I see where the annual “Best of Las Vegas” ballots have begun to appear in the newspaper. I’m always astonished at the number of categories in which I feel completely unqualified to vote. (Feel free to insert your “I’m not the slightest bit surprised Suprynowicz finds himself unqualified to vote in so many categories” comments here.)
Then, in the few categories where I know anything relevant, I find it hard to choose a “Best,” anyway. I don’t know who serves the “best” steak in town. Wherever it is, I probably can’t afford to go there unless someone else is paying.
I could probably nominate someone for serving a “pretty good steak considering I can buy it without a bank loan.” But that wouldn’t look all that great hanging on a big white vinyl banner, would it?
(If someone would like to finance the “Vin Searches for the Best Steak in Town Tour,” I’ll put you in touch with my accountant, who will probably want to go along just to make sure everything’s on the up-and-up. I believe he’s even suggested we start at some joint called the “Outback.”)
Ethnic food? I’m told by a fellow in the know that if food quality seems to suffer at any of these joints, you may want to try back a few weeks later, by which time the regular kitchen staff can usually be expected back on the job. From time to time, it appears, such workers in this market tend to take a “leave of absence” for a few weeks, due to minor misunderstandings concerning “blue cards,” or “green cards,” or something of the sort.
Just as, in the old days, it was considered a good sign if you saw truckers patronizing a roadhouse, nowadays it’s considered a good sign if you’re sharing the dining room with one or more of the town’s leading immigration attorneys. Get to know them.
The most memorable Mexican meal I ever had in this town was with Aaron Russo at Lindo Michoacan on East Desert Inn, which is still a joint worth hunting out. Mexican people go there, which is usually a good sign.
But that evening may have had more to do with Aaron, who was a force of nature, and is missed.
My old favorite Mexican joint used to be Ricardo’s at Decatur & Flamingo, which remains fine if you find yourself on the west side, though (unlike some more creative joints -- see Paymon ’s and The Draft House on Rancho) they still haven’t figured out a way to let us continue eating and smoking in the child-free bar, like they used to.
But I would have to say the current favorite Mexican joint of the Vin staff is Chapala’s on East Tropicana near Pecos (though if you want the carnitas I’d recommend asking for them “crispy”) where they even have strolling guitars till 9 p.m. on weekends. They’re open late, the service is superb; try the crab-meat “Super especial.” (Yes, there's another Chapala's, on Decatur near Trader Joe's and the Amber Unicorn. For now, my recommendation remains unchanged.)
German food: The Heidelberg on east Sahara, of course. Not strong on fish or vegetarian offerings, unfortunately. Try to order anything other than the house buttermilk dill salad dressing. I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with the house buttermilk dill salad dressing, because there’s not. I mean “just try” to order anything else.
If you get really lucky, you may even run into an old-timer playing the zither. Think “The Third Man Theme,” not “The Future Belongs to Me.”
The best Indian joint in town remains the India Oven, behind the "classic" McDonald’s that’s behind the former Holy Cow, just northeast of Sahara and the Strip. (I’m told this is because the old kitchen staff is back.) Tastes differ, but I prefer ordering off the menu to the lunch buffet, unless you’re in a huge rush. Korma; vindaloo -- be a little daring. Ask for suggestions.
That was easy. What about Best Chinese? After consultations with some in-house experts, the Vin staff recommend either the Cathay House or the Joyful House, both of which are on West Spring Mountain. Cathay House is more “Hong Kong style”; Joyful House is more ... well, Chinese.
But the best ethnic food, overall (given that the old Olympia on West D.I. -- not to be confused with the Olympic Garden -- has departed), is probably Paymon’s Mediterranean, at Maryland & Flamingo. Most of the menu is served in the hookah lounge, as well as on the patio or in the restaurant proper. Start with the hummus and pesto.
I was going to deal with “tavern food,” but some apparently prefer these posts in smaller, more digestible bites. Maybe later.
If I missed your favorite, feel free to respond below. What do other folks think, for instance, of “Opa!” on Rainbow?
NEXT TIME: Thrift shops, vintage clothing, bookstores, gold and guns.