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CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Las Vegas

  • By Chris Bitonti
  • Photos by Mikayla Whitmore
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It’s easy to see Las Vegas for its tropes — a party city and convention town and nothing more. Sure, Vegas prides itself as the world’s playground, and you can always find that escape here. But behind the scenes, Las Vegas is rapidly changing — growing up, even — as new residents flock to the desert chasing opportunity and booming immigrant populations build communities.

Now more than ever, the neighborhoods off the Strip are shining. Plus, we finally have our own sports team (and another on the way); the arts scene is growing; and the city is bordered by some of the best hiking and climbing spots in the West. At its core, Las Vegas is a hopeful city, full of people continually optimistic about its future. You’d have to be to live in arguably the most unconventional city in America.

Meet Chris Bitonti

Chris has lived in Las Vegas since 2007. He’s a Detroit native who misses Michigan summers and bodies of water but loves the “anything is possible” spirit of this city.

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IN THE ACTION
Center Strip
Nowhere has more action than the Strip, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend part of your time there. Plus, the entire valley is built around it, so you can easily get in and out. Right now, the most exciting parts of Las Vegas are happening dead-center. Check out the upgraded Park MGM hotel (formerly the Monte Carlo), featuring the NoMad mini-hotel on its highest floors. There’s also the luxurious Waldorf Astoria and the always popular Cosmopolitan hotel, containing one of the best restaurant collections in the city. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Downtown
If you’re coming to Vegas and want to dip your toe in some craziness but stay outside the fray, stay downtown. The Downtown Grand is outside the madness of Fremont Street but is still in close proximity to local hangouts like the Arts District and Fremont East. Citrus, the Grand’s rooftop pool, offers a great view of downtown and occasionally hosts performances and sunset DJ sessions. Find this neighborhood.

Eat

BREAKFAST
DW Bistro
Tucked into an apartment community in the southwest part of the valley is DW Bistro, a bright, open restaurant accented with orange flair with sunlight streaming in. Admittedly an untraditional pairing, New Mexican and Jamaican flavors flourish in tandem across chiles, jerked meats, rice and tortillas, adding piquancy to brunch fare. The weekend brunch is a local staple, with items like challah French toast, jerk chicken and waffles, and pork or curry bowls.
BTW: Keep an eye on the calendar for themed brunches and special tastings.
DW Bistro, 9275 W. Russell Rd., Ste. 190. Las Vegas, Nev. 89148
BREAKFAST
Marche Bacchus
The statement “it doesn’t feel like Vegas” is uttered frequently by locals about venues that transport you out of this ultracommercial desert — places like Marche Bacchus. Inside the Desert Shores community is this wine shop and French bistro perfect for Sunday brunch by the water. Get a table red or white on the way in, and enjoy eggs Benedict, crepes and frittatas while soaking up the sun on the lakefront patio.
BTW: Make time to browse the wine shop for something to pair with the escargot “Persillade,” because it’s a must-have.
Marche Bacchus, 2620 Regatta Dr., Ste. #106. Las Vegas, Nev. 89128
LUNCH
Lotus of Siam
This off-the-Strip Thai spot was one of the first internationally recognized restaurants to come out of Vegas and is a perpetual local favorite. James Beard winner and former royal chef Saipin Chutima took over the restaurant in 1999 in a strip mall with a sex club (very Vegas) before moving to its location closer to the Strip. The restaurant specializes in Northern cuisine; be sure to try a dish like khao soi, sai oua or kang ka noon and pair it with one of the 300 wine choices.
BTW: Make reservations before you arrive in Vegas; it’s often booked.
Lotus of Siam, 620 E. Flamingo Rd. Las Vegas, Nev. 89119
LUNCH
Esther’s Kitchen
The Arts District is the fastest developing neighborhood in Vegas right now, much to the delight of locals who have been waiting for Main Street revitalization to deliver restaurants exactly like Esther’s Kitchen. Esther’s offers rustic, seasonal Italian dishes made from scratch daily. It’s a comfortable spot with familiar fare but also a special, imaginative take on Italian cuisine perfect for loading up before a stroll through Antique Alley.
BTW: Order the homemade sourdough and add the burrata alla panna; just don’t plan to do anything that involves moving afterward.
Esther’s Kitchen, 1130 S. Casino Center Blvd. Las Vegas, Nev. 89104
DINNER
Raku
Chef Mitsuo Endo’s Aburiya Raku is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Las Vegas, and for good reason — his Chinatown gem offers authentic fine Japanese dining without pretense. The atmosphere of Raku, much like the cuisine, is sleek and almost austere but beautifully simple. The menu is constantly changing with daily specials and delightful creations.
BTW: If you’re intimidated by the menu, go for the omakase tasting and let the chef put something together for you.
Raku, 5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd. No. 2. Las Vegas, Nev. 89146
DINNER
Other Mama
From the outside, Other Mama looks like an unassuming strip-mall chain spot, but inside is a delightful raw bar and quirky seafood spot with a casual atmosphere, Pinterest-worthy decor and a creative menu built around small plates: perfect for sharing and for date nights.
BTW: Check the chalkboard for the daily offerings.
Other Mama, 3655 S. Durango #6 Las Vegas, Nev. 89147
LATE-NIGHT
Herbs and Rye
Vegas is still a three-shift town, and Herbs and Rye has made a name for itself as the industry after-hours spot because of its great late-night dishes and always-vibrant atmosphere. Just off the Strip, it’s a perfect answer to the “I’m not ready to end this night” feeling. The place has a speakeasy vibe and a deep cocktail list sorted by era, from Gothic to “tiki boom.” Just be prepared to wait for a table, even if it’s 2 a.m.
BTW: Steak happy hour, which also covers certain drinks, runs from midnight to 3 a.m.
Herbs and Rye, 3713 W. Sahara Ave. Las Vegas, Nev. 89102
LATE-NIGHT
Jammyland
Head to Jammyland when you’re looking for a chill vibe and a cocktail you’ve never had before. Another recent addition to the Arts District, Jammyland celebrates Caribbean dance hall culture alongside West Indian spices and spirits. Its twist on traditional bar food strikes gold in sweet and savory dishes like ugali sticks (deep-fried polenta), rotis and more. Perfect for dessert, full meals or to sample a rotating menu of seasonal cocktails.
BTW: Dive into the rum. There is a lot of it. Ask the staff about the small batch and aged selection.
Jammyland, 1121 S. Main St., Las Vegas, Nev. 89104
(Las Vegas illustrator C. J. Amaya for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Drink more water than you think you should. Dehydration will creep up on you — and make your hangover worse.
  2. The valley is a grid of major streets, so you’ll often hear locals talk in fanciful intersections like “Tropicana and Rainbow” or “Flamingo and Paradise.”
  3. Outside the tourist corridors, Vegas is a normal suburban city. Yes, some of us work weird hours at crazy places, but there is a strong community here.
(Las Vegas illustrator C. J. Amaya for The Washington Post)

Do

Neon Museum
Beyond mob glorification in pop culture, Las Vegas history has an often insular past: living only in the minds of those who experienced it and being demolished when making room for the shiny and new. The Neon Museum preserves the city’s history through its most visual contribution: neon. The outdoor exhibit, know as the Neon Boneyard, tracks like a road map through Vegas’s past using signs of businesses and landmarks dating to the 1930s. You can book a guided tour or buy a general-admission ticket and explore the neon at your own pace.
BTW: Go for the museum’s evening activity, rightfully dubbed “Brilliant!,” which revitalizes the neon through light projections timed to music.
Neon Museum, 770 Las Vegas Blvd. North, Las Vegas, Nev. 89101
Golden Knights
Vegas loves the Knights. Yes, most cities love their teams, but more than being the city’s first professional sports franchise, the hockey club represents validation for residents that Vegas is more than just a tourist destination; it’s a real city, inhabited by real people. Get down to the Park at least a couple hours before the puck drops to grab a pint at BeerHaus, dine around Eataly, and catch some of the live music and other festivities at Toshiba Plaza. Past surprise performances have included Logic, Lil Jon and Travis Barker.
BTW: Even if you don’t have tickets, the pregame is worth the experience.
The Park, 3782 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, Nev. 89109
Red Rock Canyon
Head about 20 minutes from the glare of the Strip to a mini Sedona. Red sandstone peaks and Instagram-worthy views beautifully emphasize Vegas’s western border. There are plenty of strenuous hikes and rock climbs to do, but the Calico Basin trail is one that requires only a pair of sneakers for some of the best views. You’ll find a small parking lot and entrance to Calico Basin by taking a right off Charleston Road not long after entering the national conservation area. Be sure to bring plenty of water and some snacks on a hot day. If you don’t want to hike, drive the 13-mile loop; it’s $15 per car.
BTW: Howard Hughes once owned 25,000 acres of land on the edge of Las Vegas — 5,000 acres of which are part of what is now Red Rock.
Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, 1000 Scenic Loop Dr., Las Vegas, Nev. 89161
On The Record
Nailing Vegas nightlife is like hitting a moving target; tastes and trends constantly change. But if adaptation is key, On The Record is the leader on the Strip. OTR pares down the megaclub to an accessible dance hall with an underground house-party feel, spread across multiple rooms (including a few hidden ones). Its winning formula consists of rotating DJs, a live house band, headlining artists and surprise performances from dance crews and more.
BTW: Look for the hidden rooms. You may find prominent guest bartenders; some will even let you control the music in the room.
On The Record, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, Nev. 89109
Relax by a pool
It’s not hard to find a pool party in Vegas; the ads smack you as soon as you step off the plane. But if you are looking for an alternative to a raucous scene, we still have you covered. Yes, almost every hotel you’ll stay at has a pool, but not all are created equal, so bounce around. On the Strip, check out the Waldorf Astoria’s and the Garden of the Gods at Caesars Palace. Off-Strip sanctuaries include M Resort Pool and the JW Marriott. Prices range depending on whether you want a lounge chair or an ultra luxury cabana.
BTW: Some hotel spas include daily pool access for customers. If you’re planning on any treatments, check around and see if you can experience both.
Garden of the Gods, Caesars Palace, 3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, Nev. 89109
Downtown Container Park
If you are traveling with an under-21 crowd, the Container Park is perfect for an afternoon with the family. Built out of 44 repurposed shipping containers, 41 additional structures and a train caboose, this downtown meeting place offers shopping from local vendors, a stage and a faux-grass lawn for family picnics. Kids can go wild on the play structures while parents dine and drink at Oak & Ivy, Bin 702 or Downtown Terrace.
BTW: The $16 all-you-can-drink mimosas, bloody marys and bellinis at Downtown Terrace go a long way.
Downtown Container Park, 707 Fremont St. Las Vegas, Nev. 89101
Chris Bitonti
Chris has lived in Las Vegas since 2007. He’s a Detroit native who misses Michigan summers and bodies of water but loves the “anything is possible” spirit of this city.
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Mikayla Whitmore
A contributing photographer and Las Vegas native, Mikayla has been an artist and photographer for 10 years. The Barrick Museum of Art, surrounding deserts, neon colors and the sunsets (real, not the ones painted over the casino roulette tables) are some of the reasons she holds the city dear.

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