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Next-generation Salud sets new standard in Las Vegas Mexican restaurants

Leave it to the kids to want to do something a little differently than their parents. At Salud Mexican Bistro and Tequileria, next-generation ideas bring an appealing freshness to a storied cuisine.

Salud is owned by the Topchi brothers (and one of their wives), whose parents own the quarter-century-old Toto’s Mexican Restaurant in Boulder City. The brothers grew up in restaurants but clearly wanted to forge their own path, with a stated intention of serving food on the level of fine dining, and at Salud they succeed.

The innovations of the Topchis and chef Israel Reyes started with the chips and trio of salsas, which were served almost immediately after seating. Warm yellow and blue chips were served with a pulpy fresh tomato salsa and a zippy salsa verde. They were very good but conventional; the standout was the third salsa, a satiny oil-based mixture infused with the flavor and heat of guajillo and chile de arbol and a punch of garlic.

Our server urged us to dig down with our chips to scoop up the solids, but the oil alone was a fiery indulgence.

Halibut isn’t something you find in many Mexican restaurants but Salud serves it ($27) and it was exceptional. The firm, mild fish had been gently sauteed until flaky and was blanketed with a pineapple-mango sauce emboldened by one of Salud’s 100 tequilas. Mango served with fish generally is chunky, like a salsa fresca or chutney, but this one was a silky puree, skillfully balanced so the perfumy tropical notes didn’t steal the spotlight.

Also somewhat offbeat but similarly appealing was the Pollo Sarandeado ($19). A large boneless chicken breast, with attached drumette, had been stuffed with chorizo and mellow, melty Oaxaca cheese and graced with the velvety sarandeado sauce, which possessed just a hint of smoke.

In both cases the sides — the ever-present rice and beans — reached a level far above the afterthoughts they often become. The rice, served alongside the entrees to facilitate the mopping up of those excellent sauces, was enhanced with copious amounts of chiffonade of cilantro, minced red bell pepper and tomato. The black beans, soft but not mashed, were served separately in long white dishes, sprinkled with queso fresco.

Tostada de la Casa ($11) was a fine way to start, the crisp tortilla rounds topped with a festive mix of chopped shrimp and ahi tuna that provided seafaring notes, and black beans for a little earthy grounding, with a drizzle of a chipotle aioli both creamy and smoky-spicy.

No sombreros and serapes here; Salud is decorated simply, its design motif dominated by the wood that’s used in the tables, floor, salsa trays and boards that hold the menus.

Further visual interest comes in the form of mural that evokes a sugar skull, an ornately bedazzled cow skull, a large faux cactus and a metal sculpture reminiscent of an agave plant on the wall between bar and bistro.

Not anybody’s father’s Mexican restaurant, Salud sets a new standard.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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