There’s little doubt Southern Nevada has become one of the foremost worldwide culinary hubs, and you would need a significant budget in time and currency to experience all the magnificent dining options available.
Every major city has a food culture, but here we’ve amalgamated dining trends and concepts from all over the globe in a mélange unlike any other. However, all of this culinary extravagance reminds me of some spots, although long gone from the current dining landscape, that are most fondly remembered. I’m certain you have some joints of your own that are gone but not forgotten. And, you must remember the friends and family that might have accompanied you. Good company and good conversation always fortify a delightful dining experience.
In no particular order, here are some of my old favorites:
Art’s Place: On Charleston about a mile east of The Strip, this bar and restaurant never missed for me because of its excellent ribs and reasonably priced beer. Owned by Art Lurie, an extremely well-regarded boxing judge and the father of former Las Vegas mayor and longtime casino executive Ron Lurie, it was a “go to” spot for many years for locals and smart visitors.
Las Vegas movers and shakers were often present, but nobody paid too much attention to them because of the tasty rib dinners.
Art Lurie, who died in 2014 at 96, came to Las Vegas in the early 1950s from Los Angeles to work at his brother’s grocery business. After managing Market Town grocery, he branched out to liquor sales with Wonder World Liquors and then opened his rib joint.
Hilltop House Supper Club: On Rancho, about midway between the Fiesta Rancho and Santa Fe casinos, the restaurant was known for its pan fried – not deep fried – chicken and a simple salad bar that was unique because of the homemade offerings such as corn relish, pig knuckles and potato salad. Don’t forget the frog legs, either.
It closed about a decade ago, if memory serves me, because the owners felt the cost of remodeling to meet the new standards for disability access was not going to be cost effective. Waitresses Connie and Sue were always at the ready to provide great service. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Spanish Steps: Not to be confused with a current and different reincarnation at Caesars Palace, this gourmet room at Caesars, prior to one of the casino/resort’s many remodeling efforts at least 15 years ago, served the most exquisite paella anywhere. It’s copper-hued furniture and artwork and the attentive service, especially the maître d, whose name I can’t recall, made dining there a fabulous experience.
Ben’s Deli: As one of my favorite lunch spots in the late 1980’s, the deli at Decatur and Sahara was part of a wave of great, locally owned sandwich places opening as the local economy started to percolate. It didn’t stay open that long as the sandwich franchise joints began taking over, but Ben Simon and his son Leo, who continued a second Las Vegas career at the Gold Coast and currently the South Point as a race book supervisor, served a generous and wonderfully tender pastrami sandwich for just $2.95.
Ferraro’s: Venerable Las Vegas chef and dining visionary Gino Ferraro originally held forth at what was, in the late 1980’s, a desolate spot at Sahara and Jones long before moving to various locations including his current family enterprise, Ferraro’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, on Paradise near the Hard Rock. It’s generally regarded as one of the area’s best restaurants, Italian or otherwise. However, in the late 1980’s, Gino’s little informal Italian eatery and conveniently connected Italian deli right next door served up some of the best casual dining in town.
Gino and family have lasted all these years while many others failed the test of time. Ferraro’s still makes the best Italian cookies anywhere.
While discussing this column with GamingToday colleague Richard Saber, many other long-gone dining spots came up including Vincenzo’s, an Italian spot at Paradise and Naples. Owner Vince started at the Tower of Pizza on the Strip, before going out on his own. Richard says when Vince cooked, there was no better spot in town.
DiMartino’s, the long-gone original on Maryland Parkway, had the best homemade lentil soup anywhere, Richard recalls. Patrons would take it home by the gallon. Brilliant waiters Doc and his cousin Louie are fondly recalled by long-time Las Vegans.
Richard remembers after Las Vegas’ first true celebrity chef, Piero Broglia, left his namesake restaurant still in existence near the convention center, he and his charming wife/partner Peggy opened a buffet-style restaurant at Valley View and Spring Mountain called Mr. P’s. For $7.99 you could enjoy an all-you can eat experience that had everything, from pizza and mussels to eggplant and most anything else. Peggy and Piero still hold forth at their Café Chloe on Flamingo and Buffalo, but $7.99 for a meal is just a fond recollection.
I’m hungry so I’ll have to continue my trip down memory lane another time.