Every big city in America has its own peculiar set of rules for driving a car:
In Los Angeles — make sure each drive begins with a full tank of gas. You might need it. Sitting in traffic for hours with the engine idling away is a part of daily life.
In Philadephia — always keep one hand on the steering wheel, while maintaining the other hand in a locked position with the middle finger extended, fully prepared to engage any violators.
In Chicago — get bulletproof windows.
In Dallas — make sure your collision insurance is up-to-date.
In Miami-Ft. Lauderdale — prepare for a constant game of dodgeball, since half the population is over 85 and the rest are nuts.
In New York — don’t drive.
Las Vegas can be a really strange place, especially when it comes to driving.
Our auto insurance rates are among the highest in the nation. Driving on freeways here can be like racing in the Daytona 500. Everything is a competition. Cutting off someone is traffic is personal and demands revenge. Other cities with heavy traffic slow down when it’s bumper to bumper. In Las Vegas, we hit the gas. Flashing neon lights up and down the casino strip is a particularly bad influence on drivers; turn signals are used merely for ornamentation. When it rains, which is almost never, forget about it. You might as well pack up and leave town. When the roads are slick, everyone drives faster. It’s madness.
We do love to gamble. Especially behind the wheel.
For tourists who rent a car, local residents, or god forbid pedestrians and cyclists (how are you not in a coma?), what follows are some helpful hints enabling you to survive the unique Las Vegas driving experience.
A Dozen Rules for Driving in Las Vegas:
Rule #1: There are no rules.
That’s right. There are no rules for driving in Las Vegas. Well at least, no one pays attention to them. So, neither should you. Ignore traffic laws relating to speed limits, school zones, and areas under constructions (which basically applies to every expressway in the city). Do whatever you want.
Rule#2: Keep up with the flow of traffic.
If there’s a speed limit posted, add 20 mph to it. That’s the real speed limit. The 20 mph “over” rule especially applies to delivery trucks and city buses, which all drive batshit crazy. If you don’t drive at the common speed limit, you might get run off the road. So, keep up with the flow of traffic. Note: In Sun City Summerlin, which is a sprawling “over 55” community, reverse everything written above. Subtract 20 mph from the posted speed limits. Better yet, buy a golf cart.
Rule #3: It’s always rush hour.
In Las Vegas, there are no clocks in casinos. Moreover, there are no clocks on the roadways. Normal times of day don’t apply here. 9 to 5 isn’t the workday. It’s the odds on a craps table. This is a 24-hour city where anyone can order a steak, smoke a bowl, shoot up, or down half a dozen martinis — day and night. You might think it’s safe to drive the streets at 10 am. Not true. The morning drive means the graveyard shift got off work and already had three hours to party. Las Vegas’ rush hour is midnight until 11:59 at night.
Rule #4: Never brake on yellow.
Yellow traffic lights aren’t what they mean in other cities. Yellow does not mean — caution or slow down. In Las Vegas, yellow means — pound the gas pedal. Braking on yellow in this city can get you rear-ended, assaulted, or perhaps even shot.
Rule #5: A green light does not mean “go.”
Green lights at traffic intersections do not mean “go.” In Las Vegas, a green light means “proceed with extreme caution.” When stopped at a traffic light, upon seeing evidence of a green light, wait at least five full seconds before accelerating. Allow several vehicles caught in cross traffic to race through the intersection as the light changes from yellow to red. Otherwise, you’ll probably get sideswiped by an uninsured driver with expired out-of-state plates.
Rule #6: Handicapped parking spaces are for handicappers.
All the casinos have plenty of handicapped parking spaces. Most of them are empty. This is most convenient for sports gamblers caught in a time crunch. Why risk missing the tip-off when a handicapped parking space is just a few steps away from the race and sportsbook betting window, and the game starts in 3 minutes? The chances of a disabled person needing the space are small, anyway. In Las Vegas, handicapped parking applies to both “the handicapped” and “handicappers.”
Rule #7: What to do if your car breaks down.
If your vehicle breaks down for any reason, remove it from the roadway, immediately. Otherwise, a car thief will come along and remove it for you. Also — don’t even think of changing a flat tire on your own. You will be run over and end up in a coma.
Rule #8: Learn the local language.
In Las Vegas, the three most common ways to communicate are as follows —  English,  Spanish, and  Texting While Driving. If exceeding 80 mph, the ten-second rule on replying to phone text messages does not apply. Do not text while driving more than 25 mph above the speed limit. That’s what school zones are for.
Rule #9: Learn how to properly use the horn.
Sometimes, honking the car horn may be necessary when driving in Las Vegas traffic. However, one must also practice the proper discretion. So, it’s best to follow the local customs. Your car horn has a clear purpose and it is to be used — as a weapon.
Rule #10: Always be prepared for the danger of a traffic stop.
Take extra special care when being pulled over by the police during a traffic stop. Making a mistake can be very costly. Here’s some advice: A personal flask is much easier to hide under the front seat than either a beer can or a beer bottle, especially if the beverage is full. No one wants to spill good liquor just because a tail light is out and you get pulled over. So, prepare accordingly.
Rule #11: Weaponize your car stereo sound speakers.
Young people in Las Vegas enjoy blasting their shitty music. Worse, they make sure everyone else can hear it. At busy intersections with extra-long red lights, be prepared for rap lyrics loud enough to sound like you’re chained next to the speakers at a DMX concert. The optimal countermeasure to this auditory pollution is establishing a good defense, a.k.a. “amping up,” sort of like how nations stockpile nukes. When confronted with booming rap music at a traffic light, put on your favorite music, roll down the car windows, crank up the volume, and blast the fuck away.
Rule #12: Learn what the road signs really mean.
In Las Vegas, traffic signs are meant as suggestions. Sort of like your waiter reciting the nightly dinner specials. No one pays attention. Everyone will do their own thing. Here’s the real road sign menu, with descriptions:
STOP = Slow down.
YIELD = Accelerate to beat other cars into the traffic circle.
DO NOT ENTER = Be sure no one is approaching, then proceed.
NO PARKING = Free parking.
DUCK CROSSING = 1 duck – 1 point; 2 ducks – 2 points; 3 ducks – 3 points; 4 ducks – we don’t believe it….post video on YouTube.
ROAD WORK AHEAD = Speed up now to make up for lost time.
MERGING TRAFFIC = Ride the tail of the car in front so no one can cut in.
SCHOOL ZONE = Check your text messages.
Finally, thinking of renting a car? Here’s a one-word suggestion, instead: Uber.
Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.
While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective. More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.
I’ve never been good at science. Or, math. Those subjects were always difficult for me in school. That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math. People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand. Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact. However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.
I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science. Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton. Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss. That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read. Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language. Well, easier to understand, for some. Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.
Hawking didn’t just teach us about science. He taught us things about humanity and being human, too. It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man. He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else. He had kids. He had affairs. He went through divorces. He could be tempestuous. He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.
There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight. It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.
The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony. Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate. Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.
Even his personal tastes were paradoxical. He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity. In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.
Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective. While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was. When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities. Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.
His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words. He lived them.
Two days ago, the online website for Forbes (magazine) took down an article that was critical of White Christian evangelicals.
Why? I’ll address that in a moment.
I read Forbes on occasion. It’s not part of in my standard political wheelhouse. The magazine’s ceaseless cheerleading for American capitalism is repetitive and often cringe-worthy. Most investment geniuses who make the coveted Forbes cover have crashed and burned when luck runs and market expertise returns to the statistical mean.
However, Forbes is to be credited as a legitimate source for news, information, and opinion. Forbes adheres to journalistic standards and practices and speaks with an independent voice — at least as independent a voice as a media giant can be headed by someone named Steve Forbes.
I tried to read the article initially posted on Sunday, written by Chris Ladd, who appears to have published an impressive body of credible work in the past. But when I clicked the Forbes website, I received an “Error 404” message. That’s the standard code that a webpage is no longer available. It had been removed.
Of course, that just made me want to read the article all the more.
It was easy to track down the feature article, which raises some legitimate questions about the grotesquely hypocritical evangelical Christian movement. Since evangelicals constitute a significant percentage of Trump supporters, this strange cult of super believers is a timely topic of discussion. Certainly, President Trump’s mind-boggling number of moral lapses makes us wonder what evangelicals must be thinking when they seem to ignore all the teachings of their holy book.
Allow me to offer the following theory as to why a well-written, fact-based article with many irrefutable historical references was taken down. Forbes is a publication and website mostly frequented by conservatives. Many subscribers aren’t comfortable with having their faith questioned or moral and ethical beliefs put to the test. Criticism of White Christian evangelicals is taboo in some Right-leaning political circles. So much for conservatives being the champions of ideas and free expression. They’re just as hypocritical as everyone else, and on the matter of religion, even more so.
For those interested, here’s the original article which has been cut and pasted for another rogue source. It’s well worth reading:
Why White Evangelicalism is So Cruel
[by Chris Ladd]
Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star. Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”
Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness. However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history. Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.
Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been co-opted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South. And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.
There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a century and a half after the Civil War and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.
Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at a local store to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.
Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in the protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.
What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.
Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.
Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy. As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests. After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.
White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail. Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.
Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.
Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars. When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:
Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.
For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might help to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:
Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.
What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.
Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.
Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.
While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.
The audience was treated to a pleasant surprise at Red Rock’s free variety show on Sunday.
About 20 minutes into the monthly matinee “Brunch to Broadway,” the emcee ushered four local high school students onto the stage. Two were young girls, aged 16 and 17. The two other kids were a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.
Inviting minors onstage to join a live show at a casino seemed a bit unusual.
“Brunch to Broadway” is 75-minutes of music with a live band. Years ago, these types of shows were quite popular. They used to be called “lounge acts.” Every big casino had one. Lounge acts played both afternoons and nights, and sometimes even into the early morning. Shows were free, although seeing the most popular entertainers often required a two-drink minimum, and getting a really good table usually mandated a generous tip to the Maitre’d. Many popular singers and comedians of the past century began their careers as Las Vegas lounge acts.
Unfortunately, searching for a free lounge act on the Las Vegas Strip has become tougher than finding a casino that pays 2 to 1 on blackjack. Lounge acts have pretty much disappeared.
However, there are some notable exceptions. Several “locals” casinos — which means resorts catering mostly to local residents instead of out-of-town visitors — continue to offer this throwback to the past. Red Rock (owned by Stations Casinos) and Suncoast (owned by Boyd Gaming) host regular variety shows in their showrooms. Most are free. As one might expect, the crowds in attendance skew a bit older. But I’ve also seen many families and young people in the audiences. It’s nice seeing shows featured that can be enjoyed by everyone.
“Brunch to Broadway” is fun. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve enjoyed this show on three occasions (there’s a different show each time). The set list mostly includes show tunes and standards from the classic American songbook. Performers rotate in and out from various shows around town.
Sunday’s show was special, however. The two younger kids joined a four-piece band — which then became a six-piece band. Instantly, a horn section was born. The boy played the saxophone. The girl played the trumpet. The kids didn’t always hit every note perfectly. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was really cool to see the youngsters playing alongside professional musicians in a live show. The kids appeared to be having the time of their lives.
The two teen girls each sang a solo. Later, they sang together. Both girls were excellent. But, the audience could tell they were also a little nervous. Again, none of this mattered. Their songs were from Broadway show tunes.
A bit later, the other full-time performers continued the show. Finally, the entire ensemble cast did a few songs together with the band. It was all good fun. The price (free) was certainly right.
The episode impressed me. Bringing four youngsters onstage and giving them a chance to perform in front of a live audience added something really special to the performance. Sure, it’s understandable that Strip casinos would never take a chance like this — inviting school-age children to play in a live show. Visitors don’t pay $130 for a seat in the Bellagio showroom to see a 12-year-old trumpet player. But locals’ casinos are different. We have other expectations.
Indeed, locals’ casinos are very much part of our communities. People in our neighborhoods often work there. We go to movies at Red Rock and Suncoast (many locals casinos now have movie theaters). We eat at restaurants there. How nice to see a few casinos allowing youngsters to display their talents alongside full-time professional performers. What a marvelous idea.
The best way to keep great music alive is making sure that children are exposed to it. If they aren’t exposed to songs we grew to love, then gradually the music will fade away. If young people don’t develop an appreciation for the classics, then some of the greatest music ever written will be forgotten. Allowing local high schoolers the chance to perform music we enjoy and even mix in some of their own more contemporary stuff is a win-win arrangement for everyone.
After the show at the exit, the performers greeted members of the audience. We remarked to each young entertainer how much we appreciated them for giving their time and talent. See the photograph above of the two young ladies who performed in the Sunday show.
Sure, this was a small thing. A few kids performed in a free Las Vegas show. What’s the big deal?
Well, maybe this is a big deal. If more high school kids are given the chance to sing and play musical instruments at casinos, then perhaps free lounge acts will make a comeback, someday. If kids are provided with a creative outlet and allowed to pursue their talents in songwriting and performing, perhaps not quite so many will become absorbed by e-games and techno-music.
What happened on Sunday afternoon made a positive impression on me. Hence, I congratulate Red Rock casino management and the band for inviting these young stars of tomorrow up to the stage. Hopefully, the seeds of great music have been planted for many more generations to come.
I love classic French cooking but hate nouveau cuisine. I love cheap local eateries but loathe fast food. I adore butter bombs, spices, onions, and garlic and garlic and more garlic, but won’t touch a green pea or a mushroom. I drink wine daily but never order wine in restaurants. I demand everything to be fresh and try to avoid frozen or processed foods, but I can devour a half gallon of ice cream in a single sitting. I go through spells where I eat strict vegetarian and then turn into a werewolf the next week.
I’m willing to spend good money on fine food. But I’m always cost-conscious. In fact, every culinary decision I make is based on value. Is this worth the money? Do I feel like I got the best end of the bargain? If so, that’s a restaurant I’ll return to many times. You can always find a good meal for $50. You can always find a great meal for $100. But find me a fantastic meal for $20. That’s where I want to go.
Yesterday in PART 1, I listed five great comfort meals in Las Vegas — priced at less than $20. Continuing on with PART 2 here are five more recommended lunches and dinners….and then some:
Wherever I go, I’ve discovered great barbecue joints are often located in the shittiest areas of town. Las Vegas is no exception.
Rollin’ Smoke is off Industrial Road, on Highland Drive, two arteries in the bowels the casino district. Nestled in dingy strip mall beneath a busy expressway, Rollin’ Smoke opened for business about ten years ago and has since become one of those hidden food havens everyone seeks out. It’s now a locals’ favorite. This isn’t a hangout where you’ll find tourists.
Instead, expect to see casino executives and construction workers lining up faithfully at a busy lunch counter to place their orders. Rollin’ Smoke offers the standard barbecue options — consisting of pork, beef, chicken, sausage. Drinks are serve-yourself, with the added southern charm of pre-sweetened ice tea. Lunch/dinner platters are served on metal trays with wax paper. Seating is mostly picnic tables, with thick rolls of paper towels at the centerpiece. The floors are concrete. Not a great place for a first date, unless you’re from Little Rock. But what great barbecue.
Rollin’ Smoke serves meats cooked up Texas-style, although ownership would bristle at the slanderous classification. Indeed, restaurant walls are saturated with Arkansas memorabilia, including a giant state flag and trophies of real (dead) Razorbacks. A Razorback is a feral pig and the proud nickname of the University of Arkansas football team.
I’ve sung the “pig sooie” battle cry many times after eating at Rollin’ Smoke. My favorite entre is the Sliced Smoked Beef Brisket, priced at $10.99 for a half pound of heaven. The full pound costs $18.99. Each entre includes a side dish and the baked beans make for the perfect kicker. Rollin’ Smoke’s brisket is unique in taste because it’s given a dry rub of peppery spices before many hours of slow heat and smoke. After it’s been sliced and served, the peppery edges make a merely good barbecue divine. It’s one of the best beef briskets I’ve ever enjoyed. You’ll be picking peppercorns out of your teeth two hours later. Ah, the memories.
The rest of the menu (including ribs) is a very good show, but not quite at the pinnacle of the brisket, which is the undeniable superstar.
Overall, this a joint where you go to eat and expect nothing else. A deliciously-satisfying meal with a drink plus tax rounds up to about $17, and that’s with a buck tip to the nice young man who takes away your tray and wipes down the picnic table for the next hungry customer.
[Note: Rollin’ Smoke took over Billy’s Barbecue on West Tropicana, which was also very good. I have not had the chance to try this location since Rollin’ Smoke bought them out, but I presume it’s equal to what’s served at the flagship location next to The Strip]
Khoury’s Mediterranean is a popular Lebanese restaurant in Village Square, at the corner of West Sahara and Fort Apache. This location has been open slightly more than a year after spending a decade hidden away in the far southwest corner of Las Vegas. This is another local gem, virtually unknown by tourists.
Khoury is one of the most popular surnames in Lebanon. The Khoury’s are a local Las Vegas family and can often be seen them working side by side in the kitchen or running the floor. Pictures of the smiling Khoury family decorate the walls. This isn’t just a restaurant. It is a display of pride.
Marieta and I have dined at Khoury’s 60-70 times over the past decade, including celebratory New Years Eve dinners. We’ve enjoyed just about everything listed on the menu. For those unfamiliar with Lebanese cooking, two highly-recommended dishes are the Kafta Kabob and/or the Kafta sandwich served with fresh cut fries.
My favorite dish is the Kibbi platter. This classic recipe consists of spiced ground beef rolled into a golf ball-sized clump sprinkled with fresh pine nuts. Next, an outer cask of bulger wheat engulfs the tasty treat inside and then the entire fist-sized ball is deep fried. The wheat, pine nuts, beef, and spices blend to absolute perfection. If that’s not enough flavor, then a house-made yogurt side sauce makes for dipping.
Kibbi platters are served with a side of whole grain rice, with a tinge of olive oil and a fresh salad of your choice. The Tabbouleh is marvelous here, but I usually opt instead for the house Khoury’s salad, which is ecstasy for garlic lovers. This is a tongue-burning joy. All entrees also include a generous pie-dough sized portion of Lebanese pita, which is freshly-baked in a brick oven. The bread always comes out piping hot and is puffed out like a balloon. Khoury’s even serves fresh butter (no cheap margarine). Add a tall glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade as the perfect topper.
Incredibly, the Kibbi platter with all the accompaniments is priced at a marvelously affordable $13 for lunch and $18 for dinner (which consists of a much larger portion). Either option is a slam dunk bargain and a great meal. You will become a regular, for sure. Give Khoury’s a try.
Trout Almondine is my favorite dish. I’ve had it hundreds of times in far too many restaurants to count. The best Trout Almondine is served in the very finest restaurants in New Orleans, and I’ve been to every one of them (some multiple time). If I have a foodie fetish, you can probably tell — it’s for Trout Almondine.
[Note: Almondine is also commonly spelled “Amandine” or “Almandine”]
The classic French-Louisiana recipe calls for fresh rainbow trout (commonly shipped from Idaho in this part of the country). The fish is seasoned, then doused in flour (or cornmeal), and then pan seared in olive oil and sprinkled with toasted almonds (sometimes it’s fried). Finally, the fully cooked boneless trout filet is basted in a Beurre Blanc sauce, which means “white butter.”
The downside to being a hopeless food snob Trout Almondine aficionado is maturing into a spoiled-rotten brat. Guilty as charged. There are many unacceptable Trout Almondine options around the country, and Las Vegas offers only a few choices which I grade as passable. Put this way, I can count them on one hand.
The very best Trout Almondine priced at less than $20 is served at King’s Fish House, in the Green Vally Ranch retail district, next to the casino in Henderson. Large and often noisy, with optional outdoor patio seating, King’s appeals to just about everyone.
Coastal dwellers won’t be impressed, perhaps. But given we’re in the middle of the desert, it’s tough to find fresh fish and decent seafood, unless you’re willing to shell out $100 someplace on The Strip. King’s is the far more accessible and affordable option, which includes the widest variety of foods from the sea.
King’s does Trout Almondine right. It’s the best recipe (for the money) I’ve tasted outside of New Orleans. For $18 (lunch), a nice portion of fresh fish is served, along with the two side dishes (no ala carte here — nice to see a restaurant refusing to nickel and dime guests for the extras). My favorite accompaniments include the buttered corn, which is sliced right off the cob and then seasoned, along with garlic spinach served in a small iron ramekin. That way, I can order the spinach and brag that I tried to eat a healthy meal.
King’s also offers the best San Francisco-style sourdough bread in the city, which is airy fresh and served with real butter. I’m also quite fond of their house specialty drinks, best of all the Agave Sting — silver tequila, fresh lime, Jalapeño, basil, and pineapple….poured on the rocks with a chili salt rim. It’s amazing.
El Segundo Sol is the creative brainchild of master chef Terry Lynch, responsible for making Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Casino) one of the most popular restaurants in Las Vegas. Lynch’s attention to the slightest detail is self-evident in every drink or bite or taste. I’ve listened to Lynch talk affectionately about food for hours, going into painstaking detail as to why he selected a specific type of rice to accompany a dish. His cooking classes aren’t just fun foodie events. They are spiritually-infused sermons, transformational experiences filled with culinary and cultural enrichment.
Lynch departed Las Vegas about a year ago to launch a new restaurant in Japan, but his mark remains indelible. El Segundo Sol is a Mexican restaurant located right underneath Maggiono’s, at Fashion Show Mall across the street from the Wynn/Encore. But don’t look for Tex-Mex and margaritas made with an industrial powder mixer. Instead, El Segundo Sol uses classic recipes and natural ingredients popular in Jalisco and Yucatan.
I remember Lynch once ranting about the depreciated peppers grown in the United States and served in most traditional Mexican restaurants. So, his kitchen insisted on the far zestier peppers imported from central Mexico shipped to flag-plant authenticity. Homemade cheeses and sauces served here don’t rely on the cheapest local dairy. This restaurant relies on a fresh supply of superior products from the great Straus Dairy in Sonoma (California). Yes, you can taste the difference.
Everything on the menu is excellent. For $7.95, two homemade corn tamales with a creme fraiche sauce nearly lifts the bar of expectation to an impossible height. However, if forced to pick and chose, I’d go with any enchilada dish (cheese, chicken breast, or slow-braised beef), which offers a spectacular combination of flavors at a reasonable cost of $17.95.
Enchiladas are served on an oval-shaped platter and come with an original black bean recipe combined with their signature cilantro rice — which is the best rice I’ve ever tasted. Thanks again, Terry Lynch for sampling 40 different rice varieties first before settling on this gem of a taste. What really pushes this dish over the top are the two sauces, one red and one green. They are served in small tin cups and can be applied sparingly or generously, according to taste. It’s a waltz for the taste buds.
If enchiladas aren’t your thing, then go for the tacos instead, which are served roll-your-own style. It’s just about as good.
El Segundo Sol is the best Mexican-themed restaurant in Las Vegas and a definite reason to drive down to The Strip. Parking beneath the mall is free and just steps away from the front entrance. Moreover, the restaurant continues its tradition of monthly cooking classes (Saturday mornings) and special dinners, which are a bargain since a four-course meal and multiple margaritas are always included.
One more helpful hint: Request a table inside, since the music can be loud on the terrace and it gets hot in the summer. It’s much nicer in the back.
Addendum: This dish would be my favorite, but it’s not regularly on the menu. It’s shrimp basted in achiote, with rice, beans, and homemade corn tortillas. Read more about El Segundo Sol in my review with lots more photos I took, published in 2014: Restaurant Review: El Segundo Sol
I can hear the laughter now. I’m recommending a visit to famed chef André Rochat’s restaurant — and suggesting a hamburger?
Yes, I am.
The trick is to visit Andre’s between 3 pm and 6 pm on Monday through Friday, which is the Happy Hour. Many outstanding dinner items are discounted, some as low as half price. Specialty cocktails are also discounted.
We’ve enjoyed Andre’s only a handful of times (it’s still relatively new) and came away on each occasion with the satisfaction we received first-class food and service at economy prices. It’s like dining at one of the snooty rip-off restaurants on The Strip at a fraction of the price, and with smiling waiters sans all the attitude.
The Cheese & Charcuterie Board normally priced at $22 is discounted to $15 during Happy Hour and is an exceptional appetizer to share. This is a smorgasbord of tastes to be experienced. In fact, everything we tasted here was either very good or great. Presumably, excellence is consistent throughout.
Oh, but back the hamburger. We ordered two burgers on the shiny brioche bun, topped with imported swiss cheese, red onion marmalade, and truffle mayonnaise. We each inhaled our own small basket of duck fat fries (a house salad can be substituted instead). The burgers were delicious. Especially after scarfing down everything on the Cheese & Charcuterie Board.
The price of the Andre’s Burger, as shown in the photograph above? Try this: $7
It’s half-priced from the usual dinner cost — which is $14. I asked the waiter what’s the difference between the $7 burger and fries and the $14 burger and fries. He replied: “Nothing — except $7.”
Obviously, Chef Andre makes almost no money on this deal. But one expects that we loyal guests will order something else with a higher profit margin. I’m certainly willing to oblige the generosity, by trying out and ordering more menu items, visiting repeatedly, and giving this new establishment my highest recommendation.
Also worth trying — for dessert, I strongly recommend the Chocolate Walnut Gateau which is a chocolate-glazed caramel walnut torte, with crème anglaise for $8.
I have some concerns about Andre’s due to its far-out location, in the same mall area where Khoury’s Mediterranean used to be. This is a drive for most of us, even for those living in the southwest area of Las Vegas. That said, Andre’s Bistro and Bar is worth driving the extra mile.
Note to Self: In a future series of articles, make a list of the best Happy Hour bargains in Las Vegas.
Foodie Lovers Encore: Five More Great Comfort Meals in Las Vegas worth trying at least once:
Lola’s is the most authentic Creole-Cajon restaurant in Las Vegas (don’t be fooled by Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM-Grand, which is twice as expensive and not nearly as good). A big bowl of hearty Gumbo ($12) with a side of hot Leidenheimer’s Garlic Bread ($2.50) is the very definition of the perfect comfort meal. If you want to go a little spicier, then the Jambalaya will certainly make you return for more. Top of the experience with Lola’s homemade banana pudding, which is made fresh daily ($5). The perfect way to spend $20. Note: Lola’s opened a second location a few years ago, on Town Center in Summerlin. I’ve been there once and the menu appeared to be identical.
Chicken Francese (Northern Italian Style) at Pasta Mia
One of my favorite dishes is Chicken Francese which is served widely around the country and in most traditional Italian restaurants. What most places miss, however, is the ideal pairing for the breaded chicken cutlet, which is atop capellini (angel hair) pasta. Do not order this dish any other way! It must be served “Northen Italian Style.” I’m spending myself broke trying to educate America on how to make this dish correctly. The unique blend of flavor and texture comes from the egg batter around the cutlet, which absorbs the tangy lemon and butter sauce. When the cutlet is layered across the angel hair as the base, the cutlet remains firm (not soggy). Moreover, the nest of angel hair absorbs all the flavors of the sauce and becomes a symphonic culmination of aroma, texture, and taste. Pasta Mia, in the corner of a strip mall on Flamingo across from the Rio gets it right. But give the waiter strict instructions so no mistakes are made. The house salad with a thick garlic dressing is fabulous. When I die, I want to be embalmed in that dressing.
I wanted to include at least one restaurant which is ideal for carryout. Zaytoon’s is a market and deli with a small restaurant attached, consisting of about ten tables. The interior is pleasant, but it’s better suited for to go orders. It’s located in the middle of a strip mall near the corner of Durango and Spring Mountain.
Zaytoon’s is Persian/Iranian. Even though the kitchen is small, the menu is quite extensive, consisting of most classic Persian dishes. Non-Middle Easterners are likely to opt for the beef kabob, known as Kubideh. This popular specialty is served with two 10-inch ribbons of pressed and seasoned ground beef with parsley, after being skewered on metal rods over an open flame. The kabobs are blanketed across a heaping pile of rice, with is slightly buttered and texturally ideal. The charcoal-colored Persian seasoning sprinkled over the beef is highly recommended. A half grilled tomato and a quarter onion are served on the side. All meals come with pita bread. Kubideh costs $10.99. Also recommended to order a Shirazi Salad, which is a delicious mix of cold cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, and parsley marinated in lemon and olive oil. One of the best take-out meals in the city for around $15.
Where should you go when you’re not really hungry, but still want something good to eat? So far, I’ve tried to avoid chains and casino restaurants because they’re usually unoriginal and pricey. One notable exception is The Chart House, an ideal Downtown Las Vegas seafood destination inside the Golden Nugget Casino. Take a seat at the bar and order a big bowl of New England Clam Chowder, especially if you’re not too hungry but still want something filling. The chowder is priced at just $7 at lunch — and $9 at dinner. It’s a delight. For me, great chowders are all about the three “T’s” — taste, temperature, and texture. This classic New England specialty fires on all cylinders. The diced potatoes are slightly firm. The clam count is generous. The broth isn’t too thick (often the sign of a cheap chowder). It’s also slightly peppery. I have no idea of this is by design, but each time I’ve ordered the chowder here, it seemed to contain tiny specs of sand, as if to subliminally suggest to diners — this is fresh right out of the sea! It’s also a generous portion served steamy hot. This is the best clam chowder in a city not known for many affordable seafood options.
That leaves just one more restaurant meal to chose, and I’m having a tough time making a decision because there are still quite a few great places to enjoy. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up article later.
So, what did I miss? What do you recommend? Post your comments below or join the lively discussion on Facebook.