When chef Rich Hinojosa first visited Las Vegas with his family at age 13, he was not old enough to take in all that Sin City had to offer, namely: gambling, boozing and fine dining. As a full-grown culinarian, the executive chef and co-owner of CRUjiente Tacos now makes regular runs to check out the "fun stuff going on in Vegas for restaurants." From Chinatown to downtown, Hinojosa shares his favorite hot spots and up-and-comers.
Shang Artisan Noodle
Hinojosa urges everyone going to Las Vegas to visit Shang Artisan Noodle in Chinatown, where the cooks hand-pull fresh noodles to toss into soups or saucy stir-fries. After stumbling upon the restaurant for the first time during his most recent trip, he can't stop thinking about the beef pancakes. Hinojosa says they "aren't like the typical pancake we know," but that it's "kind of like eating a dumpling." He also recommends Shang's delicate, spicy pork wontons.
Lotus of Siam
One destination that never leaves Hinojosa's hit list is Lotus of Siam, a mecca for Northern Thai cuisine. As a self-proclaimed "wine geek," Hinojosa is a fan of Lotus' Riesling selection. "They have a ridiculous Riesling wine list. It's arguably the best I've ever seen. I shouldn't say that; it is the best I've ever seen." He likes everything on the huge menu, but he always returns to the fried prawns, and any kind of curry. Because the restaurant is so popular, Hinojosa recommends getting there early. He says it's worth the effort because the food is "absolutely amazing."
Hinojosa says The Cosmopolitan is attracting top culinary talent. Star chef David Chang's momofuku enticed Hinojosa, who admires "the way [Chang] looks at cuisine." The pork belly ramen and steam buns were his favorites. "The ramen there was absolutely amazing, the broth is everything I imagined it to be." The Cosmopolitan also boasts momofuku's sister dessert stand Milk Bar, which serves fresh cookies and shakes. "As sexy as that hotel is, it's kind of cool to walk around The Cosmopolitan with a milkshake at the end of the night," he says.
Tacos El Gordo
Hinojosa always stays off the strip at the Golden Nugget because it reminds him of his childhood trips. "I'm kind of old school that way," he says. One downtown spot that stands out is Tacos El Gordo, a Vegas outpost of a Tijuana taqueria. Hinojosa hunkers down for street tacos with braised meat, fresh tortillas, onions, salsa and cilantro. He says he can smell the meats cooking as soon as he gets out of his car and it transports him back to his native Texas. "It (the smell) took me back to the taquerias when I was a little kid."
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