Las Vegas' 10 Best Restaurants (And Drinks) Off The Strip

Get off the Strip already!
Get off the Strip already!
Dave Lieberman

I'm not a big fan of the Vegas Strip. It's always full of people desperately trying to have a good time, whether they're weekenders in Los Angeles' largest, most remote suburb or there for a spectacularly poorly thought-out family vacation. The Strip is where decency goes to die surrounded by fawning club managers wielding $300 bottles of $30 vodka, cocktail waitresses with their breasts hinched up to chin-rest height, and bachelor parties puking all over themselves. It sucks, and it's not my idea of a vacation. The restaurants, too, are sad: semi-franchised outposts of the greatest hits back home, where celebrity chefs consult on the menu and then return once every six months to wave their hands in the kitchen and make ranting noises. It's the kind of place where restaurant reviews pay as much or more attention to the physical beauty of the waitresses than they do the food.

Fortunately, though, there's much more to Vegas than the Strip. Your blackjack dealer, cocktail waitress, outlet mall clerk, buffet line cook and whore escort have to live somewhere, and I guarantee you they're not eating $200 steaks at fancy casino restaurants and drinking in host bars every time they go out. There's a whole city out there, one with a burgeoning eating culture. There's a "Chinatown" two minutes off the Strip that's got just about every Asian cuisine you could want; there are breweries and beer bars and cocktail bars and taco joints, just like any other major city. Bonus: they're almost completely full of locals, so prices are extremely reasonable and quality is high, since they rely on repeat business.

There are dozens of spots, but here are ten spots to get you started and leave some jangle in your pocket for gas money for the long slog home on the 15.

1. Aburiya Raku

Well worth the splurge.
Well worth the splurge.
Dave Lieberman

Aburiya Raku is technically a charcoal grill restaurant, and you can do that if you like, grilled meats, fish and vegetables washed down with a stunningly good list of sakes. But if you've hit it a bit rich at the tables, drop $100 and have omakase. Course after course of deceptively simple yet jaw-droppingly flavorful food comes to the table. Homemade tofu; a whole grilled fish with mushrooms (dig out the fish cheeks, we promise it's worth the undignified effort); oysters with caviar and lime; scallop on the half-shell; wagyu beef with wasabi. It goes on and on. Given that you could spend $100 just on a mediocre steak and two sides at a Strip casino, this is well worth the cab ride.

5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd., Las Vegas; 702-367-3511; raku-grill.com.

2. Aces and Ales

Vegas is just dipping its toes into the craft brewing scene, but the city's thirst for craft brew extends far east of the MGM. Aces and Ales is the archetypal dive bar, dark and smoky, with regulars hunched over the video poker machines embedded at each seat at the bar, but the beer menu has dozens of taps of craft beer from all over the West. The menu is typical bar food taken one notch higher--I dare you to order the Eddie Spaghetti pizza.

3740 S. Nellis Blvd., Las Vegas; 702-436-7600; acesandales.com. Also at 2801 N. Tenaya Way, Las Vegas; 702-638-BEER.

3. Art of Flavors

You'll crave this when it's boiling hot outside.
You'll crave this when it's boiling hot outside.
Dave Lieberman

First of all, the Las Vegas Boulevard address notwithstanding, this is nowhere near the Strip. It's in the run-down area between the Stratosphere and downtown's ugly Fremont Street Experience, just north of the Pawn Stars' shop. Inside, you'll find Desyree Alberganti, an Italian-speaking Venezuelan, offering samples of incredibly good gelato. There's a core cast of flavors (hazelnut, raspberry sorbet, etc.), and then there are the daily flavors. Some of the flavors are... uh... well, let's say purple ribbon for participation (Cheetos gelato? Spicy tuna roll gelato?), but many of them are absolutely amazing.

1616 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas; 702-676-1027; no website.

4. Atomic Liquor Store and Bar

Great drinks, minus the conventioneers from Chicago.
Great drinks, minus the conventioneers from Chicago.
Dave Lieberman

The new hotels springing up along the Strip are obviously trying to outdo each other in over-the-top decorations; the pinnacle of self-aggrandizing architectural masturbation has to be the enormous chandelier at the Cosmopolitan, which is so immense it contains an entire bar. It's enough to make anyone sick. Fortunately, there's Atomic Liquors on Fremont Street, a throwback to when Boulder Highway was all there was to Vegas. You can't buy a bottle to go unless they know and trust you enough not to crack it open inside, but you can belly up for a great beer list and a deft hand with cocktails both classic and reinvented (rye, Earl Grey tea, apple butter, lemon, bitters, and rye beer--fantastic). Don't let the fancy drinks fool you; it's still got years of nicotine oozing from its pores and crusty old desert rats drinking boilermakers.

917 Fremont St., Las Vegas; 702-982-3000; atomiclv.com.



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