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.
Chef Luis Montesinos started his culinary career working at his family’s restaurants in Washington, D.C. After working as a front of the house manager for many years, he came to join the ThinkFoodGroup family as a server at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, where he later become a sous chef. In 2008, he moved to Las Vegas to open and lead the kitchen at China Poblano, which debuted when the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened. After nearly three years at China Poblano, Montesinos moved over to Jaleo by José Andrés, where he is currently the head chef. Here he shares some of his favorite restaurants in Las Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas?
I came for a bachelor party, shocking right? It was tame; dinner at Mesa Grill, and then we went to the Hard Rock to hangout and gamble.
What happened that was memorable?
I remember walking into the Hard Rock. It was loud and had an electric feel to it. Mötley Crüe was playing. It was like something out of a movie. I was hooked!
What made you decide to move to Las Vegas?
I moved here from Washington, D.C., to open China Poblano. I had never opened a restaurant before, and I wanted the experience, and it was in a brand new hotel. I gave myself three years to live in Vegas, then José Andrés asked me to transfer to Jaleo. I never saw this coming, since I knew nothing about Spanish food. Nine years later, I am still here and have fallen in love with Spain via Las Vegas. Kind of a unique journey, no? I would do it all over again.
Where do you like to eat breakfast in Las Vegas?
I enjoy going to the Cracked Egg, the one on Rainbow and the 215. It is a solid breakfast spot. I go big for breakfast: pancakes, eggs, sausage links, English muffin, hash browns, and a side of the coffee cake. All that and a newspaper and I am nice and full for a couple of hours.
What about lunch?
Cugino’s Italian Deli on Maryland by UNLV. Growing up in D.C., we had an amazing sandwich shop called The Italian Store. They had the best sandwiches. Cugino’s fills that spot in my heart. I get the Donnie’s Special. It has chicken cutlets, fresh mozzarella, roasted pepper, balsamic vinegar, and oil. I add some prosciutto because, why not? It is everything a sandwich should be. Cugino’s is family owned, which makes me happy, since I grew up in a family restaurant.
If you’re going out for dinner, which restaurants do you like to frequent?
Recently, I have been going to Best Friend at The Park. We all avoid the Strip on our days off, but it’s totally worth the trip.
What makes them special?
It has soul.
Any dishes you can recommend?
I’d recommend the spicy pork with thinly sliced belly and shoulder, kochujang, sesame and the kori short rib tacos with Korean barbecue, salsa roja, cilantro-onion-lime, and chili soy slaw. I remember going to LA just to find a Kogi truck so I could get my hands on that taco. It was worth the Twitter following just to eat it! Now I can get one any day of the week. Plus, the staff and management are always on point. Engaging with their guests shows that their staff believes in what they do. It is not just about selling food; they are creating experiences.
Where do you like to dine for a special occasion?
Bardot Brasserie at Aria. The food and service are always perfect. I order steak tartare and the duck a l’orange with pan-roasted Hudson Valley duck breast, Holland white asparagus, wild ramps, turnip fondant, and seasonal citrus, and macaroni and mimolette grantinée sauce. So good!
Are there any brunches in town you like to frequent?
Herringbone at Aria. Be sure to get a table outside. It is the best patio on the Strip. The brunch menu is everything a brunch place should be; loco moco, carving, and egg stations, oysters, and they make a killer Negroni. The perfect addition is having DJ Rubble on my iPad for my seven-month old son Maverick to listen to while we eat.
Let’s say you want to hang out with your friends after work. Where do you like to go?
This is the best part of being in Las Vegas. It does not have to be one spot. Start at one place and then work your way around. For example, start at Blue Ribbon for some oysters and fried chicken, then go to Momofuku for some more snacks and drinks. Next, head over to The Barbershop Cuts & Cocktails for cocktails or whiskey and a fresh cut. Be sure to ask for Fidel. He gives the freshest cuts. By that point in the night, it will feel like Mötley Crüe is playing in your head; like something right out of a movie.
• All Coverage of Jaleo [ELV]
• All Dining Confidentials [ELV]