If you’re one of those travelers who insist on knowing where chefs go to eat in their own towns, look no further than Raku. This tiny restaurant in an unassuming strip mall in Chinatown has earned a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in Las Vegas under the care of Chef Mitsuo Endo. He was a semi-finalist in both 2014 and 2015 for the James Beard “Best Chef in the Southwest” award, and has also earned plaudits from GQ, the New York Times, and a number of other outlets. Because it’s so small and popular, reservations (which you can only make by calling) are mandatory, although if you’re lucky you can catch a seat at the bar in front of the kitchen. While there are some raw options, this isn’t a sushi joint, but rather a robata grill, where most items are cooked over clean-burning binchotan charcoal on skewers. There are conventional bites, like Kobe beef filet and duck glazed with balsamic soy sauce, but more adventurous eaters will love the Kurobuta pork cheek, beef tendon, and foie gras with a soy glaze. One of our favorites is the bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, a cluster of crunchy fungi held together by a thin, nicely rendered piece of salty pork belly. A favorite splurge is the cold foie gras custard soup with udon noodles, a slippery, savory dish that is meant to be slurped with abandon. Raku also make its own tofu, best enjoyed cold and dressed at the table with soy sauce also brewed by the restaurant. Individually, the skewers—which come one or two to an order—are inexpensive, but order enough of them and it can add up. There are exceptional desserts, like a green tea crème brûlée and the weird, but tasty, custard-like bubbling brown sugar, but for chef Endo’s take on the end to the meal, head across the way to Raku Sweets, which offers a full tasting menu solely of confections.
Want to run into those chefs we were talking about? Make sure you go late night, long after the Strip kitchens have been cleaned and closed, and you’ll find a gaggle of them here.
- Rick Garman