Spicy Pig Sandwich, The Market
This sweet and spicy pork sandwich is made with Black Forest deli ham, applewood-smoked bacon, ghost-pepper cheese and chipotle barbecue sauce on a poppy-seed kaiser roll. As you make your way through the sandwich—and you will eat the entire thing—one bite may be savory or sweet, followed by a bite with heat, but never unbearably hot. $7.75, 611 Fremont St., 702-586-3401, TheMarketDTLV.com.
SmokeShack, Shake Shack
The original Shackburger is beautiful in its simplicity, with nothing more than cheese, lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce. But there’s lots of flavor to be discovered when you add applewood-smoked bacon and a healthy dose of chopped cherry peppers to the mix, as found on the satisfying SmokeShack. Though the single costs a few bucks less, one thing you’ll learn when you’re indoctrinated into Shake Shack’s burgers: Always get the double, which still clocks in just under $10. $6.69 single, $9.49 double, in New York-New York, 725-222-6730, ShakeShack.com.
Cheddar Avocado Mashed Potatoes, Tom’s Urban
Ask a Michelin-starred chef how to turn simple mashed potatoes into a decadent treat, and he’ll probably tell you to keep adding butter. Tom’s Urban takes it a bit further, however. They start with smooth, creamy potatoes, then pile them atop slices of avocado to add just a bit more creamy fat to the mix. (But it’s the good kind of fat!) Then comes the cheddar. Make sure you get it all on one forkful to savor the two creamy textures—one loose, one firm—as well as the way the sharp cheese stands out against the bright fruit. $6, New York-New York, 702-740-6766, TomsUrban.com.
Daily Special, Rani’s Kitchen in Rani’s World Foods
It’s surprisingly difficult to find inexpensive, high-quality Indian food in this town, and even more difficult to find affordable, complete vegetarian meals, too, but at Rani’s you can have both. The daily special is served bento style, and you can choose two from a variety of veggie dishes, such as chickpea masala, shahi paneer cheese and tomato cream gravy. These two made-fresh-daily veggie options are served with lentils, rice, two pieces of flatbread, a pickle and onions. $9, 4505 W. Sahara Ave., 702-522-7744, RanisWorldFoods.com.
Meatballs and Marinara, Table 89
Whether or not you’re of Italian heritage, sometimes nothing hits the spot like a simple order of meatballs in red sauce. Las Vegas has some amazing examples of the humble dish, but, sadly, the massive portions at good Strip restaurants can easily run you $15 to $20. Table 89 offers a much more affordable version that is quite delicious. An order consists of six one-ounce meatballs (75 percent beef, 25 percent pork), and they’re simmered for six hours and smothered in shaved Romano cheese. They definitely hit the spot without breaking the bank. $6, 7160 N. Durango Drive, 702-365-7777, Table89LV.com.
Ice Cream Taco, Cream
While the $4 ice cream sandwiches at Bay Area import Cream—which stands for “Cookies Rule Everything Around Me,” a wink to the Wu-Tang Clan—are incredible, it’s the ice cream taco that makes our mouth water most. Stuffed with three scoops of ice cream (choose from dozens of flavors) and your choice of two toppings (we’re partial to Nutella and mini gummy bears), this behemoth puts the Choco Taco to shame. Holding it all together is a traditional waffle or—wait for it—red velvet shell. You’ll need utensils for this one. $5, 1980 Festival Plaza Dr., 702-272-0072, CreamNation.com.
Bento Box, Volcano Grille
With last September’s move to a more prominent space, Volcano Grille’s quick-casual teppanyaki menu has acquired new fans. Two proteins and two sides form a hearty lunch or dinner for $9.49, but the certified Angus beef for $2.15 more is a tender delight. Choosing among 10 robust sauces, including Hot Lava, Fuji Yummy and Hot Magma, makes each perfectly sizzled bite a different experience. Flavorful sides include three kinds of rice, Yakisoba noodles, gyoza, spring rolls, grilled veggies and salad. $11.64, 7150 S. Durango Dr., 702-750-0150, VolcanoGrille.com.
Soyrizo Tacos, Taco Y Taco
Want to chow down on tacos without indulging in meat or animal products? Taco Y Taco offers a vegetarian menu with items that could easily be made vegan with a little modification. We suggest the Soyrizo taco, which uses a savory soy-based chorizo alternative as its base. The bright red substitute provides the same spice and texture of its pork counterpart, and you can add your choice of peppers, beans and greens. The ingredients are piled high on earthy, house-made corn tortillas. The restaurant also offers meats, such as carne asada, adobada and al pastor, so your carnivorous friends can enjoy, too. Starting at $2.25, 9470 S. Eastern Ave., 702-749-7091; 3430 E. Tropicana Ave., 702-331-3015, Facebook.com/TacoTacoMe.
Double E Bowl, Fish N Bowl
Nothing fancy here: a bowl of rice adorned with six pieces of unagi (freshwater eel) that’s topped with a shredded version of the egg custard tamagoyaki. The eel is thick and meaty, coated in a heavy, sweet sauce, while the egg is light with just a mild sweetness of its own. And since the portions of eel are huge, this is more filling—not to mention interesting—than ordering unagi in nigiri form, making the under-$10 price tag all the more appealing. $9.50, 7225 S. Durango Dr., Suite 105, 702-739-3474, FishNBowlVegas.com.
Black Kale Fritters, Tapas by Alex Stratta
Yes, we’re also sick to death of kale, the so-called “super-green” that will allegedly help us live forever. So bravo to Alex Stratta for turning it into gourmet junk food at his new tapas restaurant. OK, junk food isn’t exactly accurate. But it is battered and deep fried, with delicious results. The long, crispy leaves are then topped with tart green apples, sweet cherries and pine nuts—a wonderful (and economical) cross between a bar snack and a salad. $9, Tivoli Village, 702-483-3555, TapasAlexStratta.com.
Green Eggs & Ham Flatbread, Presto Café
If Sam-I-Am can’t convince you to eat this, the $10 price tag will. Pesto, cheese, spinach, roasted red peppers, ham and two fried eggs sit atop soft flatbread that has been cut into quarters. It is best to eat it with a fork and knife because of the velvety egg yolk. And even though the ingredients make it seem like a bargain brunch item, it’s available every day of the week during store hours. $10, 19 S. Stephanie St., Suite 140, Henderson, 702-914-2333; 4950 Rainbow Blvd., Suite 130, 702-293-3332, PrestoCafeLV.com.
Sweet Pork Barbacoa Salad, Cafe Rio
It’s incredibly simple in its construction: A large, soft flour tortilla (made in-house) is sprinkled with cheese, heated on a grill and placed in a shallow metal tin. From there, the mountain builds: cilantro lime rice, beans (black or pinto), sweet pork barbacoa (more on this delight momentarily), romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, crunchy tortilla strips, a dash of cotija cheese, a cilantro sprig and a lime wedge, with your choice of cilantro lime vinaigrette or creamy tomatillo dressing. (Nothing against the vinaigrette, but trust us: Go with the latter!) Now about that barbacoa: You can choose any meat you desire—fire-grilled steak or chicken, pulled chicken breast, even chile roast beef. But the pork is a house favorite for a reason. Granted, it ups the caloric-bomb quotient of this salad (and even more so if you take down that tortilla—and you should). But look at it this way: The calorie-to-penny value is off the charts! $8.50, nine Valley locations, CafeRio.com.
Choice of Two Meats, Rollin’ Smoke Barbeque
Rollin’ Smoke serves up some of the best Southern-style barbecue you’ll find in this town, and the more of their delectable beef brisket, chicken, spare ribs, pulled pork or hot links you can get on your plate, the better. Your favorite meat may vary (the brisket and pulled pork seem to be the most popular choices), but nearly all of them have one thing in common: Rollin’ Smoke’s house-made sauce: sweet, rich and just this side of tangy. The Duo Choice gives you two generous portions of meat extravaganza, plus a side—try the addictive, deep-fried corn nuggets, we beg you—and a slice of white bread to sop up whatever’s left (there won’t be much). $11, 3185 S. Highland Dr., 702-836-3621, RollinSmokeBarbeque.com.
Cheesesteak Grinder, Grinder’s Pizza Lounge
It’s not easy to find a decent cheesesteak in this town, so when you spot a place that’s actually run by guys from Philly, you know you’re getting the real deal. Though Grinder’s regular cheesesteak sandwich—good, crusty bread made in-house and topped with thinly sliced sirloin, sautéed onions and American cheese—may pull you in, the grinder version takes a pass through the oven to make it all even better. The full size is nearly $15, but a half will do you just fine. $8.49, 5625 S. Rainbow Blvd., 702-293-5800, GrindersPizzaLounge.com.
Energy Bowl, Jamba Juice
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new fad in which people are replacing their meals with drinkable solutions in the name of health. Jamba Juice—king of the drinkable meal—has concocted a compromise: fancy parfaits topped with fresh fruit and good-for-you crunchy bits, such as organic granola. You can opt for the classic strawberries, blueberries and honey on Greek yogurt, or go big on your superfoods with açai, soy milk and coconut. They clock in at an average of just 400 calories, but there are worse ways you can replace an entire meal. $6-$8.50, multiple locations, JambaJuice.com.
Hot Dog, Buldogi’s
Hot dogs at Buldogi’s are less ballpark fare than fusion comfort food in tube-steak form. Heavy toppings often disguise an undersize, feebly flavored hot dog, but Buldogi’s are slightly larger and have an extra spice and snap that give a solid base to strong flavors. The dogs are large enough for a meal—two is a feast—and they provide a meat, veg and condiment combo in every bite. Try the Angry Dog, topped with spicy pork bulgogi, Asian slaw and jalapeño, which gives it a kick without a burn. For something more mellow, the West Coast dog is heaped with caramelized onions, pico de gallo and avocado mayo. The Hawaiian gets pork belly and pineapple salsa, while the Buckeye is pork belly, corn relish and cheddar cheese. We could go on, but you get the picture. $3.95-$6.95, 2291 S. Fort Apache Rd., 702-570-7560, Buldogis.com.
Pork Belly Kimchi Fried Rice, Other Mama
New westside darling Other Mama has gotten a lot of play for its exciting treatments of raw seafood, but it does cooked dishes just as well. For this dish, big hunks of pork belly sit atop steaming rice, studded with lots of spicy cabbage in a traditional Korean stone bowl. The fried egg on top makes it all the more deliciously excessive. $11, 3655 S. Durango Dr., 702-463-8382, OtherMamaLV.com.
Turbanator Lunch Buffet, Urban Turban
The Indian lunch buffet isn’t exactly new to seasoned fans of South Asian fare; it’s probably one of the best ways to sample all the finest flavors of the cuisine. But Urban Turban’s weekly lunch spread seeks to expand your palate. The modern Indian restaurant offers some out-of-the-ordinary items you might not be familiar with, such as goat kadai, Pakistani stew and the navratan (meaning nine gems) korma, a vegetarian curry made with paneer cheese and nine types of vegetables and nuts. $11.99, 3900 Paradise Rd., 702-826-3217, UrbanTurbanLV.com.
Inyo Chicken Wings, Inyo Asian Variety Restaurant
Every culture has its own version of chicken wings; Inyo happens to cover three of them in varying levels of spice. Japanese tebasaki starts off mild, savory and peppery. Thai chili nam pla—sticky with fish sauce, chilies, lemongrass and herbs—is a surprise pop of heat and sweetness. And the Korean gochugaru combines chili flakes with sesame seeds. Can’t decide? Feel free to mix and match in portions of four, eight or 12 until you come up with the perfect balance. Eight for $8.95, 6000 Spring Mountain Rd., 702-248-0588, InyoLV.com.
Rose Katsu Dinner, Tonkatsu Kiyoshi
What’s not to like about the breaded pork cutlet known in Japanese as tonkatsu? The restaurant dedicated to everything katsu offers a dinner that hits the spot: the Rose Katsu, which features a thick cutlet of pork, breaded with panko for optimum crunch, served with rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles to cut through the fried aspect of your meal. $12, 7780 S. Jones Blvd., 702-837-7300, TonkatsuKiyoshi.com.
Fried Apple Rings, MTO Café
Once upon a time, MTO Café served mini doughnuts. And once upon a brunch, a knowledgeable waitress recommended the restaurant’s fried apple rings when the doughnuts were sold out … excellent call! These circular pillows not only possess the lightly fried goodness of their doughy cousins, but also the tanginess of Granny Smith apples and a drizzling of sweet cinnamon-sugar icing. That combination makes for a well-balanced and satisfying dessert that little doughnuts dream of growing up to be. $7, 500 S. Main St., 702-380-8229; 10970 Rosemary Park Dr., 702-982-0770, MTOCafe.com.
Combination Meal, Cocina de Maribel
You can’t really go wrong at this little Mexican joint—assuming you can find it. Hidden in a Doc Holliday’s on Eastern Avenue just south of Interstate 215, Cocina de Maribel serves rotating daily specials for $5 (from enchiladas to sub sandwiches to cheeseburgers). But our favorite is the combination plate: two crispy or three soft tacos filled with chicken, beef or fish ($1 more for shrimp), plus a side of rice and beans that taste just like your abuela’s. The server will usually throw in the expertly crunchy chips for free … just don’t tell ’em we told you! $6, 9821 Eastern Ave., 702-431-5485.
Duck Fat Fries, Searsucker
Seeing “duck fat” on a menu is the epicurean equivalent of Tom Cruise saying “Hello” to Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire: It’s irresistible. So when it comes to the three styles of duck-fat fries at Searsucker, the question isn’t “Should I?” but rather “When should I?” The happy hour portion (served 4:30-6 p.m.) comes with a helping of tomato jam for $4; dinner sees a side of Chipotle ketchup for $10, and night owls can peck at prosciutto and Parmesan on their potatoes for $9 (11 p.m.-late Tue. and Thu.-Sun.). Filling, flavorful and delightfully fatty … “side dish” is just a label, anyway. $4-10, in Caesars Palace, 702-866-1800, Searsucker.com/Las-Vegas.
Small Bites, Japañeiro
There’s been an explosion of Japanese-fusion restaurants on the Southwest side of the Valley, most with Nobu alums in the kitchen. So it’s no surprise to find Nobu-esque staples such as rock shrimp ($8) and black-cod lettuce wraps ($6) on the menu, but at a fraction of Nobu prices. Hit up happy hour for even better deals, such as an order of two pieces of the black cod for $4.50, 7315 W. Warm Springs Rd., Suite 170, 702-260-8668, Facebook.com/Japaneiro.
Tonkatsu-Shoyu Ramen, Monta Ramen
An oldie but goodie, Monta still reigns supreme when it comes to ramen in the Valley. And ever since a second location opened in the southeast, it seems like the wait time for a steaming bowl of the noodle soup has eased slightly at the original Spring Mountain shop. While you can order either the pork bone-based tonkatsu or the clear, chicken- and vegetable-stocked shoyu as your broth, your best bet is to combine the two, where the shoyu lightens up the creamy tonkatsu, a mix of Tokyo- and Kyushu-style soups. Slurp away at the thin, chewy noodles, and it’s a bowl of inexpensive satisfaction. $6.95, 5030 Spring Mountain Rd., Suite 6, 702-367-4600; 9310 S. Eastern Ave., Suite 116, 702-331-5151, MontaRamen.com.
Cheffini Dog and Fries, Cheffini’s Hot Dogs
Now in Container Park, Cheffini’s Hot Dogs began life as a Fremont East District street cart where you could get the most loaded dog known to humankind: mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, mozzarella cheese, and—why the hell not?—pineapple sauce. It shouldn’t work, but it does: The weird mix of tastes and textures blend in flawless concert—sweet and savory, crispy and crunchy—to make a quintessential rib-sticker, the perfect thing to wolf down after you’ve had one beer too many. And a Cheffini Dog is cheap enough that you can afford a generous portion of Cheffini’s fries, always fresh and hot and perfectly salted. Hot dogs start at $5, fries start at $2, in Container Park, 702-527-7599, Cheffinis.com.
Orzo Salad, PublicUs
If you think cold pasta salads are boring, think again. This premade dish at Downtown’s newest hot spot is a symphony of textures and tastes. It starts with tiny pasta ovals made slippery by a light coating of pistachio vinaigrette dressing. The chef then adds chewy and sweet figs, crunchy and nutty pistachios and fleshy, bright roasted red peppers. There’s more going on in this single dish than in some multicourse meals. $4.50, 1126 Fremont St., 702-331-5500, PublicUsLV.com.
Food writer Al Mancini talks Cheap Eats on 97.1 the Point. Listen to the broadcast below.