Category Archives: Las Vegas

7 Great Cheap Eats in Offbeat Las Vegas

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Viva Las Arepas owner Felix Arellano delivers some awesome Venezuelan areas near downtown Las Vegas

This is from my new ebook Marathon Mouth, available to purchase from online booksellers Amazon (Amazon Canada), iTunes, Kobo and Chapters/Indigo.

Las Vegas  has plentiful fine cuisine in the top-end hotels/casinos. But you have to venture off The Strip to find the best cheap eats. The bonus is these places are often in far more colourful, less sanitized parts of town.

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The most colourful area of Las Vegas is just a few minutes drive removed from The Strip

Only a five-minute drive removed from the tourist hordes is a decidedly more downbeat neighbourhood with colourful signs reminiscent of the 1950s. Here, you’ll find the fabulous Viva Las Arepas, where friendly owner Felix Arellano can often be found cooking chicken and beef over a mesquite-fired grill and then stuffing the meats inside cornmeal Venezuelan pockets splashed with house-made hot sauce.

Not far away, chef Josh Clark is making innovative, epic sandwiches (like seared bratloaf and smoked whitefish) at The Goodwich and charging less than you’d tip a bellhop at a strip hotel. Note: The Goodrich is currently moving to a new location, so check the website for the opening and hours of operation. In the meantime, their old food truck, next door to Viva Las Arepas, is now an incubator for a rotating series of talented young chefs and is definitely worth checking out.

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Best BLT I’ve ever eaten, thanks to the house-cured bacon at The Goodwich

More culinary adventures await in an even less polished part of downtown. Inside the marvelous, new LGBTQ Center, with its impressively landscaped front patio, is the Bronze Café. While much of its creative fare is vegan, there’s a maple-glazed bacon sandwich, slathered in bacon jam, worthy of a carnivore’s trek.

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The Bronze Cafe serves up some great vegan and carnivore meals

Away from the city center, Bachi Burger brings an Asian twist to American classics. Would you believe fabulous oxtail chile fries, wagyu burgers with caramelized bacon and Peking duck sliders, all washed down with a unique black milk tea or yuzu soda? To the near west, Chile Verde Express is a one-man show, pumping out inexpensive burritos, tacos and the like, inside a gas station.

There are more fantastic cross-cultural things happening at Komex Fusion. Throw some Korean, American and Mexican cuisine into the blender and what emerges is, say, bulgogi fries topped with melted mozza, meat, pico de gallo and Korean hot sauce—a big, tasty plate of food at a most affordable price.

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Hungry for a multinational dish? How about bulgogi fries at Komex Fusion?

If you’re looking for a good caffeine fix, visit Sambalatte Torrefazione at two cafes in the Vegas hinterlands and one in the Monte Carlo Casino on The Strip. It small-batch roasts beans and turns them into fine espressos, pour-overs and ice coffees.

 

Las Vegas

 

Viva Las Arepas
1616 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Suite 120
Daily 8 am-midnight
702-366-9696

The Goodwich
900 South Las Vegas Boulevard (upcoming location. Check for hours)
702-910-8681

Bronze Cafe
401 South Maryland Parkway
Weekdays 7 am-10 pm, weekends 10 am-8 pm
702-202-3100

Bachi Burger
470 East Windmill Lane, Suite 100 (two other Las Vegas locations)
Sunday-Monday 11 am-11 pm, Tuesday to Thursday 11 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 am-1 am
702-242-2244

Chile Verde Express
8095 South Rainbow Boulevard (Choice Sinclair Gas Station)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-7 pm, Friday-Saturday 8 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
702-260-7758

 KoMex Fusion
633 North Decatur Boulevard (one other Las Vegas location)
Monday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
702-646-1612

 Sambalatte Torrefazione
3770 South Las Vegas Boulevard (two other Las Vegas locations)
Daily 7 am-10 pm
702-730-6789

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My Best Road-Trip Meals and Drinks of 2014

This simple but superb BLT at Magpie Cafe in Sacramento, California was one of the best sandwiches I ate in 2014

This simple but superb BLT at Magpie Cafe in Sacramento, California was one of the best sandwiches I ate in 2014

Two themes dominated my 2014 road-trip eating adventures in western North America. One was the preponderance of top-end chefs setting up shop in food trucks and churning out imaginative, excellent and most affordable fare (maybe the release of the fun movie Chef is an instance of art imitating life).

The other theme is how geographically diverse these winners are. Yes, the ethnic cauldron of Los Angeles produced many of my top choices. But so did unheralded southern Washington; take a bow Walla Walla and Tri-Cities. So did a lot of places not considered culinary hotbeds. I’m thinking of you Logan, Utah, Idaho Falls and Salmon (both in Idaho), and Mayne Island, a tiny place in B.C.’s Gulf Islands.

Best Breakfasts

Restaurant breakfasts are often the least healthy meal of the day. The holy pairing of grease and carbs bring together eggs cooked in butter, fat-laced bacon, oily hash browns and yet more butter smeared on a whack of toast. Alternatively, you can toss a pound of gluey, syrup-drenched pancakes down the hatch.

Waffles are pretty traditional but certainly enticing looking

Waffles are pretty traditional, but this one is certainly enticing

So it’s nice to see more eateries throwing a healthier curve at the morning equation. Heck, when well done, it can even taste better than the old comfort fare, without the post-meal need to curl up in the fetal position.

Lotus Cafe is a treasure in touristy Jackson, Wyoming. Where it really shines is its imaginative breakfast bowls, like a sprouted buckwheat granola or a raw acai with a ton of fruit and other healthy goodies. Even the oatmeal is unique, featuring nutmeg and cardamom and a topping of pecans, dates and figs.

A beautiful stamped-tin ceiling is just one of Lotus Cafe's many charms

A beautiful stamped-tin ceiling is just one of Lotus Cafe’s many charms

Lotus Cafe
145 North Glenwood Street, Jackson, Wyoming
Daily 8 am-9 pm (reduced winter hours)
The Lotus Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ironically, there’s not a lot of bacon on the menu at Bacon & Eggs in Walla Walla, Washington. And you can get tofu or egg-white omelettes. But what catches my attention, and taste buds, is the Texas eggs, served atop brown rice and black beans, with a heavenly slice of house-made cornbread.

A delicious, healthy bowl of Texas eggs

A delicious, healthy bowl of Texas eggs

Bacon & Eggs
503 East Main Street, Walla Walla, Washington
Thursday to Tuesday 8 am-2 pm. Closed Wednesday
Bacon & Eggs on Urbanspoon

Not often does a lowly breakfast sandwich make me swoon. But it certainly does at Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread & Cafe, in Logan, Utah. It’s the excellence of all the ingredients—from an ethereal ciabatta bun to lemon aioli—plus the painstaking execution that propels it into the stratosphere.

Breakfast sandwiches don't get any better than this

Breakfast sandwiches don’t get any better than this

Crumb Brothers Artisan Bakery
291 South 300 West, Logan, Utah
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, Saturday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday
Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread on Urbanspoon

Best Coffee

Yes, the fresh-roasted coffee is great at Iconoclast Koffie Huis in Edmonton, Alberta. As is the ultra-cool coffee bar, built from repurposed wood in this old warehouse. But it’s the half-hour conversations with co-owner Ryan Arcand and assorted regulars that make this a great coffeehouse in an era of heads glued to screens.

Iconoclast's roaster is in back of the coffee bar in this refurbished warehouse

Iconoclast’s roaster is in back of the coffee bar in this refurbished warehouse

Iconoclast Koffie Huis
11807 105 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
Weekdays 9 am-5 pm, weekends 9 am-5 pm
Iconoclast Koffiehuis on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: They both boast custom-built Slayer espresso machines and excellent coffee. Where they differ is in their decidedly unique locations: SnowDome Coffee Bar in a Jasper, Alberta Laundromat, and Strom Coffee, inside a refurbished Airstream trailer in Richland, Washington.

Best Bakery

purebread is based in the B.C. resort town of Whistler. But I encountered it at a Vancouver farmers’ market, where folks were lined up to buy its creative roster of breads—how about a sour cherry chocolate, a Disfunction Ale or an amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices? The sign of a great bakery is when you can’t stop buying… or eating. Indeed, the crumbly slice of cornbread vanishes before we’ve walked a hundred feet.

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

Amazing fig loaf studded with hazelnut slices from pure bread

purebread
1, 1104 Millar Creek Road (another location in Olympic Plaza), Whistler, B.C.
Daily 8:30 am-5 pm
Purebread on Urbanspoon

Best Sandwich

In a crowded list of contenders, tiny food truck The Goodwich, in downtown Las Vegas, stands out. Why? Because co-owner and high-end chef Josh Clark believes you can take almost any first-class ingredients and slap them between two slices of bread to create amazing, affordable sandwiches.

Josh ... is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

Josh Clark is putting high-end ingredients into most affordable sandwiches at The Goodwich, in Las Vegas

The Goodwich
1516 South Las Vegas Boulevard, Suite A, Las Vegas
Tuesday to Sunday 11 am-10 pm, except 4 pm closing Sunday. Closed Monday
The Goodwich on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions: Magpie Cafe, in Sacramento, California elevates the generic BLT to godly status with orange heirloom tomatoes, thick slices of bacon and caper aioli on a fresh baguette. Simply excellent. Yes, the oven-roasted turkey on sourdough is outstanding at grungy Junkyard Bistro in Salmon, Idaho. But what slams it out of the park is the fabulous side of chunky potato salad.

Best Burrito

This deserves its own category in 2014, since I spent some time in the global burrito hotbeds of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The best of the best was longstanding, family-run La Azteca Tortilleria, in East Los Angeles. The killer ingredients include a fresh-ground, toasted corn tortilla, good steak and, the kicker, a whole chile relleno dipped in egg and then fried. I hoover down this messy puppy in the front seat of my car in under five minutes.

Siblings Chris and Cynthia Villa at Los Angeles's La Azteca Tortilleria

Siblings Chris and Cynthia Villa at Los Angeles’s La Azteca Tortilleria

La Azteca Tortilleria
4538 East Cesar East Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles
Daily 6 am-3:30 pm except closed Monday
La Azteca Tortilleria on Urbanspoon

Best Food Truck

At El Fat Cat Grill, in Kennewick Washington, chef-owner Felix Sanchez is mixing Mexican and Asian influences to come up with tasty, affordable gems like crispy tortillas smothered in pork, chipotle mole sauce and jalapeno coleslaw.

Chef Felix Sanchez mixing Mexican and Asian influences at his El Fat Cat Grill truck Asian fare

Chef Felix Sanchez mixing Mexican and Asian influences at his El Fat Cat Grill truck
Asian fare

El Fat Cat Grill
539 North Edison (behind the Edison carwash), Kennewick, Washington
Weekdays 11 am-7 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
El Fat Cat Grill on Urbanspoon

Best Burger

Almost as good as the fresh-ground, perfectly cooked burger at The Bird, in Jackson, Wyoming, is the full page of the menu advising you how to order your meat. Let me summarize: Don’t dare ask for well done.

The "rules" at The Bird

The “rules” at The Bird

The Bird
4125 South Pub Place (South Highway 89), Jackson, Wyoming
Monday to Saturday the bar opens at 4 pm and the kitchen at 5 pm, Sunday opening is 10 am
The Bird on Urbanspoon

Best Pizza

Una Pizza + Wine’s Twitter feed lets you know how long the wait is at this exceedingly popular little joint in Calgary, Alberta. So best arrive early to order an outstanding, thin-crust pie—like roasted crimini mushrooms with smoked mozza and truffle oil—along with a mountainous kale Caesar salad topped with a boiled egg.

Una Pizza + Wine
618 17 Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta
Daily 11:30 am-1 am
Una Pizza and Wine on Urbanspoon

Best Exotic Cuisine

Korean food is celebrated for its barbecue, plus all those interesting little dishes that come as appetizers. But at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo, in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, the standout is a huge bowl of Manila clam kalguksu with a boatload of engorged, hand-cut noodles.

Clams and hand-cut noodles in this lovely bowl at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo

Clams and hand-cut noodles in this lovely bowl at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo

Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo
3470 West 6 Street, Suite 9, Los Angeles
Daily Monday to Saturday 10 am-10:30 pm, Sunday 10 am-10:30 pm
Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo on Urbanspoon

Best Fusion

Guerrilla Tacos owner-chef Wes Avila is storming the Los Angeles food world with a truck that’s spinning out stunning delights like a summer squash taco with runny chile and cashews.

Wes Avila concocts a summer squash taco at his Guerrilla Tacos truck

Wes Avila concocts a summer squash taco at his Guerrilla Tacos truck

Guerilla Tacos
826 East 3 Street (other area locations), Los Angeles
Wednesday 10 am-2 pm, Thursday-Friday 9 am-2 pm, Saturday-Sunday 9 am-1 pm
Guerrilla Tacos on Urbanspoon

Best Sushi

I don’t often get sushi on a road trip: it’s expensive and, all too often, generic. But at Koi Sushi—in a food court, next to a Walmart in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico—chef-owner Angel Huerta Ramirez fashions amazingly creative plates of affordable fare, featuring local wahoo and other creatures of the sea.

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

This wahoo sashimi plate was to die for

Koi Sushi
Plaza San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Daily noon-9 pm

Best Pie

I don’t eat dessert. But when I’m offered a taste of a wee blueberry-raspberry pie with a port reduction sauce, at The Street Grill truck in Richland, Washington, I ignore spiking blood-sugar levels and keep shovelling till there’s not a crumb left.

The Street Grill
300 Knight Street (John Dam Plaza), Richland, Washington
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and jump in your car.

Cast your eyes on this blueberry-raspberry, port-reduction pie and jump in your car.

Best Beer

Among the many pints and 22-ounce bombers I sampled on the road, the standout was a complex, flavour-filled Widmer Brothers Brewing (Portland) ale aged in bourbon barrels.

Widmer Brothers Brewing
955 North Russell, Portland, Oregon
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-10:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm
Widmer Brothers Pub on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mention: The combination might seem odd, but Wild Rose Brewery’s (Calgary, Alberta) seasonal cherry porter was a knockout. I stocked up on the one-litre bottles while they lasted.

Best Experience

At Farm Gate Store, on B.C’s Mayne Island, the divine grilled sandwiches are just the exclamation point on a fabulous rural shop that features local produce, meat and killer flower arrangements.

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

Co-owner Shanti arranges her farm-cut flower bouquets, a bargain $11

Farm Gate Store
568 Fernhill Road, Mayne Island, B.C.
Monday to Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm

Best Meal(s) of 2015

Why would I drive 1,100 kilometres (620 miles) for a meal? When it’s the best Mexican food I’ve devoured all year and served by wonderful owners Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica. I thus trek all the way from Calgary not once but twice in a three-month span, to Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant, in Idaho Falls of all places.

Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica serve up fabulous fare at Morenita's Mexican Restaurant

Bertha Moreno and daughter Jessica serve up fabulous fare at Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant

Sure, I was headed on to other destinations. But nothing made me happier in 2014 than plunking myself down at a nondescript Morenita table and letting Jessica keep bringing me fantastic plates of inventive Mexican food. Like an unforgettable taco ranchero—an open, crispy corn tortilla piled with sauteed pork loin, salsa fresca and avocado, doused with house-made sauces, all for $2.50.

Traditional tacos and tostadas elevated to star status

Traditional tacos and tostadas elevated to star status

Things were going so well, I threw caution to the wind and ordered a sampler bowl of menudo, something I swore I’d never touch again after a rubber-band greasefest with my appalled sisters in some dusty Mexican village. Here, the broth is perfectly seasoned, the little hominy balls a delightful surprise and the, gulp, beef tripe sufficiently tender I might order it again. Just not for a year or two.

Morenita’s Mexican Restaurant
450 Whittier Street, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Monday to Thursday 10 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 9:30 am-9 pm, Sunday 9:30 am-8:30 pmMorenita's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

KoMex is Fusion Gone Wild in Las Vegas

At KoMex Express, the fries adopt the flags of several nationalities

At KoMex Express, the fries adopt the flags of several nationalities

As the name suggests, KoMex Fusion is all about mixing ethnic cuisines. Obviously, there’s a Korean component—witness kimchi and bulgogi—and Mexican standards like enchiladas and burritos, along with some cross-breeding of the two at this little strip-mall diner in Las Vegas. Chimichanga with marinated cabbage anyone?

But at KoMex, the boundaries have been further expanded to embrace Chinese (wonton soup) and American cuisine. All this comes together in my Bulgogi fries—with melted mozza, meat, pico de gallo, jalapenos and Korean hot sauce all soaking into a mound of fries. It’s a surprisingly good, filling amalgamation. The substantial order is only $6 and, along with complementary chips, salsa and guacamole, is a substantial lunch.

The owners are in the throes of expanding their boundaries beyond Vegas. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that grunge attitude of experimentation at their flagship shop.

KoMex Fusion
633 North Decatur Boulevard (one other Las Vegas location)
Monday to Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
KoMex Fusion on Urbanspoon

Bachi Burger in Vegas Puts Asian Twist on American Classic

 

Bachi Burger's glorious wagyu patty, loaded with onion rings and an egg

Bachi Burger’s glorious wagyu patty, loaded with onion rings and an egg

When I see oxtail chili fries on the menu, I know I’m in for a decidedly different dining experience. And Bachi Burger certainly delivers, bringing an Asian twist to American classics like burgers, fries (there’s also a truffle version) and sliders—here converted to a steamed bun containing, say, Peking-style duck. The list of cocktails and beers also includes drinks like black milk tea and cherry yuzu soda.

My miyagi-sans burger features a wagyu patty that is rich, moist and just past the advertised medium pink. The crispy onion rings and thick pieces of caramelized bacon provide some crunch to offset the fried egg and splash of chili mayo.

The poor Taiwanese-style sweet bun takes a bit of a mauling, and I eventually resort to knife and fork to savour small bites. This is one great, complex burger, and I’m glad there’s no cheese, lettuce or other paraphernalia to distract me.

Bachi Burger
470 East Windmill Lane (two other Las Vegas locations)
Sunday-Monday 11 am-11 pm, Tuesday to Thursday 11 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 am-1 am
Bachi Burger on Urbanspoon

Great, Healthy Fare at the Bronze Cafe in Las Vegas’s LGBTQ Center

Eight Pass Route 303

Ready for something healthy and unexpected in Sin City? Just head to the scruffy fringes of downtown Las Vegas and, yes, the gleaming new LGBTQ Center, with a lovely front garden patio. That’s where you’ll find the Bronze Cafe, where Carmen greets me with a thousand-watt smile.

Beautiful front garden at the Center

Beautiful front garden at the Center

As I’m perusing the breakfast options, she asks if I’d like a sample dixy cup of soaked-overnight Swedish oatmeal, served cold with fruit and agave nectar. Yum. As I’m polishing this off, she hands me a taster of an Ethiopian teff cereal (interesting!) and a swallow of ice-brewed coffee. At this rate, I won’t have to order anything.

Finally, I  succumb to a half Tree of Life, a pita flatbread containing a cornucopia of roasted peppers, avocado, house-made pickled onions, cashew crema, Brazil nut crumble and a mango-ginger vinaigrette. It’s a delightfully different wrap and vegan to boot, like much of Bronze’s scratch-made menu. But fear not, carnivores, there’s a much-lauded maple-glazed bacon sandwich, slathered in bacon jam.

Tree of Life goodness with a healthy side salad

Tree of Life goodness with a healthy side salad

As I’m leaving, another server gives me a sample of a refreshing watermelon-chia drink. Oh, and it’s a hot day, so here’s some ice water for the road.

The LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, Queer/Questioning) Center supports a lot of neighbourhood social projects and offers meal discounts to area residents. And apparently free samples to road-tripping bloggers.

Bronze Cafe
401 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas
Weekdays 7 am-10 pm, weekends 10 am-8 pm
Bronze Cafe at the Center on Urbanspoon

Scenes From a California Road Trip

Some photos from a recent 7,500-kilometre road trip from Calgary down through Nevada and California and back by a circuitous route through Washington and southern B.C.

A passing storm near Logan, Utah

A passing storm near Logan, Utah

A slightly used mattress for my Walmart campout

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