Las Vegas does excess par excellence, and its restaurants are no exception. Visitors to the four-mile Strip of resort hotels and casinos can dine in reverent silence at temples of haute cuisine. They can try out the ventures of mono-monikered celebrity chefs. They can stagger around at buffets featuring crustacean chorus-lines of crab legs and wheels of cheese the size of tires. Another world exists off the Strip, though, in mini-malls, where you’ll find dining treasures as unlikely as a gambling wonderland in the middle of the desert, and often more affordable and reservation-friendly than the restaurants geared toward tourists. We point you to a couple here — along with a Strip stalwart.
Before you leave the snarl of the Strip, lean right into its charms at the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge, (peppermilllasvegas.com, 2985 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-7345-4177), a mesmerizing disco diner and bar open since 1972. Bathed in neon and open 24 hours, the restaurant is popular with Strip entertainers and tourists alike, who cram into semicircular booths and order 10-egg omelets and salads served in bowls the size of birdbaths. For such an eye-popping restaurant, the food is far better than it needs to be, by which I mean it is quite good. Breakfast is available at all hours and features those immense omelets ($13.95 to $15.95), hubcap-sized pancakes ($11.95 and up) and a Western fruit plate ($15.95) that rivals Carmen Miranda's hat for its towering glory. Whatever you get, don't try to finish yourself, or else you'll be done for the day. Joe's San Francisco Special ($13.95) sounds like a mess and looks it, too — a scramble of eggs, ground beef, sausage, spinach and onions over hash browns, draped with a mysterious cheese sauce — but it is as satisfying as it is enormous. If you're back at night, or if you just want to get your revelry on first thing in the morning, make sure to stop by the Fireside Lounge. Red banquettes around a fire pit and a tree dripping with fake cherry blossoms make for an atmospheric spot.
Tucked in a mini-mall west of the Strip is the Peppermill's polar opposite. Eatt Gourmet Bistro (eattfood.com, 7865 W. Sahara Ave. No. 104, 702-608-5233) is dressed in chirpy Ikea-esque decor rather than Peppermill's moody midnight, and offers ample options for gluten-free and vegan diners without sacrificing an iota of taste. Everything about Eatt is a surprise — its location and anonymous look give little indication of the polished service and well-priced, exquisitely composed French fare to come. Perfect pops of orange and candied kumquat play hide and seek in a silky carrot soup ($11), with dollops of kumquat foam. Succulent king-crab meat nestles between layers of grilled sweet-gem lettuce ($15). Executive pastry chef Vincent Pellerin's choux pastry sports a crisp-craggy outside and a tender inside, and can be found enveloping a smoked-salmon filling for an appetizer ($15) and a heavenly praline cream for a petite version of a Paris-Brest. Speaking of sweets, save room for dessert (all $8). You and your fellow diners will fall silent when your final treats descend as if from on high — the pastries so beautifully plated that you'll hesitate to disturb them. Disturb them you will, though. The cappuccino tartlet, in particular, is a marvel of textures and flavors — whispery mousse, fine-grained shortbread, an unexpected lilt of lemon.
South of Eatt and similarly situated in a strip mall is the Black Sheep, (blacksheepvegas.com, 8680 W. Warm Springs Rd., 702-954-3998), which is graced with great food and great service. Executive chef Jamie Tran fuses Vietnamese American culinary skills with French techniques honed at Daniel Boulud’s DB Brasserie and Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. Tran is a textural genius — the wrappers on her Vietnamese imperial rolls ($9) are shatteringly crisp, as are the “shells” on the salmon-skin tacos ($8), which are made from the fish’s formerly fatty hide. One bite of the imperial rolls — that crackly wrapper, the juiciness of Duroc pork and shrimp, a hint of sourness from pickled heirloom carrots, ninja daikon and a salad of feathery frisée — and you may start plotting how to stuff them all into your cheeks before your dining companions can squeak. Do that, though, and you miss out on the aforementioned tacos, cradling decadent salmon-belly tartare, and the melty braised Duroc pork-belly entree ($19), accompanied by glass noodles slicked with Korean gochujang. The fried whole rainbow trout ($19) is a thing of fearsome beauty. Deboned and curled from its frying, the fish rears up from its bed of sautéed rainbow Swiss chard, which also still has some delicious fight to it, as does the zippy ginger and rice-wine vinegar sauce pooled all around. Chocolate tres leches cake makes for a sweet ending.
Thrupkaew is a writer based in Los Angeles.More from Breakfast, lunch and dinner Chicago; Prince Edward Island; Boston