It seems fitting that the restaurant that launched the ramen craze in Las Vegas, Monta on Spring Mountain Road, is now the first ramen place to open a second location. Monta Chaya sits in a mini mall just south of Interstate 215 (9310 S. Eastern Ave., 331-5757), hard by a Peruvian-Chinese place called Little Dumpling. And this Monta, which still specializes in kurume ramen—a special soup which relies on a pork-bone broth—actually has one-upped the original with a few new dishes.
There is, for instance, a deep fryer here, which allows guests to sample superb kara-age (golden, deep-fried nuggets of chicken), which are to McNuggets what gold is to straw. This location also does a delicate, tempura-like fried calamari, drizzled with a soy-based Japanese broth, and also tomato cold noodle, a summer dish that might be an acquired taste for the uninitiated.
Beyond that, expect the same handmade, wispy noodles in a strongly pork-flavored broth that cooks low and slow for more than a day, topped with eccentric items such as corn, nori (seaweed), nitamago (simmered, salty egg) and even a mustard leaf called takana, which is delicious in a house fried rice as well. Not full yet? Then ask for kaedama, or extra noodles, available at a small surcharge. Dr. Atkins may not approve.
Meanwhile, over in Chinatown, Spring Mountain Center Mall is already home to a few of the more interesting Chinese restaurants in Las Vegas, just two being Taiwan Deli and Hong Kong Garden. Farther north in the mall, you’ll spot an overhead sign that reads “Karaoke Bar.” This is Vogue Bistro & Bar (3383 S. Jones Blvd. 362-6282), which serves the cuisine of southwest China, including various and sundry skewers containing chicken gizzards, pork kidney and other delicacies, flamed broiled and spiked with cumin.
Cumin is such an integral part of this cuisine that there is a shaker of it on your table. Vogue is a handsome little place with a polished parquet floor, tables with eyecatching designs and friendly, if less-than-fluent, service. Some of the dishes are things you won’t find elsewhere in Chinatown. Something they call lamb gyro is really an undersize burrito tricked out with grilled lamb and vegetables, in roll fashion. Yes, there is pig’s ear, sliced as thin as fettuccine, in a delicious bath of sesame and chili oil, which you will wash down with a bottle of Tsingtao beer.
Pea shoots come in a salty broth, topped with chopped garlic and wedges of preserved egg. I’m a fan of the house specialty, a cold dish called Jialing poached salted duck, but be aware that a little of this intensely brined bird goes a long way. And if you’ve actually come to sing a song, they trot the karaoke machine out at 11 p.m., which gives you more than six hours to show your stuff, since the place stays open till just past 5 a.m.