Irish Pub Grub Is Strong in Las Vegas: The Top Five Blarney Good Dishes

Corned Beef & Cabbage from Rí Rá.

Corned Beef & Cabbage from Rí Rá.

Las Vegas has more than its share of Irish pubs, most of them specializing in stereotypical dishes eaten for centuries around the Old Sod. The funny thing is, most Irish people under 60 don’t really eat that way anymore, preferring pasta or chicken curry and even Chinese dishes to their traditionally heavy farmhouse-style cooking. On a recent trip to the Isle, most young people I spoke with smirked and said, “That stuff’s only for tourists,” or “I haven’t had Irish stew in 20 years,” when I mentioned what we ate in America’s Irish pubs. Stick-to-the-ribs fare, such as bangers and mash and the notorious full Irish breakfast, has yielded in the face of Ireland’s prosperity, tech boom and full membership in the European Union. Dublin looks more and more like any European capital these days. Ironically, Las Vegas might be a better place than Ireland to eat Irish pub fare, starting with these five dishes.

Corned Beef and Cabbage. Actually, this is an American invention. The Irish eat bacon and cabbage, which is shredded cabbage cooked with Irish back bacon, accompanied by potatoes. Rí Rá does the dish American-style. The corned beef here is just about the best in the city, tender house-brined meat that falls apart if you look hard at it. The kitchen uses delicate Savoy cabbage, and the accompanying mashed potatoes and parsley sauce are delicious. In the Shoppes at Mandalay Place, 632-7771.

Irish Stew. I love lamb, especially in this hearty stew of potatoes and carrots. At Blarney Castle’s cafeteria, I sampled a bowlful so thick with flour you could have baked it into a cake. But at McMullan’s Irish Pub, a dark, clubby place next to the Orleans, the kitchen combines gamy, flavorful chunks of lamb with vegetables in rich, velvety gravy, adding cut stalks of celery, as well. 4650 W. Tropicana Ave., 247-7000.

Shepherd’s Pie. This casserole of ground beef, mashed potatoes and cheese isn’t easy to find in Dublin these days, but most of our Irish pubs serve it. I prefer the one at Sean Patrick’s, even if they spell it funny (Sheppard’s Pie on their menu.) The potato-top crust is baked to a nice crunch, the veggies are nicely minced and the proportion of meat to potatoes seem just right. 8255 W. Flamingo Rd., 227-9793.

Fish & Chips. The atmospheric Summerlin Irish pub J.C. Wooloughan’s was transported from Ireland piece by piece. Chef Sid Barai makes great fish and chips, three huge pieces of Pacific cod battered with Harp Irish lager, flour, baking powder and spices, the better to puff up golden brown. Sides include cole slaw and shoestring potatoes, per pub regulars. The fat, Irish-style chips didn’t fly. 221 N. Rampart Blvd., 869-7725.

Full Irish Breakfast. Every hotel I stayed in had an Irish breakfast buffet, and all were unspeakable, but Nine Fine Irishmen does a good one: two eggs; bangers; rashers of bacon; tomatoes and mushrooms; plus muffin-shape pieces of white and black pudding. What’s that you say? White pudding is fatty ground pork mixed with oatmeal. Add blood for black. Yum! Well, not really. In New York-New York, 740-6463.

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