By Vegas Food Nerd

It’s no secret that I am a huge Rick Moonen fan. His restaurant, RM Seafood at Mandalay, is a spot that I consider one of my go-to places to eat in Las Vegas. Rick garnered national attention when Oprah visited, to try his infamous Catfish Sloppy-Joe Sandwich. While the sandwich is no longer on the menu (Chef Moonen only uses the freshest and most sustainable seafood available), his fresh and inventive cuisine continues to keep me coming back time and again.  

On this particular visit, my friend and I happened to wander in during Happy Hour. It was pretty deserted in the restaurant, so we decided to saddle up to the bar to see what they had to offer for Happy Hour prices. First thing to catch our eyes was the $4 bottles of Stella Artois beer. They happened to be out of the bottles, so they offered the same price for the Stella draft, which they serve in the classic Stella glasses (which, let’s face it, is the best way to drink the stuff). We then ordered up their chef’s Kama, Fried Rice Krispies, Truffles Arancini, a half a dozen Oysters, and finally ended the meal with their Steak Frites with chipotle butter.  

The Oysters were up first and they were perfect briny bites—so fresh and clean. After that dish we feasted on the Chef’s Kama, which is the collar (the most tender part of the fish), grilled to perfection creating a buttery texture to the fish that was cooked to perfection. Next up was the Fried Rice Krispies—a crisp, savory cake topped with a slice of raw fish and topped with a spicy, yet decadent, wasabi crema. The Truffled Arancini came next, and these deep fried balls of rice with a creamy cheese stuffing were luxurious bites with just the right amount of that thick truffle flavor. We wrapped the meal up with a couple more glasses of Stella and their Steak Frites. The flat iron steak was cooked perfectly, and the fries were thin and crispy, and no, we didn’t leave a single one behind. It felt like an over-the-top expensive meal, yet when the bill came, the total came to only $99.45.  

Thank you, Chef Moonen. We will be back again. Amazing as always.



Shake Shack is the burger stand that has a reputation that reaches far and wide. What started as a Hot Dog stand in New York City has now spawned into a soon to be nationwide chain that sometimes has devotees lining up for hours at a time to try the offerings at the Shack. We have two locations in our city: one at the New York New York Hotel and Casino, and one opened recently in Downtown Summerlin. It was a late weekday afternoon when my friend (a huge burger lover) and I decided to see what all the fuss was about. This is a burger and fries, fast/casual type of eatery. But when you walk in to place your order, it doesn’t feel like a traditional fast-food spot at all. It feels clean, modern and upscale for a burger joint. The tables are handcrafted and recycled from a bowling alley in Brooklyn, NY. We ordered a couple of shakes, cheese fries, and a couple of burgers. I opted for the cheeseburger with added pickles and onions, while my friend went a simpler route with a standard hamburger upgraded with a nice slice of bacon. We were then handed a pager and told it would light up and vibrate when our food was ready. Then you grab your choice of condiments at their pristinely-clean counter and sit at one of those cool tables I told you about. Our food was ready in just a few minutes, and when I went up to the counter, the manager thanked me for checking out Shake Shack and handed me two coupons for free ice cream cones on our return visit. Then it was burger time. We both grabbed our burgers in unison and took a bite. You know that moment when you stop and just sort of swoon when you eat something that is just so good? Well, we had that moment and just looked at each other and said, “Oh, my God.” The burger is juicy and buttery, and the pickles were hand cut like big deli ones, the rest of the toppings were fresh and crisp, and I loved the Shack Sauce dripping through my melting cheese. The shakes were thick and rich and we both loved the flavors that we selected. The cheese fries were pretty yummy as well, with the crinkle cut salty treats covered in a processed cheese sauce that makes everyone happy. So basically, yeah, I get it now. Next time I have to partake in their beer and wine selections specially brewed for Shake Shack diners. Their menu is constantly evolving and they also offer new shake flavors every week in a very effective way to entice people like me back again, and again. Well played, Shake Shack, well played… • Follow me at: @vegasfoodnerd




A newly opened outpost of this highly coveted California-inspired Mexican grill that celebrates the flavors created by Great Grandma Bonilla from Fresnillo, Mexico is now open at the Palms Casino Resort right in front of Brenden Theaters. There was at one time a location of Chronic Tacos in Summerlin, yet now that location has been shuttered, making this the only Vegas location that is currently open for locals and visitors to visit. The founder of the brand is Randy Wyner, whose inspiration came from the Bonilla family’s backyard barbeques, sparking the concept that he later turned into a chain restaurant and all its offerings reinvented from the Bonilla family recipes.

“We only use the freshest ingredients and make our food from scratch everyday, the way Great Grandmother Bonilla did,” he said. Fast-forward to the here and now in Las Vegas and you will find twin founders (literally twin brother and sister team) Jennifer and Jonathan Lewis, who believed in Randy’s concept so wholeheartedly that they decided to open a Chronic of their very own. The twins were no strangers to the franchise game, Jennifer explained, “We actually have baby photos of each other in McDonald’s onesies,” having grown up in the family business with their parents who owned and ran all of the McDonald’s locations in Summerlin. Their parents retired this past year, but with the full support of their family, the twins decided to make a change for their future, selling 10 of their 20 golden arches locations to focus on a new venture with Chronic Tacos, and with a plan to build more locations around the Vegas market.

The two very graciously let a friend and I try the Chronic and its signature flavors. We trusted in the two owners and asked them to bring us a sampling of their different taco flavors. We tried the Carnitas, Al Pastor, Carne Asada, and the Grilled Shrimp Tacos. The cool part of Chronic is that they offer so many fresh toppings to their tacos that their freshness is the first part of the food that we noticed. Then Jennifer appeared, asking what we thought. Through mumbled mouthfuls, we responded that it was, “all just so tasty!” Then she added: “I know you are getting full, but I put a Mahi Mahi Taco in the fryer—I wanted you to try that, too.” Thankfully she did, because this might have been our favorite bite that we sampled: a rich, melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing. I will be going back for this again. If you want to get some Chronic that won’t get your car swerving, I’d suggest checking this place out before a good movie at Brendan Theaters.

Good barbeque takes time, effort, and passion. And you will find that in this small, unassuming place located in Container Park here in DTLV. A chance encounter with the sometimes quirky yet charismatic leader, Zappos’ Tony Heish, led to this Los Angeles-bred pit master to open this BBQ restaurant that executes the meat in a way that would make you think that Ern is a Southern boy. The ribs are smoked and full of flavor. It’s a no-frills type of establishment: You need to get your own napkins and utensils, but the fun part is you get to pick from one of their many variations on BBQ sauce to get to the particular flavor or moisture level of their meat. Yes, they have some salads to choose from, but come on!! This is BBQ we are talking about—get the meat, briskets, hot links, and then load up on the mac and cheese and the baked beans. This is not the time to diet. This is the time to fill up on some stick-to-your-bones full-on greasy flavor. It is a paper plate/sticky napkin experience that will feed your soul and make you feel as though Johnny and June Cash might walk through the door at any moment. Container Park can be pretty sleepy sometimes, but I highly suggest you give some foot traffic to this place, where the founder’s passion is not only evident in his quotes and press releases, but in the food, as well. Now go eat something.

I have to close this article with a “Thank You to STRIPLV and the entire staff here.” It’s been a wild ride—crazy, stressful at times, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Thank you guys! You’ve made my dream of eating and writing about it come true. Rock on! • Follow me at: @vegasfoodnerd

Pho Saigon 8 by Vegas Food Nerd


By Vegas Food Nerd

Our small, yet prolific corner of our city, located just a few steps away from the madness of the Las Vegas Strip, which we all know as “China Town,” has many eclectic offerings for those looking for dynamic flavor and unique tastes. Traveling down Spring Mountain Road can be overwhelming in terms of choosing a restaurant to dine in. On the night in question, my friend and I stopped in a small, unassuming place called Pho Saigon 8. It is a simple, no frills place that churns out Vietnamese comfort food. The interior is pretty stark, yet feels very clean.  

It’s a little embarrassing as a food writer to admit this, but I’d never had Pho. I had heard the tales of this big bowl of noodles that the diner can customize to their heart’s content, but had yet to experience it for myself. So the mission for our meal that night was to try the Pho. But, as I’m never one to discriminate when it comes to sampling a menu, we tried a few other things, as well.  

We ordered a few different plates and big bowls of Pho Tai (noodles in a broth served with rare eye round steak). First to hit the table were their Egg Rolls, which are crispy, flavorful, and stuffed very generously with beef and pork. They come with crispy green lettuce to wrap them in, which gives a bright crunch to the deep fried treats when you eat them. Next up we tried one of their Rice Plates with Sliced Pork. The pork had a BBQ flavor to it and was very tender. Finally came the dish we had come to try—our Pho Tai was served: big steaming bowls of broth with rice noodles and the rare beef that was quickly cooking down from the heat of the broth. With the soups, they also offered two plates of ingredients that you could add to customize your Pho, such as crispy bean sprouts, sliced jalapeños, Thai basil, mint leaves, cilantro, lime wedges, and a chili sauce. Then you grab your chopsticks in one hand, and your soupspoon with the other, and dig right in. I’d recommend trying the broth first before doctoring your bowl up too much. I found it velvety smooth with a nice flavor and added flavors as I ate. It was good, really good… like a big, warm hug for your insides. The restaurant is open from 9am-10pm everyday, due in part to Pho being a great hangover cure. I haven’t tested that theory just yet, but I can imagine if you were feeling a little under the weather, a bowl of this stuff would bring you the comfort you might be seeking. So I came, tried, and finally downed some Pho. Only problem now is that I seem to crave it everyday.

Red Rock Casino has been advertising this new promotion quite a bit. Participating restaurants at the resort will be offering tasting menus starting at $5 from 5pm-7pm Monday-Friday. Sounds fun, right? A chance to restaurant hop and try different flavors for a couple of hours sounded like a perfect way to dine out, and I couldn’t wait to try it. We went on a Friday night early enough to beat dinner rush and take-out time, trying different places. First up: Hearthstone Kitchen. I had heard great things about this place, and walking in, we loved the design and feel to the place. Our server heads over and we ask what they have for Taste The Rock menu. She had no clue that they were running the promotion and had to ask a manager. Then she came back to the table with a small menu with only four items to choose from. Nothing appealed to us on the menu except for their draft white wine for $7, so we decided to share the Chickpea Chopped Salad to start. The salad was good, but not the deal that had beckoned to us from the marquees, and the pour on the wine was very low, almost ¼ of a glass. For the price—not a deal at all!  

Next we headed over to Mercadito to see what tastes they had to offer. Our server at this stop did at least know about the promotion, but once again, we were a bit disappointed by the lack of selection offered. We decided to try their Surf and Turf Tacos off the Taste menu, along with their house Margarita that was on it, as well. We liked both items very much, though the portions were small. The tacos featured seared rib eye with a tequila-infused hash of asparagus and cauliflower, topped with a tempura shrimp and a grilled Serrano pepper. It was the best “taste” of the night, hands down, and the Margaritas were very well done, as well.  

We wanted another go round at Mercadito, but decided that we might as well round out our tasting with a final restaurant and headed over Red Rock’s latest Italian place called Salute. Upon reaching the hostess stand, our greeter informed us that the promotion had just ended. We were confused and said the sign said: “‘Til 7pm,” and it was only just now 6pm. She went back to speak with a manager and miraculously found that it was indeed still going on and brought back the menu to show us. Once again, the offerings were slim, but we figured we’d give it a chance anyway. Then, when we asked for a table, she told us that if we were ordering from the discount menu, then we could not sit at a table in their pretty much empty dining room. This did not sit well with us, but we tried to keep an open mind and sat at the bar ordering a couple of glasses of their discounted Pinot Grigio ($8 a glass), and split the discounted Chicken Picatta ($13). The wine pour was a little better this time around and the chicken came quickly to the bar. It was a lackluster attempt at Picatta. The chicken wasn’t tender enough, and the sauce was just mediocre at best. I know of restaurants around the corner with much more reasonable price points that make much better versions of this dish. Disappointed with our evening, we wrapped up the bill and left for the night. Taste the Rock is a great idea in theory, yet it was executed in such a poor manner that it will be quite some time before I visit Red Rock Casino. As a local, I expect jacked up prices on the Strip, but not around the corner from my home.  

Writing about food is fun, and generally, it is an adult’s only experience. I was offered the unique opportunity to try the new Aloha Adventures menu at Rainforest Café on Harmon here in town, and couldn’t resist asking to see if my three young boys might be able to tag along on this little culinary adventure. Rainforest was gracious enough to let the whole family get in on the action, and my boys couldn’t have been more thrilled. It actually really helped having them along with me on this assignment. As adults, we tend to venture to places like Rainforest, which generally are on the outskirts of pricey outdoor amusement parks, with a cynical viewpoint. Kids, on the other hand, walk in the doors with big saucer cup eyes of pure wonder, as they venture into this jungle full of moving creatures and fun light show. We came at a somewhat quiet time for the restaurant, and were able to tour the animals and see its amazing view of the bustling Las Vegas Strip.  

When we sat down at our table, the manager brought over one of the new menu items from Aloha Adventures, the Ahi Poke Tower: fresh, raw Ahi Tuna mixed with spicy soy and sesame seeds stacked on avocado and tomatoes. It was served with wonton chips and a wasabi aioli. Fresh, with a bit of a kick from the wasabi, it was a hit with not just the adults at the table, but the kids, as well. Then they brought out the Awesome Appetizer Adventure, which was a big plate full of Chicken Tenders, Cheese Sticks, Spinach Artichoke Dip, Southwestern Egg Rolls, and Guacamole. Nothing earth-shattering in terms of culinary inventiveness, but if someone doesn’t tell you that from time to time they enjoy a good platter like this, then I’d say they were lying.  

We wrapped up our meal by sharing three of their dinner platters from the new menu: The Paradise Combo, which had sesame-crusted raw Ahi Tuna with more of their tasty wasabi aioli, plus Coconut Shrimp and Pineapple Teriyaki Chicken. The Taste of The Islands had Coconut Shrimp again, with Dynamite Scallops and Shrimp, along with a Blackened Tilapia with mango salsa, and finally, the Jungle Steak and Shrimp, which had yes, more of those crispy Coconut Shrimp, Shrimp Scampi, and a Flat Iron Steak with steak butter. All three platters were good. The Dynamite Scallops and Shrimp was a table favorite, for sure. Was it mind-blowing? No, not really. That’s generally not what places like this are like. Was it a fun outing and a memorable night for the family? Yes, it was! There are finer and much more inventive places to visit in our town, but there aren’t many that you can visit and go on a safari at the same time. Thank you, Rainforest—for the experience, and Aloha.

Follow me at: @vegasfoodnerd

Annie B's Gourmet Caramels by Vegas Food Nerd


By Vegas Food Nerd

For over 30 years, family-owned caramel company, Annie B’s, has been handcrafting their treats. Each caramel is individually wrapped and is made using simple, local ingredients, like brown sugar, water, cornstarch, butter, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, inverted sugar, and natural flavors. 

There are a few perks that go into being a food nerd, because when I humbly asked Annie B’s for a taste test, they sent me five different flavors to try in the mail—much to the delight of all those that live with me.  

These caramels were simply over-the-top. They were smooth, creamy, and just plain delightful. The dark chocolate sea salt was the resounding favorite, but there wasn’t one flavor found to be anything but amazing. For the fall season, they appropriately have a pumpkin spice flavor, which they executed to perfection. They made the list for “Oprah’s Favorite Things” last year, and make amazing gifts to send over the holidays. Order on their website at:

By Vegas Food Nerd

You take an Italian guy from Buffalo, NY, who comes to our town to study hospitality at UNLV, and that same guy falls in love with a nice Greek girl—and a great family is born. The guy I am speaking of is Joey Pierro, and his family is the heart behind Market Grill Café. He and his wife, Rhonda, along with their two children and Joe’s mom, Rose, are very active at their two restaurant locations in Vegas. Joey had always dreamed of opening up a restaurant and he and his family made that come true in 2009 when Market Grill first opened. They decided to take family recipes from both the Greek side and the Italian side, making it a nice Mediterranean mash-up of a menu.

I had tried their food back when they first opened and it was more of a fast, casual type of eatery. I remembered liking it then, but was very excited to go back after they opened in a bigger space where your food is served to you. The atmosphere when you walk in feels like a nice garden villa that exists in Europe, somewhere probably owned by Johnny Depp. In the center of the restaurant, you can see some of the desserts being prepared, already tempting you into trying some.  

Our group was quickly seated and then we waited. I overheard that one of the other servers had called in sick. This made for a little less than stellar service that day, but having waited tables myself, I understood this dilemma all too well and took it in stride.  

First, we tried their take on Lentil Soup. It was made with red and brown lentils, potatoes, onion and tomatoes, and topped with feta cheese and fresh parsley, and it was very good. After happily munching on their crisp, fresh Greek salad, we moved onto the main dishes. At our servers urging, my friend ordered the Pomegranate Chicken with a Spinach Salad. This was an amazing dish. Generally, at a restaurant, the last thing you want to order is the chicken, but this entrée was tender and covered in a sweet pomegranate glaze and topped off with crunchy, salty pecans. We also sampled their Greek Trio, which gave us samplings of their Spanakopita, Pastitsio, and Mousaka. All three were tasty, but the Mousaka was the favorite on the plate, bathed in a rich, creamy béchamel sauce. This is true Greek comfort food, my friends. You must try it. My other friend at the table opted to go Italian and tried their Meatball Pizza. I didn’t get a bite, but I did hear him groan and say, “Oh, my God.” So I’m guessing that was pretty high on the tasty scale, as well.  

We were pretty full at this point, but as you recall, those desserts were very tempting to look at, so we tried a couple of their Cannolis, which were a perfect combination of the crispy shell and the creamy filling.  

The love that this family shares seems to come across in their food. I loved how the menu had “Their Story” in it, so I could learn about them before enjoying their food. This is a great place for the family, but with an atmosphere that would make for a nice date night, too. Now that you’ve learned a bit about them, I hope you will venture there for a taste. I know I will be back soon.

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Rao's by Vegas Food Nerd


By Vegas Food Nerd

As far as restaurant legends go, Rao’s is probably one of the biggest. An Italian family dining establishment in New York City turned into the restaurant only a few are blessed to experience. Only those invited by others with table real estate at this place are allowed to enter and enjoy the food. It’s not just a ‘hard to get reservation’—you can’t even make a reservation until now. Rao’s have opened two outposts: one in Los Angeles, and one right here in Las Vegas that are now available to those that aren’t Rao’s insiders. 

Located in Caesars Palace, the Vegas Rao’s looks a lot like the original location. You can dine semi al fresco at a patio in front of the restaurant, but I recommend you request a table on the interior. The inside décor transports you back to the original restaurant, which opened in 1896 with traditional family recipes from the Pellegrino family. The recipes, which continue to be handed down from generation to generation, are pure Southern Italian comfort food. Diners can be part of the family at home now, as well. Rao’s specialty foods will deliver jars of sauce, roasted peppers, and can buy a cookbook to get the family recipes to prepare some of their more popular dishes in your own home.

I’d heard about Rao’s and had always wanted to try the place. Being part Italian with some treasured family recipes of my own, I was very excited to walk past the red overhang into this treasured place. If you have heard the tales of Rao’s like I had, then you’d know that the first dish our table had to try was their famous Meatballs: two big, baseball-sized balls of beef, veal, and pork, which arrived bathed in Marinara Sauce. They lived up to the hype and our table enjoyed them very much. Next, they have something called a Fried Mozzarella Sandwich, which was a crispy, oozing, moan-worthy creation. (Don’t think calories, people!) Then, another cheese, which I can never pass up, called Burrata. The cheese sits in the middle of the plate surrounded by heirloom tomatoes and basil, all of which is drizzled with garlic oil and aged balsamic vinegar—yet another hit with all of us sharing each dish. We next ordered a trio of their pasta dishes: Vodka Penne with Prosciutto, Angel Hair Pasta with Marinara, and their Linguini with Clams. All three were spot on, and we enjoyed them until we clutched our stuffed stomachs and begged for mercy.

Rao’s—famous for being one our nation’s oldest family restaurants—did not disappoint. The only downside really were the high prices, but you come to expect that from any restaurant located in the heart of mega-resort, Caesars. But to experience it—yeah, it was worth it, and boy, was I full. My sincerest thanks go out to the Pellegrino family. 

Hitting our city with some cowboy flair is this gastropub that bears the name of a big country star. Country music and its undeniable grasp on the music buying public is now making its mark on the Strip when MGM opens the park next year. With items like Dierks Fried Chicken with Bacon Smashed Potatoes, and over 40 different options for a Boiler Maker (a shot of whiskey dropped in a beer). It is sure to be a drinking and dining destination that will please our fair tourists. Live musical acts and DJ’s will also be a part of the restaurant’s atmosphere, so you can boot scoot and boogie during your visit. 

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