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.
Christopher Johns got his start as a commis chef at Claridges Hotel in London after attending Oxford School of Catering and graduated with City and Guilds of London. The Llanwern, South Wales, native went on to work at Grand Classis Hotel, known as the spare wing to Buckingham Palace, because of the many visiting heads of state that stay there while in London. Four years later he moved to the Compleat Angler, Marlow and then the Crown Inn, Chiddingford, in England. His work took him to the Sheraton in San Juan, Puerto Rico before he worked at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas. A stint in Santa Barbara, California, and then Palm Springs led him to the Frontier Hotel, where he worked as the assistant executive chef, then he transferred to the Sands Hotel as executive chef. Next came Caesars Palace as Chef de Cuisine. After some time off to travel, Coast Casinos hired him to open the Orleans in 1996. In 2005 he became the executive chef on the opening team at South Point.
The long-time member of the American Culinary Federation served as president from 1998 until 2002. Now Chairman of Chefs for Kids, a foundation set up to fight malnutrition and hunger in Children through education and awareness, Johns also works as a member of the advisory board for the Culinary Arts Department of U.N.L.V. and The College of Southern Nevada as well as judging local culinary arts competitions. Here he shares some of his favorite places to dine in Las Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas? What happened that was memorable?
I left England and worked in Puerto Rico for two years and then came to Las Vegas to visit my sister and brother-in-law. At the time it was the early ’70s and the old MGM, now Bally’s, had just opened. Just the size and the number of restaurants inside was impressive. Going up and down the Strip was easy in those days with light traffic. Going from casino to casino, all the different entertainers in all the showrooms, and of course the restaurants in each casino, as well as Downtown, was fun. To be honest, I think one of the more memorable things were the loss leaders in the casinos, and how cheap the meals and drinks were. Oh, those were the days.
What made you decide to move to Las Vegas?
I hadn’t planned to work in Las Vegas when I first came here but could see there was a lot of diversity within the casinos. As a chef, I realized this was going to be a great place to work. The experience of working with so many different styles of cooking within one property was the hook that kept me here.
Where do you like to eat breakfast in Las Vegas?
One of my favorite places for breakfast is the patio at home in the spring or autumn months. When we do go out for breakfast, we like CraftKitchen with the outside patio. They have an interesting and innovative menu. There are a lot of breakfast spots around but we also like the Cracked Egg on Green Valley Parkway that serves a good variety of items including healthy choices, and I’ve seen several chefs in there on their morning off or after church. Rise & Shine is a great breakfast spot. It sometimes has a long wait to get in, but worth it.
What about lunch?
I don’t go out for lunch too often because I’m working at South Point during this time of day, but on a day off, we’ve started to go to a different casino each month and play tourist. It’s fun. We enjoyed Eataly when we went there. It was interesting and has a lot to chose from if you’re with a group of people. The patio at Spago in the Bellagio offers a nice view; however, we also enjoy more down-to-earth places such as Lazy Dog, where we can take our little dog and meet friends with their best friends as well. I have been known to stop at the Crown & Anchor for a nice pint of beer and fish and chips. I also enjoyed the Burger Bar at Mandalay Place. I have down-to-earth tastes.
If you’re going out for dinner, which restaurants do you like to frequent? What makes them special? Any dishes you can recommend?
I like Indian food, my wife doesn’t, so sometimes I’ll meet friends and we’ll go out for a good curry. I’ve had good meals at Gandhi India Cuisine and Mount Everest. When my wife and I go out, one of our favorite places is Ventano’s. It has good Italian food with a great view of the city. Lamb chops on the stone are always good and great to share, as is the veal saltimbocca. I also really like the fresh fish specials. Zest in Southern Highlands has been a favorite for some time. It has a nice menu and a good locals place.
Where do you like to dine for a special occasion?
With so many choices in town now this is a tough one. My stepson likes to try many of the new restaurants in the casinos, and so do I. We’ve been to Morels at the Palazzo a few times and always came away happy. We like the good life of Las Vegas so we’re always trying a new restaurant up and down the Strip for that special night out, which is usually on weeknights. Traffic can be a little too much on weekends.
Are there any brunches in town you like to frequent?
I’m not a great fan of going to buffets, however, I like the brunch at Wynn Las Vegas. From the moment you walk in until you go for the desserts you get value, and the variety of foods and presentation is top-of-the-line.
Let’s say you want to hang out with your friends after work. Where do you like to go?
Many of my old after-work hangouts have closed or changed. It’s a shame as there were many great small bars and lounges in town. I enjoy meeting friends in a small pizza bar or pub, or we’ll end the day at a friend’s home on the patio with some good wine, bread, and cheese or a cool beer. Another enjoyable place to unwind with a group of friends is Topgolf. You don’t have to be a good golfer. Just show up and have fun.
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