Food & Drink

Las Vegas: Where the Locals Eat

Food halls, off-the-Strip chef-driven restaurants, neighborhood eateries: Here’s how to eat like a local in Las Vegas, according to one.

Las Vegas is chock-full of restaurants, all clamoring for your dollars. There are destination restaurants like Restaurant Guy Savoy where you can splurge on the Michelin-starred French chef’s 10-course meal (including his signature Colors of Caviar); popular eateries named for celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsay has six alone); a handful of supper clubs that provide an elegant dinner and a show; tons of quick grab-and-go spots, and everything in between. But did you ever wonder where the locals eat in Las Vegas?

When the dining scene in Las Vegas changes, it happens rapidly. And the pandemic did just that. The city’s buffets were hit hard; many of them closed and never reopened. Lots of those spaces have been transformed into impressive food halls with much better options than those staple buffet dishes, attracting more locals alongside the tourists. Take, for instance, Resorts World Las Vegas’ Famous Foods Street Eats, which offers proper Shandong dumplings and char kway teow, Filipon lechon, and (straight out of Houston) Vietnamese-tinged Texas BBQ, at Blood Bros. Aria Resort & Casino’s Proper Eats Food Hall is another one with great diversity in cuisine.

Another big change in Vegas that served the locals well? Many of the top chefs have moved away from The Strip and into the neighborhoods, where people actually live. While there are still plenty of worthy restaurants on the Strip, we’ll save those recommendations for another day and focus on a few places where locals love to eat in Las Vegas.

 

Honey Salt

Honey Salt is a prime example of why locals don’t leave their neighborhoods: It’s been a solid dining destination for over a decade. Not far from Red Rock Canyon, it opened on the city’s far west side, in the community of Summerlin, in 2012 and continues to surprise with an innovative, ever-changing menu. Husband-and-wife team Elizabeth Blau and chef Kim Canteenwalla have built a bit of an empire throughout the Las Vegas Valley and with restaurants in Dallas and Vancouver, Canada.  

Honey Salt combines casual vibes and upscale presentations with the bonus of off-Strip prices. Fancy doesn’t live here, except when it comes to the menu. This place is all about the creative dishes you can’t really find anywhere else.

Start with an order of pull-apart mozzarella and Parmesan cheese monkey bread and some spinach-and-artichoke blue crab fondue. A go-to starter, seasonally available, is the burrata and mission fig arugula salad, with shaved barlett pears, pomegranate seeds, and a sunflower seed brittle—and don’t ignore the “add shaved dark chocolate” option (trust me, it works). Entrees range from braised short ribs and a home-style bacon-wrapped meatloaf to a cast iron-seared branzino and a damn good burger—all of it dependent on the best seasonal ingredients. 1031 S. Rampart Blvd., map

Cheesy chive egg toast from Esther's Kitchen, Las Vegas

Esther’s Kitchen

Chef James Trees, a James Beard Award finalist, is a bit of an old soul. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Trees stayed home and built a career and reputation with a great eatery. Esther’s Kitchen, named after the great aunt who taught him to cook and financed his culinary education, was one of the first openings in the city’s revitalized Arts District when it relocated to Casino Center Boulevard in 2023.

If I had to pick a time to go to Esther’s it would be for brunch. From the “Toast Things” section of the menu, there’s everything from cheesy chive eggs to prosciutto-and-fontina biscuits or smoked trout. Cinnamon apple pancakes, Nutella and orange French toast, porchetta Benedict, and truffle polenta are among the egg-heavy brunch options. Housemade pasta, three-day sourdough pizza, and seasonal dishes reign on the lunch and dinner menus. 1130 S. Casino Center Blvd, map

  

The Black Sheep

This is absolutely one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It’s a tough reservation, deservedly so—the food here is just outstanding. Tucked away in the southwest Rhodes Ranch neighborhood, The Black Sheep is known for its amped-up, top-notch Vietnamese-American food. 

The restaurant is helmed by 2022 best chef James Beard finalist and Top Chef: Portland contestant Jamie Tran, who tweaks the comfort-food recipes she learned from her parents with the classic French technique she gained working under chefs Charlie Palmer and Daniel Boulud.

The bao sliders, with crispy shallots and a fried quail egg, get a kick from jalapeño aioli. The Thai basil shrimp ceviche is tangy and fresh, and the grilled Spanish octopus can compete with any I’ve had in the Mediterranean. You’ll also find a crispy seared duck breast entrée and whole fried fish served with jasmine rice and a gingery rice wine vinegar sauce. 8680 W. Warm Springs Rd., map

A spread of Japanese food from Raku in Las Vegas

Aburiya Raku

Poll the chefs in this city to see where they slink into for a bite and more often than not, you’ll hear them say Raku. And why not? Despite its strip-mall location, it’s been a hub of the hip and the in-the-know since it opened in 2008, and its long-standing reputation continues to live on.

For all those years, three-time James Beard Award semifinalist Mitsuo Endo has specialized in charcoal-grilled skewers, serving dishes like foie gras skewer, Iberico kushi, teriyaki pork rib, and direct-flamed eggplant. (Condé Nast Traveler says Raku is for diners who are “dead serious about their ingredients.”) The housemade tofu is exceptional, and the two omakase tasting menus are definitely the way to go. With 85 types of sake and pairings available, it’s a place that invites indulging. 5030 Spring Mountain Rd., map

A spread of hand-pulled noodles and pancakes from Shang Artisan Noodle

Shang Artisan Noodle

This sleek and stellar noodle house has just a few tables with about a dozen counter-service seats facing the open kitchen, where chefs hand-pull the noodles Shang is known for. Using techniques and recipes that date back centuries, Shang prides itself on honoring and elevating the wheat-heavy cuisine of Shanxi, in landlocked northern China, and it certainly delivers.

Even though you’ll want to get right to the springy, silky noodles, don’t skip the appetizers. The beef pancakes are an absolute must, something I order upon walking in the door. Other impressive starters are the pork and cabbage potstickers and the beef and onion dumplings.

Shang’s famous noodles come in many ways, wet or dry. I usually gravitate toward the noodle soup side of things. Depending on mood, it could be a traditional beef brisket, a pork belly, or a seafood noodle. No soup for you? There are also good stir-fried rice and chow mein dishes, along with delicious dan-dan noodles and an always-comforting tomato and scrambled egg noodle. 4983 W. Flamingo Rd. A, map

 

Le Thai

Le Thai was truly a game-changer for downtown Las Vegas. A staple since it opened in late 2011, it was one of the first serious restaurants to dive into the Fremont Street expansion. The small space is always packed, thanks to the dedication of chef Dan Coughlin. Inspired by his grandma’s Thai dishes, he elevated his family’s classic recipes into the dishes Le Thai is known for today.

Specialties include his short rib fried rice, his signature three-color curry (a blend of red, yellow, and green curries), an oxtail beef and meatball noodle soup, and a waterfall beef stir-fried in a garlic soy sauce with sticky rice. You really can’t go wrong. Two locations, including the original at 523 Fremont St., map

 

Spread of tacos from Tacos El Gordo.

Tacos El Gordo

From food trucks to authentic Mexican heritage mom-and-pop shops, there are a bunch of decent taco spots across Las Vegas. And although this is a chain with roots dating to 1990s San Diego (2010 in Las Vegas), it’s included here because of its affordable, delicious menu of simple Tijuana-style tacos tucked into handmade corn tortillas.

This is a fast-paced atmosphere, so you’ll want to know what you want before stepping in line. The food is served cafeteria-style, so you’ll file through ordering (or pointing at) what you want. Past the cashier you’ll find a salsa bar (green and red, both mild and spicy) along with fresh guacamole.

Aside from carne asada, beef, and pork, El Gordo is unique in offering the types of meats generally found only in Mexico (and across Latin America) and heavily Mexican communities. We’re talking cabeza (beef head), tripa (beef intestine), buche (pork stomach), and tender lengua (beef tongue). These are delicacies worth giving a whirl. I never thought I’d become a fan of some of them, and yet here I am. The menu, of course, extends beyond tacos; there are carne asada fries, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, and more.

The next time you’re in Las Vegas, make it point to get off the Strip and eat like a local at some of these other dining options—you won’t be disappointed.

 

About the author: Ryan Slattery has lived in Las Vegas for two decades. When he’s not writing about food and the city’s other quirks, he’s traveling. Ryan has visited more than 60 countries in search of the best places to eat.

Featured image by 123 Chroma Pixels/Flickr.

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