Exploring the sprawling Southern Highlands Marketplace on the second weekend of October, it would have been easy to miss the neighborhood Italian restaurant with a quirky name and a “grand re-opening” sign hanging on its door. Like so many locally owned establishments tucked into the valley’s seemingly endless strip malls, Spaghetty Western is nestled in a complex dominated by a Smith’s grocery store, and dotted with chains such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subway, Tropical Smoothie and Pizza Hut.
Inside, however, the restaurant’s staff spent the weekend showing off the second renovation and expansion in its short, five-year history. What had begun as a 15-seat deli, and later expanded into a quaint 70-seat, full-service restaurant with an eight-seat bar, was reborn this month as a 170-seat neighborhood institution with seats for two dozen at a spacious bar area.
“We were turning customers away, because it was so difficult to get a seat at the bar and so difficult to get a table without a reservation,” partner Robert Proby says of the need for Spaghetty Western to expand.
The menu remains the same blend of Italian classics and chef-driven specials that the restaurant’s fan base has come to expect. The bar program, however, was given a complete upgrade, courtesy of Carnevino and Vetri Cucina veteran David Cooper.
“We’d been going there solid for a good three years, once or twice a week,” says Cooper, a neighborhood resident. So when they asked ‘Could you build me a bar?’ I took that as an honor to help build my neighborhood bar.”
The upgrade in the Las Vegas Valley’s neighborhood dining options in recent years is a trend with no end in sight. A quick look around the Southern Highlands Marketplace indicates the neighborhood may be the next culinary hot spot.
Next door to Spaghetty Western is Rise & Shine: A Steak & Egg Place, which also boasts a fiercely loyal following.
“We have people who come seven days a week. We know them by name, they’ve been coming to us for years,” says Jennifer Frederick, who opened the breakfast and lunch restaurant in 2010 after moving to Southern Highlands and discovering “there was nothing out here.”
Rise & Shine’s success in Southern Highlands has spawned two other locations in the valley. It’s also inspired Frederick and her family to reinvest in their neighborhood. Last year they opened the fried chicken and barbecue spot Mama Bird just across the parking lot from their first restaurant. It was an immediate hit with critics and on social media. In 2020, they’ll debut a Mexican spot called Hola, also within Southern Highlands Marketplace.
“The growth here in Southern Highlands has been huge: all the apartments, Cactus (Avenue) going through, and when Mountain’s Edge started to build up,” Frederick says of the local market. “We get the people coming in from California. We get the people leaving, because we’re really the kind of last stop in Vegas. We get a lot of people who are coming and going, especially on three-day weekends.”
Proby says the neighborhood is home to an educated and discerning group of diners.
“We see the same people in here a lot. They come in here four or five times a week with their family and friends. But invariably, every single time I go over to a table to talk, they’re talking about food.”
This scene hasn’t gone unnoticed by big culinary names. Celebrity chef Jet Tila has chosen Southern Highlands Marketplace for the first of three valley locations for his latest concept, Dragon Tiger Noodle Company.
A small Los Angeles?
Tila, the former executive chef of Wynn/Encore’s Wazuzu, admits he was “a little skeptical” about the neighborhood when his partner presented it to him.
“But after spending a little time there I was like, wow, it’s really coming around there. It’s going to be a fun little area. (And) in the last few months we’ve gotten more excited about Southern Highlands, as we’ve seen the co-tenants pop up around there.”
Tila, who left Las Vegas for Los Angeles about eight years ago, is a regular visitor to the valley, and he says development in Southern Highlands is indicative of a larger trend.
“Vegas is basically, in my mind, becoming a small Los Angeles. Because everything used to be centralized. You could get from one place to another in 15 minutes. Now it can take 45 minutes to an hour to traverse one side to the other, which automatically creates these hubs, these little cities. Now you’ve got a group of high-income people who don’t want to leave their bubble because it can take an hour to get somewhere. So I think that this is just the beginning of a longer trend of seeing all of these little areas like Southern Highlands become self-contained little dining hubs.”