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.
TV personality Ben Vaughn from the Food Network’s Health Inspectors is on the verge of bringing Ben's Southern Kitchen next to Atomic Liquors later this year. In the meantime, Vaughn gets set to show off some of the dishes he plans to serve at Motley Brews’ 2015 Great Vegas Festival of Beer, which celebrates its fifth anniversary as Nevada’s largest craft beer festival near Downtown’s Fremont East Entertainment District on Saturday, April 11, from 3 to 7 p.m. Of course, you have to be a VIP ticket holders to do that.
Vaughn specializes in Southern cuisine and comfort foods and even plans to publish Southern Routes, a book about his travels to find the best dishes and restaurants from North Carolina to Texas. Vaughn also teases that he wants to open several off-Strip restaurants. Here he talks about one of his favorite topics, dining and best dishes. See where the chef who’s the CEO and culinary director of his Atlanta-based Fork Knife Spoon likes to dine in Las Vegas.
Which restaurants do you turn to when you’re not working?
This is really tough. Honestly, because there are so many amazing options in town it's hard to settle on just a few. I like specifically dishes from specific places. That's how I crave food, at least. How a restaurant delivers conceptually is a different conversation than a quality of food discussion. That said, my choices right this second would be Yardbird, Pizza Rock and Lotus of Siam. But really, if you were to ask me the same question two months from now, I doubt I'd have the same answer. There's just so many good options, from tiny hole in the wall places to national names, Las Vegas is unlike anywhere else on earth, we've got it all here.
What dishes are most memorable?
So, this question is much more my speed when it comes to food cravings. The drunken noodle prawns at Lotus of Siam are unbelievable. The prawns are hearty and cooked to perfection. The right amount of snap, without being overcooked (or worse undercooked). The great thing about Lotus' menu though is that I'm able to explore and am rarely let down with anything I try.
It's important to note that I'm a shill for appetizers. I love starters when I'm eating out. I like to order a few for the table to munch on while we're waiting for our entrees.
Lately, I've been dreaming about Yardbird's smoked and roasted bone marrow. I know marrow isn't something for everyone, and their presentation at Yardbird certainly doesn't leave much to the imagination (they serve bone-in). But if you like marrow, you will not be disappointed with this dish. It's the perfect balance of taste and texture and their onion jam and house bacon are the perfect compliments. So tasty!
Why do you enjoy going there?
I like Lotus of Siam because the food is insanely tasty and they offer a truly authentic experience. It's simple food. No frills. Easy in and easy out. And to me, calling something "simple" is the highest compliment I can give. To successfully execute simple is actually quite difficult. It's simple perfection and so good.
Yardbird is high on my list these days because they're able to execute Southern food without it feeling like a "theme park" experience. The way that you can have an "everyman" meal in the middle of the Venetian is transformative. You can truly see the labor of love that goes into their food through how they meticulously execute to perfection. Southern food is my passion and there aren't a lot of options around town for food in this lane. Although, my hope is to bring a little more South to Las Vegas' mouth with my opening of Southern Kitchen later this year downtown.
For Pizza Rock it's all about technique. Tony Gemignani's vision and execution there is absolutely spot on. You can carve that type of food up a thousand different ways, and believe me, I feel like I've seen all of them. But to be able to knock it down and deliver like they do, it's impressive. There's so much "white noise" in that space, if you can separate yourself from the crowd like Tony has, I believe they really have something special going on there.