Dining Guide: Casual American

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 less than $10; $$ = entrees from $10 to $20; $$$ = entrees from $20 to $30; and $$$$ = entrees more than $30.

BABYSTACKS CAFE

2400 N. Buffalo Drive; 541-6708

Red-velvet pancakes with cream-cheese syrup are a specialty of the house at Babystacks 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.)

Overall: A-

$

BLACK BEAR DINER

6180 W. Tropicana Ave.; 368-1077

You might as well go big at Black Bear Diner, because the only alternative is to go home. But it’s worth it thanks to the charming atmosphere, solid service and good food, such as crispy-edged chicken-fried steak with creamy gravy, eggs and potatoes; housemade corned-beef hash — the meat shredded — with eggs and fried potatoes; and a flaky, cinnamon-rich bear claw that was, well, about as big as a real bear’s paw. (5/10/13 H.K.R.)

Overall: A

$

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.)

Overall: B+

$

BREAD & BUTTER

10940 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson; 675-3300

The simple name of this breakfast-and-lunch spot belies its broad selection of excellent baked goods and such made-to-order delights as the huge waffle sandwich, in which a pile of creamy scrambled eggs plus cheese and ham rest between two delicate waffles, with an addictive Bechamel ladled atop. We also like the flatbread of the day, which on our day involved potatoes, asparagus and a creamy sauce, topped with a sunny-side egg. (9/21/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A

$

BULDOGIS

2291 S. Fort Apache Road; 570-7560

Buldogis specializes in fusion food ­— that would be Korean flavor added to the classic American hot dog — and it works pretty well, as in the Banh Mi Dog, which comes with Vietnamese-inspired slaw and a slice of pork belly. Buldogis is breaking out into burgers, too, and the Bulgogi Burger successfully melded the two cuisines with bulgogi (Korean grilled beef), slaw and mayo. Fried pickle spears were pretty good, but we thought the Classic Buldogis fries needed a bit more seasoning. (11/16/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: B+

$

BURGER BAR

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.)

Overall: A-

$$

CARNEGIE DELI

The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 791-7310

The Carnegie Deli’s prices are up there — no doubt about that — but so are its portions and the quality of its food. It’s been eons since we tasted sauerkraut as wonderfully pungent as that which topped our open-face Reuben with its tender pastrami and blanket of Swiss, or corned beef with as many layers of flavor as that which formed the foundation of our huge platter of hash. And borscht was a bracing, refreshing feast of textures and flavors. (5/11/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A

$$$

CHOCOLATE & SPICE BAKERY

7293 W. Sahara Ave.; 527-7772

Except for a slightly disappointing cannoli, everything we had at Chocolate & Spice reflected the meticulous attention to detail that owner Megan Romano has always brought to her pastries — and everything else. We loved the wedding soup, a grilled brie sandwich, grilled Kalbi beef ribs and two choco-centric pastries, one with clouds of chocolate mousse, the other infused with coffee. (1/25/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

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 coffeecake is worth the trip alone. (8/1/11 H.K.R.)

Overall: A

$

CREPE EXPECTATIONS

9500 S. Eastern Ave.; 583-4939

If you thought for a minute that crepes aren’t sufficient to sustain an entire restaurant you’d be sadly mistaken because at Crepe Expectations it’s all crepes all the time. The menu of this tiny place is well varied, and we loved our sweet and savory choices, the Avalon with buttered pears, candied walnuts and goat cheese, and the Greek, with grilled chicken fresh spinach, feta and tzatziki. (2/15/13 H.K.R.)

Overall: A

$

THE DAILY EGG

5255 S. Decatur Blvd.; 431-4714

Service at The Daily Egg was with a smile but without a sense of urgency, but the food was so good we decided to just relax and go with it. What made it all worthwhile was the Classic Gyro Omelet, the chicken Shawarma Breakfast Pita, crispy home fries, a big fluffy pancake and a cup of well-varied fresh fruit. (1/11/13 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

THE DILLINGER

1224 Arizona St., Boulder City; 293-4001

The Dillinger feels more like a bar than a restaurant but don’t let that put you off, because it’s warm and welcoming, just like its home community of little Boulder City. And the food transcends any idea of bar fare, with such dishes as a deftly fire-roasted artichoke, the brisket sandwich, the Ortega burger with its split-and-roasted Ortega pepper, and sides of onion rings and slightly sweet cinnamon-dusted sweet-potato fries. (12/14/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

EDDIE D’S FAMOUS ITALIAN SANDWICHES

6870 Rainbow Blvd.; 541-8792

Eddie D’s has fantastic service — friendly and affable and efficient — for a counter-service place, and it was on an employee’s initiative that we tried the excellent meatballs. And so, naturally, we loved the meatball Parmigian sub as well as a Genoa salami sandwich, although we thought the tiny meatballs in the Italian wedding soup were kind of bland and rubbery, especially by comparison. (2/10/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: B+

$

THE EGG & I

4533 W. Sahara Ave.; 364-9686

A car-restaurant wreck this spring certainly hasn’t kept people away from The Egg & I, which was positively packed when we went late on a weekday morning. The draw, no doubt, is the simple American fare, kicked up a notch in dishes such as housemade shredded corned beef hash and eggs, a Sicilian Skillet with Italian sausage, marinara, peppers and onions and warm banana muffins rich enough to qualify as an indulgence. (6/21/13 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

EGG WORKS

9355 W. Flamingo Road; 368-3447, and three other locations

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 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES

10271 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson (and other valley locations); 405-9555

We’ve discovered our new favorite burger — Five Guys’ bacon cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions, mayonnaise and jalapenos, which is a big, juicy mouthful of flavor (and we try to ignore the nutritionals). Five Guys’ fries are justly lauded by its fans, whether they’re of the regular or Cajun-seasoned camp, and we also enjoyed a regular ol’ hamburger, made much less regular with the addition of complimentary pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions and barbecue sauce. (5/25/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

GRILL 55

Renaissance Las Vegas, 3400 Paradise Road; 784-5700

Grill 55 is first and foremost a bar — the laid-back counterpart of the hotel’s Envy Steakhouse — so the atmosphere can get a little crazy during busy times at the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center, but it serves nothing in the way of old-school bar food. We loved the Truffle Reggiano fries, the Devil’s Eyes fried deviled eggs, the Signature 55 Burger and the barbecued chicken flatbread pizza. (11/9/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$$

THE GRIDDLE

9480 S. Eastern Ave. (and three other locations, one of which is called Mollie’s Kountry Kafe); 360-3636

Plate-sized pancakes that are light and fluffy but still substantial enough to hold together, porous enough to absorb the butter and syrup, can be somewhat of a challenge. But not at The Griddle, where they come off the griddle perfectly. We had them as part of a Lumberjack platter that also included a couple of eggs and bacon or link sausage. Also worthy of note: the crab cake Benedict, one of a long list of The Griddle’s Benedicts and one with a crab-centric base and a well-executed hollandaise. (6/29/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

GRITZ

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.)

Grade: B

$

LA CAVE

Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 248-3463

La Cave’s name is reflected in the wine-themed interior in which it serves its small plates, but the airy open-to-the-outdoors patio is quite pleasant on a balmy evening as well. We sipped and shared in the small-plates style and were impressed by the bacon-wrapped dates (despite that fact that one was sort of charred), sliced sirloin steak with mushroom fondue and cipollini onions and diver sea scallops with polenta cake and shrimp sauce, although we thought the raclette a little tame, especially for lovers of this characteristically pungent cheese. (4/13/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$$$

LOU’S DINER

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.)

Overall: A-

$

MAC SHACK

8680 W. Warm Springs Road; 463-2433

One step from fast food, the counter-service Mac Shack offers economical, well-prepared pasta dishes in a sleek, casual atmosphere and seems to be of particular interest to busy families. We designed our own rigatoni dish with marinara, meatball and sun-dried tomatoes, and also liked the Farmhouse Pasta, farfalle with creamy sauce, ham and peas. But we’d advised skipping the oh-so-plain garlic loaves. (8/10/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

OMELET HOUSE

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.)

Overall: B+

$

PEPPERMILL RESTAURANT

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.)

Overall: A-

$$

PINK’S HOT DOGS

Planet Hollywood Resort, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 405-4711

Although 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.)

Overall: B

$

SMASHBURGER

Four locations in the valley

Smashburger is the new burger chain in town, and although 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. (8/11/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

SOUL FOOD CAFE

7320 S. Rainbow Blvd.; 998-9780

Perfectly fried chicken is more of an art than a science and the artists at Soul Food Cafe have perfected it, with juicy meat that fairly spurts when the golden-brown crust is breached by knife and fork. We also loved the hot-water cornbread that was served as a starter, the fried okra, black-eyed peas, hush puppies, grilled pork chops and yams and hated the fact that we were too full to even consider dessert. (2/22/13 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$$

WILDBURGER

Wildfire Lanes, 4451 E. Sunset Road, Henderson (and three other locations); 685-2100

We weren’t crazy about the smoke in Wildfire Lanes that we had to plow through to get to Wildburger, but we were crazy about Wildburger — or at least its food, which would include the Cheeseburger Salad, design-your-own Angus burger and honey-mustard boneless wings. (11/2/12 H.K.R.)

Overall: B+

$

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. (4/22/11 H.K.R.)

Overall: A-

$

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