Thursday

Taqueria Santa Cruz

Taqueria Santa Cruz
4023 South Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NeVada


Eating at the Pink Taco (Hard Rock Cafe) is great.

Chowing at Bamboleo (Rio) is great.

Dining at Diego (MGM Grand) is great.

But sometimes you want a no-frills, locally-owned restaurant with a menu limited to what they do best.

Thus:

!Grubbing at Taqueria Santa Cruz (strip mall off Maryland Parkway) is fantastico!

Quite unpretentious, there were three TVs were blaring un TelenoVela. The old, standard-issue furniture and floors looked clean. Three customers were faced down towards their plates.

And it was my lucky day -- menudo was on the menu! Maybe one of these guys ordered it -- but not me. Not today. I already had my run-in with menudo for the year -- unexpectedly, at that:

"Wow, that doesn't look like chicken. It doesn't feel like chicken. It doesn't taste like chicken."

"The guy said it was pollo. I know pollo. That ain't pollo."

"mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ... menudo."

Careful not to make the same mistake again, I played it safe at the counter -- tres tacos con POLLO y un coca cola.

The cashier/waitress/bus-person took my order then presented me with a glass 1-litre bottle of Coke (!) and a small basket of tortilla chips. Real chips ... not thin mass-produced chips.

I grabbed some tomato-chunky fresh salsa and smooth hot salsa from the condiments bar. They also had jalapenos, limes and some questionable-looking guacamole (not Very green, somewhat runny -- you can imagine how it looked).

Mucho me gusta la salsa calor. It was homemade, with pepper seeds liberally sprinkled throughout, and quite hot -- but not blow-you-away hot.

Then the tacos came.

One of my faVorite sayings is "I LIKE corn." And I do. I like corn chips, corn pops, corn flakes, corn on the cob, creamed corn, and especially ... corn tortillas. They giVe flour tortillas the beat-down eVery time.

So imagine my pleasure when the same cashier/waitress/bus-person brought out my three-taco plate with two fresh 2.5-inch corn tortillas anchoring each taco.

The corn tortillas were soft and not deep fried to a crisp, a huge plus. Piled on top were the aforementioned pollo and frijoles with cooked cebolla (onion), tomate and herbs/spices also mixed in.

Notice what's missing -- gobs of sour cream, fiVe layers of cheese and enough sauce to drown eVerything else.

Not that those things don't haVe their place. But they need to be eliminated to really enjoy a truly great taco.

Final Comment: Stop by for lunch and saVor the taste of high-quality, fresh ingredients and meals that are indiVidually prepared to order by someone who loVes the food and has a Vested interested in the quality of the restaurant.


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Monday

OPA!

OPA!
2550 S. Rainbow BlVd (At Sahara)
Las Vegas, NeVada


Walk up The Strip -- see a goup of Delta Delta Delta.

Walk down The Strip -- uh oh, here comes Theta Theta Theta.

Need ... Greek ... Now.

OPA! Sounds exciting.

It was exciting -- the restaurant even housed Italian mafioso dressed in all blue with Greek accents.

The guy who sat us mumbled, talked Very quietly through the side of his mouth, and moVed his hand up and down a lot. Lets call him The Greekfather.

The Greekfather says he can explain things on the menu if we get confused. Yeah, good luck with that, pal.

BANG!

1 customer down. No Greek for you. Next!

I tell The Greekfather that the most difficult decision is whether to get the Mousaka, Pastichio or Spanakopita. Then I winced. Luckily, my pronunciation was good enough to live to order.

Iced tea, saganaki and salads came first.

Great saganaki ends up being quite melted, spread across the platter, bubbling and way too hot to eat within 5 minutes. Plus, every waiter in the joint needs to scream "OPA!" when it's lit on fire.

Well, I was the only one who yelled "OPA!" Before the reVolVer came out, I said that's how it's done in Dee-troit. He marble-mouthed something and left. Was that a threat? Shaking, I check out the saganaki. The cheese was kind of bubbly, and not too melted. Still crazy good, though -- how can you screw up cheese that's set on fire. FIRE, FIRE!!

Salads -- typical American Greek salad, swimming in salad dressing. But you saw no complaints from any of us, looking at Johnny just lying there.

As far as the entrees go, the YouVarelakia (greek meatballs) were chock full of white mystery items. Maybe garlic or onion pieces? Rice bits? Dare we ask and meet our master as The Greekfather just walks away? No way ... in any case, there were too many meatballs to eVen open open up and ask.

A Horiatiki Village salad was also ordered as an entree. The white items that completely covered the lettuce were no mystery here -- feta. Or should I say "FETA!" And cukes. And tomatoes. And oliVes. And onions. Not so much dressing in this one. Very good salad -- fresh ingredients -- but not for nine dollars!!!!

Final Comment: It's difficult to get out of here for less than $20 per person, eVen without alcoholic drinks. Of course, of that amount, $3 goes to the physical plant, $3 to personnel, $4 for ingredients and $10 to The Family -- God Bless Them All.

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Wednesday

I LoVe Sushi!

I LoVe Sushi!, on Eastern AVenue
11041 S Eastern AVenue
Henderson, NeVada


Pull up to the restaurant on a Friday night and there's a line out the door. Good sign No. 1.

Step inside and there's a 30-minute wait, but we get in after about 10 minutes.

I LoVe Sushi!

Walk by the sushi bar -- it's a self-contained rectangular box in the center of the restaurant. On the top of the counter are eight mugs filled with beer. Balancing on each rim is a shot glass with sake. Standing on the customer's side of the bar are 8 outstretched hands. Sushi chef/alcohol maestro extraordinaire touches one of the shot glasses and all fall perfectly into the mugs like dominoes.

I LoVe Sushi! ... err... Sake Bombs! Just can't get it out of my head.

So we're led through a crowded restaurant into a dark seating area with a giant wooden table and chairs (not booths). This area is now dubbed "Humble Pie" (as in "30 DAYS IN THE HOOOOOOOOOOLE").

Lean back and ... WHAM ... give the guy on the other side of the wall a little wake-up shot. Sorry 'bout dat.

No beers on tap. Booooooo. Order some Kirin Ichiban and Asahi Super Dry in super-sized bottles. Looking better.

First, the edamame arriVes. Tastes like something I microwaVed 20 minutes ago and didn't salt. Now I know why this place isn't called "I LoVe Soy Beans!"

Once we have a second to peruse the menu, we find out what the owner's favorite pastime is. Here are some of the names of their rolls:

- Who's Your Daddy (Roll No. 57)
- Who's Your Mama (Roll No. 58)
- Who's Your Pimp (Roll No. 59)
- Who's Your X-Wife (Roll No. 60)
- John Holmes' Roll (Roll No. 68)
- Lisa Hand Roll (Roll No. 69, of course)
- Screaming Orgasm (Roll No. 16)
- Taste Like My X-Girl Friend (Roll No. 45)
- I Love My Ass (Roll No. 56)

I LoVe Sushi! Whooooooooooooooo!

Yes, really. You just can't make this stuff up.

The first main order was indiVidual pieces of sushi. The hamachi were some of the most buttery pieces I'Ve eaten this side of Nobu. The sake was even better. Unfortunately, they didn't haVe sake toro.

Then, we chowed on some cherry blossoms. These rolls were filled with soft shell crab, masago, scallion, wrapped with aVocado and topped with eel sauce. After the drinks, sushi and this decadent course, we were feeling a little flushed.

Thus, still up for more, we opted for something a little more boring -- need a little cooling off time before diVing back in. A tuna roll fits the bill. They appeared to be nicely-sized pieces, but the pieces were a little lacking on the underside.

Then, to make sure our experience finished happily, we tried the Lisa Hand Roll. It was spicy tuna, spicy crab, aVocado and tempura shrimp wrapped in soy bean paper. I'd loVe to meet this Lisa and tell her what I think of her roll.

Final Comment: Great food (except the edamame), wacky atmosphere, just don't bring your arch-conserVative/right-wing/uptight uncle with you. If you do, just take care of the ordering. OK?

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Monday

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba!

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba!, in the Fashion Show Mall
3200 Las Vegas BlVd.
Las Vegas, NeVada


What's sweet, salty, soft and feels oh, so good?

That's right -- bacon-wrapped roasted dates.

What did you think this was -- VegasViceViews?

Lets try again.

What's hot, spicy, meaty and poked with a stick?

That's right -- skewered chicken & chorizo sausage.

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba! is an outpost of the original Chicago tapas restaurant. It pales in comparison to Jaleo in Washington D.C., but it's better than Lola's Tapas Bar in Hoboken, New Jersey.

So where does all this leave you after you get the check? A little light in the wallet, especially if you eat until sated -- they do have to pay the rent in the Fashion Show Mall, after all.

Winners:
- Seafood salad, shrimp, scallops & squid: nice citrus marinade, seafood wasn't rubbery.
- Shrimp with garlic, olive oil & red pepper flakes: The shrimp were a little on the small side. The generous amount of garlic slices saved the day. Mmmmmmmmmmmm, garlic.
- The aforementioned bacon & date and chicken & chorizo dishes.
- Cross-cut potato chips: Served with the shrimp sandwich, they were piled twice as high as the sammy.

Not-quite-winners:
- Roast eggplant salad with goat cheese: There was one huge chunk of cheese in the middle, making it hard to share that part of the dish. The eggplant was overwhelmed by other flavors. A tad salty, too.
- The iced tea: Is that a Snapple bottle opening I hear?
- Roasted tomato soup -- A bit thin, and difficult to eat. It's served in a very tall, not very wide bowl. So the spoon goes in vertically and comes back out with very little liquid on it later. After eating half of it, I was just tired of the whole thing.

Final Comment: Nothing mind-blowing. Closer to Beavis & Butt-head in Burger World instead of Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally".

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Wednesday

The Coffee Shop -- TI

The Coffee Shop, in Treasure Island - TI Hotel and Casino
3300 Las Vegas BlVd.
Las Vegas, NeVada 89109


Time: 11:45 a.m.
Day: Sunday
Mission: Find Some Breakfast

The Wynn: We're staying there, lets try somewhere close by.
The Fashion Show Mall: Food court doesn't have waiter service. Ba Ba
Reeba not really a breakfast place. Capitol Grill too expensive.
The Mirage: Too far of a walk. Might faint.
Treasure Island: Close, probably not too expensive. Make a run for it!

The buffet would be awesome -- go go go! Turned away at the front
cashier -- no more breakfast food.

Kahunaville -- looks like drinks only.

Krispy Kreme -- nah. Starbucks -- yeah, right.

Isla Mexican Kitchen. A breakfast burrito sure would be tasty. Wait a
minute -- no breakfast here, either.

What does it take to get some eggs in this town! It's not like this is a
late-night city where people sleep in until the early afternoon then want
some stomach-settling breakfast grub.

Mission: failed.

But wait -- there's the Coffee Shop. I see pancakes. Run, before it's too
late!

The scene:
Red vinyl seats. Tons of tables. No pretense.

The drinks:
Fresh-squeezed OJ at almost $5. Good, but not that good.
Coffee -- basic diner coffee. Nothing special, especially nothing to name
the restaurant after.
Iced tea -- fantastic!

The eats:
Vegetable omelet, and lots of it -- the best I'Ve seen all day!
Two scrambled eggs with bacon, hash browns and toast -- eggs are
surprisingly moist, apple wood bacon is thankfully not soggy, but the
hash browns could use some more crispiness. Note to self: Say "Extra
crispy hash browns" next time.

The Villains:
All this effort to find breakfast food and you don't order breakfast?!

Their heathenistic grub:
Grilled vegetable sandwich (Portobello mushroom, red pepper, onion,
etc.) with a side of fruit -- the healthiest thing on the menu. Striking
flavor, maybe a tad salty.
Cobb Salad -- is there any lettuce underneath all this? More bleu
cheese, bacon, avocado and other toppings on a salad than I'Ve ever seen
before. Just an incredible amount of food. And gobs of ranch dressing to
boot.

Final Comment: One of the best casual restaurants in the immediate
area with a menu at least as long as a movie script.


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