Where Las Vegas' Celebrity Chefs Eat Late at Night
WHERE DO THE CITY'S MOVERS GO WHEN THEY GET OFF THEIR SHIFTS? HINT: THEY'RE NOT STAYING ON THE STRIP.
It might be the other city that never sleeps, but Las Vegas’s fine dining restaurants on the Strip generally turn in at a reasonable hour—nearly all before 11 p.m. And when the city’s chefs finish service, they’re not meeting up on the Strip. Rather, they head to the three-mile stretch of Spring Mountain Road that is Las Vegas’ Chinatown, where the standard closing time is 3 a.m.—and many spots are open around the clock. “It’s the only place [in Las Vegas] that you’ll find consistent lines to get in at 4 a.m.,” says Joe Muscaglione, whose new site, ChinatownReport.com, is documenting its restaurants and charting its boundaries. “There are over four dozen restaurants that are open 24 hours a day. There are more than 150 restaurants, 50 foot spas, and a dozen churches. It’s the most vibrant neighborhood in the city besides the Strip, by far.”
“Like most people in our industry, I usually roll in around midnight,” says Charlie Palmer, whose Aureole in
Mandalay BayMandalay Bay closes on weekdays at 10 p.m. Like many chefs, he’ll head to izakayaAburiya Raku, which, despite being a fabled go-to on gourmand travel lists and a favorite ofGuy Savoyand the lateJoel Robuchon, is still hard to find (it's in the Spring Mountain strip mall with its dessert counterpart, Sweets Raku). “Anything off the robata grill,” is what you’ll seeShawn McClaineating here, and he should know: his Sage and Five50 restaurants inAriaAria and Libertine Social in Mandalay Bay all are bastions of culinary creativity. Raku’s sake menu rolls more than 100 selections deep, and McClain says his trips inevitably involve catching up with the staff late at night. McClain’s own takes on slow-poached farm eggs are famous, but he experiences no egg fatigue when he reaches Raku, going for “the poached egg and sea urchin, as well as foie gras chowanmushi” (a steamed egg custard) when he arrives—usually between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.. “In the food and beverage world, sometimes the wheels start coming off places after midnight," he says. "To have such incredible food and service late at night is a rare combination.”
As you might have noticed, the Chinatown moniker is a bit of a misnomer. “The area is really more of an Asiatown,” Muscaglione says. “There are 45 places to eat pho on Spring Mountain, so it’s as Vietnamese as anything, and [there's been] a huge boom in Korean restaurants in just the last six months.” But among its Chinese restaurants, virtually every region is represented, from Cantonese to Yunnan, Dongbei, Szechuan, Hunan cuisine, and more. “Flushing, Queens is the only other Chinatown in the country that has this kind of Chinese variety,” Muscaglione says. “And they don’t have the Michelin-star rivals that we do.”
“There are celeb chefs here every night, somewhere,” he says, of Chinatown’s big names—including Raku, Big Wong, Chengdu Taste, Honey Pig, Ichiza, Yui Edomae Sushi, and Niu Gu. Another favorite in the Raku strip mall is tiny Kabuto, whose seats run only in the double digits and generally has only two seatings per night, reservation only, for its omakase menu. Its hours say it’s open until 10:30 p.m., but some chefs, like Spago executive chef Mark Andelbradt, slip in before the doors close and skip the omakase menu in favor of the daily fish list.
CHINATOWN IS NO LONGER THE BEST-KEPT SECRET IN LAS VEGAS. THERE ARE A LOT OF CHEFS WHO HAVE ADDED TO ITS DIVERSITY
“The list is compiled from the fish that were brought in for the day’s service, about 18 to 20 selections,” he says. “I usually go there by myself, or with a friend who also appreciates the serene environment and the top-quality product.” But if it’s a chef’s night out after a big event, you’ll find Andelbradt with many of the city’s other F&B insiders at Other Mama, which specializes in sushi, cocktails, and insanely fresh oysters just south of Spring Mountain on Durango Road. “Everything is great at Other Mama and perfect for sharing,” Andelbradt says. “Must-haves are the tuna tartare, amberjack crudo, octopus ceviche, mushroom tempura, Japanese fried chicken, and kimchee fried rice—it’s impossible for me to leave without ordering it.” And though it’s not open as late as some Spring Mountain spots, Other Mama’s chef and owner Dan Krohmer says that they stay open for special customers, “especially when it’s well-respected hospitality friends who return the courtesy.”
Since it opened in 2014, District One has been the unofficial late-night hub of the F&B industry. Chef Roy Ellamar, of
Bellagio’s Harvest by Roy Ellamar, arrives around midnight. (Latecomers are rewarded on Sunday nights with a “reverse happy hour” from 12 a.m.-2 a.m.). Designed by chefKhai Vuto recall Saigon’s own District One neighborhood with its restaurants, bars, and street foods, Ellamar says favorite dishes include bun bo hue, fish sauce chicken wings, braised pork belly, sea snails, and short rib fried rice. “Plus Khai [who Ellamar calls the “King of Spring Mountain”] grew up in his family’s pho restaurant, so the pho is amazing,” Ellamar says. Another reason the place is hopping: “They have Fernet on tap and a nice Pappy collection—both marks of a place that caters to industry professionals.”
“I am not the king of Spring Mountain,” Khai Vu says, laughing, although you have only to try his new restaurant, the Japanese-inflected Spanish tapas and wine bar Mordeo, to understand why chefs flock to his restaurants. Vu, as much as anyone, has helped shape the stretch of Spring Mountain into the city’s breakout culinary neighborhood. The concept for Mordeo, whose beverage program is overseen by master sommelier Luis de Santos, was inspired by their travels to Barcelona and the universality of great ingredients. “We have a binchotan charcoal grill, and we do little skewers over the charcoal, and a little raw bar, and Japanese-influenced sashimi,” Vu says. You might find Iberico pork skewers and Okinawa potato gnocchi alongside Spanish charcuterie boards. “We started out with this running joke about doing a Spanish restaurant,” he says. “But if you have a good product, why limit yourself?” Chefs Rick Moonen, Hubert Keller, and Mitsuo Endo (of Raku) all dined there in its first few months, and the band Queen was a regular during its three-week residency with Adam Lambert. Its 1 a.m. advertised closing time is deceptive, by the way. “It’s actually our last seating,” Vu says. “If you’re seated by 12:59, we’re still ready to serve with a full kitchen and staff.” Plus, says Muscaglione, “There’s no other Chinatown I know of with a master sommelier working in it.”
“Chinatown is no longer the best-kept secret in Las Vegas. There are a lot of chefs who have added to its diversity,” says Scott Conant, the frequent Chopped judge who opened his Masso Osteria at
Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spaearlier this year. A longtime visitor to restaurants on Spring Mountain Road, Conant points to new restaurants likePartage, the French fine dining restaurant recently opened byChoppedwinnerYuri Szarzewski, and CEO and manager Nicolas Kalpokdjian, as a new favorite in this evolved Chinatown dining scene. Others include Midwestern-gone-globalSparrow + WolfbyBrian Howard(think Chinatown clams casino, and beef cheek and bone marrow dumplings), and the deeply satisfyingHerbs & Rye, which has gained renown for its cocktails and steaks—and is open until 3 a.m.
Restaurateur Elizabeth Blau, whose Blau + Associates owns and operates Andiron, HoneySalt, and the restaurants of Parq Vancouver (among others), and whose clients have included the Rainbow Room in New York, often sticks with low-key Chinatown classics for late-night dining. “The only time I am late-night dining is when I’ve had a night out on the Strip!” she says. “Some of my favorite places include Pho Kim Long, a modest Vietnamese restaurant that’s open 24 hours, and Joyful House, a Chinese restaurant that’s open until 3 a.m.," she says. "I usually order pho or any kind of dumpling or fried rice—something spicy.”
Another new trend popping up in the neighborhood? Korean barbecue at 4 a.m. Kenny Lee, whose family owns both Lee’s Discount Liquors and Lee’s Korean BBQ, open 24/7, says they see some chefs whose restaurants are open late after their service ends. “Vegas is a 24-hour town, so casino workers come off their shifts and we get a rush at 4 a.m., and on weekends it’s club-goers who come in around 2 a.m.,” he says. And they're all ordering marinated beef ribs. “It’ll usually do the trick when you’ve been up all night.”