Lee Jones: The beauty of Off-Strip Las Vegas food and drink

Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: August 17, 2023 08:27 PDT

People who know a little about me and my poker involvement assume that I love Las Vegas and casinos. Kinda stands to reason, right? Poker, gambling, Las Vegas – it's bacon, lettuce, and tomato. However, people who know me well understand that I despise casinos.

The mandarins of corporate America have developed an awesome machine for separating people from their money – the giant casino/hotel. Then they perfected it by creating an unholy server farm called the Las Vegas Strip – where time and reality are paused, and escape seems impossible, if even desirable.

Back in the bad old days, when the Mob ran Las Vegas, the hotel rooms and food were mostly loss leaders to keep people gambling. Once the corporations and their accountants took over, everything became a profit center. If you wanted a banana at the World Series of Poker "Café" this year, it cost $5. Yes, Five American Dollars. The same banana that will cost you $0.20 at Trader Joe's.

But with their hearing and vision over-stimulated, their cognitive processes dulled by free alcohol, and their sense of time and space suspended, Strip casino patrons are somehow happy to pay $30 for a pizza that costs $9.95 back home.

I won't go into hotel prices in detail, because I already covered that elsewhere. However, it's worth noting that there is a bipartisan bill – yes, I said, "bi-partisan bill" – in the U.S. Senate to address resort fees. When you couldn't get the U.S. Senate to agree on the height of the Washington Monument, it's notable that even they are aligned on price gouging by Las Vegas casinos.

You don't have to eat on the Strip

But let's go back to food and drink. Like any major metropolitan area, Las Vegas has some amazing choices for eating and drinking. It is a diverse, vibrant town, and the food options reflect that. Furthermore, once you're away from the Strip, the prices plummet such that it's massively +$EV to get in a rideshare vehicle and take a little trip. It's also +LifeEV and +SanityEV – you get to experience a real place, rather than places made up to be other places (Eiffel Tower, New York, Italy, Ancient Rome, need I go on?).

When I find myself in Vegas, I do everything possible to avoid eating on the Strip. After a while, I found a few reliable locations and they were my go-to's. Two worth mentioning:

Pho Kim Long. This is a long-time favorite of the Vegas poker crowd. It's got all the standards you expect from a Vietnamese restaurant, it's open until 2:30am during the week and 4:30am on the weekends, so it's post-session friendly (pho at 2:00am is an experience you should have). Importantly, it's a 10-minute Lyft from the Bellagio poker room.

Bagelmania. If you're up toward the Wynn, have breakfast or lunch there. It feels very close to a New York deli, the food is delicious, and the prices are perfectly reasonable. The staff sparkles. They also have a Pinkbox Doughnuts in the lobby. I will never be fully okay with paying $2.75 for a single doughnut, but the chocolate old-fashioned was a thing of beauty.

But recently, I have expanded my horizons, thanks to vlogger O.G. Andrew Neeme. While most people go to Andrew for the poker, the true cognoscenti know that hand histories are a dime-a-dozen. Andrew's unique selling point is that he brings us those hand histories from our favorite spot in Vegas that we didn't know existed.

As a random example, Andrew's most recent vlog came from the Peppermill restaurant, an old Las Vegas legend that has recently returned to 24-hour operation on weekends. And a fine thing that is, because otherwise we couldn't have gotten our Wynn hand histories accompanied by a Key Lime martini and a K2-size mountain of nachos. At 3:45am.

I am, sadly, not made of the stern stuff needed to consume nachos and a martini (even a Key Lime one) at 3:45am. But two of Andrew's recommendations are now at the top of my Vegas food lists.

Arts District – Yu-Or-Mi Sushi

The " Chinatown" district along Spring Mountain Road is really a pan-Asian wonderland of food, shopping, and other services. And there are plenty of fine sushi restaurants in there, many of which feature All You Can Eat (AYCE). Andrew's favorite is ITs Sushi. But I was seeking peace, quiet, and – well, the antithesis of the Strip. Mr. Neeme directed me to Yu-Or-Mi Sushi, in the Arts District – his recommendation was wontedly on-point.

It's small, it's intimate, it's quiet. My companion and I were seated at a lovely corner table the moment we walked in, i.e. without incurring thousands of dollars of gambling losses to jump the line. The food was exquisite, the staff – to a person – was charming. And to my original point: among our order, we got a rainbow roll – a sushi stalwart. It was perfect, and $17. At Wazuzu at the Wynn, a rainbow roll is $32. That one dish more than paid for our Lyft from the Venetian, and I defy you to tell the difference between the $17 and $32 rolls in a blind test.

I really can't say enough good about the Arts District in general. It's a salve to the Strip experience, and I hope you'll include it on your next Vegas trip.

Gäbi Coffee and Bakery

Within the aforementioned Chinatown district sits Gäbi. It's highly likely I would have lived the rest of my life never coming in the door of this place, which would have been a terrible omission to an otherwise successful visit to the planet. But when Andrew kicked off a vlog holding a toasted caramel swirly dessert-beverage from there, I knew I had to visit it.

This is what a coffee shop and bakery should look like. Not like every cookie-cutter Starbucks that sprouts like a weed up and down the Las Vegas Strip (with no disrespect whatsoever intended toward Trooper97). Adding to its allure, the signage out front is minimal – I'm pretty sure that nothing says "Gäbi." I felt that I was slipping into a secret coffee garden, frequented only by the Vegas in-crowd.

The Greek quiche comes with a side salad, and that's an iced latte in an honest tulip glass. I was sitting in a padded "egg" chair, with a six-gang 120V outlet three feet away for my laptop. I slaved over my keyboard for three hours, then threw an extra $5 in the tip jar to say thank you.

Go west, all of you

No matter how much you may love Las Vegas poker (and I certainly do), there are plenty of reasons to venture west of I-15. Take a break from the insanity of it all, and go find that amazing spot that neither Andrew Neeme nor I know about. A dive bar, an Ethiopian restaurant to die for, the perfect Thai spa. Then drop me a note, and I'll pass the tip along to Andrew.

Thank you in advance.