City of Taste

With its sights and flavors, The District creates an experience to remember

Photo by Anthony MairSettebello.

Photo by Anthony MairPresidio.

When I was 10 years old, my family headed south to Arizona for the holidays. I’m not sure what this says about the trip, but the highlight was our walk around Scottsdale’s outdoor mall. I was shocked that such a place could exist: trees and grassy quads and stores and restaurants strewn about like islands. We ate at Jed Nolan’s Music Hall and walked a park block to the sweet shop for pumpkin ice cream afterward. “I hope we get something like this in Las Vegas,” I said. I can’t remember what my dad said to me, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Don’t hold your breath.”

Twenty years passed before we got The District at Green Valley Ranch in 2004. Designed as an idealized Main Street, it was pre-baked, but at least it wasn’t half-baked. The kid in me was thrilled, and I headed out there three times in the first week. One day I saw a man and woman looking around with sour expressions.

“It’s just a Disneyland,” the husband sneered.

“Yeah, so what?” I thought. “What exactly is it you want? A perfectly aged, utterly authentic century-old streetscape?”

All things must be new before they’re old, and there’s nothing terribly unnatural about a new place gesturing toward an imagined past. In any case, for a contemporary kid wandering its shops, coming to its courtyard concerts and eating in its restaurants, The District isn’t a false past but a very real present—an experience of public space that rewards the senses and captures the imagination.

The District’s sights—the nighttime neon at King’s Fish House, the giant Christmas tree, the dog-walkers, the carousel—are already part of the fabric of Henderson life. But the tastes can be equally memorable. Try the build-your-own burger at Al’s Garage on a Sunday afternoon, the place full of Chargers fans, the patio loud with good cheer. Put cucumbers on a veggie patty with Russian dressing and coleslaw, or go full-scale carnivore with a chili burger. If grease-monkey chic isn’t your speed, cross the courtyard to King’s. And if the parmesan-crusted swordfish is on offer, get it. (Though you’ll have to save some room after they bring you a basket of steaming-hot sourdough.)

Next to King’s is Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, where ribs and corn bread are the staple foods, but there’s also a spicy hot-link sandwich that’ll fulfill your comfort-food craving and a jambalaya that’s perfect on cool winter days. There’s also my 10-year-old’s favorite part: the Big Jar o’ Tootsie Pops on the way out. Like I said, The District knows how to make memories.

The District is home to other family-friendly chains—P.F. Chang’s, Elephant Bar and, on the east side, the Cheesecake Factory. I’ve always been a fan of Elephant Bar’s crispy teriyaki chicken, though the lemon chicken sandwich has recently won my favor. Meanwhile, my grandmother’s admiration for the Cheesecake Factory’s strawberry Belgian waffle has made it a favorite spot for Sunday breakfasts.

If you’re looking for a quick bite, The District is home to Panera Bread, Crazy Pita and Rachel’s Kitchen. Rachel’s specializes in healthful fare, with excellent smoothies and an outstanding chicken wrap and salad combination.

Pizza lovers have two choices. On the west side of the development, Balboa offers a laid-back beach-bar vibe (except with lots of big-screen TVs), excellent thin-crust rectangular pizzas (my favorite is the barbecue chicken) and a big calzone called The Wedge. On the east side, not far from the carousel, is Settebello, where the brick-oven pizzas are prepared according to the requirements of Vera Pizza Napoletana, a Naples-based consortium that carries on the tradition of Neapolitan pizza making. More importantly, they’re satisfying rather than merely filling, sophisticated but not gimmicky.

The District is an informal place, built more for the happily wandering grazer than the serious gourmet, but Settebello will fulfill both types. So will Presidio (formerly Kennedy) next to Lucille’s, where, bar noise notwithstanding, a cave-like interior creates the rare District nook for a romantic dinner. I stayed in the informal spirit and ordered the juicy salmon sandwich, but my wife ordered the highlight of our District rambles—a salmon filet that was perfect in its simplicity, elegantly presented with asparagus and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes in a nest of crispy potato strings. Just to look at the meal was somehow heartening: The designers of this dish truly cared.

The same could be said of the designers of The District itself.

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Giovanni Mauro

Giovanni Mauro

By Max Jacobson

For those of us who maintain a connection between fine dining and music, I offer, as an example, Giovanni Mauro. He’s the son of Italian parents who run the locals’ favorite Nora’s Cuisine, 6020 W. Flamingo Road, and he’s one of the most passionate Italian chefs in the city. Gio, as everyone calls him, studied opera at Long Beach State University and later in Milan with famed tenor Carlo Bergonzi. He’s fluent in both Italian and Italian cooking. Today, he expends most of his energy at Nora’s Wine Bar & Osteria in Boca Park.