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.
James Sawyer got his culinary start at culinary vocational high school in Buffalo, New York, moving on to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduation, he worked at top hotels in Philadelphia and eventually made his way to New Orleans. He opened three House of Blues — including the location in Mandalay Bay — and worked as a corporate training chef. He joined the Rí Rá Irish Pub team at Mandalay Place shortly after it opened in 2012. Here he shares some of his top picks for dining in Las Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas?
My first trip to Vegas was moving here, never visiting.
What happened that was memorable?
It was Feb. 1, 1999, and it was Super Bowl Sunday. I had the keys to my new apartment, but nothing was hooked up. The maintenance men were having a Super Bowl party and invited me to join them. There was tons of food, alcohol, and craziness. At that point I knew Vegas was going to be good to me.
What made you decide to move to Las Vegas?
I was living and working in New Orleans at the House of Blues. They were looking for trainers that wanted to relocate to the new Vegas store. I was already a trainer and they offered a moving bonus. I was tired of New Orleans and figured it’d be fun to open the Las Vegas House of Blues and live in Vegas.
Where do you like to eat breakfast in Las Vegas?
A few local spots on the southwest side of town. Rise & Shine, Stacks & Yolks, and BabyStacks Cafe. For steak and eggs, it’s hands down Rise & Shine. For pancakes its BabyStacks and for something different but still good quality, I like Stacks & Yolks.
What about lunch?
Dirt Dog or Ron’s Market. I really enjoy going to Ron’s and getting a plate or the lahmacun, which is what they call Armenian pizza, and then walking around the market until it’s ready. And for a quick and “dirty” lunch you can’t beat the dogs at Dirt Dog.
If you’re going out for dinner, which restaurants do you like to frequent? What makes them special? Any dishes you can recommend?
I love sushi and have found that Oyshi Sushi on Rainbow is the best local spot. The service is good. It has a great atmosphere and the most important thing, the fish is fresh.
Are there any brunches in town you like to frequent?
DW Bistro has an amazing local’s brunch. Jalapeño bacon.
Let’s say you want to hang out with your friends after work. Where do you like to go?
Evel Pie. Good pizza, great beers and the atmosphere is amazing.
Do you have any Irish bars you like to frequent outside of Rí Rá?
Before I started working for Rí Rá, I would go to Three Angry Wives Pub. I enjoyed them but really haven’t wanted or had the desire to go anywhere else since being with Rí Rá. We are an authentic Irish pub in the desert. And I’ve been to Ireland so I can say that!
• All Dining Confidentials [ELV]
• All Coverage of Rí Rá Irish Pub [ELV]