Top 10 Restaurants

How, someone occasionally will ask, can I give an "A" rating to both a gourmet room and a diner? Easy: It means that they both are excellent at doing what they do. The most successful restaurants are those whose managers and staff are focused, pay attention to the details and are intent on doing the best they can each and every day.

(And by "successful" I’m referring to execution and not necessarily profits or longevity. In this challenging economy we’re seeing deserving restaurants fall by the wayside, a case in point being Andre’s French Restaurant downtown, which will be a fond bit of Las Vegas nostalgia after New Year’s Eve.)

My favorite restaurants? That depends on when and where I am and how I feel. If money’s no object I’d probably head to Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, for a midpriced steak spot I’d hit the Pullman Grille at Main Street Station, a taste for tamale or tapas would direct me to Dona Maria’s downtown or to Firefly on Paradise, respectively. And the list goes on. And on.

But for this year’s top 10, I’m confining myself to restaurants I reviewed in 2008.

1. LOUIS’S LAS VEGAS, late of Town Square, 6605 Las Vegas Blvd. South — Darn it, this restaurant (and its sister, Louis’s Fish Camp) deserved to survive. I don’t know if its empty dining rooms were a factor of location, if it was too rich for a mostly locals-oriented center or if Las Vegans were just wary of its Carolina Lowcountry cuisine, but with James Beard Award-winning chef Louis Osteen and Carlos Guia, late of Commander’s Palace, at the helm, it should’ve sailed on for years.

2. SETTEBELLO, 140 S. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson — This is probably my favorite pizza spot in the valley because of its authentic Neapolitan style, which is not exactly the cheese-and-pepperoni-dripping pie most of us grew up with. But wow, is it good.

3. GOLDEN STEER, 308 W. Sahara Ave. — When a restaurant has been in existence for 50 years — especially in a market where everything new is old within a week and a half — you know it’s doing something right. From shrimp cocktail to cherries jubilee, the food is well-prepared and served in a Rat Pack atmosphere that manages to feel fresh.

4. WHITE CHOCOLATE GRILL, 9510 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson — This is another one that, despite the crowds, I fear won’t be with us for long — it already has reduced hours — and that would be a shame because it brings solid, innovative cuisine to the chain-heavy hinterlands of Henderson.

5. MARKET GRILLE CAFE, 7920 W. Tropical Parkway — We’ve seen a big increase in counter-service restaurants during the past couple of years, and Market Grille Cafe is the best of the bunch. It has solid Greek cuisine with great service and an attractive interior that belie the counter-service aspect.

6. THE CAPITAL GRILLE, Fashion Show mall, 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South — This one has Frank Sinatra’s soul in Harry Connick Jr.’s body, so you get the best of both worlds. Go for dinner or lunch, but go with someone you like, to revel in the relaxing elegance and take in the unmatched view.

7. MORELS FRENCH STEAKHOUSE & BISTRO, the Palazzo, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South — This is a Strip oddity: a high-quality restaurant without the pretension or the upselling. And when the weather begins to warm, its patio overlooking the Strip will be a fine place to dine.

8. LUCIO RISTORANTE, 8615 W. Sahara Ave. — Mom-and-pops are particularly suffering during these tough times, and Lucio is the quintessential mom-and-pop with excellent food. It’s authentic — the chef is straight out of Italy — and continues the tradition of well-prepared risotti begun by its predecessor.

9. LA MADONNA, 6115 S. Fort Apache Road — The restaurant bills its Mexican cuisine as "avant-garde" and it is to a point, but don’t let that scare you. The main thing that separates La Madonna from most of the pack is that its food is more sophisticated and skillfully prepared.

10. MEZZO, 4275 N. Rancho Drive — This is the perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant, melding the classic and innovative and providing a personal touch and reasonable prices.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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