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EAT THIS CITY: Chef Rick Moonen Shares His ‘Can’t Miss’ Food Experiences in Las Vegas, Nevada

EAT THIS CITY is your weekly tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by top chefs. This week, we head to the city of lights, Las Vegas!

They say that what happens here, stays here. Vegas may be decked out in bright lights, but it promises a cover for your secret fantasies and wildest deeds. Whether it’s attending a burlesque show, hitting the slots, or yes, watching Carrot Top live, the city doesn’t judge. Known as the Entertainment Capital of the World, it might be hard to imagine Sin City as a burgeoning center for ocean conservation and seafood sustainability. But it won’t be hard to imagine that for long, thanks to the passion and drive of Chef Rick Moonen.

Says Chef Moonen of sustainability:

It’s pretty much the core value of my company. It’s everything I live, breathe, and get creative for. Sustainability, connection with our environment, eating clean, good food, and leaving a healthier planet are all things that are extremely important to me.

Chef Moonen, who graduated first in his class from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1978, went on to develop his talents at some of New York’s most iconic restaurants: Le Relais, Century Cafe, Chelsea Central, and The Water Club. From there, it was on to a position as partner and executive chef at Oceana, which earned three stars from The New York Times, and then on to his restaurants Molyvos and New York City’s rm. Both garnered three star reviews in turn.

Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2005 he was offered a challenge: move to Las Vegas, a city he’d never visited, and open a restaurant.

Technically, he opened two: rm seafood and Rx Boiler Room, and The Shoppes at Mandalay Place.

Occupying the top level, Rx Boiler Room offers a playful shared dining experience in an equally playful steampunk-inspired atmosphere. Guests enjoy comfort food inspired and reimagined, and handcrafted cocktails using the finest of spirits.

On the lower level, rm seafood continues to reflect Chef Moonen’s commitment to the environment. All of the seafood served is sustainably sourced, in accordance with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which the chef has long championed (along with being a founding member of Seafood Choices Alliance).

If the desert town of Las Vegas still seems like an unusual place for this epicenter of ocean sustainability, don’t worry. Chef Moonen has thought about it a lot, too:

Actually, I think it’s a great place to do it, because it’s the most unlikely of things to happen. I don’t like things that are easy. I love challenges. So, I took the challenge…Here I am. Sustainability. In the middle of the desert. Love it. Love this city. I’ve embedded myself deeply into the community. Into the inner fiber of it, the growth of it. Watching a city before your eyes bubble like yeast budding out?…We get recognition for who we are, what we grow ourselves into being, and I get to be embedded in the nucleus of that? I am the happiest man alive because I get to cook for a living, I get to connect to people through food.

With those words in mind, let’s connect with Chef Moonen’s top choices for dining experiences in Las Vegas!

 

PIZZA

Grimaldi’s

Besides the pizza that comes out of my backyard live fire oven, I love Grimaldi’s. Being from New York and always going to my sister restaurant, The River Café, I have fond memories of the pies that I ate from that location. Nostalgia always tastes best. If the crust does not have the little burnt spots on it, I am disappointed.

 

TACOS/MEXICAN

Lindo Michoacan

I love Lindo Michoacan on Desert Inn. I used to live right around the corner and ate there quite frequently. Always starts with the clear soup with broken noodles in it…pure comfort love. Tortillas being made from fresh masa through the kitchen window. Dudes singing with huge sombreros. The food is solid and the food is legit.

Border Grill at Caesars is awesome, as well…just go…it rocks, too.

ASIAN

Honey Pig

I love Honey Pig for Korean BBQ. It is like my go to when friends come to town. Great quality …communal fun. Best Kim Chee.

China Mama is a BYO heaven for awesome food. The soup dumplings are a MUST, as well as the cumin lamb…don’t forget to order the fish cooked in chile sauce if you like it spicy…and I do!

 

STREET FOOD

TruckU Barbecue

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The hot dog cart just outside of Emergency Arts late night. It is chock full of good stuff, including crushed potato chips for crunch. If you are in the neighborhood where Mike Minor is serving from his food truck, TruckU…get some burnt ends and shut up.

 

SWEET FOOD

Sweets Raku

I don’t do dessert, so I have to say Sweets Raku that was closed for renovations for a while, but has reopened. Amazing desserts before your very eyes.

FINE DINING

L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon

Go see Steve Benjamin at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon…he rocks! If you have mucho bucks, go next door to the Mansion and prepare for a meal that could change your life. I got a wife out of that experience…works for me.

CASUAL DINING

Le Thai

I like to go to Le Thai, no frills and always delicious.

 

VEGETARIAN

Saffron, Flavors of India

Saffron, Flavors of India on Craig Road…off 95. Their samosas are hard to beat and they can make you a vegetarian tasting menu. Curry Leaf is giving them a run for their money, as well. GO!!!

BRUNCH

STK

STK is a party that must NOT be missed! The food is spot on, the atmosphere is super high energy and the mimosas are flowing! Not a place to have a formal business meeting. The Veranda is still the best for that.

 

ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY

Hugo’s Cellar

Hugo’s Cellar is what I consider the Iconic Vegas Old School Experience. Keep in mind that I haven’t been to Michael’s yet in its new location, so I could be changing my mind…but for now…Hugo’s gets the nod.

ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE

Kame Sushi

Kame sushi, on Lake Meade Blvd. serves a live seafood tasting menu that is…unique and very good! You will get to meet your next course before it is taken to the back for processing. Sea squirt, Urchin, Sea cucumber, Octopus…I loved eating there and so will you.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Monta Ramen

Whenever I get the call for a bowl of noodles, I have to go on my own because my wife is gluten intolerant…so I run to Monta and slurp down a bowl of ramen, filled with a ton of MSG. I survive…then do it again. Delicious!

HANGOVER FOOD

Strip Burger

Strip Burger has always been there whenever I had some previous night indiscretions with the libations. It just delivers the perfect amount of char, fat, more fat and then awesomeness. Thank you, Strip Burger, for being there for me.

 

DATE NIGHT

Carbone

Go to Carbone at Aria. It is a fun atmosphere with fantastic food, the energy is perfect and you never have to be concerned about uncomfortable moments with your date. It rocks.

RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND

Saffron, Flavors of India

Raj is a good friend of mine and he is always behind the bar at Saffron. The tandoor wings are an automatic for me and I split a kingfisher beer with him while we figure out what’s next. I can’t wait for him and his family to open Turmeric, across from container park…stay tuned.

Thank you so much Chef Moonen for taking us on a culinary tour of Las Vegas!

Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier-level chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston and Detroit.

See you next week!

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