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Pho Saigon 8 by Vegas Food Nerd

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PHO SAIGON 8
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.

TASTE THE ROCK
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.  

RAINFOREST CAFÉ
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.com @vegasfoodnerd

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