By E.C. Gladstone
There are some people that say if you haven’t been to the downtown Las Vegas hotels, you haven’t really been to Las Vegas. Last week, I covered where to stay, entertainment and gambling around Fremont Street; this week, the best restaurants, bars and some secret tips.
Restaurants & Bars
Dining in and around Fremont Street may look uninspiring on the surface, but there are many hidden gems within Las Vegas hotels there — some of them surprising values. I’ve had very good steaks, served with style at both El Cortez‘s The Flame and Binion’s Ranch.
Binion’s Ranch also features a fantastic 24th floor view (and chicken-fried lobster), while The Flame offers nice walleyed pike, great creamed corn, and other uncommon delights.
The tuxedoed servers at Four Queens‘ venerated Hugo’s Cellar like to prepare things tableside, so for a fun date, try their Hot Rock appetizer and cherries jubilee!
I’ve had surprisingly good wood oven pizza, meatballs and rotisserie chicken at GN‘s The Grotto, and heard good things about Red sushi and Vic & Anthony’s there as well.
Plaza has installed Firefly Tapas in its classic dome lounge (a must-see) and brought in the Omelet House chain, both local favorites, while Vegas Club has adopted pan-Italian Tinoco’s Kitchen, with a win-your-lobster claw game in front! The whimsically named Pasta Pirate (Californian) also gets some good notices…
On the more casual side, you may doubt me, but the old-school Snack Bar on Binion’s casino floor really does serve great fresh-ground burgers and other house-made fare. At its price point, Main Street Station has a respectable buffet, with nice concentrations on Southern and Hawaiian dishes (GN’s buffet is also fine, with omelets to order all day). Sister hotel the Californian (long a destination for islanders) has Hawaiian treats like sai min noodles and spam at its snack bars, Ethel’s fine chocolates, and a store filled with dozens of varieties of beef jerky and other dried snacks. And if you haven’t been decadent enough yet, the Nathan’s at Mermaids casino offers deep-fried Oreos and Twinkies.
Other beloved downtown dining destinations include Mamacita’s (Cuban) 611 Fremont, Casa Don Juan, 1204 S. Main, and Dona Maria’s Tamales, 910 Las Vegas Bl So. (both Mexican), Chicago Joe’s (Italian) 820 S. 4th St, and Triple George Grill (Classic American), 201 N. 3rd St.
Thirsty? Main Street Station has an entire brew pub, 777, inside — though you can also find outposts of local Chicago Brewing Company at Four Queens and Binion’s (Benny’s Bullpen).
For those who think downtown Vegas is all kitsch and grime, an artists scene has brought some long-needed, big-city funky chic here, too. On East Fremont near the El Cortez, three different destination bars — Don’t Tell Mama, a cozy piano lounge; Beauty Bar, an alt-indie omnibus; and The Griffin, an attitude-free fireplace-lodge coexist side by side, while the Manhattan-esque Downtown Cocktail Room is just around the corner on LV Blvd.
Go north two blocks from Fremont on Third Street (past some great restored vintage neon), and you’ll find the Chicago-ish sleek Sidebar and biker dive Hogs ‘N’ Heifers bookending the Triple George. You may also enjoy the Hennesey’s Tavern complex, including a no-fuss pub, LV Country Saloon (with a mechanical bull), Mickey Finn’s fish house, and upstairs tapas lounge with cool views and funky DJs.
More notable knows
- Though the Fremont and California/Main Street Station casinos offer hourly shuttle service to the Strip, you can also catch the cheap Deuce bus on Fremont and LV Blvd.
- The El Cortez offers a free airport shuttle for its departing guests, as well as a First Fridays shuttle.
- Free Wi-Fi can be found at the Krispy Kreme in Fitzgerald’s as well as the Player’s Club area of Main Street Station. The latter, an ornate and detailed tribute to the era when Vegas was a railroad town 100 years ago, features a remarkable collection of Americana, from Buffalo Bill’s private railroad car to the San Francisco Opera House chandeliers…plus, a piece of the Berlin Wall!
- For all your travel needs (and souvenirs), the Walgreens drug store at Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd is open 24 hours!
- To get a tour of the legendary Neon Graveyard north of downtown, contact neonmuseum.org
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Veteran entertainment and travel writer E. C. Gladstone writes regularly for Las Vegas Magazine and the Las Vegas Weekly, also interviewing top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for other local and national publications and websites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.