The locals always know the best food at fair prices, as well as all the hidden gems of their city’s culinary scene. If you’re willing to venture off the beaten path, and sometimes gamble that dining spots with limited seating and hours will be open, you’ll enjoy a culinary payout that beats the odds!
As we’ve previously indicated, Vegas is a gastronomic haven, offering a veritable cornucopia of amazing eateries - on the Strip and off. But where do the locals go when they want to get a good meal at a great price? Here’s a sampling of some of Vegas’ best eats, according to those in the know.
Hidden Gem - Opus Too
Want to know a secret that still eludes even some locals? How about a gourmet, three-course meal priced at about $15 for dinner and $10 for lunch. Welcome to Opus Too, the student-run restaurant of the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Las Vegas. Here, students run every aspect of the restaurant - from operations to cooking to customer service - as part of their required curriculum, with everything overseen by two master chefs.
Culinary Arts Academic Director Philip Pinkney describes the cuisine: "Big flavors and aromatic pairings with premium ingredients and contemporary presentations embody the cuisine of Opus Too." The menu changes constantly, but features hearty and often French-inspired fare like savory lamb stew, fried goat cheese salad and sautéed sweet scallops.
One word of warning: be sure to call or visit their website in advance. Opus Too has both limited seating and hours, and it’s not open at all when classes are on break.
Feast for the Senses - Springs Café
Here’s another dining hotspot many locals favor. Attached to one our favorite area attractions (Springs Preserve), Springs Café operates under the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas (CALV). Unlike Opus Too, however, it’s not student-run. Rather, Springs Café hires recent CALV graduates to showcase their newly forged gourmet skills.
We love this place because it feeds so many senses simultaneously. Overlooking Springs Preserve, the Café offers a feast for the eyes even as its eclectic and healthy bistro dishes burst with flavor.
Call or visit their website for times, because Springs Café has limited hours of operation.
Where the Local Chefs Eat - Raku
Raku, located off-Strip in a neighborhood strip mall in Las Vegas’ Chinatown, is a Japanese "charcoal house." It’s popular among local foodies thanks to its late hours and phenomenal gastronomy. The restaurant offers an interesting approach: tapas-styles dining with small plates of Japanese barbecue (itzakaya). Be sure to try the agedashi tofu: it offers a delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture, made daily by the chef, with unexpectedly delicious flavor. Even if you don’t usually like tofu, be aware that this is worlds away from your average grocery store brand.
Do make reservations: the restaurant is small and fills up quickly.
If you’d like to try another superb Asian restaurant (this one Thai), may we recommend Lotus of Siam.
The Best Pub - Queen Victoria Pub
We’ve previously highlighted our own Queen Victoria Pub in our review of the Best Burgers in Vegas, but as it was recently voted the Best British Pub in Vegas 2013, it bears mentioning again. Even the Las Vegas Review-Journal has commented on the authenticity of the pub, with its traditional foods like Scotch Eggs and sausage rolls, and a friendly atmosphere. The Review-Journal describes the hotspot as an island "of conviviality."
But aside from the delicious pub fare and the absolutely unbeatable selection of ales, lagers, Belgian brews, German brews, porters, stouts, craft beers, specialty brews and unique "beertails," the Queen Victoria is a just plain great place to hang out. For example, it has a whole Darts Room primed for a game of "’arrers" to spend an enjoyable afternoon or evening with friends old and new.