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 readers to these potential discoveries, Eater Vegas enlisted some of the city’s food players to share their recommendations for a feature dubbed Dining Confidential.
SecretBurger president and founder Jolene Mannina keeps reinventing herself in Las Vegas. A captain job at Commander’s Palace brought her to Las Vegas from Louisiana in 1999. Then she launched her own food truck, Sloppi Jo’s Roving Eatery, in 2010. She brought chefs together to battle it on food trucks with the Back of the House Brawl, which landed her a show, Late Night Chef Fight, on A&E’s FYI Channel in 2014. She headed up the culinary experiences at the inaugural Life is Beautiful festival in Downtown Las Vegas, and later at the Further Future festival. Then it was off to Urban Seed in 2016, where she worked as the vice president of culinary relationships and chairman of the advisory board. Now she has SecretBurger with off-the-menu culinary experiences sold in advance to diners, now served at restaurants in 15 cities. Here she shares some of her top dining picks in Las Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas? What happened that was memorable?
My first trip to Vegas was in 1999 when I moved to Vegas. Coming from New Orleans, I was overwhelmed by the desert setting and the larger than life strip of buildings in the middle of the desert.
What made you decide to move to Las Vegas?
I moved to Las Vegas to open Commander’s Palace, from New Orleans, which was inside the Aladdin at that time. As soon as they announced the opening in Las Vegas my bags were already packed! I was 22 years old and ready for an adventure.
Where do you like to eat breakfast in Las Vegas?
I stop at Vesta Coffee four times a week before I get my day started. If I lived closer to Rooster Boy Café, chef Sonia would get tired of seeing me. I could eat her granola and buckwheat pancakes every morning.
What about lunch?
Bajamar Seafood & Tacos on Las Vegas Boulevard. My girlfriend introduced me to their aguachile Bajamar and now I crave it! Marinated shrimp in lime juice with beets, onions, carrots, and habanero chili on a bed of cucumbers, amazing.
Meraki Greek Grill is one of my top lunch spots in Vegas. I get all the spreads and a Greek salad topped with gyro meat.
Rooster Boy Café. Chef Sonia is always there and ready to cook for you. Her menu is there as a base, tell her what makes your taste buds sing and she’ll add her special touch to your dish, so it’s perfect for you.
If you’re going out for dinner, which restaurants do you like to frequent? What makes them special? Any dishes you can recommend?
Forte Tapas. Where else are you served drinking water from a vodka bottle? This tiny restaurant has been around for 10 years because they make you feel like you were transported to Europe when you arrive. I love the hearty dishes like beef & lamb confit and potato dumplings.
Harvest by Roy Ellamar. Chef Roy is known for sourcing fresh local ingredients and it comes through on his menu. Some of his sides are my favorite dishes, roasted eggplant, mushroom farro risotto, roasted cruciferous, and the naan bread. The Snack Wagon is one of the best dining experiences in Vegas. Chef Roy and his invited guest chef both have a cart full of small dishes that are prepared for you table side.
Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse inside Golden Nugget. I love to dine at the bar and these bartenders have been there forever! I always get a seafood martini to start (this is off-the-menu but they’ll make it for you if you ask nicely) and simple steak for dinner. They also have one of the best crab cakes in Vegas.
BBD’s inside Palace Station. Burgers, burgers and more burgers. There is more to the menu than just burgers. Chef is serving duck ramen, confit wings, lamb gyro taco (killer), and The Leibner, slow-roasted prime beef dipped in beef jus and served on a house-made onion everything bagel-spiced rye roll that’s served with dipping jus and horseradish cream sauce.
Where do you like to dine for a special occasion?
It depends on the special occasion. Sometimes I’m in the mood for fun food adventure and other times I want a dark sexy room where I can post up and stay all night. NoMad inside Park MGM. Gin martini for two, please! Begin at the NoMad Bar and move the gorgeous library room for a full-service experience. Brian Newman’s after-hours show is inside the dining room so if you plan it just right, your evening can turn into dinner and a show. Aria is one of my favorite places to arrange a dine-around experience. Start at Bardot Brasserie for oysters and crab salad. Next, Carbone Italian Restaurant for a martini and meatballs and finish at Herringbone for a nice piece of fish and beautiful vegetables.
Are there any brunches in town you like to frequent?
Top brunch is a toss between Bouchon and Bardot Brasserie for all the reasons, but when I’m not heading to the strip I make my way to The Stove. The menu is fun, the room has high energy and chef Antonio and Scott Comings are serving comforting dishes at brunch that put a smile on your face.
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