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Make This Year’s ISA Expo a Food Adventure

Hit up these seven off- 'the-strip' eateries while at ISA Expo 2013.

So you’re coming to Vegas for the ISA Expo April 4-6, 2013. The show is at Mandalay Bay, which is a great venue. First, it’s one of the newer hotels, is nicely decorated, has a great conventions space, and – unlike the Las Vegas Convention Center – there’s plenty of free parking. Most importantly for me it is five minutes from our shop, Pictographics. Mandalay is the last hotel/casino at the far South end of “The Strip.” From here, it is simply too far to walk to a lot of the other points of interest on the strip. Given the hike and the abundant free parking you have two good reasons to rent a car. The other reason: you have an opportunity to do something different. Forget the casinos and make a getaway. Yes, The Strip and Freemont Street have blinking lights that stay on all night, but they also provide you with more ways than numbers on a Keno card to drain your bank account. So why not break away from the lemmings this trip to Sin City. Forget the gaming (sorry; we use a euphemism for gambling here). Forget the loud and overpriced celebrity-chef Strip restaurants. Let’s get you out of those casinos, away from the flashing lights, and into that rental car.

For those of you who don’t plan on renting a car, what is wrong with you? You are going to save enough money to pay for the damned car just by stepping away from those tables, machines, and Maîtres d's. In fact, you are going to save so much money you can upgrade to a convertible. Come on, it’s Vegas, baby! Average April highs are 78 degrees. You’ve gotta eat, slip away from the show, put the top down, drive a few minutes, and eat a great lunch. You can come back and walk the isles revived. Rent that red Mustang or Camaro convertible you have always wanted. When ISA is over you can cruise off in style to see some of the most incredible sights and America’s great South West.

There is no place on this planet that has more wonderful outdoor adventures within a days drive. It is amazing what you can see in about an hour or less one way from Mandalay Bay. ISA is over at 4 p.m. on Saturday so you have time to get away and see some sights before it gets dark, or even stay Sunday after the show. In that hour range you have Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire, and Mount Charleston. However, if you want to parse lots of options go to www.lasvegas.com/activities/outdoor-recreation.

I am going to focus on making this trip an epicurean adventure for you. If you will be in Las Vegas for the duration of ISA you will have the opportunity to eat over a dozen meals. I am going to recommend seven neighborhood restaurants you must try.

Remarkable eateries

My wife Sue and I have lived in Vegas for 34 years and are self-proclaimed “foodies.” There are two great sensual pleasures in life and food is one of them. Sue and I ONLY frequent restaurants that have remarkable food, friendly wait staff, and prices that won’t break the bank. The longest drive to get to one of these seven remarkable eateries is 20 minutes from Mandalay Bay, most are in the 10- to 12-minute range, all close enough to take a break from the convention floor for lunch.

My top recommendation is lunch or dinner at the Samosa Factory (www.samosafactory.net) for Indian cuisine. I don’t care if you don’t think you like Indian food; just try it. If you only go to one off-strip restaurant, go here. (They are closed Sunday). Samosa Factory is very small, quaint, and may be one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas, bar none.

Here is the drill. Wave off the menus. Rick is the proprietor and chef and also waits tables. Tell him, “Craig says we don’t need a menu.” Simply ask Rick to feed you. The only thing he needs to know is how hungry you are, if you happen to be vegan, vegetarian, or pescetarian, and if you are sensitive to hot spicy. For me it’s simple: “Feed me Rick, I am hungry.”

Two to eight people make a nice group for this intimate spot. You eat family style, which gives you a better sampling of the food. Depending on how many people read this, you might want to make reservations. Samosa Factory is an eating adventure you won’t forget; just don’t blow it by ordering off the menu.

Lunch or dinner at Rincon De Buenos Aires (www.rinconbsas.com) takes you away to Argentina, but you only have to drive five miles from the convention. Every meal starts with a complementary mini-loaf of Italian bread and chimichurri, a condiment that is addictive. It is worth the trip JUST for the chimichurri.

Argentina is famous for its beef, so if you are in a carnivorous mood you can order the excellent and affordable skirt steak. If you are more inclined to indulge in a meat orgy, I recommend one of the three Argentine BBQ grills. The most conventional one has a couple of beef short ribs; two filet mignons, a flap, and a skirt steak on a grill they bring to the table. They have great enselada rusa (Russian Potato Salad) as a side. For those of you who don’t do meat, they have a wonderful Canelones De Espinaca A La Salsa, (spinach cannellonis) and an inside tip; order them with the pink sauce. Wash this all down with Cerveza Quilmes, a wonderful Argentinean Beer.

For dinner at a great Japanese restaurant and Sushi Bar you can’t go wrong with Sen of Japan (www.senofjapan.com. To eat at a comparable Sushi Bar at a Strip hotel you’ll need to take out a second mortgage on your house.

You won’t find better Japanese food or sushi and sashimi anywhere in Las Vegas at any price. They have fish flown in daily from Japan. Sen is an upscale restaurant and not inexpensive, but it is probably half of what you would pay for comparable, most often not as good, Japanese food on “The Strip.”

There are two ways to eat at Sen. One is to sit down at a table and order off the extensive dinner menu. If you choose this, I recommend the Omakase Special. This is a chef’s-choice, multi-course dinner that can be different every visit. Make sure you ask that the black cod is part of your dinner if they have it. It is amazing. The other dining option is to sit at the sushi bar. I can’t begin to describe how good Sen’s sushi is, but I’ll tell you the best way to enjoy the experience is to have one of the chefs recommend the best fish of the day and have them combine them into a sashimi platter.

Head off “The Strip” to another strip for the next two suggestions. Parma by Chef Mark (www.parmabychefmarc.com) is little strip-mall restaurant with a deli that was recently and aptly named Best Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year by the prestigious Desert Companion Magazine. They said, “Chef Marcus Sgrizzi is dishing out the valley’s best Italian cuisine this side of Rao’s in a manner unparalleled off-Strip.”

“Housemaid pastas, a hallmark of any good Italian kitchen, are only the beginning on the continually changing dinner menu. Both the pappardelle Bolognese and the butternut squash agnolotti in brown butter are normally available and highly recommended“

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Best of all the gregarious Chef Mark periodically leaves his kitchen to roam amongst the dinner guests to discuss what’s cooking that night and make recommendations for food and wine parings. Parma by Chef Mark is a “must visit” if you like great Italian food.

It is only a 10-minute drive to have dinner at Lotus of Siam, ((702) 735-3033) located in a dumpy old strip mall. This review can be short and simple: Lotus is arguably the best Thai restaurant in America. I have not eaten in every Thai restaurant in America, but I have eaten extensively in Bangkok and Chang Mai. I won’t be one of those arguing Lotus isn’t the best. The second thing you need to know is you MUST have reservations. Lotus of Siam isn’t cheap, but the best rarely is.

Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen (www.nittayassecretkitchen.com) is where you want to take that special person traveling with you for dinner. This is a romantic, classy, and intimate little Thai take on a tapas bar with lots of small plates. Everything on the moderately-priced menu is excellent, but you must start with the “World Famous Spinach Salad.” It is like nothing anything you have ever had or can imagine.

Crepes and Convertibles

On Saturday the ISA exhibit hall doesn’t open till 10 a.m. This gives you time for Breakfast at Crepe Expectations (www.crepeexpectations.com. Here is your adventure for Saturday morning. Leave for the restaurant a little before 8 a.m. Every Saturday morning there is an automotive event called Cars & Coffee that happens to be in the parking lot in front of Crepe Expectations. Along with a plethora of customs, exotics, muscle cars, and hot rods, I will be there with my wild Mustang complete with a brushed-metal wrap and D-Day P-51 graphics (www.trackmustang.com). Get to Crepe Expectations early to secure a curbside table to watch all the car action. All the crepes are wonderful, but make it an adventure and order a split of Cava with your breakfast – like I said, it’s Vegas, baby!.

I expect to see that red Camaro or Mustang convertible of yours at Cars and Coffee on April 6 with the top down.

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