Vegas StrEATS Festival: Road Food!

Vegas StrEATS entranceOn the second Saturday of each month from 6pm – 1am, just across Sixth Street from the El Cortez, is a fantastic community event with local bands, djs, artists and food. Admission to the Vegas StrEATS festival is free, and it’s easy to come and go throughout the night, sampling the wares of the various food trucks.

Since we first discovered the great gourmet food trucks of Las Vegas, we’ve made it our mission to try out some of the most highly recommended trucks and share our experiences with you. In the last few months we caught up with Bad Ass Coffee downtown by the courthouse and Fukuburger outside MadHouse Coffee.

Vegas StrEATS trucksChasing around the trucks is fun, but having them all gather together in one place is even better! Especially when I happen to be staying across the street. If only I had an unlimited appetite I could try them all!

I had to return to Bad Ass for a frozen mocha, and say “hi” to John, the truck’s friendly wild-eyed proprietor. After that, I followed his suggestion and hit up Sin City Wings. John was the one who convinced me to try out Le Thai on East Fremont. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Later on, I finally got my hands on some of the famous Big Easy Balls at the Sauced truck. More on that coming soon.

Vegas StrEATS DJHere are a few things you should know before you head out to the StrEATS festival for an eating adventure:

  • There is a gate, but admission is free. They check bags, so leave your weapons and contraband at home.
  • There are no tables, no seating. Be prepared to eat on your feet, and order accordingly.
  • Drinks are available (beer and shots) at a single beer tent towards the front.
  • You also get local artists, local musicians and local DJs. Plan to hang around a while and take in some local talent!
  • The lineup of food trucks, musicians and artists varies from month to month – it’s never the same experience twice!

Website: www.vegasstreats.com

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Ashley Red: The Next Big Thing?

Ashley RedI really don’t want to like this band. One of their biggest claims to fame is that some spoiled sixteen year old brat had them play at her birthday party on MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen back in 2007. The lead singer, Cass Cates, boasts in their promo materials that they are the next big thing. They’ve got a fresh style and a familiar sound. They’re edgy enough to draw a young crowd, but mainstream enough to appeal to the older generations. It all seems very planned and purposeful, and I don’t want to like it. But, I do.

Ashley Red performs a wide range of modern dance/pop covers like “Tonight I’m Loving You” by Enrique Iglesias and “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. If I’m honest, they nail each and every song… some songs sound even better than the original artist.

And then they do something else that makes me not want to like them. Cass gets on the mic and says “That was just karaoke.” Really? It seems to me that’s a bit of an insult to all the great cover and tribute bands that I love – and to the musicians (Hector Rios, John Kurimai and Thor Jeppesen) standing behind him. He probably doesn’t mean it that way, but that’s just the way it hit me. Then they go on to play one of their original tunes.

And I don’t want to like it, but I do. I just can’t help it. The band has a great sound. Their original songs sound just as polished and are just as catchy as anything on the radio today. They get the crowd into it. The lead singer will jump off the stage and run out into the crowd to get people dancing. The whole band seems to be having a good time. They get members of the audience to sing a few words. It’s interactive, its alive and it’s fun. When Ashley Red is playing it feels like a party.

The lead singer may be right. Ashley Red may really be the next big thing. Check them out while there’s still room in front of the stage.

  • Ashley Red plays at the Fremont Street Experience every Thursday night in June (free).
  • You can also catch them at Blue Martini in Las Vegas on June 26th.
  • If you like to buy your music the old fashioned way (on a disc in a case with art and stuff) I’ve seen Cass selling the band’s CD at their Fremont Street shows.
  • Contrary to my initial impression (from checking out a few videos on Youtube before deciding to go out and see their show) the band is actually very approachable.


www.ashleyred.com

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Radio City Pizza: Grab a Slice on Fremont East

RCP-entranceThe Fremont East district is heavy on bars, but short on food options. Le Thai is a great option if your looking for something exotic and spicy, but where do you go for old-fashioned American drinking food? Look no further than Radio City Pizza at 508 Fremont St East.

Radio City offers cheese pizza by the slice for $3.25, and there’s a long list of toppings they will add for just fifty cents. If you’re real hungry you can get a full pizza made fresh for $16.50 with $1.50 toppings. Garlic knots ($6 for five knots) are chewy and loaded with garlic, a great starter if you don’t mind the inevitable garlic breath. Their buffalo wings and meatball appetizers are also quite popular.

RCP-Cheese-SliceI know that what constitutes “good” pizza is a highly contested issue, so I won’t give my personal opinion, just a description:

RCP’s pizza is thin-crusted, but it’s not quite fold-it-over NYC style as one might suspect – given the name of the place. Instead, it’s more like the Italian bakeries on the North Shore of Boston make it… it has a crisp bottom, chewy middle and a sweet sauce under a layer of cheese that is cooked just to the point where browning starts, leaving just a hint of glistening oil.
Radio City Pizza Ham Slice
Toppings are of good quality and they give you enough to get a taste in each bite. All the slices start out as cheese, toppings are added when you order. Of course pizzas with toppings will be a little better if you order a full pizza so that it’s made fresh. Also, the more recently your slice came out of the oven the better it will be, so if you’ve got the time it might be worth waiting for a new pie to be made.

While you wait, you can enjoy the nice patio out back, with open-air dining, watch some sports on the numerous tvs, or kick back with a craft beer (taps when I was there included Sierra Nevada Pale, Magic Hat #9, Goose Island Honkers, Pyramid and Pabst). Cocktails are also available – half the bar seems like an homage to Ciroc vodka.

RCP-open-air-seatingRCP is open until midnight weekdays and 4am on the weekends – perfect for a late night bite. If you want your food quick, just belly up to the bar in front, but when the temperature is right, the best experience is hanging out in the open air patio out back.

Website: www.radiocitypizza.com
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Sigma Derby: Old Fashioned Low Rolling at The D

Sigma Derby The D Vintage VegasNormally I tend to play casino games that offer the best possible odds, in hopes of stretching my gambling dollar and maybe earning a few comps. However, there is one casino game I like to play just for the fun of it – Sigma Derby. The very first casino game I ever played (yes, a very long time ago) was a Sigma Derby machine. I played about an hour on a roll of quarters and actually walked away a few dollars ahead. Beginner’s luck, but I was hooked. After that I looked for that machine in every casino I entered – but over the years they’ve become harder and harder to find.

For those that don’t already know, Sigma Derby is a large, multi-player, electromechanical horse racing game. There are very few of these machines left in the world, and only two that I know of at casinos in Las Vegas. One is on the Strip (in the MGM), and the other is the centerpiece of the new “Vintage Vegas” gaming area at The D. The first time I wandered up the outdoor escalator and into the second floor of The D, I saw their Sigma Derby machine in all it’s glory. On an otherwise quiet afternoon on Fremont Street, this particular machine was flooded with action. All (ten) seats were taken, and there were people behind some of the players cheering on the game and waiting for a seat. I didn’t feel like waiting, so I changed a ten for a roll of quarters and vowed to ride that escalator each time I got near it, until I found an open seat waiting for me. Later that night my persistence paid off.

Sigma Derby table at The DSigma combines the effortless play of a slot machine, the excitement of a horse race and the comradery of a table game. Each race, five plastic horses make their way around an oval track that’s set into the table glass. The machine makes galloping noises, and the plastic horses vary their pace throughout the race, just like real horses – often ending in a near photo finish. Bells go off, the winning numbers are displayed on an old, rudimentary red digital display, and the people around the table cheer and curse. Winnings (anywhere between 2 coins and 200 coins per coin bet) make a lovely old-fashioned clickety-clack as they drop into the coin hamper. (The machine at The D is set to hold your coins until you cash out, but a lot of people like to hit the button after each win to hear that classic coin-drop sound.) A few seconds later, the odds for the next race are posted and players get roughly sixty seconds to place their bets before it starts all over again.

Check out this video of the Sigma Derby game in action:

There are ten “quinella” (first and second horse, any order) bets available on each race, and the odds are shown for each quinella before the race starts. Each race offers different odds. Some races the best possible payout is thirty for one, some it’s two-hundred for one. Anywhere from one quarter to twenty can be played on each combination. With ten seats at the table and ten possible winning combinations, there’s a winner almost every race. With a max bet of twenty quarters ($5) and max odds of 200 for one, there’s no need to worry about W2Gs, the biggest jackpot possible is only a thousand bucks.

My biggest win of the hour!

My biggest win of the night!

The odds, by all estimations, are horrible. I was very lucky to walk away a winner the first time I played this game, oh so many years ago. But I still play it. It’s low limits, it’s vintage, and it’s a hoot. In the same way that black chips don’t seem quite the same as hundred dollar bills at the blackjack tables, twelve credit wins ($3) seem much more exciting than the dollar amount would warrant, when playing this unique machine. Especially if you and your table-mates have had a few drinks. And, drinks you can have!

The table service at the Sigma Derby machine in The D was as fast and friendly as any table I have played at in downtown Vegas. Even though I only played a quarter or two a race for quite a few races, the drinks kept coming as fast as I could drink them. I slowly lost my ten dollar stake, but that ten spot (plus a toke a drink for the cocktail waitress) bought me well over an hour of entertainment. At times the Sigma Derby table gets as rowdy as a craps table with a hot shooter, and I can only imagine how crazy it must get if that two-hundred for one hits… There’s rarely anyone at the table that doesn’t have at least a quarter on that combo when it’s available.

Save me a seat!

Save me a seat!

If you can be truly disciplined, and stick to one quarter a race, a roll of quarters would last an hour – even if you never won a race. It’s simple mathematics – there are forty quarters in a roll and forty races in an hour. Where else in Vegas can you play for an hour, get great cocktail service and only risk ten bucks in the process? Get up to the vintage gaming area on the second floor of The D and play the Sigma Derby machine while it lasts. It’s the other “most fun you can have for a quarter” in Vegas. Oh, and save me a seat!

The D Website: www.thed.com

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I-Naba: Another Kind of Noodle House

I-Naba entranceIf you go to the right off-the-beaten-path strip malls in Las Vegas you can find all manner of Japanese foods. Having enjoyed the soups at Monta Ramen, I decided to try a different type of Japanese noodle house.

Don’t be confused by the “Na Na” sign at 3210 South Decatur Boulevard Suite 104, Na Na Thai Kitchen has been replaced by I-Naba, a Japanese soba noodle house. I-Naba makes fresh traditional soba noodles using buckwheat flour. Soba noodles are the slender cousin of udon noodles – similar in size and somewhat heavier in texture to spaghetti. Soba noodles are served either hot in soup or cold with a dipping sauce (tsuyu). The latter (cold) is the preparation that I ordered.

I-Naba yuzu limeadeI started off with what was described as a “House Made Yuzu Limeade” ($2.00), which was delicious and refreshing, but turned out to be a mild mistranslation. It’s actually a fresh made, sweet lemonade, with a little taste of fresh mint. It was decked out with a fresh wedge of lemon and I’m pretty sure no limes were harmed in its preparation. Still, a good start.

I-Naba Zuke-DonI-Naba just began serving Donburi (rice bowls), which come with a side salad and you can get a half order of soba or udon for just $4 extra. I went for the Zuke-Don ($11), which was a large bowl of sushi rice smothered in soy marinated tuna sashimi with daikon radish, carrot and ginger and more shreds of nori to the side. The rice was moist and sticky and the tuna tasted clean and fresh – if a bit salty from its soy bath. Overall it was a good, filling dish. The salad that came with it was a simple mixed green salad with a mildly spicy sesame soy dressing and a few slivers of carrot. Even though I was feeling pretty full after the salad and the donburi, I had to try the specialty of the house.

I-Naba cold sobaI went for a half order of “Zaru” ($4 with my donburi, full order is $8). The soba noodles were served cold on a bamboo mat with a few shards of ice underneath. There were a few shreds of nori (dried seaweed) on top, which added an earthy flavor. Served with the noodles was a cold, flavorful soy-based broth (tsuyu). Wasabi and scallion were provided on the side. I mixed in some wasabi and scallion to my broth and twirled the noodles in the broth before each bite. Since every bite of noodles had a different combination of broth, nori, wasabi and scallion, each bite had a slightly different mix of flavors. A fun and delicious adventure.

I-Naba tsuyuOnce my noodles were gone, the friendly (and patient) waitress brought out a small pitcher with the water that my noodles had been cooked in. Sensing I was a novice, she explained that I could add the hot water to my cold broth and drink it. This made for a nice, warm “soup”, which turned out to be quite tasty. I cleared my palate with a couple last sips of my “Limeade” and a couple slices of ginger left over from my tuna bowl.

I-Naba serves up a great, filling meal, full of interesting flavors and textures for a very reasonable price.

  • Go between 5:30 and 7pm and enjoy cold draft Asahi beer for just $2 a glass.
  • Soba is a relatively healthy noodle, containing essential amino acids, B vitamins and antioxidants.
  • I-Naba also has locations in California and Hawaii.

Website: www.inabalasvegas.com
I-Naba on Urbanspoon

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Chicago Brewing Company: Pizza and Beer

Chicago Brewing Company Thin Crust PizzaLocated up a short flight of stairs in the back right-hand corner of the Four Queens, Chicago Brewing Company offers the perfect combination to fuel your hunger and your thirst.

They offer both thin crust and deep dish pizzas as well as a variety of appetizers. While I have never tried the apps I can confirm that the pizza is very good. With the thin crust, you can choose your own toppings such as pepperoni, mushroom, peppers, etc. It is cut Chicago style and is slightly thicker than New York style pizza. The deep dish comes standard with sausage, pepperoni and cheese. It is pretty small in diameter but it makes up with it in toppings and crust!

Chicago Brewing Company Deep Dish PizzaAs for refreshments, you can choose from their variety of micro-brews. There is always a good variety. They have light ale, amber ale, brown ale, hefeweizen and stout. All are quite good and, starting at $4 for a 14 oz, they won’t break the bank. But you want to know the best thing? You can get a 64oz growler filled with your favorite brew for just $14 (note: the IPA is $20). These brown glass jugs are even refillable – so you could even tote one up and down Fremont if you wanted to.

Not feeling like a beer? Well, I hope you like root beer then because this place makes their own (excellent) root beer. Last time we went with a group and we ended up sharing a growler of it. Needless to say, everyone was impressed!

So, if you are interested in a cheap and tasty food option in the heart of Fremont Street, check it out. You can find their menu here: http://www.fourqueens.com/pdf/chicago_brew_menu.pdf

  • If smoke bothers you, ask to be seated in the dining room (to the left). The bar area to the right is both a video poker bar and a cigar bar.
  • Stop by on weekdays from 3-6pm for happy hour – all appetizers are half price!

Chicago Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Another Quick Win!

In just a few short hours, we got the correct answer to “Where in Vegas: Eight.” The photo was taken inside the parking garage at the Orleans Casino – a favorite place of mine to play and stay. Great job, Dean! This is Dean’s second win!

Thanks to those that participated. I’ll be sending Dean an email to find out which prize he wants and where to send it. If you haven’t won yet, stay tuned. We’ll be at it again next month!

Where in Vegas: Eight

It’s time to play the Where In Vegas game again! Our last winner, Richard, is now the proud owner of a snazzy Las Vegas Off Strip t-shirt! He was the first one to guess and he got it right – the location of our last contest photo was inside Mermaid’s.

Where In VegasSo here’s your chance to win. Be the first to correctly identify where the photo at left was taken and you’ll get your choice of two fantastic prizes. Have you been here before? Where In Vegas is it?

If you think you might know, get that guess in quick! Only the first correct answer wins. Last time the winner got it in a record twenty minutes! The first correct answer gets their choice of two great 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 these prizes 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

Red Rock Canyon Part 3: Hiking the Calico Tanks Trail

Red Rock Canyon Visitor CenterThe Calico Tanks Trail is a moderately strenuous two and a half mile (round trip) out and back hike through the valley and up the Calico Ridge. It took us about two and a half hours to complete the hike, including photo and rest stops. Your mileage may vary. I would recommend wearing hiking boots, though it is possible to traverse in sneakers. At minimum, you should bring plenty of water, a snack, a flashlight, a camera, and a hiking buddy. This time of year, early morning is probably the safest and most comfortable time to go – it can get very hot during the day and there is limited shade along this trail. You may just want to save this hike for when things cool off a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico TankWe did the hike one afternoon in early February. Weather-wise, Spring or Fall would be the best time for this hike. That gives you plenty of time to plan. Refer to the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association website for park hours and admission rates.

Upon arrival, it’s worth stopping at the visitor center before you start so you can use the facilities and get up to date information and advice from one of the friendly and informative guides. That’s how we found out about this fantastic hike in the first place. We asked for an easy to moderate hike that could be accomplished in 2-3 hours in sneakers. After getting an idea of our fitness and experience levels the guide told us about the Calico Tanks Trail. She said that visitors from outside of Las Vegas tend to enjoy the view at the end of this out and back hike. I think she may have downplayed it a bit.

Red Rock Canyon Calico Tanks TrailYou can access the Calico Tanks Trail from the Sandstone Quarry Trailhead. This is the third parking area past the visitor center, off of the scenic loop road. Like most hikes in Red Rock Canyon, Calico Tanks Trail provides interesting biology and geology with beautiful panoramic views along the way. The hike follows a sandstone path, then climbs towards the Calico Ridge over slick stone and boulders. There are a few mild ridges, and the trail requires some scrambling. There are stairs cut into the steeper sections.

The reason I recommend this particular hike is the payoff at the end. The Calico Tank is kind of neat. It’s large pool of collected water in the middle of the desert. Maybe you could get a cool photo with the mountains reflecting off the surface or something. You might see some small fish in the tank, or a larger desert animal stopping for a drink. But, this isn’t the real reason for hiking all the way out here. When you reach the tank, don’t turn back yet – the best is yet to come. Hike up around the saddle to the right and just beyond the tank…

The ultimate picnic spot!

The ultimate picnic spot!

For the most amazing panoramic view of Las Vegas! You can see the valley below, you can see the downtown Fremont Street casinos. You can see the strip from end to end. It’s breathtaking! There are a couple of well placed flat rocks that are perfect for a little picnic (don’t forget, leave no trace). It’s not the easiest or the shortest hike in Red Rock, nor is it the highest or most challenging. But as far as effort / reward ratio, this hike is a jackpot win! Plan some time to soak it all in, get some photos and relax a bit. Just remember to turn back before it gets too hot (especially in summer), or too near to closing time. I hope they will offer a guided night hike out here so I can take in the view at night!

Click to view the full-size panorama (8000 x 1166 pixels)!

Click to display full-screen and click again to view the full-size panorama (12883 x 1878 pixels)!

Tips:

  • Really, if you haven’t already done so, click the panoramic image above. If that doesn’t convince you to go on this hike, nothing will!
  • The Bird and Hike website offers a great detailed trail guide for this and many other Las Vegas area hikes. Print it out before you go.

Website: www.redrockcanyonlv.org

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Related:
Red Rock Canyon Part 1: Driving the Scenic Road
Red Rock Canyon Part 2: Guided Night Hikes

Fat Choy: Great Bao!

Fat_Choy-wallI love to unearth delicious foods in unlikely places, so it’s a shame that I didn’t discover Chef Sheridan Su (former Executive Chef at Comme Ca) when he was serving up Bao to long lines of customers in the back of a hair salon. I’m sure that would have made for an epic tale. After that, Chef Su went mobile with his operation, starting up the “Great Bao” gourmet food truck. Sadly, I missed that as well. By the time I was ready to venture out and place an order at his truck, Su had parked it.

Fat Choy EurekaI finally tracked down Su at his latest digs, the Fat Choy restaurant in the Eureka Casino at 595 East Sahara. Fat Choy replaces the old coffee shop for this small locals casino, maintaining a few select items from the original menu and adding in Su’s specialties. So, it’s Asian American fare – as in you can still get a burger (with bacon, cheddar, egg and short rib) or (kalbi) steak and eggs, but the real reason to come here is the bao. I ordered one of each of their bao offerings on my weekday visit, and now I know why people lined up in a hair salon to eat this man’s food.

If you’re familiar with the little baskets of Chinese dumplings (bao) at dim sum, then this is the somewhat deconstructed, gourmet version. You get a soft circle of steamed dough about five inches round and maybe half and inch thick, folded over duck confit or braised pork belly and topped with tasty sauces and fresh vegetables and spices. It eats sort of like a cross between a sandwich and a taco – definitely finger food.

Fat Choy baoI dove into the Peking Duck Bao ($7) first. It contains flavorful duck, cucumber and scallion with a tangy hoisin sauce. It tastes fresh and flavorful, but the duck, being, well… meaty, makes this bao hard to keep together while you eat. It’s worth the effort though. Just make sure any stray bits fall on your plate so you can scoop them back up again. It’s a good dish, but if you can only try one (and I’m a huge fan of duck), go for the pork belly.

The only reason you need to go to the Eureka Casino.

The only reason you need to go to the Eureka Casino.

It’s not that the peking duck isn’t good enough to recommend, but the Pork Belly Bao ($7) are truly amazing! The pork belly is marinated overnight, braised 6 hours and topped with mustard greens, peanut and fresh cilantro. The pork belly is soft and flavorful like none I have ever tasted. This bao holds together beautifully because the pork belly comes out even more tender than the steamed dough that surrounds it. The wonderful flavors of this bao lingered on my palate even after a few sips of their fresh brewed iced tea ($1.65). Food like this, I believe, is why people have followed Chef Su wherever he chooses to cook.

Fat Choy Boston Creme Bundt CakeService was very friendly and attentive. Without any provocation on my part, I was rewarded with my choice of free dessert because the waitress felt I had been kept waiting too long (perhaps the food came out a touch slow, but I hadn’t begun to loose patience). I chose the Boston Creme Bundt Cake ($3). It was a small, personal sized yellow bundt cake, fairly solid and sweet with Boston creme flavor frosting on top and filling the center. There was a light drizzle of chocolate on top. This was good, but having grown up on Boston creme doughnuts, I’d say it needs a bit more chocolate and a little less creme. It’s still good as is, especially if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, and a bargain at only three bucks.

Fat Choy tableThe bao alone is worth the trip to this little restaurant. Get there before the rest of the foodie world hears that they can get Chef Su’s delicious pork belly bao in the latest of unlikely places – inside the Eureka locals casino on East Sahara. Soon, I’m sure, they will once again be beating a path to his door.

  • Fat choy is a Chinese vegetable that, when prepared, looks an awful lot like human hair. Clever, eh?
  • Fat Choy is open Monday – Thursday 11am – 10pm, Friday – Saturday 11am – Midnight and Sunday 9am – 10pm.
  • If you want your bao vegetarian style, hit up the Sunday Brunch (all day Sunday) for Tofu and Mushroom Bao ($6) and save a buck over its meaty brethren.
  • In addition to the iced tea, Fat Choy offers bottled sodas, including some Asian specialties ($3), canned soda ($2) and beer ($4.50 Stella, $5.50 Kirin talls).

Website: www.fatchoylv.com
Fat Choy on Urbanspoon

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