest for the Holy Grail. You can only ask a New Yorker, because we're used to NY pizza (naturally). There are tons of folks here from Chicago, and their pizza is totally different.
We have tried many, but not all of the "New York" pizzerias in Las Vegas, but it seems there are more and more every year. Our current favorite is Rocco's - which has numerous locations (we go to the one opposite Red Rock Casino), and is consistently good. NY Pizza and Pasta is a big favorite (Sahara and Jones), not only for pizza but good, casual Italian. Then there are Italian deli's, which are combination deli's/restaurants and stores. The three top candidates are Montesano's, Roma's and Minuto's. If you long to hang out with New Yorkers, go to any of the above, but especially Rocco's, NY Pizza and Pasta and Roma's on Spring Mountain.
Bagel and a schmear
It goes without saying that bagels are a New York staple. Not Sara Lee bagels or Vons bagels - you've got two choices for bagels in Vegas - first is Bagel Cafe and a far second is Einstein. It doesn't end at bagels, though. You've got any type of bread, cake or cookie you long for at Bagel Cafe - a fine substitution for any homesickness for New York. If you want just a great NY bakery, that would be Freed's - they've been here since 1959, and have been featured on the Food Network, in Bon Appetit magazine, and if you want a real bakery, this is the place (Eastern and Tropicana).
Although Bagel Cafe is a full Jewish-style (not Kosher) restaurant, they've got some major competition as a delicatessen. On the Strip, you've got Stage Deli in Caesar's, Canter's (from LA) in Treasure Island and Carnegie Deli in the Mirage. Raffle's in Mandalay Bay also has really good deli, too.
Chinatown and beyond
Here's where we're stumped - good Chinese food. This is definitely a West Coast thing. There are certain staples in New York that just haven't made it out here. I'll just name three - duck sauce, chow mein noodles and chow mein.
Duck sauce in Las Vegas is really sweet and sour sauce - very red, very sweet - no character. Real duck sauce is a combination of apricots, peaches - chunky, golden, sweet, but not too sweet. The noodles from New York are thick with air bubbles, rather than skinny and solid. (You can actually buy NY duck sauce and chow mein noodles in Vons - if your wife lets you.)
In New York, chow mein has no noodles in it, it's all vegetables plus chicken or beef. Rumor has it that Binion's Chinese restaurant has NY chow mein, but I haven't ventured downtown to verify that.
Other than that, the Chinese restaurants are plentiful and okay to good. We have our very own Chinatown, but it ain't New York.
The start of most New Yorker's days is a dash into Dunkin' Donuts. There you wait in line and quickly bark out your order - for coffee. No grandes, no lattes, no no-foam triple caps. Coffee. You can get it black or regular (cream) or regular with two sugars (pretty self-explanatory) - but that's the basic shorthand of coffee in NY.
Dunkin' Donuts is not a trendy hangout - it's stark, fragrant (with everything baked on premises - donuts, muffins, bagels (skip those) and munchkins (donut holes). Today's Review-Journal announced that Dunkin' Donuts is opening 62 stores in Las Vegas, starting later this year. That's good news for everyone - especially Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers.
Mallomars and My-T-Fine pudding
Speaking of the Review-Journal, on Wednesdays there's a column called "Taste of the Town" by Heidi Knapp Rinella. I consider this more of a public service for Las Vegas, and I consider her a "food matchmaker." Frustrated folks from all over the valley write in search of foods they can't find since they left (fill in the blank - New York, Chicago, etc.)
Here's a link to her past columns:
When you're looking for any type of prepared food, candy or childhood favorite - if she can't give you the answer - she puts it out to the readers. It's a common topic among New Yorkers to ask one another "Have you found Mallomars yet?" (Yes, Smith's on Lake Mead and Rampart - but not during the summer - they melt.) I personally could substitute as a writer for her column because I sort of have a food obsession. Can you tell?
Why Vegas for food?
It seems I'm arguing a case for New York as a better food town. Well, yes and no. Every town has specialties that can't be re-created, that's what makes them special and a great place to visit - "there's no place like home."
Vegas, however, has every ethnic type of food imaginable - in a much smaller space. You've got Thai, Vietnamese, Cuban, Israeli, Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Italian, Mexican, Caribbean, Brazilian, Filipino, Kosher, Soul food, Greek, Indian, Iranian, Persian and Morrocan - and that's just casual dining.
Almost every famous upscale restaurant in New York or LA is here in Vegas. Rick Moonen, who had an incredibly successful restaurant in NY (Oceana) closed up shop there, and opened two restaurants here. They just don't have his name on them, he runs 'em. Then there's Palms, Morton's, Del Frisco, Craft Steak, Fiamma, Il Mulino, Rao's, Daniel Boulud's, Aureole's, China Grill, Ruth's Chris', Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, David Burke's, Smith and Wollensky, and I'm sure I'll think of more later.
This is on top of all the great restaurants here that aren't in New York - all the Wolfgang Puck restaurants, Joe's Stone Crab (from Florida), Emeril's and Joel Robuchon's - just to name a few.
If you'll excuse me, I've suddenly gotten very hungry.
Next time, I'll talk about entertainment and celebrities - we've got New York beat!