Portuguese food is a rare find in Las Vegas. So when I heard about Vila Algarve on West Tropicana Avenue, I imagined it would be a small spot catering to a niche market. To my surprise, I instead found a large space, with seating for up to 70 people in the dining room, a formidable bar area, and a stage that hosts an open-mic comedy night on Wednesdays and swing bands on the weekends. The owners may have been a bit ambitious, since I didn’t see another customer in the place during my first meal—nor when I returned a few days later for takeout. Which is a shame, because most of what I’ve sampled from the menu has been delicious, even if service was exceptionally slow.
The menu at Vila Algarve (named for a region in the south of mainland Portugal) is divided into two sections: appetizers and entrées. Dishes are listed with descriptions and prices, followed by two pages of photos of various items. Unfortunately, none of the photos are labeled, so your server has to tell you which dish goes with which description and price. Take heart: The staff is extremely friendly and helpful in guiding you through the menu.
Appetizers include chorizo, snails, frog legs and assorted seafood, while the entrée section offers pastas, Mozambican curries and various preparations of steak, chicken and bacalao (salted dry cod), among other things.
I’ve been most impressed with the restaurant’s seafood, such as a pair of large char-grilled Portuguese sardines. They arrive at the table whole, topped with peppers, onions, garlic, olives and olive oil, to be deboned by the server at the table. Another wonderful seafood starter seems to have gotten mangled a bit in translation. Listed on the menu as “shrimp tails,” they’re actually jumbo shrimp with the heads removed, coated in a rich sauce of white wine, garlic and melted cheese. My favorite dish, however, has been the paella. The well-seasoned saffron rice comes packed with chicken, chorizo, shrimp, calamari and mussels. While it doesn’t have any socarrat—the crispy bottom layer that a really good paella pan provides—it’s nonetheless one of the better versions I’ve had in Las Vegas.
The meat dishes haven’t impressed me as much. Trinchado, for example, is cubed beef, chicken or pork that’s marinated in red wine and served in a rich and creamy dark sauce. I had an appetizer portion with beef, and while I loved the taste, the meat was tough.
The chicken espetada was another disappointment, although it was the coolest looking dish I’ve tried here. It’s basically a kabob-style skewer of chicken, pork or beef, presented hanging from a funky curved metallic stand. Sadly, you cannot taste a presentation. The meat was bland and a little dry. If you’re looking for a chicken dish, the spice-marinated half chicken is less visually impressive, but more flavorful.
Overall, Vila Algarve has the feel of a banquet hall, thanks to both the stage and the rather generic décor (although the aquariums lining the half wall between the dining room and the bar area are a nice touch). Slow service is frustrating enough when a restaurant is busy, but it’s hard to forgive when there’s not a single other diner in the place. If the owners are serious about ever filling their dining room, that’s where they should start.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Portuguese sardines ($7),
- Algarve shrimp tails ($7.50), paella ($25)
- and half chicken ($9.50)
6120 W. Tropicana Ave., 702-666-3877. Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–midnight. Dinner for two, $25-$75.