One amazing thing about dining out in Las Vegas is how the techniques and diversity of local chefs increase from year to year. And 2011 was no exception. I sampled a wonderfully eclectic menu over the last 12 months, to which the following dishes will attest. So here—and in no special order—are the 10 best things I ate in 2011.
Avgolemono Soup at Milos
Milos, our best Greek restaurant, prepares a magnificent egg lemon soup upon request. It’s not on the menu, must be ordered in advance, serves 4-6 people and arrives in a huge ceramic tureen. If you’ve had the commercial version, made from a chicken base with a couple of eggs whisked in at the last minute, you’re in another galaxy. This one is made with capon broth, Meyer lemons, Basmati rice and free-range eggs, and is as smooth and delicate a soup as you’ll ever taste. $80, in the Cosmopolitan, 698-7000.
Curried Vegetables at DW Bistro
The theme here is Jamaican/New Mexican, supported by dishes such as jerk chicken sandwiches and dusky red chili served over rice. But I love this soothing, vegan-friendly bowl of squash, green beans and carrots in a rich, coconut milk-based curry. $12 lunch, $14 dinner, 6115 Fort Apache Road, 527-5200.
Pad Thai at Le Thai
Pad thai, a rice noodle eaten obsessively in Asia, is popular in an Americanized form, typically done with a sticky-sweet pre-made red sauce and topped with bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and various meats. Daniel Coughlin, who grew up in a Thai family, uses his grandmother’s recipe—lots of cilantro, garlic and fiery spice. It’s the best pad thai I’ve eaten outside Thailand. $9, 523 Fremont St., 273-7733.
Taco Al Pastor at Los Jarochos
Pastor, Spanish for “shepherd,” refers to shaved meat that is roasted on a spit. In this case, the Mexican version uses pork instead of lamb, and is redolent of garlic, annatto seeds and grease. The Tijuana chain Tacos El Gordo does a wonderful version, but the best one in town is at this family-run, stand-alone restaurant. It’s best enjoyed in a taco. $1.75, 4811 S. Rainbow Blvd., 646-0125.
Shrimp Wonton at Big Wong
Suspend your fear of MSG when you bite into these sweet, crisp, fried noodle packets packed with a generous amount of shrimp meat. Your plate should have about a dozen of them, with drops of hot oil spurting out when you bite in. A sweet and sour sauce accompanies them, redder than the banners in Tiananmen Square. $4.95, 5040 Spring Mountain Road, 368-6808.
Adjarski Khachapuri at Forte
Georgian food at a Bulgarian/Spanish tapas bar? Why not! Adjarski khachapuri is a boat-shaped, oven-baked cheese bread from Georgia, a small country on the Black Sea above Turkey. The bread takes 20 minutes to arrive, but it’s worth the wait. A whole egg is cracked on top before serving, to be cooked by the hot, melted cheese. $7.50, 4180 S. Rainbow Blvd., 220-3876.
Sesame Bagel at Bread & Butter
Former Bouchon baker Chris Herrin is wowing the Henderson crowd with his homey goodies, including the densest, crustiest bagel in the Valley. He makes several, but his sesame-studded bagel has the heft of the hand-rolled type you find only at the Fairmont or St. Viateur bakeries in Montreal. Now all he needs is a wood oven to equal those institutions. $1, 10940 S. Eastern Ave., 675-3300.
Fried Chicken at Blue Ribbon Sushi
There are several worthy fried chicken dishes in Las Vegas, including the delicious version at Michel Richard’s Central at Caesars Palace and a Korean take at Soyo. The panko-crusted bird at Blue Ribbon takes the prize, though, thanks to a spicy honey sauce that accompanies it. $26, in the Cosmopolitan, 736-0808.
House Brined Corned Beef at Rí Rá
The Irish don’t really eat corned beef and cabbage; they eat back-bacon with the vegetable instead. But Rí Rá, the Irish pub at Mandalay Place, makes the best corned beef I’ve ever tasted outside a Jewish deli—grainy, chewy, beefy meat with just the right amount of brine in every salty bite. $15 lunch, $16 dinner, in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place, 632-7771.
Napoleon at Central Michel Richard
Central serves many iconic dishes, but the French-born chef Richard began his career as a pâtissier, and it shows. This is one of the best Napoleons anywhere, thanks to perfectly flaky layers of crisp dough and an egg-rich, canary-yellow, Bavarian cream between them. If you plan to order one, bring a friend. Or two. $8, in Caesars Palace, 731-7110.