I have to admit, when I first saw the menu at Tom’s Urban in New York–New York (a chain that began in Colorado and also operates in L.A.), I had my doubts. It appears to be a mishmash of multi-genre bar food and sandwiches, reminiscent of what you might find at any theme bar from a TGI Fridays to a Hard Rock Café. There’s a little bit of something for everyone: burgers, tacos, pizzas, shakes, etc. But if you look deeper, there are also some very creative spins on familiar favorites, from the “Colorado-style” calamari (served with two types of fried chilies, remoulade and green-chili dipping sauce) to a kale, romaine and cabbage salad peppered with ginger chicken potstickers. Creator Tom Ryan says of the offerings, “All of our nouns are very familiar, and all of our adjectives will make you go, ‘Huh?’”
That attempt to mix the familiar and the intriguing on an eclectic menu with regional influences from Mexico to Xiangxiang, China, is audacious, even dangerous—especially in a casual, party-style atmosphere. But Ryan, who holds a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry from Michigan State University, knows a little something about giving the masses what they want. He worked on the corporate level at Pillsbury, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s (where he created the McGriddle sandwich) before founding the Smashburger chain—for my money, home of the best fast-food burgers around.
So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a lot of his creations at Tom’s Urban work quite well. I probably never would have thought to mix pork green chili carnitas into mac ’n’ cheese, but now that I’ve tried this delicious combination I wonder why. The same goes for piling mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese on a bed of avocados, creating one of the most decadently rich side dishes out there. And the Hangover Slopper (a burger loaded up with that pork green chili plus queso fresco, pico de gallo, two fried eggs, cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses) is the kind of guilty pleasure that you probably won’t come close to finishing, but that will certainly hit the spot after a long night of imbibing on the Strip.
Despite nearly a pound of prime rib, the Philly cheesesteak dip (with Havarti, beef demi-glace and horseradish cream) isn’t quite as extreme. But it’s just as good. And don’t miss the salted caramel shake, available with or without spiced rum.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the much-hyped Xiangxiang crispy duck wings. The hoisin glaze coating was a fairly generic Asian sweet-and-spicy sauce. And they were overcooked, leaving them super-crispy on the outside, but making it difficult to appreciate the difference from chicken wings that the duck meat should have provided. The result was something resembling takeout General Tao’s chicken in drumstick form.
Another losing dish for me was the vaunted shrimp and grits. The shrimp were small-to-medium and overseasoned with salty Cajun spices. And while I never thought I’d say this, I think they may have used too much cheese in the grits.
After two visits, the food at Tom’s Urban reminds me of things a stoner with the munchies and a well-stocked kitchen might cook up, gleefully mixing flavors on a whim and piling on as much as possible. The difference is that Ryan and his staff know exactly what they’re doing, so in most cases, the overkill works.
Tom’s is a huge space with bars fronting both the Strip and the interior of New York–New York. The décor is casual and inviting to both late-night revelers and families grabbing a quick lunch. And the staff is one of the most impressive I’ve come across in casual restaurants in a while, going out of their way, not only for me, but for all of the diners around me. Also note: If you’re partying late, the house policy is to stay open as long as there are six or more patrons. So go early or go late—but definitely go check it out.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Mini mac & cheese pot ($8)
- cheddar avocado mashed potatoes ($6)
- prime rib Philly cheesesteak dip ($23)
- and Kraken spiced rum salted-caramel shake ($13.50)
New York–New York, 702-740-6766. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, 6 a.m.–2 a.m. or later. Dinner for two, $35–$70.