Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Denver

Other than passing through the largest airport in America, I've never spent any time Denver. On a recent holiday visit I was thrilled to find the city has some fantastic and reasonably priced cuisine. This entry is for the benefit of a friend who is moving there next week.

We stayed downtown at the Hotel Monaco, where we took advantage of free wine, free cocoa, a free suite upgrade and comfy beds. The best part of the hotel, however, was the restaurant located within it, Panzano. Panzano had the best happy hour deals that I've ever seen, and unlike some happy hours, you actually would order these items even if they weren't discounted. Take, for example, the deep fried brussels sprouts with pistachios and green apple matchsticks (a revelation!) that cost only $3, or a truffle oil and mushroom pizza for $4. Since drinks in the lobby were free, I don't think I've ever spent so little on such a great culinary experience.

We also dined at Panzano for a less frugal breakfast meal, where I had a bottomless bellini and Eggs Benedict with pesto and prosciutto. It was interestingly served over sun-dried tomato polenta (another revelation). Though this was pricier than happy hour, it was still worth every penny.

Another favorite dish was at Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant that makes their own cheese. One such cheese was an uber silky capra ricotta, or goats milk ricotta, that we spread on crusty grilled Italian bread. So simple yet so divine!

I try to avoid thinking about how much we overpay for exceptional food in Vegas, but I'm always reminded when traveling that noteworthy food doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive. I almost look forward to getting the bill after a meal in other cities. Such was the case at Rioja, where we had a six course tasting menu and four drinks for just $100. The grilled black truffle gnocchi with wild mushrooms and arugula was the highlight here.

If you get to Denver, don't miss the following:

909 17th Street

Osteria Marco
1453 Larimer

1431 Larimer

Biker Jim's Gourmet Hot Dog Stand
16th Street and Arapahoe
(unfortunately we didn't get to eat here since Biker Jim is closed on weekends, but the reviews are phenomenal)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frugal Foodie on the Road: Barstow's finest and Santa Monica finds

There's nothing like a weekend trip to LA to whet your appetite - so many worthy places to try, so little time. I was surprised, however, to find such good eats on the way to my final destination.

If you are tired of the Mad Greek and other en route Vegas-LA eating options, boy do I have a place for you. On my last jaunt this past weekend I used my handy Yelp app to search out a more unique eatery, and stumbled upon Lola's Kitchen. This pipsqueak of a restaurant in a typically grim Barstow strip mall is run by twin sisters who cook deliciously down-home Mexican cuisine. I only sampled a couple of options, but was tempted to take the rest of the menu to go. The chicken enchilada verde was more than noteworthy, with a tangy, slightly spicy tomatillo sauce, delicately sauteed onions, and cotija cheese ($7). It was still good two days later on the Sunday drive home, when Lola's is closed.

The pork and shredded beef sopes were equally mouthwatering ($3 each). The cornmeal dough crust was expertly crispy on the bottom, and the pork in particular was beautifully fork tender. It was loaded with the freshest iceberg lettuce (not sure how but they take this staple from 'dud' to 'stud') and given a shot of sour cream and a sprinkle of cotija. I recommend these with a touch of their spicy homemade salsa. OOOOh weee. You'll really thank me for this discovery, especially since it will cost you next to nothing.

Once in LA, we went o my new favorite breakfast spot, Amelia's on Main Street in Santa Monica (previously mentioned in Frugal Foodie on the Road). I can't get enough of their lattes, a drink I never order unless I'm here. This time I tried the Chai latte - don't miss out. To bring you up to speed, Amelia's is family owned spot almost too good to be true, as not only do they use the freshest, local ingredients, but the customer service is impeccable. The owner even chased us down the street to return a bottle of veggie juice we just had blended down the street at the Great Life health food store (also highly recommended).

Though we were full after our meal, I could help but gravitate towards a sign across the street that said "Sunny Blue - first store in California to make fresh omusubi." Not knowing what omusubi was, and this being the "first" store to make it fresh, I had to try. I discovered omusubi is a warm triangular rice cake stuffed with a filling of your choice and wrapped in crisp seaweed. The version I had was made with curry pork, scallions, and fresh onion. I always try interesting things and generally they don't WOW me, but this was a definite exception. Had I not been so full I could have eaten a couple more, and for just $2.60, it would have been tempting to order one of each variety.

These spots are enough reason to take a weekend trip. Just avoid coming or going on a Sunday - you'll want to stop at Lola's on the way there and back!

Lola's Kitchen
1244 E. Main Street
Barstow, California 92311

2645 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Sunny Blue
2728 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Company on!

The side deal on today (and tomorrow and Wednesday) is a gift basket of my dog food company's delicious, all-natural treats! I know you like to eat well if you read my blog, so you if you have a dog I'm sure you want them to eat well, too. The basket includes Banana Bark-scotti in a Good Dog Food Company mug, one Scooter Sandwich, one box of Doggie Truffles, one bag of our soon to be famous jerky treats, and a frisbee. Of course the treats are all-natural, wholesome, and made with no preservatives. All of this is offered for just $20 (retail value $40). Is that a frugal gift or what?!

Friday, December 3, 2010


After my disappointment following the closing of my favorite little taqueria, Taquria Los Parados, I've been on an even bigger mission to find the great mom and pop restaurants in Las Vegas. I recently found a great Cuban one in the Northwest called Varadero that needs our support as the strip mall it's in isn't what you'd call bustling.

It's hard to find good Cuban food in Vegas, and sadly we've lost a few of the better Cuban restaurants to the recession. I generally go to Havana Cafe on Eastern, but as much as I enjoy it I can't really say it's frugal. Varadero is frugal, however, and the food is just as good, if not better.

I'm itching to try more on the menu because both times I've gone everything has been just delicious. The traditional black bean soup is well done ($2.25), but a more interesting soup is the Crema Aurora, a cream based tomato and cheese concoction ($2.95). The heavy "soup" is actually more reminiscent of a dip, which paired wonderfully with the complimentary toasted Cuban garlic bread.

The Ropa Vieja ($10.75), meaning "torn clothes," was better than any I can remember having had. The rich, tomato based broth was reduced to perfect gravy consistency, and the shredded beef was tender without being mushy. Another highlight was the Arroz con Pollo ($10.95). It consisted of a juicy roasted half chicken hidden under a bed of creamy, saffron colored Cuban risotto. Both entrees came with maduros, or sweet fried plantains, and moros y cristianos, black beans and white rice cooked together. The latter wasn't done as well as at Havana Cafe but the maduros were as good as you can get.

For the prices and food quality you can't beat Varadero for Cuban food. It's one of the few good non-chains in the Northwest. Great service and friendly staff, too.

5081 N. Rainbow Blvd. Ste. 100
Las Vegas, NV 89130
(702) 463-3609

Restaurant Rating: 9

Food Ratings:
Black Bean Soup: 9
Crema Aurora: 9
Arroz con Pollo: 9.5
Ropa Vieja: 9.5

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I know this picture from Chapala's isn't my most artistic photographic effort, but buffets are hard to capture on a (plastic) plate. Ian and I went here for brunch on Sunday, and though the place looks like a dive gaming bar from the outside, the inside is welcoming and the food is tasty and reasonably priced. They've managed to hang on for about as long as I've been alive, so they're probably doing something right.

On Sundays you can take advantage of a real bargain with the aforementioned buffet ($7.95). I'm not usually a fan of all-you-can-eat since I usually end up spending more than I consume, but this is a good one. For eight bones, you cant go wrong.

Selections included; shrimp ceviche; mole; chile verde; hominy soup; and cheesy roasted potato skins, amongst a handful of other more ordinary dishes. Everything was much better than I had expected. The ceviche was full of avocado and wonderfully fresh shrimp and the mole was fall-apart tender. The pork chile verde was probably my favorite, as it came very close to the mouth-watering version of my brother's full-time nanny and part-time cook, Dulce.

Dessert wasn't as impressive as the flan was mediocre at best. There was also something that reminded me of a caramel turtle pie. This was good, but so thick and sweet it was like eating candy. Next time I might splurge a little and get the tempting fried ice cream.

Even with a do-it-yourself buffet, the service was attentive and kind. The experience overall was one I'd like to repeat, so I'll be coming here on any given Sunday to save some money, eat good food, and support our local mom and pop's.

A note on family-run restaurants: I urge my readers to support the mom and pops of Vegas so we don't lose the good ones. I just found out we had another tragic casualty of the recession in Taqueria Los Parados, the wonderful little taco spot I raved about near Chapala's (I will sure miss their cheesy brocheta and tacos al pastor with the little slice of pineapple). If you like local and like to eat well, avoid the chains and patronize the places that really need you.

2101 S. Decatur
Las Vegas, NV 89102
(702) 871-7805

Today's Food Rating:
Buffet: 9 (value taken into consideration)

Restaurant Rating: 7

Saturday, November 13, 2010 Code

Until Monday you can get $25 gift certificates on for $2 by entering the code GIVE at checkout. I recommend purchasing them for Nittaya's Secret Kitchen, Forte Tapas Bar, and Mundo.

Friday, November 12, 2010

India Palace

India Palace has been voted best Indian restaurant in Las Vegas by The Zagat survey every year since 2001 and it has been described to me by Indians as the most authentic restaurant we have. I've dined there a handful of times to see if I agree.

Although I wouldn't normally want to hang out on East Twain, one of the city's most dangerous areas, I will always take unnecessary risks for good food. The restaurant sticks out as the only kept up, interesting piece of architecture in that area, so it's hard to miss.

You will forget about the exterior surroundings upon entering as the decor is immediately welcoming. The walls are painted in warm, cheery earth tones that are beautifully complemented by heavy amber drapes and rich, dark woods. There is a comfortable full-service bar you can enjoy a drink at before your meal, making India palace stand out from many of its competitors.

My favorite thing to get here is the dosa, a thin pancake made from chickpeas. It is of such great diameter that it must be folded upon itself so it can almost fit on your plate, and it is eaten by tearing off more reasonably sized pieces. The only other place I've seen dosa is at India Masala in the Riviera (same owners, I believe), so I highly recommend ordering it here. You can have your dosa stuffed with an incendiary potato filling, or get the plain Papper Dosa, which I prefer (both $10.95). It is served with an addictive coconut 'chutney,' which is more like a coconut puree, and sambar, a tangy tamarind based soup/dip. Even without the accompaniments, the dosa serves as a fantastic vehicle for eating your main selections and proves to be an interesting alternative to naan.

The Chicken Tikka Masala ($14.95) and Mushroom Matar ($12.95) are fantastic, but I think the chef's abilities stand out most in the Lamb Rogan Josh ($15.95). The tomato broth is reminiscent of an authentic, slow-cooked Italian marinara that has been spiked with exotic spices, and the flavors continuously evolve in your mouth, revealing the sauce's complexity. The lamb is perfectly tender to boot, and hasn't a hint of the gaminess that can come with lower quality cuts.

So, is India Palace the best Indian restaurant in town? I can't affirmatively say yes (I had a spinach soup that was inedible and they don't use many fresh veggies in their lunch buffet), but it is definitely a contender. Best of all, they are featured on THIS WEEKEND so you can be frugal by purchasing a $30 certificate for just $15.

India Palace
505 E. Twain
Las Vegas, NV 89169
(702) 796-4177
open 7 days

Restaurant Rating: 8

Food Ratings:
Dosa: 9
Chicken Tikka Masala: 9
Lamb Rogan Josh: 9.5
Naan: 9
Mushroom Matar: 8.5
Spinach Soup: 1


Thursday, November 4, 2010


I apologize that I haven't been posting much lately - October was a busy month in the dog world. Also, I apologize for the issues some of you have been commenting on with regards to my new website. I'll be posting on both sites until I figure everything out. I'm no computer whiz so thanks for bearing with me! If you tried to send me an email at my new address,, I didn't get it because it wasn't set up correctly. It is set up now so I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!

See below for the latest entry on Sen of Japan.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Semi-Frugal Foodie: Sen of Japan

Sen of Japan is somewhere between 'Frugal' and 'Un-Frugal.' It's frugal because you won't get anything better for the price (on or off the Strip) and it's un-frugal because, well, it's not cheap. Ian an I used to go to Sen of Japan all the time when it first opened, but hadn't been in quite some time because it isn't very close to our house and it's only open for dinner. I've recently been twice, however, and am happy to report the food is as good as ever.

Both times I had the Black Cod Soy, because going to Sen of Japan and not getting the Black Cod Soy is like going to Italy and not getting pasta. It's a buttery piece of fish with a caramelized, but not overpowering, sweet exterior. Each bite melts in your mouth it may be the best piece of fish you've ever tasted. The pickled shoot that adorns it is also fantastic and offers a complementary acidic element ($13.75, add $9 to top it with fois gras).

Besides the cod, I sampled a few other old favorites, the home-made Japanese Pickles and the Mushroom Salad. The pickles are made from yamagobo (similar to a carrot), turnip, Japanese yam, cabbage, and something reminiscent of a caper berry. Each piece has a slightly different flavor and texture, but all offer a colorful, crunchy start to the meal ($8.50). The mushroom salad consists of a warm mound of gently sauteed mushrooms, including enoki and wood ear. It has a heavy dose of yuzu that makes it taste bright, and a bit tart ($7.75).

The sashimi is of the caliber of Raku, but here you can have rice with your fish at the full service sushi bar. The spicy yellowtail hand roll ($4.80) is bursting with flavor and filling, but a new favorite is the Sashimi Combination Salad with Garlic Vinaigrette ($12.95). Impecably fresh slices of normally mundane varieties, including tuna and salmon, are arranged around a pile of delicate Japanese greens topped with finely shredded radish. A light dose of garlic vinaigrette and sprinkling of capers complete the masterpiece.

Another surprise favorite was the fried calamari with onion (around $9). Tender strips of squid are paired with onion slices then beer battered and toped with slices of jalapeno. These taste like onion rings of the upscale variety.

The sukiyki was the only thing I wouldn't order again, but that's probably because I'm partial to preparing my own sukiyaki at Swish (review to come later). Overall, however, Sen of Japan is a place you should try at least once, even if it might be a little inconvenient to get to.

Sen of Japan
8480 West Desert Inn
Las Vegas, NV 89117

Restaurant Rating: 9

Food Ratings:
Sashimi Salad with Garlic Vinaigrette: 9
Spicy Yellowtail Handroll: 9
Mushroom Salad: 8.5
Japanese Pickles: 8.5
Black Cod Soy: 9.5
Calamari with Onion: 9
Sukiyaki: 7


Sashimi Salad

Calamari with Onion

Mushroom Salad

Spicy Yellowtail Handroll

Japanese Pickles


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Website

In June, I acquired my first Mac. With this genius machine (and the helpful staff at Apple), I've learned how to make my own videos and build my own websites. Long story short - this blog is turning into an actual website,, and I will no longer be posting my reviews on blogger. While it's nothing special at the moment, I hope to make it into a useful tool for finding the best eats in Vegas. Please email me at or comment on my posts (this should be easy now) to let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Un-frugal Foodie: Joel Robuchon at The Mansion

Last week my incredibly indulgent in-laws took Ian and I out to the very un-frugal Mansion at Joel Robuchon. Obviously, they know how to please. Joel Robuchon was voted chef of the century by the esteemed Gault Millau restaurant guide and The Mansion is the only restaurant in Vegas to have earned three Michelin stars. The Mansion is also Robuchon's only fine dining restaurant outside of France.

The decor is beautiful, yet quirky. There are Cartier-like jaguars above the fireplace, deep purple fabrics, flashlight candles on the table, plastic plate garnishes, and framed black and white pictures of famous people, such as the dad from Growing Pains.

The meal, or experience rather, was phenomenal - a true work of art. Kerry and I each got the $168 four course menu while Ian and Larry got the $365 sixteen courser. Here is the photographic journey of our trip. (Pictured above: Amuse bouche: Caviar on fennel cream.)

After you select your gorgeous bread from the selection of the fifteen or so varieties (all made on site in their own around-the-clock bakery), they bring it to the back to warm before serving. In the meantime, they shave your butter from a block shaped like gyro meat and pour you a dish of the richest olive oil.

King crab and asparagus blancmange, medley of seasonal vegetables (my first course). I'm not a huge fan of eating gold, but I guess it screams opulence.

Crispy fine tart with melted cheese and shaved white Alba truffle (Kerry's first course). This may look like an ordinary pizzette, but when offered at a $60 surcharge on top of the four course menu price, it most definitely is not. Simple, exquisite ingredients touched by the hand of a culinary genius - unforgettable.

Course 1 of the 16 course tasting menu: Carpaccio of fois gras and potatoes, covered with white truffle shavings. I don't believe those words can be put in the same sentence without capturing the attention of a foodie.

Courses 2, 3 and 4: Crispy toast topped with cepes mushrooms, trembling parsley royal and ginger matsutake tea. I challenge anyone to accurately describe this 'chip'. Note the abundance of white truffles on top. The tea tasted like dirt, in a good way.

Course 6: Crispy frog leg, garlic and watercress coulis. I love the frantic look of this crispy coating. The frog leg inside it was just as appealing.

Course 7 (back right, pictured with courses 8 and 9): Delicate flan of sea urchin with mocha foam. Not bad, but not memorable. Perhaps this was because of his plate mates.

Courses 8: Truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage. Look at this dish and tell me it how it could not taste incredible.

Course 9: Roasted lobster on cauliflower with green curry. I wish I could report on how this tasted but my husband "forgot" to let me try it. Yes, I stewed in my anger until the next course.

Course 10: Chestnuts veloute with smoked lardons foam. This was lovely, but didn't compare to its counterpart with fois gras on the "cheap-o" menu (Kerry's second course).

The petit four cart was the last course that we had, yet it kept gliding around us throughout the meal, tantalizing us with innumerate treasures on it's mission to please other tables. I couldn't resist a premature picture.

Course 11: Bone marrow and vegetable ragout with corn and spices. Great, except for the stale popcorn.

Braised veal cheeks in Thai broth, vegetable couscous with broccoli. Tender and Thailand-y, but sadly, this is where I start reaching maximum capacity. Advice to 'pace yourself' can't be applied here. Alongside this was served Robuchon's famous pommes puree, which would have been better if there hadn't been so much butter.... just kidding.

Course 12: Pan-fried sea bass with a lemon grass emulsion and stewed baby leeks. It photographs well, doesn't it?
Course 13: Sauteed veal chop with natural jus and vegetable taglierinis flavored with pesto. The veal was luscious and the taglierini (I protest the addition of that 's' ) was a fun a play on pasta.
Course 14: Spring root and sprout vegetables with Argan Oil. Have you ever seen a cuter carrot than the one pointing towards you on this plate?

Strawberries with mascarpone cream parfait and thyme flower sable (Kerry's dessert). I really want to learn how to make those strawberry chips.

Blueberry compote and lemon brulee, finished with a violet milkshake. This was my dessert, and I was glad for that. It was like a lemon float made with raspberry ice cream, and fresh berries.

Course 15: Pistachio cream, raspberries infused with Lillet and rose sabayon. This sounds more impressive than it tasted.

Course 16: Caramel parfait, chocolate poppy sable, light coffee mousse. I wish I hadn't been so stuffed by the time this arrived. I'm no chocoholic but this was glorious.

Aren't these adorable! I really wanted one of everything but this restaurant doesn't give you the impression it's a 'doggie bag' kind of place.

To finish your time spent at the Mansion, you are given a delicious loaf of pistachio raspberry bread to take home for breakfast (as if you could feel like eating again after all that). We also got a book with pictures of the sixteen course tasting menu. Too bad they didn't bring that first; it would have saved my dinner companions from the photo interruptions.

Overall, I would have to say that the only downside of an incredibly lavish and well-executed meal such as this (besides the price) is that all the unique dishes tend blur together in hindsight. I wish I could experience each dish again by itself so that I could truly give each the attention it deserves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hot Dog Heaven

Looking for a real Chicago hot dog? Then you can get the real deal at the Hot Dog Heaven shack on E. Lake Mead for just $2.50 ($3.50 with fries). Don't be turned off by the abandoned look of the place. The focus is on the food and the food alone.

Everything at Hot Dog Heaven is done authentically, from the Vienna beef dog to the poppy seed bun. The hot peppers, pickle, mustard, celery salt, and freakishly green relish also join the party let you know that this is a bonafied Chicago Dog. It's even served with a slightly surly, slightly endearing attitude that transports you back to the hot dog stands of the Windy City. If you're not in the mood for a dog they also have beef sandwiches, though I can't vouch for these.

There's not too much more to say about this place; it's cheap; it's authentic; and it's delicious.

P.S. Don't confuse this with the Hot Dog Heaven on Maryland Pkwy that isn't as good.

Hot Dog Heaven
87 E. Lake Mead
Henderson, NV 89015

Food Ratings:
Vienna Beef Hot Dog: 9.5


Tuesday, October 12, 2010


As this is the first week we've been waking up to a slight chill in the air, I thought I would write about a place you'll love spending your Fall (and Winter) nights, Monta. This charming restaurant offering the best ramen in Vegas is located two doors down from Raku in the Seoul Plaza on Spring Mountain and is probably the smallest restaurant in the city. Monta is actually so pea-sized that if you come during peak times you'll almost certainly have to wait before you can sit down. Don't let this be a deterrant, just remember this before you go, and hurry up before even more people find out about it.

Half of the restaurant is an open kitchen, so dinner music consists of the clanking of woks and pans accompanied by the chatter of the waitresses, cooks, and other patrons. You can sit at the bar if you really want to be part of the action, or if none of the five tables are available. Though the vibe is nice and busy, the waitresses are sweet and won't rush you through your meal.

There are three types of ramen to choose from; Tonkatsu (rich, cloudy, almost creamy broth); Shoyu (light and delicate soy sauce based broth); and Miso (somewhere in the middle of the other consistencies and tastes like...miso). The Shoyu and Miso ramen come with chewy, thicker noodles which I much prefer in texture and taste to the thinner, less al dente noodles that come in the Tonkatsu (you can sub if you like). All three varieties of the ramen cost around $7 and come with chasu (tender, roasted, fatty pork), scallions, kikurage (mushroom), takenoko (bamboo shoots), and scallions. You can then customize your ramen with little extras that include perfectly coddled egg, butter, more pork, and my personal favorite, Takana, or pickled mustard leaf. These don't cost a lot, so customize away. Be sure to add some of the fantastic accoutrement residing in your condiment tray such as pickled ginger strips and minced garlic.

You won't find much other than ramen on the menu, just a handful of appetizers and sides. Of these I've had the gyoza ($5.95), which were excellent one time but not cooked correctly another, and fried rice with takana. The fried rice is almost as good as the ramen, so if you aren't in the mood for soup, get this instead. Another plus is cheap beer ($2.50 for domestic).

I can't think of any other meal I'd rather enjoy on a cold day than a steaming bowl of hearty home-made soup, so I plan on going to Monta frequently this winter. If it continues to get even busier, however, I may be taking it to go in a perfectly packed parcel. I brought ramen home for Ian once and was amazed at the care put into ensuring the soup would be just as good at home as it is in the restaurant. The noodles were wrapped in their own little pouch, waiting to be cooked until they reached our stove, and all the other ingredients were individually wrapped to keep them in their peak state. Attention to detail really separates the boys from the (ra)men.

5030 Spring Mountain, Ste. 6
Las Vegas, NV 89146
(702) 367-4600

Food Ratings:
Miso Ramen: 9.5
Shoyu Ramen: 9
Tonkatsu Ramen: 8.5
Fried Rice: 9

Would I go back? OF COURSE