Sin City is home to a lot of restaurants and bars, but there are tons of hidden gems that the majority of Las Vegans aren't unearthing. To help guide us to these potential discoveries, we've enlisted some of our city's food players to share their recommendations for a weekly feature dubbed Dining Confidential. Know a chef who wants to share some top dining spots? The tipline is open.
Juan Zuniga [Photo: BLT Burger]
Juan Zuniga grew up in South Gate, Calif., inspired by his grandmother's Mexican cooking — particularly her handmade tortillas. At age 15, after enrolling in a high school home economics course, Zuniga decided to pursue a career as a chef. After graduating the Art Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., he became a lead line cook at the Jonathan Club and later became a banquet chef for Colette's Catering in Fullerton. He went on to be the sous chef at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake. By 2008, he decided to move to Vegas, where he worked as a sous chef for BLT Burger at the Mirage, and later moved up to chef de cuisine. At BLT Burger, Zuniga regularly develops new and interesting menu items, from bold and quirky Super Bowl burgers to appetizer specials, such as the barbecue brisket quesadillas. Here he shares some of his favorite off-Strip places to dine when he's not in the kitchen.
Which restaurants do you turn to when you're not working?
I enjoy going out to eat and trying new things, so it's hard to name just three of my favorite restaurants. But if I had to, I would say Hot N Juicy Crawfish, Oyster Bar at Palace Station and Big Dog Brewery, a local tavern off the Strip.
What dishes are most memorable?
I love the spicy crawfish at Hot N Juicy; the crawfish are sweet and juicy, and the spicy seasoning mix gives it that finishing touch.
You can't go wrong with anything at the Oyster Bar, but my favorite dish is the palace pan roast with lobster, shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage. Just be ready to wait; this place always has a line.
At Big Dog Brewery, I order the bratwurst platter, which offers three different types of brats with a side of braised cabbage and pickled vegetables.
Why do you enjoy going there?
Big Dog Brewery is a favorite for locals and a spot that I love. It's very much a Midwestern food concept; they brew their own beers, have 15 beers on tap and a great selection of bratwurst. At Hot N Juicy, I know that I'll always get good food and a cold beer to wash it down. This is a fun place to just hang out with friends. You definitely go to the Oyster Bar for the food; it's great and the portions are huge. Since it's on the casino floor, it's also a fun place to people watch as you wait to be seated.
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