Video Poker Strategy: Five Lessons to Win More (or Lose Less) at Video Poker

Video_Poker-Uprights-at-Four-QueensUnlike all the loud, flashy slot machines in the casino, Video Poker is a game of skill. For a gambler willing to put in a little effort, this offers an opportunity to minimize the house edge. In fact, some of the best odds in the casino are offered on Video Poker, if you know which machines to play and how to play them. Below I will give you five lessons to get you started on becoming a skilled player and improving your odds at the game. Follow any one of the five and it will help you keep your money a little longer versus playing purely by intuition. Follow all five well enough and the casinos could be paying you to play.

Per Nevada Gaming Control, Video Poker machines must be random, and must be based on a real 52 card deck of cards (53 in the case of joker games). As a result, it is possible to determine the actual payback percentage (portion of each bet that is returned to the player, on average, over the long run) of a machine by looking at its paytable. It is also possible to determine the best possible play (which cards to hold) for any hand you can be dealt. You can even determine the variance of the games (math-speak for how wild the short-term win/loss swings are). Strategies have been determined (by people far smarter than me) for almost every variation of the game. If you pick a game with a good paytable and learn the strategy for it you can limit your losses or even come out ahead over the long run.

Just to be clear, everything I have to say here regarding house edge, payback and losses is true over the long run. Anything can happen in a single gaming session, or even a week long degenerate gambling bender (Royal Flusher style, YMMV), but over the long run, after millions and millions of hands (you’ll get there) these statistics turn into reality.

Lesson One:

Use your player’s card. Unless the machine has a notice that player’s club points are not given (I’ve only ever seen this on a handful of machines on the strip), then you should insert your player’s card so that the casino can track and reward you for your play.

"Score With 4" scratch cards at Main Street Casino

Promotions like the “Score With 4″ scratch cards at Main Street Casino require your player’s card to be inserted.

The cards are free, so if you don’t have one already you can sign up at the player’s club desk. Different casinos will reward video poker play (and play in general) differently, but the bottom line is they can’t reward you at all if they don’t know you are playing. As a general rule, the more you play with your card the more they offer. Also, there are some promotions, like the scratch cards offered on natural four-of-a-kinds at Main Street Casino, that require you to have your card inserted to participate. Always have it inserted in the machine and make sure that your account comes up on screen before you play. That way all your play is counted and you qualify for any promotions.

Lesson Two:

Not all Video Poker machines are created equal. Just like slot machines, some video poker machines offer better odds than others. Unlike slot machines, you can tell which video poker machines have the best odds simply by looking at them (alright, in some cases you have to tap the screen a couple of times). If the paytable isn’t on the screen or the glass already, look for a button that says “help” or “pays” this should lead you to the paytable. What you are looking for will depend on which variation of the game (Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, etc) you are playing. A couple of commonly found, very good paytables are pictured below.

9/6 Jacks or Better Machine

Called 9/6 Jacks or Better due to the payout of 9 for Full House and 6 for Flush, this is one of the better paying, least volatile VP games available – great for increasing your play time. 99.5% return with perfect strategy.

ACE$ Bonus Poker Jackpot

Bonus Poker trades a lower payout on the Full House (8) and Flush (5) for higher payouts on certain 4-of-a-kinds. This is my favorite version, with a jackpot payout for getting four aces in the right sequence (7 times less likely than getting a royal flush) paying 99.4%. The more common version has the same paytable without the ACE$ jackpot for a payback of about 99.2%. Either way, this game is more volatile than 9/6 Jacks, but a little more exciting with higher payouts for some hands.

Two machines with the same game may look identical to the casual observer, yet one may offer a better gamble. Notice the machines in the picture below. Everything else is equal, except one pays six credits for a flush and the other pays five. You can see which machine got my money. If you want more information, including paytables for more games than I have ever encountered, check out this page on vpfree2.com. For help finding the machines with the best paytables, check out this one.

Same machines different paytables.

Two Jacks or Better machines: The one on the left pays about 98.5% for perfect play, the one on the right pays about 99.5%. This image was not altered, aside from cropping and the addition of text. These two machines sit side by side on the casino floor. It pays to check your paytables!

Lesson Three:

Always play max credits for each hand you play. On most machines it doesn’t matter how many hands you are playing, but if you play less than the maximum number of credits per hand (usually five) you miss out on the big payout for a Royal Flush. On most machines the difference is 250 for 1 for a royal with less than max credits, 800 for 1 with max credits (even more for some progressives). So a royal playing four credits per hand would pay one thousand credits ($250 on a quarter machine), but the same hand playing five credits per hand would pay four thousand credits ($1000 on a quarter machine).

Always play max credits!

Always play max credits!

Playing less than maximum costs about 2% of your expected return for every wager over the long run. Don’t do it. If you can’t afford the stakes, drop down a denomination. It’s far better to play max credits on a nickel machine than one credit on a quarter machine.

Lesson Four:

Learn the strategy. Strategy charts are available for most popular video poker variations (thanks to those smart people I mentioned earlier), and they are easier to follow and learn than you might think. While there are a mind-numbing number of possible hands in video poker, hands can be grouped together. A strategy chart will typically contain around forty to eighty different types of hand, listed in order of preference. You match your hand to the hands in the list, and keep the cards that make up the highest ranking hand. This is the best hold available for the cards you’ve been dealt, and if you consistently choose the best cards for the hand dealt you will get the greatest possible return from the game over the long run. The more you play with the strategy card, the less you will need it to make your decisions. (Yes, you are allowed to use a strategy card while playing video poker in the casino.) A good source for free video poker strategies is the Wizard of Odds. Make sure to pay attention to what game the strategy is for. Playing 10/6 Double Double Bonus Strategy on a Deuces Wild machine will not yield ideal results. I like the 9/6 Jacks or Better strategy. It’s fairly easy to learn and it can help you achieve a 99.5% payback on 9/6 Jacks. Better still, I can use that same strategy for 8/5 Bonus Poker and ACE$ Bonus Poker with results that, while not optimum (for the true expert, these games have their own, slightly different strategies), are good enough to eek out over 99% on all three games with the proper paytable.

Lesson Five:

Play games that fit your risk tolerance and your bankroll. Most of the variations on video poker take away some of the payout on frequent, low paying hands and use that savings to jack up the payouts on other, rarer hands. In these games, when you lose you can lose a lot in a short time, which helps make up for the fact that when you win you can win a lot in a short time. This tendency for quick ups and downs is called variance, and the higher the variance number the greater the swings. Higher variance games can be more exciting, because they offer more opportunities for a big win over the short term. They also require a larger bankroll, so that you can survive the heavy losses between the heavy wins. Playing a game that suits your risk tolerance and your bankroll in the short term will help you stay in the game longer, which improves your chances of reaching the “long term” I keep talking about. For more detailed information on the variance of video poker games and plenty of advice that will help you follow these five lessons, I recommend getting a good book on the subject, like Video Poker for the Intelligent Beginner (Gambling Theories Methods), by Bob Dancer.

Extra Credit:

Practice, practice, practice! You don’t have to be actively gambling to stay sharp on your video poker strategy. There are a number of computer simulations you can use that not only do a fine job of recreating the game on your PC, tablet or phone, but will also warn you if you make an incorrect hold. Some can even track your mistakes, run simulations to show you how long your bankroll might last, and create strategy charts for you to take to the casino! The Wizard of Odds has a free simulator to get you started at http://wizardofodds.com/play/video-poker/. As you get more serious you may want a more full featured product such as Video Poker for Winners or a tablet/phone video poker simulator like Wizard Video Poker (search your app store).

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Komex: It’s Korean, It’s Mexican, It’s Delicious!

Komex Fusion Express EntranceJudge a restaurant by its location and you’re sure to miss some of Las Vegas’ finest food. So, when my girlfriend suggested we check out Komex Fusion Express in the middle of a strip mall at 633 North Decatur Blvd. Suite H, I figured in might be worth a shot. I had never even heard of a Korean/Mexican fusion restaurant, so I knew I would be in for an eating adventure!

Komex Fusion Express Kitchen

Nobody comes here for the decor.

Komex is a small place with a few basic tables and plastic chairs. It appears to be mostly intended as a take-out restaurant, though they do offer full dine-in table service. We sat at one of their simple black tables, adorned with a paper Chinese Zodiac placemat, some napkins and silverware. The tiles on the floor are worn and dated, as is the wood panel siding on the walls. I’ve suddenly been transported to a Chinese takeout restaurant circa 1975. No, wait! It’s Las Vegas 2013 and I’m about to embark on an eating adventure, and nobody comes here for the decor.

Our drinks arrive: A can of Coke ($1), and a Mexican Coke in a real glass bottle made with cane sugar ($2). Along with them comes a free bowl of chips with a small cup of salsa and another of guacamole.

Fried Wontons

Fried Wontons

The chips are thick, crunchy, appear to be made from flour and have more in common with fried wontons than they do with corn chips, but they have a light flavor and hold up well to the salsa and guacamole. The salsa was fresh and had a nice mild flavor with a touch of clilanto. The guacamole was excellent! It had a buttery soft texture and tasted quite fresh. Very nice for a freebie!

We were just hungry enough for an afternoon snack, so we ordered the “Bulgogi Nachos” ($7.99) – hey I love bulgogi and I love nachos, so why not? We also ordered their “Fried Wontons” ($1.50). The wontons came out first, five crispy fried wontons stuffed with ground meat and served with duck sauce. They were mildly seasoned, served warm and went well with the accompanying sauce. They didn’t last long. Soon after the nachos arrived.

Komex Fusion Express Bulgogi Nachos

Bulgogi Nachos

For those that don’t know, bulgogi refers to a sweet, tender Korean barbeque beef, and Komex makes some of the tastiest, most tender bulgogi I have ever had. They take that amazing meat and pile it high over a pile of chips (like those in the free appetizer), along with more of that fresh salsa, mozzarella cheese, korean hot sauce and jalepenos. The result? I have had many a plate of nachos in my life and these are, without a doubt, the best nachos of any kind I have ever had. Mind-blowing, lick the plate, kiss the cook, amazing. The sweetness of the meat and the cheese balances out the heat from the sauce and the peppers, and you can taste every flavor without ever being overcome by spice. Just perfect.

Komex Fusion Express CheckAfter we picked every last morsel from your plate of nachos the bill arrived, along with a fortune cookie for each of us and a fresh cut orange. Or bill came to $13.50. I wish every $13.50 I spent was this good.

Overall, the food was delicious, and cheap. I could not find a single item on their menu over $10. Komex isn’t a shiny new restaurant in a prime location, but that’s not what we’re here for anyways, right? We’re here for the food, for the eating adventure, and I assure you, this was one yummy adventure! This isn’t just someplace to consider “if you’re in the neighborhood.” It’s a place worthy of a special trip across town. You’ve gotta try it!

Website: http://www.komex.com
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Count’s Kustoms: The Reality TV Tour Continues…

Counts Kustoms EntranceIn a warehouse tucked in between I-15 and the Circus Circus lives one of Danny “Count” Koker’s many enterprises, Count’s Kustoms, yet another Las Vegas business to get the History Channel “Reality TV” treatment. It’s a bit harder to find than Gold and Silver Pawn, and not nearly as popular a fan destination – yet.

As I entered the parking lot at the site of “Counting Cars” at 2714 South Highland Drive I could already see Danny’s signature Gothic biker style dripping from the place. Blocking the entrance to one of the work areas was a custom half-height garage door made from welded rebar. There were antique cars in various stages of rust and restoration. The front door is tinted black with a three foot Count’s Kustoms logo. Just like Rick’s Restorations, there were (graciously) no lines outside the shop.

Counts Kustoms Garage DoorOnce inside, I found myself in a small dark room with a bank teller style window and a bright shiny computer in the corner. The gentleman behind the window informed me that I needed to sign in on the computer, then I could enter the shop through the door on the left. There would be no charge. The computer offered up a short, simple questionnaire – an attempt to collect some basic demographics on their visitors and an opportunity to join the “Count’s Friends” fan club. It only took a minute or so, and I did not find any of the questions terribly invasive.

Through the door was the main attraction – Danny’s collection of toys. There’s a pool table made out of a Ford Ranchero, a lineup of choppers and Danny’s collection of wild, rare and exotic cars. Counts Kustoms 1932 Hot Wheels Hotrod
There were a couple of cars from the show, and a lot from Danny’s personal collection. I spotted three Lamborghinis, two Corvettes, a 1932 Ford Roadster that was used as the model for one of Mattel’s Hot Wheels, a Shelby Cobra, a Shelby Mustang and even a Shelby Series 1. As expected, there are flames and skulls everywhere. Paint jobs are wild, with colors that wouldn’t look out of place on a Jolly Rancher candy. Over the center of the collection hangs a larger-than-life head-shot of the Count… perhaps a little ostentatious. Really, it’s all pretty over the top, but that’s what makes it so fun to see.

Counts Kustoms 1932 Ford Hot Wheels modelThe tour was completely self-guided, and photography was allowed. I could see into (but not walk into) a part of the garage where they were working on customer cars. It would be neat to see one of these featured on the show. Hidden tastefully behind Danny’s car collection is a small gift shop where they sell Count’s “7″ branded clothing and a few other nicknacks. Most of the shirts are $25-75. For a cheaper souvenir, you could pick up a skullcap (kerchief) for $10 or a sticker for $7.

On the way out I ran into Scott, the Project Coordinator. He was obviously very busy at the time, but managed a polite wave and a few words before returning to his business. Perhaps Danny was out chasing cars.

Tips:

Shelby Series 1

Shelby Series 1

  • If you want to see a Shelby Series 1, this is the place to go. Even the Shelby Museum did not have one on display the last time I visited.
  • This is a great hidden gem to take any motor-head (petrol-head, for my UK readers) to. There are roughly half a dozen choppers and fifty or sixty cars in and around the shop. The cars are rotated around a bit, so if you go more than once you’ll get a up close view of some different rides.
  • Plan about 15-30 minutes to tour the place and get some pictures. Unless they become overwhelmingly busy, this should be enough to get a good look at everything.

Counts Kustoms Forty-One

Counts Kustoms Caddy

Counts Kustoms Ranchero Pool Table

Counts_Kustoms-lamborghini

Website: http://www.countskustoms.com/
Related Articles:
Gold and Silver Pawn: Long Lines, Short Changed
Rick’s Restorations: Reality TV Take Two

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Eat Downtown: Eat Came First

Eat_Downtown-entranceEat Downtown is a hip, vibrant breakfast and lunch spot at 707 Carson Avenue, just a couple blocks over from the El Cortez. Standing on the corner of Carson and Seventh, in front of the place, one only wonders where the hip, vibrant community is to go with it. Well, the Downtown Project promises there soon will be one, and it’s already got a culinary head start.

Once inside, you see bright whites, reds, and silvers, dark woods and masonry. There is a floor to ceiling mural on one wall by Krystal Ramirez that simply repeats “I will see you in the flowers” over and over again in cursive handwritten script. The kitchen is open, with a breakfast bar in front, lined with aluminum barstools. White tables carry real cloth napkins and are surrounded by simple red chairs that are more comfortable than they look. It feels clean and energetic. The music plays a little louder than most breakfast spots, and when I was last there, seemed to be leaning towards 90′s Seattle rock. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard Pearl Jam in a breakfast joint.

Eat_Downtown-Open-KitchenThe dishes at Eat are a little pricier than other downtown breakfast and lunch offerings, but for that little bit of extra cash you get fresh premium ingredients, and beautiful presentation. You can peak into their open kitchen and see your food being prepared with care. If the crowds I have seen when dining here are any indication, downtown is going to need a lot more restaurants like Eat if Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project dream comes true.

The thing to get here is the breakfast foods, and to get breakfast, you must place your order before 11 am – at least during the week. They seem to be very particular about this. Even if you are seated before eleven, you will not be able to order off the breakfast menu one minute past eleven o’clock. Think of it as motivation to get an early start to your day. On the weekend you can sleep in a little bit, as they serve a separate Brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday from 8am until 2pm.

On my first visit I arrived too late for breakfast and wound up trying their Killer Grilled Cheese with Kick-Ass Tomato Salad ($9) from the lunch menu. The tomato salad was very fresh and flavorful, but the grilled cheese left me a little flat. The ingredients were quality, it’s just that the sandwich was dominated by the bread, rather than the gooey cheese I was anticipating, and the sandwich as a whole was a little dry. It wasn’t bad, but I guess with a name like “Killer Grilled Cheese” I expected to be wowed. Not this time. Thankfully, I decided to return for breakfast.

Eat_Downtown-BeignetsFrom the breakfast menu, the Made to Order Beignets with Seasonal Jam and Vanilla Mascarpone ($8) were perfectly presented, but fell a little short of the world-famous beignets that I’ve had in New Orleans. The jam and mascarpone were fantastic, but the beignets themselves were a bit dry and scone-like rather than fried-doughy like I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly cleared the plate, but I was glad we’d ordered some of their smooth, medium-bodied Coffee ($3) to wash them down.

Eat_Downtown-Truffled-Egg-SandwichThe Truffled Egg Sandwich ($11) is as delicious as it is beautiful. A large, soft, buttery croissant is loaded with eggs, cheese, mushrooms, chives and delicious thick sliced bacon. I needed to eat it with a knife and fork, but that’s a small price to pay for what I’m pretty sure is the best breakfast sandwich I have ever had. This is worth getting up early for. Yeah, it’s that good.

Eat_Downtown-pancakesOn my most recent trip to Eat (a Saturday Brunch), I ordered the Golden Brown Pancakes with Chicken Apple sausage and maple syrup ($9). There’s only one restaurant I know of downtown that has a reputation for amazing pancakes, but I decided to try these anyways. Well, once the word gets out there will be two. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone else told me, but the pancakes at Eat are even better than that other downtown restaurant. Slightly crisp and buttery on the outside and moist and fluffy on the inside, Eat makes the perfect stack of pancakes, every bit the equal of Du-Pars on their best day.

Eat_Downtown-real-maple-syrupWhat elevates the pancakes at Eat even further is the little jar of real maple syrup they give you on the side. There is no “pancake syrup” or “maple flavored” anything that tastes as good as the real thing, and that puts Eat over the top. I’m really surprised that they don’t make a bigger deal of this on the menu. The sausages were also good, but kind of an also-ran next to the pancakes. They’re sweet, mild and were cooked thoroughly without a hint of char.

My girlfriend ordered Two Eggs Any Style with Smoked Bacon, Chive Smashed Potatoes and Toast ($10). Her eggs, ordered over medium, were cooked perfectly, accompanied by two thick bacon slices, a good portion of home fries, toast and a split fresh strawberry for garnish – nice touch! Care is taken in the presentation of every dish. The extra effort makes the experience feel that much richer, and the food look that much more enticing. I expect this sort of chef artistry at a posh dinner restaurant, but at a breakfast joint with $10 entrees it’s quite special.

Eat is currently the only restaurant of it’s kind downtown, and it’s quite a bit more “revitalized” than the neighborhood that surrounds it. Chef Natalie Young delivers where it counts with good food across the board and a couple of standouts to keep people coming back. When people look back on the rejuvenation of downtown and ask which came first, the vibrant urban eateries or the vibrant urban community the answer will be clear: Eat came first.

Tips:

Eat_Downtown-Check

  • If you’ve never had real maple syrup you are in for a treat, but you should know that you don’t need nearly as much of it as you would the fake stuff. The little jar they give you might not look like much, but it’s more than enough.
  • If you plan to split the check, be sure to bring cash. If they are busy, and they pretty much always are, Eat requests that customers use only one credit card per table.
  • A rarity in Las Vegas, the on street parking in this area is metered. Bring a few quarters if you are taking a car.

Website: http://www.eatdowntownlv.com
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Golden Nugget Rush Tower – Downtown Luxury

When I first started going to Vegas I was a bit enamored with the beautiful luxury properties that were available. This probably has to do with the fact that the average hotel room in my hometown of Boston is about $150 – and that is hardly top of the line. So I was very excited to find out that $150 in Vegas could get me entry level rooms at such places as the Palazzo and the Venetian (and at one point even the Wynn). Over time, as we ventured out and got to learn more about the city, we stopped staying on the Strip and  I slowly forgot about the ‘luxury’ rooms I used to love staying in.

Golden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-desk

But I was pleasantly surprised when we decided to try out the ‘new’ Rush Tower at Golden Nugget. We had stayed in some of the older rooms, which I felt were nice but nothing to write home about. It was when we were offered a discounted rate based on our previous stay that we decided to do something different and try out one of the newer rooms (opened in 2009).

The first thing you notice when you enter the Rush Tower (which you can do from both the separate outdoor entrance or by going through the GN casino) is the 75,000 gallon tropical aquarium that appears behind the check in desk in the large, modern lobby. This technically belongs to a small restaurant/bar that I have not yet tried called Chart House but the overall effect on the first time visitor can be impressive. In fact, we took some first time visitors to see the lobby on our last trip and they stood there for 5 minutes gaping.

Golden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-sitting-areaThe rooms themselves remind me a lot of the entry level rooms at the Palazzo – though they cost quite a bit less and are a bit smaller. The furniture is modern, yet comfortable and decorated in soothing, earthy colors. A basic Rush Tower Deluxe room (pictured) includes a king-sized bed, a 42-inch tv, an iHome stereo and sectional couch. The bathroom includes two sinks and a large soaking tub, with a separate toilet room.

Golden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-bedIn addition to their own entrance and valet, guests can also enjoy some of the great Golden Nugget amenities – like the shark tank and pool. I am not even a fan of pools in general yet I love the pool at the Nugget. It has a great lounge area and an amazing slide that brings you down through their shark tank and into the pool. If you are ever in the Nugget you should go and check it out – security is usually willing to let people in for a quick look if you ask politely and they are not busy.

I would definitely recommend the Rush Tower to anyone looking for a little bit of luxury in downtown Las Vegas. I find it to be especially effective if you’re trying to convince someone who has only ever stayed on the Strip that downtown can be just as classy.

Golden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-bathGolden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-bathroom
Golden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-toiletGolden_Nugget_Rush_Tower-vanity

Honey Salt: A Taste of New England

Honey_Salt-placesettingHoney Salt is a farm-to-table restaurant in an upscale strip mall at 1031 South Rampart Blvd in the neighborhood of Summerlin. I first discovered it thanks to a post on Bite and Switch. This restaurant has been getting a lot of good press lately, and we stopped in on a Saturday afternoon to see what all the buzz was about.

The interior of the restaurant is bright and clean, with tables and chairs that evoke an upscale country feel. That feel continues with a smattering of kitsch and a wall full of pictures that are clearly Cape Cod (Massachusetts) inspired. Waitstaff are dressed in jeans and plaid shirts, the way Abercrombie and Fitch might envision a farmer’s attire.

Honey_Salt-Dining-RoomWhen we arrived we saw some very fashionable and well put-together folks dining right up front, and I thought that we might have been seated in a corner behind the bar due to my jeans-and-a-t-shirt sense of style. As the meal progressed we discovered that the party up front had reserved the area for a baby shower. Perhaps I was too quick to judge. There were a number of other casual diners in our little section, so we didn’t end up feeling at all under-dressed.

The mid-afternoon menu is brief, but had just enough interesting dishes to entice us to order. As we were not overly hungry, my girlfriend and I chose to split an appetizer, a burger and dessert. The waitstaff handled this request without a hitch or a grimace, though they did not go the extra mile and split the dishes for us. They simply placed the dishes in the middle of the table and gave us empty plates to serve ourselves. Having received this service at Omelet House and Coffee Pub recently, I’m afraid I’ve begun to expect it.

Honey_Salt-Red-DiaryWe received a bowl of warm rolls and very tasty cracker-like triangles served with a ramekin of house-made hummus as a complimentary starter. It all tasted good, but I would have preferred bread and butter or hummus with pita or pretzel chips. Perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist. My girlfriend’s “Red Diary” cocktail ($10) was a bit sweet for my tastes, but it was obviously prepared with premium ingredients. I would have chosen the “Fat Tire Amber” ($6 bottle) from their solid list of micro-brews if I were having a beer, but I chose to forgo the alcohol on this occasion.

For our first course I put aside my usual reservations about ordering seafood in the desert and ordered the “New England Fry” ($14). This dish included fried clams, fried calamari, grilled shishito peppers and a lemon aioli. I grew up just a handful of miles from the world-famous clam shacks of Ipswich and Essex Massachusetts, so I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to fried seafood. Honey_Salt-New-England-FryThe serving was small, by New England standards, but that’s forgivable when you’re in the desert 2500 miles away. Both the clams and the calamari were lightly breaded, fried in clean oil (very important) and perfectly cooked. The clams were complete with bellies, and had a nice briny seafood flavor. The calamari, which I know is a challenge to get right, was tender, tasty and easy to chew. The aioli was okay as a dipping sauce, though I’m a bit of a purist and left it out after trying a bite. The peppers were good, but added nothing to the dish but color. They are not a traditional part of a “New England Fry,” and their flavor really didn’t match well with the rest of the dish. In the end, I was so impressed with the freshness and execution of the seafood itself that I didn’t really care what it was served with.

Honey_Salt-Backyard-Burger-and-FriesNext, we split a “Kim’s Style” (topped with a fried egg) “Backyard Burger” ($14), ordered medium. The burger was moist and delicious, with cheddar cheese melted on top and a homemade tomato ketchup already on the bun. The egg was fresh and cooked just right; it elevated the burger to a new level. On the side were fresh lettuce and tomato, tasty thin-cut french fries and a couple of pickle slices. It all looked and tasted so good that I didn’t bother to send back the burger, which was cooked closer to rare than medium.

"Medium Rare"

“Medium Rare”

For dessert we had the “Brown Bag Apple Pie” ($9). The brown bag is a bit of a gimmick, but the pie was delicious! We ignored the waiter’s suggestion of salted caramel ice-cream and went for the traditional vanilla. The ice-cream was smooth and creamy and a perfect complement to the warm apple pie.

Honey_Salt-Brown-Bag-Apple-PieOverall, I feel that Honey Salt is a good value. They are clearly sourcing premium ingredients, and except for the temperature on my burger, everything was executed perfectly. Service was solidly good, and the atmosphere was comfortable. They do seem to be trying a bit too hard in some ways, but I can forgive them wanting to stand out in the sea of great restaurants that is Las Vegas.

Update Feb 12, 2013: Honey Salt owner Elizabeth Blau took the time to contact me personally this afternoon to thank me for (the positives of) my review, and to clear up a couple of things. It is obvious that she is very passionate about the restaurant, and wants each customer’s experience to be just right.

Here’s three things I learned from our discussion:

  • Mid-afternoon seating is typically in the area behind the bar as the main dining area is used for staff meals and dinner prep.
  • The kitchen will plate split items separately when practical, however they choose not to sacrifice the presentation of a dish for the convenience of separate plating. Ms. Blau was pleased that her front of house staff handled the splitting request so well. (So were we.)
  • The brown bag in the brown bag apple pie is used to maintain just the right level of moisture. (I still maintain my assertion that plating it this way is a bit of a gimmick. Regardless, it’s delicious.)

www.honeysalt.com
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Bad Ass Coffee (Food Truck)

Bad_Ass_Coffee-truckLas Vegas has a number of gourmet food trucks serving up everything from Asian fusion burgers to shaved ice to coffeehouse style espresso drinks. I will be sharing a few favorites here as I discover them. This past week I found a great way to start the day in downtown Las Vegas.

Bad Ass Coffee Las Vegas was parked outside the Clark County Courthouse on 3rd (between Lewis and Clark) on Thursday morning. This is the same Bad Ass Coffee franchise that you might know from other cities, but in mobile form. Curious, I wandered up to the window. Inside the truck were all the accoutrements of a real coffee shop – whole beans, burr grinders, blenders, and a shiny espresso machine. The menu is posted on the window, with coffee and espresso drinks, smoothies and a couple of breakfast snacks. Prices are a touch lower than the brick and mortar coffeehouses I have been to in Las Vegas. They accept credit cards or cash, and were advertising “bacon drinks” which sounded a bit too adventurous to me at eight in the morning.

Bad_Ass_Coffee-menuThe owner and barista, John, is a native of Las Vegas who has been around long enough to remember Downtown’s last heyday. Yet, he is as excited as I am about the future of downtown. We made some small talk about the new restaurants, bars and attractions as he made my Mocha. I later followed his (and others) recommendation of Le Thai, and was quite happy I did. More on that soon. He was very friendly, with a wild-eyed energy that makes you think he might be sampling the product a bit. If he is, I can’t blame him. My mocha was a perfect balance of sweet chocolate and bitter espresso. Both the espresso and the chocolate used were of good quality.

I returned the next day to try his Kona coffee, black, which was medium bodied and very smooth. There wasn’t any hint of the over roasting or over extraction that can spoil an otherwise good cup. It was served a touch too hot for me, so I chose to let it cool for a few minutes before drinking. It would easily survive a short trip to the office, or back to your hotel and still arrive piping hot. John remembered me from the previous day, and welcomed me back. A nice personal touch. If you are near an area that the Bad Ass Coffee truck serves, it’s definitely worth stopping for some coffee and friendly chatter.

  • You can find out where the Bad Ass Coffee truck is, or will be next, by following their Twitter feed.
  • If you are looking to check out a bunch of Las Vegas food trucks all in one place, check out the Vegas Streats festival, this Saturday and every second Saturday at the El Cortez.

Bad Ass Coffee Truck on Urbanspoon
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Where In Vegas: Number Four

Where In VegasIt’s time for another “Where in Vegas” contest! I scraped up two prizes for this month’s contest – the winner gets to choose. You’ll have to be quick to win! So far the winning answer has averaged only nine hours, with our fastest correct answer coming in only 29 minutes! All you have to do is identify where the photo (at left) was taken. Post your answer in the comments. The first correct answer wins!

This photo was taken in one of my favorite spots in Vegas, and I haven’t written about it yet. Where In Vegas is it? The first correct answer gets their choice of two fantastic prizes: A styling Las Vegas Off Strip t-shirt, unisex, size M, L, or XL. Very exclusive! Or, a copy of the American Casino Guide 2013.

Rules:

  • One entry per person, please.
  • Due to the high cost of international shipping, I can only offer this prize to those with a US/Canadian address.
  • You must provide a valid email address so that I can contact you for shipping info and choice of prize if you win.
  • Have fun!

Prizes: (your choice)
Prize-TshirtAmerican Casino Guide 2013 Front