Vegas. I used to think it was a weird place that I would never like. It was that odd pit stop on the way to Edmondton after being taken down in the California desert by the BATF and DEA. It was the place I saw Wayne Newton in concert. It was never a place I thought I would find interesting.
My how times change. For the past year I've been exploring Vegas and some of the things it has to offer. I've come up with a triumvirate of must eat places for my trips out there and now I'm sharing them with you.
First off, there's KJ Kitchen on Spring Mountain Road. At first, most people think it's in the megaplex that looks like China's Forbidden City but it's not. It's down the street a ways and it's got to be one of the best damn Chinese seafood joints I've been to in the United States. The patrons are mostly Chinese (and in-the-know Filipinos), the menus are in Chinese and the staff is Chinese. There's a big fish tank filled with live seafood for your choosing. The "don't miss this" dish is the wok fried dungeness crab - don't know what it's really called, we just find a way to communicate with the staff for what we want.
The crab is chopped up and dredged in what must be corn starch with salt pepper, garlic, onion and jalapeno peppers. Whatever it is, it's fucking insanely good. It's the best goddamned crab I've ever had. The flavor pops. It's so good, I DREAM about it.
I've tried a bunch of other dishes and they're always excellent, but it's the crab that does it for me. Set me up with the crab and a bowl of steamed rice and I'm good to go.
The Cho took us to his favorite seafood restaurant in Boston's Chinatown where we ordered the fried crab and it was lifeless in comparison.
Holy crap, there's only one dish that you must have at Firefly on Paradise and it's the Stuffed Dates. Bacon-wrapped with smoked almond, red wine reduction and bleu cheese - oh my God, it's The Bomb. Order four, just in case.
The rest of the menu is top-notch tapas fare but it's the dates that you kill for.
Nestled in a predominantly Korean stip mall shopping center on Sahara not too far from Maryland Parkway is the very non-descript Lotus of Siam. It's a cheap looking place with cheap looking chairs and cheap-looking tables. And while you can dine at The Venetian's Bouchon with expensive surroundings and expensive food, here you get cheap surroundings, Thai servers and some of the most rockin' Thai food I've had outside of Thailand.
I've had nothing less than stellar at Lotus but the one thing you must order is the Plar Laad Prik. Imagine a whole pomplano fish that's been scored, rubbed with seasoning and deep fried until the outside is crispy and the insides are moist and tender. Jesus, it's fucking unbelievable. Now serve that with fresh chilis and a garlic sauce and it's beyond description.
I took my brother Al, his wife Polly, Nessa and The Rod the last time we were in Vegas and we tore that fish up. Nothing was left. It's suck the head and eyeballs good. So good, I'm shaking as I write this, wishing that there was a Thai place in Baltimore that measured up to this.
Of course, these aren't the only places to eat in Vegas. In Vegas, you could easily spend over $700 on a meal for two at the posh and famous eateries run by celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy, Emeril Lagasse, Alain Ducasse and a host of others. But you needn't go further than the places I mentioned above for some truly soul-enriching meals.
Outside of those, there are a couple of other places in Vegas close to my heart, like the late-night eating at Roberto's Tacos, or the local Hawaiian food at L&L Hawaiian BBQ or Ohana Hawaiian BBQ. Then there's the strange 24/7 old school style Becker's Steakhouse where you can order big rib eyes, mashed potatoes and cabernets at 8am. And of course, there's the cheap eats at Main Street Station and the California Hotel, with their Hawaiian-style Oxtail Soup and 20x Odds craps tables.
Next time you're planning to go to Vegas, call me and get ready for that fried pomplano fish.