Each week Neon spotlights a different cuisine in the Dining Guide, with casual American restaurants this week. Restaurants are rated on a letter-grade scale, from A to F. Opinions by R-J critic Heidi Knapp Rinella (H.K.R.) are indicated by initials. Price symbols are based on the cost of an average entree: $ = entrees between $10 and $20; $$ = entrees between $10 and $20; $$$ = entrees between $20 and $30; and $$$$ = entrees more than $30.
2400 N. Buffalo Drive and 4135 S. Buffalo Drive; 541-6708
Red-velvet pancakes with cream-cheese syrup are a specialty of the house at Babycakes Cafe and, sweetness aside, they're pretty good. But we liked even better the Portuguese sausage and eggs, Mexican omelet and buttermilk pancakes. And next time we'll try the lemon-ricotta pancakes. (3/4/11 H.K.R.)
BLACK BEAR DINER
6180 W. Tropicana Ave.; 368-1077
Signature dishes: seven-grain granola nut cakes, Bigfoot chicken-fried steak.
The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 792-7888
Signature dishes: designer burgers and shakes.
BOULDER PIT STOP
802 Buchanan Blvd., Boulder City; 293-7080
The Boulder Pit Stop isn't fancy -- no doubt about that -- but its kitchen makes a mean hamburger, filled with beefy flavor. We had the Double Pit Burger with its two-third pound patties and also liked the fries, which are served in mountain-sized portions, and the fish and chips, whose shatteringly golden crust cloaks the moist cod within. (9/2/11 H.K.R.)
Mandalay Place, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 632-9364
Upscale-burger spots have been on the increase in this city and country, but Burger Bar is ground zero -- where Chef Hubert Keller started it all. It has a casual, sports-bar atmosphere and casual but very serious food, including three types of beef plus lamb, turkey, seafood, veggie burgers and more. We liked our American-style Kobe with blue cheese and zucchini fries, and also the sliders, a trio of buffalo with caramelized onions, Black Angus with bacon and Ridgefield Farms beef with American cheese, with skinny fries on the side. (5/20/11 H.K.R.)
El Cortez, 600 E. Fremont St.; 385-5200
Signature dishes: prime-rib dinner, Jackie burger.
THE CRACKED EGG
Four locations in the valley
The Cracked Egg lives up to its reputation as a great little breakfast place, serving such creations as an amazing banana-topped and macadamia-and-coconut-crusted French toast, a truly well crafted Bacon Cheeseburger Skillet and some amazing housemade corned-beef hash, all of which are much more than the sum of their parts. And the homemade coffee cake is worth the trip alone. (8/01/11 H.K.R.)
EAST COAST EATS
50 Valle Verde Drive, Henderson; 834-4443
Considering that the menu includes pizza, roast beef, pastas, seafood, quesadillas, calzones, sandwiches, burgers, wraps and more. We weren't sure of the focus of East Coast Eats, but the delectable smell of frying fish (really!) lured us to a sweet, flaky and perfectly fried haddock sandwich. We also liked the steak bomb, a pastrami sandwich, Greek salad and housemade onion rings. (10/21/11 H.K.R.)
THE EGG WORKS
9355 W. Flamingo Road; 368-3447, and 2490 E. Sunset Road
The Egg Works works as a breakfast spot because whoever's running the kitchen is creative when it comes to dealing with the basic egg -- and lots of other stuff, too. We liked the Works Veggie Benny, the California Crepe, the Cincy Chili Burger and a homemade banana-nut muffin -- and the kitschy/farmy/folksy decor of the place. (7/30/11)
ELLA EM'S SOUL FOOD
775 W. Craig Road; 823-4444
Soul food is the ultimate comfort cuisine, and what Ella Em's delivers is indeed comforting for the soul. The fried chicken (we chose the all-white-meat) was moist, meaty and otherwise a fine example of a classic, the pork chop well flavored but not as meaty as we expected. Cornbread was so moist we ate it with a fork, and the side dishes shone -- the black-eyed peas, mixed vegetables, sauteed cabbage, rice and gravy, mashed yams and collards. (1/11/10 H.K.R.)
FLAVORS, THE BUFFET
Harrah's Las Vegas, 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 369-5000
We reviewed Flavors as part of a Buffet of Buffets sweep of all seven buffets at Harrah's Las Vegas properties, and this one stood out as a bit of a sleeper. It's an attractive space, with natural elements including wood and mosaics, and it has a decent variety of foods served at clearly labeled stations. Worthy of note: linguine with whole clams, pork potstickers, carnitas and bananas Foster. (10/1/10)
4195 S. Grand Canyon Drive; 732-3833, and The Orleans, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave.
Signature dishes: dress-it-yourself burgers, hand-blended shakes.
GERI'S OLDE PHILADELPHIA
3430 E. Tropicana Ave.; 456-0864
You're likely to leave Geri's smelling like a cheesesteak, but there are worse things, all things considered. The cheesesteaks are indeed authentic, and we liked both the regular version and The Works. Fries were crispy and especially delicious with the herby ranch served with them, and the pierogi, though not noteworthy, at least were pierogi. (10/8/10 H.K.R.)
1911 Stella Lake Drive; 255-4748
This tiny spot is very much in the no-frills category, but that just seems to fit with its simple theme, which is grits, grits and more grits. We liked the signature grits bowl with egg and cheese and an oh-so-fluffy biscuit, the Alabama among the "state plates," which features thick-sliced bacon along with eggs and biscuits and grits, and a spirited and satisfying chicken gumbo soup of the day, although the peach cobbler was only OK. (5/12/11 H.K.R.)
HASH HOUSE A GO GO
Four locations across the valley
Signature dishes: griddled French toast, Sage Fried Chicken.
LAYERS BAKERY CAFE
665 S. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson; 221-2253
Pastries and other bakery items are what made Layers Bakery Cafe's reputation -- the prevailing scent of butter is evidence of that -- but the same quality and care are used in Layers' bistro items. We loved not only the custard-filled and chocolate-topped eclair and lovely raspberry Linzer tart but also the quichelike bacon-and-egg pie and Wingnut chicken-salad sandwich. (8/12/11 H.K.R.)
LBS: A BURGER JOINT
Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd.; 835-9393
Signature dishes: designer burgers, fried cheese curds.
LEVY'S BAGELS & DELI
7875 W. Sahara Ave.; 463-9200
If you like pierogi like we like pierogi (all together now), you'll love them at Levy's, where they're made in-house and served the classic way, topped with onions sauteed in butter, with sour cream on the side. We also loved Levy's corned-beef hash, matzo-ball soup, potato salad and stuffed peppers, and a sesame bagel. (11/12/10 H.K.R.)
415 S. Decatur Blvd.; 870-1876
Lou's is the kind of diner you seldom find anymore -- which is to say a good one. It's clean and neat, and the service is prompt, and best of all the old-fashioned breakfast favorites are great. We liked the Country Combo, which was eggs, sausage and sausage gravy atop a split biscuit, eggy-edged sourdough French toast with a side of bacon, chicken-fried steak and a green-chili-and-cheese omelet with grits. (9/12/11 H.K.R.)
THE MAPLE TREE
6000 W. Spring Mountain Road; 362-5151
Some of the things we had at The Maple Tree were excellent, like the housemade corned-beef hash with perfectly over-light eggs, a lovely chicken-noodle soup and a steak dip, while others appeared to have been cooked at too high a temperature. Still, we liked The Maple Tree, which has much in the way of neighborhood-breakfast-and-lunch-spot charm. (11/25/11 H.K.R.)
Three locations in the valley
The key to whether a breakfast spot is a good one often is revealed by late morning, and so it is at Omelet House, which continues to pack 'em in. They're there for the likes of the six-egg (or four-egg "baby") omelets such as the Green Hornet, with tomato, avocado and cheddar, and the chocolate chip pancakes and fried potatoes, but especially for the superlative signature pumpkin bread. (2/23/11 H.K.R.)
THE ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE
4833 W. Charleston Blvd. and 4170 S. Fort Apache Road
Signature dishes: apple pancake, German pancake.
ORIGINAL SUNRISE CAFE
8975 S. Eastern Ave.; 257-8877
The "homemade" corned-beef hash didn't much taste like it, but we liked a lot of other things about the Original Sunrise Cafe, including the speecy-spicy Bueno Beni, a toasted bagel, the fried potatoes and the coffee when it was fresh. And we liked the fact that the Sunrise's name was reflected in its sunny-yellow paint job and the sunny attitude of our server. (1/28/11 H.K.R.)
2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 735-4177
If you haven't eaten at the Peppermill you should, because it's nothing if not unique. A very cool throwback whose magnolia-and-neon decor looks like a Southern plantation exploded and rained down on the set of a futuristic '70s TV show, it also happens to serve good (and reliable) food and in copious portions. We loved the Pastrami Burger with creamy potato salad, Walnut Creek Salad with pear-cilantro vinaigrette and rosemary focaccia and fresh fruit salad in a pineapple boat. And don't miss the lounge, complete with fire-breathing fountain. (6/11/11 H.K.R.)
PINK'S HOT DOGS
Planet Hollywood Resort, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 405-4711
While we wouldn't stand in line for an hour and a half like people do at the L.A. original, yeah, Pink's Hot Dogs are pretty good, we have to say. We liked the Planet Hollywood Dog and the Pastrami Reuben Dog, and sides of onion rings and chili-cheese fries were -- to grant the highest compliment -- county fair worthy. (6/3/11 H.K.R.)
SAMMY'S WOODFIRED PIZZA
Five locations in the valley
Signature dishes: designer pizzas, tapas.
SAMMY'S L.A. PASTRAMI & BURGERS
2191 E. Tropicana Ave.; 736-1698, and at 4035 S. Decatur Blvd.
It may not look like much from the outside, but Sammy's puts together one heck of a pastrami sandwich, and we can vouch for the Italian beef as well. This also is home to some of the crispiest fries in town, and you can get them topped with pastrami, rib-eye, chili, cheddar, grilled onions, bacon, jalapenos and three fried eggs, if you want. Mini corn dogs and homemade lemonade were pretty good, but as for us, we'll stick to the sandwiches and fries -- and use the drive-thru. (8/13/10 H.K.R.)
Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 731-7373
Don't let the rumor mill fool you; Serendipity 3 is about a whole lot more than its Frozen Hot Chocolate. We were particularly pleased with an entree salad of heirloom tomatoes with burrata, a crab-artichoke dip with lots of crab and great ciabatta dippers, a BBQ and Blue Burger and also the Black and White sundae, even though it was mostly just sweet. (7/29/11 H.K.R.)
1900 N. Buffalo Drive; 870-6424
With the exception of the sticky-salty gravy on the pot roast we liked Shari's old-school diner favorites -- and especially Shari's old-school diner atmosphere. Particularly worthy of note were two Shari's originals, the Philly Cheese Steak Fries and The Brie-Licious burger, and a bit of sweet, delicious wretched excess, a peanut-butter malt. (7/06/11)
Four locations in the valley
Smashburger is the new burger chain in town, and while its name may seem a little off -- who wants smashed food, aside from, maybe, potatoes? -- the burgers, which are smashed onto a flat-topped grill as they're cooked, are juicy and addictive. We loved the Sin City Smashburger, with its fried egg, bacon, cheese, grilled onions, haystack onions and signature smash sauce, a create-your-own option with everything but the kitchen sink, the fried pickles and the Smashfries. (6/11/10 H.K.R.)
SUGAR FACTORY AMERICAN BRASSERIE
Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 331-5100
Sit outside or near the windows at Sugar Factory and you'll have a great view of the Strip and the Bellagio fountains beyond, and the opportunity to try some good dishes, including steak frites and fried macaroni and cheese pops. A Nicoise salad was overdressed and a turkey crepe overly bland, but milk and cookies provided a classic comfort-food finish. (9/16/11 H.K.R.)
WICKED SPOON BUFFET
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 698-7000
The Wicked Spoon rises above the average Strip buffet in a number of ways but most notably for the individual vessels in which some of its food is served. The little pots that enclose the curry vegetables and tofu in coconut milk, for example, and little fryer baskets for the Wicked Fried Chicken are not only charming but very effective. We also liked the linguica sauteed with peppers and onions, chicken salad sliders, banh mi, pretzel rolls, chocolate-covered strawberries and custard tarts topped with fresh berries. (6/20/11 H.K.R.)
WINDY CITY BEEFS 'N DOGS
7500 W. Lake Mead Blvd.; 410-5016
Two of the best things that ever came out of Chicago -- not including pizza, which of course ranks right up there -- are hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, and both are done quite well at Windy City Beefs 'n Dogs. We liked the authentic-Vienna-beef dog dressed up right. The Italian beef, served wet with cheese and peppers and giardinera, was a soggy mess but an excellent one, and the chili-cheese fries were the best we've had in ages. (4/22/11)