There’s no escaping inflation, even for the budget Vegas gourmet. While some of the restaurants we’ve featured in past Cheap Eats issues have raised their prices a bit, or even closed their doors, many continue offering the same stalwart foodie bargains we first reported on. See below for our list of classic deals on meals, and get a taste of their discount deliciousness while you still can.
The Shrimp Pita at Crazy Pita
Mehdi Zarhloul would love to franchise his popular concept, which sells lamb, beef, spiced ground beef, shrimp and veggie sandwiches wrapped up in hot pita bread. He does wonderful specialties from his native Morocco, including poulet m’chermel (rotisserie chicken rubbed in preserved lemon) and couscous (cooked semolina wheat with gravy). $8.95, in the District at Green Valley Ranch, 2225 Village Walk Dr., 896-7482.
Juicy Pork Dumplings at China MaMa
No one comes to this Taiwanese restaurant near Chinatown without ordering the steamed dumplings, which are so juicy they spurt when cut open. The Szechuan dishes are also good here, as are cold dishes such as wine chicken, jellyfish and spicy cucumbers. There are many delicious noodle preparations as well. $7.95 (8 pieces), 3420 S. Jones Blvd., 873-1977.
Chicken-Fried Steak and Eggs at Village Pub
The hearty breakfasts served at this 24/7 chain are killer—possibly in more ways than one if you order the amazing chicken-fried steak with cream gravy. You get two eggs, country potatoes and bread of your choice along with it. I always get the rye, a nice, crusty version as good as you’d get in an authentic Jewish deli. $6.99, multiple locations.
Fun Gor Dumplings at Ping Pang Pong
Dim sum, those sweet and savory tea pastries that are a way of life in Cantonese fine society, are delicious here, in this elegant restaurant. Pork noodle wrappers, sesame shrimp rolls and spare ribs with black bean sauce all go perfectly with a cup of steamy Chinese tea, usually Jasmine or Oolong. $2.88, in Gold Coast, 367-7111.
Tonkotsu Ramen at Monta Noodle House
Monta is an Osaka-style noodle house that is always crowded. Tonkotsu ramen are wheat-based noodles in a milky-white broth intensely flavored by slow-roasted pork bones. It’s a little taste of Japan, without a passport. $7, 5030 Spring Mountain Road, 367-4600.
Sardine Bánh Mì at Lee’s Sandwiches
Toto, we’re not at Capriotti’s anymore. Banh mi means essentially “submarine sandwich” in Vietnamese, and yes, it’s tempting to be wary of the pork roll and mystery pâte that’s popular at this chain, now open here and in three Asian countries. But the sardine bành mí with tomato, onions and mayo is delicious. And the price is right. $3.77, 3989 Spring Mountain Road, 331-9999.
The Gambler’s Special at Mr. Lucky’s 24/7
This off-the-menu item has been around since the Hard Rock Hotel opened in 1995, so it hardly qualifies as a secret anymore. But that doesn’t make this $7.77 special any less special, or less of a bargain. The 8-ounce steak, three grilled shrimp, mashed potatoes and salad definitely hit the spot, especially after a long night rocking out at The Joint. You can call this item by a variety of names—such as the 777 special or the steak and shrimp special—and your server will know what you’re talking about. Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, 693-5000.
Potato Pancake at Soyo
Now, instead of three small pancakes, you get one enormous one, along with a tableful of the side dishes known as pan’chan. The pancake is made from fresh grated potato, and on a recent visit, the side dishes included yellow bean sprouts, cut radish, cooked spinach and stewed beef in huge chunks. $9, 7775 S. Rainbow Blvd., 897-7696.
Lunch Buffet at the Mint Indian Bistro
Our favorite Indian buffet in town is a bountiful spread with such all-star items as bone-in goat curry and chili chicken, a dish from Nepal. Don’t miss the chau chau noodles, a terrific vegetarian bean soup called kwati or the rice pudding. $11, 730 E. Flamingo Road, 894-9334.
Happy Hour Appetizers at American Fish
You can’t go wrong with these incredible appetizers from master chef Michael Mina; just a few include a lobster corn dog, shrimp and grits, truffled mac and cheese, and a great salmon BLT. It’s a chance to enjoy great cooking at bargain-basement prices. $5, served 5-7 p.m. Sun-Fri, in Aria, 590-7111.
Fried Chicken at Albertsons
This fried chicken beat the competition from several large national chains at a tasting conducted in the Los Angeles Times’ test kitchen. It’s extraordinarily crisp, juicy and flavorful inside, and six bucks buys you eight large assorted pieces, far less than what you’d pay for an equivalent amount of bird at KFC or Popeyes. $6, multiple locations.
Hot Dogs at Cheffinis
Sure, there are cheaper dogs out there, but in this case, you really do get what you pay for, and that’s still only $3. At the Cheffinis hot dog cart outside The Beat Coffeehouse downtown, you get a Hebrew National kosher dog your way—relish, ketchup, your choice of mustards. You could also try it Tony Hsieh’s way: The Zappos.comCEO reportedly likes his Cheffinis “underdog” style—that is, the condiments all go under the hot dog, thus insuring they stay around for the duration of the dog. Or, for a real change, try The Cheffini, the owners’ specialty, which includes crushed potato chips, jalapeños and pineapple sauce. Don’t ask questions, just go with it. Outside 520 E. Fremont St., 10:30 p.m. till late Mon-Sat.
Pupusas at San Salvador
Pupusas are little pockets of grilled masa, handmade and stuffed with delicious fillings such as loroco, a dried, herbal tasting flower bud, andrevueltas, gooey melted cheese and pork rinds. The quintessential San Salvador snack, they are eaten with curtido, which are Central American pickles. $1.75, 6651 Smoke Ranch Road, 638-1509.
Secret Pizza at the Cosmopolitan
Find a hidden corridor on the third floor by the east elevators to eat real New York-style pizzas, taken out of the ovens hot and sold by the slice or whole. The corridor is lined with ’50s album covers, mostly by Italian idols, and the base price is $4.50 for a slice of tomato and cheese. You’ll pay a little extra for toppings. If you can find cheaper grub on the Strip, let us know. 11 a.m.- 4 a.m. daily, till 5 a.m Fri-Sat, 698-7000.
Gyros at the Great Greek Grill
The Goumroian family, formerly of the Fat Greek, now runs this fast-food joint in a quiet suburb, and the food is as good as ever. Son Jerry makes the best gyro in town, crisp-edged, thin-sliced, funky with the combined tastes of beef and lamb. The family’s tzatziki sauce smeared on the pita is alone worth a detour. $7.55, 1275 W. Warm Springs Road, Henderson, 547-2377.
Bacon Cheeseburger and Cajun Fries at Five Guys
President Obama’s patronage helped this chain become a national obsession; this is the first Vegas location. If you like burgers well-done, you’re in the right place. A big thumbs-up for the aggressively seasoned Cajun fries cooked in pure peanut oil. $11, 10271 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson, 405-9555.
Taco de Adobada at Tacos El Gordo
The best taco in Vegas is found at this Tijuana, Mexico-based chain, a red and white barn-like space dominated by a huge twirling spit. Your taco is all fatty meat, burnished spice and crackling skin; yellow chilies and roasted green onion comes on the side. Ten dollars buys a family-size platter of the stuff, on a mountain of french fries. $2.15, 1724 E. Charleston Blvd.
Steak Bomb at East Coast Eats
Two guys from Boston’s North Shore (pronounce it “nawth shaw”) do pizzas, subs and pastas just as they might in the Bay State. The steak bomb is a huge, moist gut bomb, an animal-size, cooked-to-order sub stuffed with onions, peppers, mushrooms, American cheese and enough griddled, thinly sliced steak to gag a hyena. (See full restaurant review.) $8.99, 50 N. Valle Verde Drive, Henderson, 834-4444.
$2 Crab Tuesdays at Crab Corner
In the great Maryland tradition, Crab Corner features trays piled high with steamed blue crabs that are fresh from the Chesapeake Bay and seasoned with J.O. Spice, the Old Line State’s very own blend of seafood seasoning. On Tuesdays, crabs and beers are only $2 a pop. Get there early, as low prices like these can draw a crowd, which makes for a fun, communal atmosphere. $2, 4161 S. Eastern Ave., 489-4646, NVSeafood – G.B.
Poutine at Naked City Pizza Shop
The French-Canadians invented poutine, but it took a guy from Buffalo, N.Y., to make it properly in Las Vegas. Cheese curds and warm, savory gravy made in-house combine to create a really rich topping over a plate of crisp french fries. It’s not fancy, but it is comforting, homey and decadent. $5, in Moon Doggies, 3240 S. Arville St., 243-6277, NakedCityLV
Bulgarian Mixed Grill at Forte European Tapas Bar & Bistro
Like us, you can skip the flat, patty-like sausage, kiufte, in favor of a second, link-style kebabche or karnache. Either way, this dish is meat, meat and more meat. The kickers, however, are not: the house-made tomato paste, liuteniza, and the chewy pita-like bread that puffs on the grill, which leaves deep char marks on the crust. If you have a few more bucks to spare, spring for a foreign beer to wash it all down—the more unpronounceable the better. $9.95, 4180 Rainbow Blvd., Suite 806, 220-3876
Caterpillar Roll at I Love Sushi
I Love Sushi has a mind-blowing number of rolls, but ones with crab tend to use surimi, artificially colored pollock. That’s why I’d choose this delicious roll, made with tempura shrimp, eel and avocado dressed with eel sauce. It might be their tastiest roll under 10 bucks. $9, 11041 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson, 990-4055.
Niku Jaga at Ichiza
Walls here are literally blotted with bilingual paper banners proclaiming the dozens of Japanese pub dishes in this antidote to the sushi bar. If you like sukiyaki, the one-pot supper, you’ll love niku jaga, a homestyle bowl full of shredded beef, carrot and potato, in a salty soy-based broth. $4.75, 4355 W. Spring Mountain Road, 367-3151.
Navajo Taco at Carlito’s Burritos
Red or green—that is the question! I refer, of course, to terrific New Mexico-style carne adovado (red) or chile verde (green), perfect for slopping onto your Navajo taco, a giant fry bread embellished with lettuce and tomato. The dusky red is my pick, but I love the earthy, chunky green on this monster as well. $7.50, 3345 E. Patrick Lane, 547-3592.
Sirloin Steak Dinner at Ellis Island Casino
I recently wrote a history of the Vegas steak house for Saveur magazine, and while researching, noticed a steak dinner at the Desert Inn on a menu for $6. That was 1950, when the per capita income in America was $3,250. So in proportion to that, this may be the best deal of all time. It isn’t on the Café menu, but the dinner includes a good 10-ounce sirloin, baked potato, soup or salad, even a beer. Shhh! $7.99, 4178 Koval Lane, 733-8901.
The Ronin Burger at Bachi Burger
All good things come to those who wait, and do that you must at Bachi Burger, because Lorin Watada’s extra-thick patties take a long time to cook. However, the owner/chef, who is about to open Bachi Burgers in Summerlin and Los Angeles, makes my favorite burgers for over and under 10 bucks. They are similar. His hot-selling Ronin Burger, $9.50, gets the full treatment of Angus beef, caramelized onion, Japanese cole slaw, miso sesame-seed dressing, a fried egg and a yuzu citrus aioli. I’ll splurge, though, and have the Miyagi-san grass-fed Wagyu burger from Down Under, $13 with a fried egg, Duroc bacon and crispy onion rings, on a sweet egg bun from a Taiwanese bakery. 410 E. Windmill Lane, Suite 100, 242-2244.
Chicken Kubideh at the Flame Kabob
The Flame’s hot-from-the-oven flatbread is called taftoon, and it is included with every flame-broiled kabob here—reason enough for the order. Chicken kubideh is exquisitely seasoned ground chicken, paired with a delicate rice pilaf and salad. Make it lamb for a buck more. $6.99, 1405 E. Sunset Road, 868-9096.
Gyoza at Anime Ramen
Comely female servers sport pink wigs, an added attraction at this funky little storefront, decorated with manga (Japanese comic-book pages) on the walls. Their ramen won’t make anyone forget Monta down the street, but these gyoza—tender Japanese-style pot stickers with delicate minced meat fillings—are addictive, and great with sake. $5, 4355 W. Spring Mountain Road, 252-5088.
The Wednesday $5.99 Food Bar at Whole Foods Markets
Normally, the various food bars at Whole Foods, including a lavish salad bar, hot food bar, vegan bar and breakfast items, sell for $7.99. But on Wednesdays, you can eat things like falafel, stuffed grape leaves, turkey meatloaf, baked chicken and about three dozen other choices at a lower price. Put your dressings in little plastic cups on the side to save money. Various locations.
Ash e Reshtesh at Zaytoon Market & Restaurant
Ash e reshtesh is one of my favorite soups on the planet, a meal in a bowl composed of beans, noodles, spinach, leek, cilantro, parsley and garlic with a shmear of kashk, thick whey, squirted on top. At Zaytoon, a tiny Middle Eastern grocery, they make the best one in Las Vegas. They do good kabobs here, too, if the soup doesn’t fill you up. $5.99, 3655 S. Durango Drive, 685-1875