Considering she’s been going there for almost a quarter of a century, it’s safe to say that Associate Editor Kanara Ty knows Vegas. Here, she shares her insider secrets to Sin City.
Go ahead and judge me, but I proudly call Las Vegas my second home — after all, I’ve been making memories there since I was a kid. For a lot of Asian immigrant families living in Southern California (like mine), going to Las Vegas was the easy choice for a family vacation: it wasn’t too far of a drive nor too costly. The adults spent countless hours at the slot machines or tables, while the kids would wander around the arcade or the Adventuredome at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino. For meals, it was either gorging at a buffet, or hitting up local spots off the strip, at the Asian strip malls that began at the intersection of Valley View and Spring Mountain Road. Holidays like Chinese New Year and Christmas drew lots of families to catch Asian acts from abroad, like Hong Kong singers Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, Taiwanese pop singer Lee-hom Wang, and more recently, Cantopop singer Sandy Lam and K-pop artist Kim Bum-soo.
Of course, when I turned 21, Vegas was no longer just a place I could enjoy with family. It turned into a weekend hotspot for dabbling in acts of debauchery — eating, dancing, shopping and drinking at any given hour of the day. Sleeping, of course, was not an option. When I stepped into my first Vegas club in 2005, Tao was the first big “megaclub” on the strip. I’ll admit I was peeved at the generic Asian theme, but it was also the first of its kind — an Asian themed nightclub with restaurant — in Sin City. This ushered in a new era of entertainment in Vegas: no longer just a gambler’s paradise, it became a playground for nightlife revelers. Today, Tao is still one of the top- grossing clubs in Vegas, but options abound with current top billers XS (Encore) and Marquee (Cosmopolitan), and the recent openings of Hakkasan (MGM Grand) and Light (Mandalay Bay). Electronic dance music (EDM) has taken over the club scene, with household-name DJs like Tiesto, Kaskade, and Deadmau5 all signing exclusive contracts and holding residencies at various venues in the city.
But Las Vegas is more than just pretty lights and drinking till dawn. It’s increasingly becoming a bona fide vacation destination for Asians everywhere — and the city has taken note, catering its food and entertainment to Asian customers. Furthermore, an increasing number of Asian Americans are truly calling Las Vegas “home.” According to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Asian American growth rate in Nevada is the highest in the nation (at 116 percent), with Asian Americans making up 10 percent of the population in Clark County. Over the years, I’ve seen economic opportunities develop and more Asian-owned businesses pop up (the Vietnamese bánh mì store, Lee’s Sandwiches, even has a franchise out there!).
With so much more to do in Vegas than just gamble and drink, here are some of my favorite Asian-friendly spots to eat, drink and play — on and off the strip.
We may all have our individual reasons for traveling to Vegas, but there’s one thing we can all agree upon: the food. My parents are pretty closed-minded about what they eat, so that meant they wanted rice with all their meals. Turns out, some of the best food in Vegas isn’t at the latest celebrity chef-owned restaurant. Check out some of these delectable places in the Chinatown neighborhood of Las Vegas and beyond.
Pho Saigon 8
While Pho Kim Long is arguably the more popular place for pho off the strip, locals told me that this is a much better spot for pho. And they’re absolutely right: I’ve grown to love Pho Saigon 8 for the amazing beef broth. It’ll definitely help cure any hangovers you have the next day.
( japaneserestaurantinfo.com/ichiza/) If you’re a fan of Japanese tapas or izakayas, Ichiza makes the best hamburger steak I’ve had to date: it’s huge, juicy and has this great demiglace sauce that goes perfectly with the ground patty. It’s kind of a cool place, with specials written on paper on the walls (uni mochi, anyone?). Get their honey toast for dessert — you’ll end your meal on a very sweet note.
Buldogi’s Gourmet Hot Dogs
(buldogis.com) A play on the Korean marinated beef dish bulgogi, Buldogi’s menu features an extensive list of fancy hot dogs. I highly recommend the Angry Dog, which has spicy pork bulgogi, Asian slaw, jalapeños and spicy mayo.
Sura BBQ Buffet is all-you-can-eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ that’s open until 3 a.m. — need I say more? If you’re not in the mood for AYCE, try the popular chain Honey Pig, where you can get your pork belly fix at any given time of the day. If you’re lucky, you might even get the heart-shaped shot glasses for your soju.
(fukuburgertruck.com) If you’re without a car in Vegas, this Asian fusion burger truck might be a little troublesome to get to. I’m a fan of the #2 (Tamago Burger) and the #4 (Ki- noko Burger). Once you try it, you’re going to make sure you have a ride next time you’re in Vegas.
(montaramen.com) Even with all the awesome ramen places in Southern California, I still get cravings for Monta’s Tonkotsu broth from time to time. Who would have thought Vegas would have such great ramen?
Lotus of Siam
(saipinchutima.com) A little more expensive than some of the other options on this list, but well worth it. The award-winning restaurant definitely rivals some of the best Thai I’ve ever had in my life. Get the Drunken Noodles (with either seabass or soft shell crab), as well as the Nam Prik Ong, a northern style red chili dip, with raw veggies and fried pork skins.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been coming to this restaurant at the Califor- nia Hotel in downtown Las Vegas sim- ply for one thing: the oxtail soup. And I’m not the only one — it’s definitely a favorite among locals and Vegas regu- lars. Be warned: you can only get the oxtail soup after a certain hour (usually 10 or 11 p.m.). Another favorite off the menu: Zippy’s chili (normally just found in Hawaii).
NOBU HOTEL AT CAESARS PALACE
Nobu Matsuhisa has become more than just a master sushi chef. Renowned for providing a high-class experience at his restaurants, Matsuhisa is applying the same concept to the world of hospitality by joining forces with Caesars Palace to create the world’s first Nobu Hotel. Staying at Nobu is unparalleled to other hotel experiences in Vegas, simply because of the unique Nobu touch. With furniture heavily influenced by Japanese woodworker George Nakashima, the design of each room juxtaposes raw and natural elements in neutral tones with bold traditional and contemporary Japanese graphics. (Some of the artwork was curated by Matsuhisa himself.)
My favorite guest amenities in- clude being served Nobu’s signature tea upon arrival, 24-hour access to Nobu’s first ever in-room dining menu (Blue- berry and Yuzu Soba Pancakes!), and of course, a turndown service to die for: luxurious Fili D’oro Italian linens, a pillow menu, and Nobu’s own blend of linen mist. Details Nobucaesarspalace.com.
Perhaps the most exciting nightclub opening of 2013 is Hakkasan Nightclub and Restaurant at the MGM Grand. The Las Vegas location of the high-end Chinese restaurant (there’s also one in London, New York, San Francisco and Mumbai) will feature a nightclub with high-profile acts like Tiesto, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, and Steve Aoki. Hakkasan will go face-to-face with another rival — the Cirque-de-Soleil-themed Light Nightclub at Mandalay Bay, with its impressive roster of headlining DJs: Skrillex, Zedd, and Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso of Swedish House Mafia.
For those who aren’t into the EDM scene, nightclubs like Moon Nightclub (at Palms Hotel and Casino) and Tao Nightclub feature DJs who spin hip-hop and top 40.
You don’t have to stop partying when the sun comes up. With summer now in full swing, there are pool parties a plenty up and down the strip. Daylight at Mandalay Bay is currently shaping up to be the hot new dayparty in town, rivaling Marquee’s Summer Lovin’ night/dayparties with Kaskade, and Encore Beach Club’s Daystar Sundays.
Before you head back home, take some time to detox at the Qua Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace for any of their signature treatments. Tip: Get there early enough to score one of the heated chairs in the Roman bath area. For those looking for a cheaper (and unique) alternative, check out Imperial Health Spa, which has various sauna rooms with red clay, jade or salt to help with detoxification.
Story by Kanara Ty, illustration by David Teas. Originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Audrey Magazine — click here to buy it!