No Phony Coney

What dining delicacy does Las Vegas have that other cities don’t? The single Sin City culinary claim to fame that’s endured is the buffet, but that’s not quite the same as a cheesesteak from Philly, chicken wings from Buffalo or chowdah from Boston. What’s amazing about our burg is that there are versions of all of these available here, because someone who knew how to make ‘em came to town and started doing just that to cater to their fellow ex-pats.

Now there’s another.

I grew up in Detroit, and the one thing that everyone misses when they leave there is Coney Island hot dogs. The Detroit “Coneys” are nothing like the dogs that were sold at Coney Island in Brooklyn, but someone at some point apparently liked the name and took it. Regardless of where the name came from, the chili dogs topped with mustard and onions were emulated by several Detroit operators—almost all of Greek descent—and just about anyone who’s spent time in Detroit knows about them. And with so many Detroit transplants living in Las Vegas, there’s always been talk of bringing a real Coney Island out here. But it’s been a long process.

The first pseudo-attempt was back in the ‘80s, when a pizza joint called Terrina’s took a stab with hot dogs that were similar. A couple of dedicated Coney shops also took their shots, but none was very good. That is, until Motor City Coney Island opened on Water Street in Henderson. For more than six years, that’s where I’ve scratched my Coney itch. But now the stakes have been raised with the opening of American Coney Island at The D downtown.

For years, there were three primary Coney Islands in Detroit—Senate on Michigan Avenue, and two in the middle of downtown, standing side by side on Lafayette Avenue: Lafayette and American. The two downtown were always considered the best, and now we have one of them in Las Vegas! It’s the first time American has gone outside of Michigan.

Is it a deal? I think so. The restaurant is accessible directly off the Fremont Street Experience, and it’s open 24/7. It doesn’t have the same ambience as the Detroit version, where old-timers yell out your order to the cooks with a precision and a language all their own—“three up on two, chili bowl”—that’s been honed over decades of repetition, but that’s OK. The food is authentic, right down to the extra-soft buns that all the others who’ve tried haven’t been able to replicate. Hot dogs are $3.75, loose hamburger (served in a hot dog bun) is $4.25, and a bowl of chili is $5. Motowners eat their Coneys, or “loose,” with everything, and their chili—order the one without beans—with oyster crackers. So should you.

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