Hidden Restaurant Gems beyond the Neon Of The Las Vegas Strip

These are the restaurants where locals go (we probably shouldn’t share them — but we will)

Picking up take-out chicken is a perfect Sunday night dinner.

Las Vegas is a city that never slumbers, and that is especially true when it comes to the food and beverage industry. If you can make it in the food industry here you are probably doing something right, since the competition for culinary cash generates intense heat in and out of the kitchen. Most new restaurants, especially mom-and-pop places, spring up in Vegas strip malls like cacti in the desert, but it’s difficult to stay relevant year after year with the growing number of new and often celebrity chefs weaving  their way into the Vegas restaurant landscape. It takes many factors to survive, but the two that truly stand out are customer service and great food. If you excel at both, then you’ll likely thrive in a city that is hungry 24/7.

Recently, we visited a few new places that impressed us with their flavors, ambience, and stellar customer service. They are worth taking a look at in the midst of dining establishment deluge.  Plantones an Italian Market boasts all homemade pastas and fresh made-on-the-premises mozzarella. “By using authentic ingredients, Plantones prepares those comforting Italian dishes that everyone loves,” says general manager Marty Helfand. By using the freshest ingredients and crafting a varied menu, including homemade desserts, wines by the glass, and bottled beers, the restaurant makes itself something worth coming back multiple times. Make it a point to try the homemade lasagna or fettuccine bolognese, the hand-tossed pizzas, and the superb New York City-style subs such as the Plantones Parma, stacked with generous slices of imported prosciutto di Parma, house-made mozzarella, fresh basil pesto, spicy arugula, and fresh tomato, with a splash of exquisite golden EVOO.

This causal Italian cafè–market has a neighborhood vibe, with padded high-top booths and generous open seating, making this the place to take friends and family for that early dinner or pizza (also sold by the slice) on the go,.

Another hidden neighborhood gem that has just a year under its belt is a causal eatery that offers heaping food helpings that are deliciously nutritious and nurturing for everyone on the healthy bandwagon. The Daily Kitchen is a diminutive whitewashed space, with rows of small tables and three blue-cloth-covered banquettes. With the limited space many choose the convenience of take-away. Sourcing only the freshest ingredients, such as Mary’s chickens  — pasture-raised and non-GMO — lets the freshness and simplicity of the menu shine. “More people want to know where the food they are eating is sourced,” says general manager Dominick DiLello. “We make it a point to give them real food, fast and with the best ingredients that ensure optimum flavor.”  

Chef Mario Tipia’s motivation is in creating food that produces good emotional memories and what better way to do that than with his classic comfort food, mac and cheese. “Just some plain black pepper as the seasoning, cooked with béchamel, simple elbow macaroni, extra sharp and Gruyère cheeses, and topped with a panko crust and that all it takes to make one of the favorite sides on the menu,”adds Tipia.  

The Sunday dinner option is the perfect to pick up after a lazy day off. It includes a meaty whole rotisserie chicken or a pound-and-a-quarter of USDA certified Angus tri-tip steak with a large Caesar salad, two sides, and country bread — a meal that is not only abundant in quantity but in flavor.  Good food creating great memories is what DK is all about.

The trend for finding locals-only eateries, in Las Vegas and elsewhere, is on the rise. Often such places  are found in areas that seems a bit questionable. Once, in Miami, we had a fabulous meal inside a gas station. Yes, a gas station that had a restaurant and a great wine bar in the back of the convenience store where you purchase snacks and lottery tickets. Here in Las Vegas, we found another unexpected  place that reminded us of that experience — this one in the back of a neighborhood bar called the Toddy Shop.

Toddy shops originated in India’s Kerala region, serving spicy food accompanied by palm wine (called toddy). This Toddy Shop has earned a reputation sfor its unique food offerings, serving authentic Indian dishes to guests who don’t want to purchase an airline ticket.

We walked into the dimly lit doorway and noticed the bar, where several locals were hunched maniacally over video poker monitors, with beer mugs and cigarettes strategically placed for a Friday night of gaming. We immediately began to question if we had come to the right place, but the friendly bartender assured us that the chef was at the tiny kitchen in the back behind a small window that turned out to be an ordering station where some of the best Indian food is being dished up in an almost-clandestine manner.  

We looked at the printed menu, then ordered directly from the chef, and went to a dimly lit back room that looked like it was more of storage area than a place to dine. Although the restaurant’s namesake beverage was not available, dishes offered are texturally rich, savory, and exotically spicy but didn’t need a gallon of fire-quenching beverages to extinguish the burn. Multiple dishes came to our table that both surprised and elated us. How can such interesting cultural cuisine be relegated to the back of a local’s bar? According to chef Hernant Kishore, the concept to start a out small seemed to be the best way to get his cuisine established for a bigger market.

We began with the Queen Karimeen, which is the classic Toddy Shop delicacy, consisting of spice-rubbed flash-fried whole pompano generously doused with onion-tomato masala and then wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. The pompano was perfectly drenched in tangy flavor and steamed to perfection. Chef’s childhood favorite quickly became one of ours as we next indulged in his Indian chop Suey, which ironically is called American chop suey in India. Crispy noodles are bathed in garlicky chili gravy mixed with stir-fried vegetables, char-grilled baby bok choy, and a sunnyside-up egg. One of our favorite dishes of the evening was the TD bar snack, rajah masala., a deceptively simple yet simply addictive blend of roasted peanuts, pico de gallo, and assorted chips.

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 Creative cooking can spring up anywhere, even in the back of a Vegas dive bar, and we were certainly glad we found this under-the-radar place. Toddy Shop may just be a trendsetter in giving a glimpse of great ethnic food where many locals find their respite in the Vegas way — at a small neighborhood place, with a drink and a hot machine and some great grub.