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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Las Vegas, NV: Hawaiian food, Downtown nostalgia, and Asian American fare, Day 1

Las Vegas, also known as Sin City, draws you in with the neon lights, slot machines chimes, and elevated yells and shouts from the craps table – WINNER! But, there’s more than the allure of electric sex and money in Las Vegas. It all started back in the 1800s when the area was named Las Vegas (“the meadows” in Spanish) which was an oasis for people traveling westward to California. In 1931, Nevada legalized casino gambling along with the construction of the Boulder Canyon Project or what we know today as the Hoover Dam. 

  • Travel tip: The road trip from Southern California can take you 4 to 6 hours depending on your starting point in SoCal and also what time you leave. The best time to leave is around 6:30-7:00am on the weekdays so you will miss most of the commuting traffic as there will be some even going eastbound. Plan it so you can arrive in Las Vegas at lunchtime and start your foodie adventure.

Downtown Las Vegas is where most of the Hawaiian travelers stay and play. The California Hotel & Casino (part of the Sam Boyd casinos which also include Fremont, The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam’s Town, Main Street Station, and more across the U.S.) is home to Aloha Specialties. Located on the mezzanine level, Aloha Specialties constantly emits an aroma of home-cooked Hawaiian local food. It’s a funny thing, but Hawaiians either just off the plane or transplants just can’t get enough of it. The aroma of steamed rice, saimin broth, and fried meats like Portuguese sausage and Spam lure you to the door which may already have a line. The line moves pretty fast and your can find your table of choice. 

The #1 local food to try and usually a good gauge for a Hawaiian-style restaurant is the Loco Moco. Loco Moco starts with sticky rice on the bottom (1-2 scoops), a handmade seasoned hamburger patty, generous portion of brown gravy to cover the rice and patty, and 1-2 beautiful sunny side fried egg(s). Bask in its glory and then dig in. Break the yolk so it mixes with the gravy for a decadent richness. Take the fork and spear a piece of hamburger, egg white, and gravy soaked rice for a tasty bite. The handmade hamburger patty and rich gravy make the dish. If you like it spicy, add some Tabasco sauce to the mix. 

After lunch, it will be just the right time to check into your hotel. If you’re looking for some nostalgic Las Vegas, stay at the El Cortez Hotel. This hotel was built in 1945 and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was one of several owners. From the exterior signage to the interior décor, you can feel the historical charm. There are many room options to choose from: Pavilion, Vintage (original rooms from the 1940s right above the casino floor), Tower, and Suites. Tower Rooms include: one King or two Queen beds; Armoire; Secretary (nostalgic desk with ample space for your business needs); Sitting room with sofa, coffee table, coffee maker, and mini fridge; and spacious bathroom with closet and counter; toilet & shower is separated by a door. 

  • Travel tip: Las Vegas, in general, never sleeps. There is a club on Fremont Street across from the El Cortez that has live bands until the wee hours of the morning. If you are not a night owl or need to get up early in the mornings, ask the front desk for a room facing north or east.

After getting settled in your room, you might be thinking about dinner. Less than three miles away from Downtown Las Vegas is a local’s favorite, Eureka Casino. Inside is one of the best foodie finds in the city. Fat Choy is its name and is run by Chef Sheridan Su and his wife Jenny. Chef Sheridan and Jenny started this business as a food truck called Great Bao. Utilitizing his experience as a young boy in the kitchen cooking with his family and his training in the culinary arts, Chef Sheridan created baos that people traveled miles for. 

The menu item that started it all is the Pork Belly Bao – braised pork belly with pickled mustard greens and crushed peanuts. It may seem simple but this bao is perfect and you won’t be able to just have one. The pork belly is soft like butter and is melt-in-your-mouth delicious!  

Wonton Soup is pork and shrimp wontons and market vegetables in chicken broth. Make it a meal and add noodles. The soup is reminiscent of chicken pho with beautiful Asian flavor notes. The wontons are pockets of land & sea adding the perfect protein profile.  

Shortrib Rice is braised beef shortrib topped with preserved mustard greens and spicy roasted garlic tomato sauce. A healthy helping of greens on the side refresh the palate in between the rich bites of shortrib. Ask for a fried egg on top for an added richness and use the yolk as a sauce for the shortrib and rice. 

And for dessert, a local bakery makes shareable sweetness for the end of your meal. The chocolate covered éclair is scrumptious!

Another Vegas day of food challenges and pub grub are only a dream away.

For more information:

Aloha Specialties (inside the California Hotel & Casino)
12 E Ogden Ave
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Hours: Daily from 9am to 9pm

600 E Fremont St
Las Vegas, NV 89101

Fat Choy (inside the Eureka Casino) 
595 E Sahara Ave
Las Vegas, NV
Hours: Monday through Thursday from 11am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday from 11am to 12am, Sunday from 9am to 10pm

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