vegas signI have a secret love. It’s name is Las Vegas.

I can hear the gasps. And the disbelief. “Seriously? WTF?”

Yup. Seriously. But my Vegas is different than most people’s.

My Vegas has evolved over the last eight years. The first couple of times I went, with my boyfriend who became my husband, were all about the hotels on The Strip, their fancy, expensive restaurants, gambling, drinking, seeing shows and watching in-room porn. A bunch of heathens.

But a couple of years ago, we took our first steps off of the Strip, taking a $15.00 cab ride (each way) to a Thai restaurant recommended by some food-loving bartenders. It was Lotus of Siam and it was heavenly. We fell under the care of a waiter named Tony, who just brought us what he thought we should eat and we ate there three times on that trip.

And we got hooked on life off of the Strip.

Last August, we decided to take it a step farther. We booked a ten day trip. Yup. Ten whole days. In Las Vegas. People questioned our sanity but we were curious about what existed off of the Strip. We wanted to experience Las Vegas as, if not locals, than as well-informed pseudo tourists. And the world opened up to us. We split our stay between the El Cortez Cabana Suites in the Downtown section and the Wynn. And rented a car for the first time.

Highlights of that trip? Food and hiking. We did a blistering mid-day August hike out at Red Rock Canyon. I had sweat showing up in places I didn’t even know I could sweat in. And then a few days later, an early morning cool and dewy hike up in the Spring Mountains to the Mary Jane Falls, where we tasted the melted snow running off the falls.

We ate at all sorts of ethnic restaurants: Vietnamese, Japanese, Mexican and Thai. We spent over an hour walking around a grocery store in Chinatown checking out spicy oils, monstrous looking seafood and over a dozen different models of rice cookers. And we couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear at our good fortune: enjoying our explorations and feeling lucky to be able to do them together.

It was the trip of a lifetime for us. Really.

So when we had the chance to return in December, we jumped at it. A shorter stay. Only five nights at the Wynn. Another rental car. (Best perk ever? Free self parking at your hotel.)

And more explorations. Here are a few:

Hiking at Red Rock Canyon

We did the three plus mile La Madre Spring hike. And then went back two days later and did the more challenging six mile La Madre White Rock loop that took us all the way around the mountain. Both days the weather was perfect. And we made a mini-Snowman.

snowman

Junior

hike

View from the hike

Restaurants We Want to Marry (Or At Least Go To Many More Times)I really, really like food. I met my husband at his restaurant. I married him because he’s a phenomenal cook. And trying new foods and restaurants is something we like doing together. Vegas is a food lover’s Utopia.

Le Thai on Fremont Street: Only opened a few months ago. We ate here twice, sampling Pork Jerky served with waterfall sauce (that I’d like to bathe in), Tom Yum Soup and a non-gloppy Pad Thai. I told the waitress that I regretted my stomach being so small.

Pork Jerky with Waterfall Sauce

Pork Jerky with Waterfall Sauce

Tom Yum Soup with Tofu

Tom Yum Soup with Tofu

Pad Thai with Chicken

Bachi Burger: We ate here twice as well. Sure, there are tons of burger joints out there these days but not like this Asian-inspired one. Besides the burgers, the steamed pork belly buns with scallions, radish, egg and a hoisin barbecue melted in our mouths and we were wowed by the salt and pepper garlic french fries served with a chili aioli.

Steamed pork belly bun

Steamed pork belly bun

Salt and pepper garlic fries

Salt and pepper garlic fries

Lotus of Siam: But only if Tony is our waiter. He knows what we like and brings us new things to try each time we go. From papaya salad topped with fried catfish to spicy young jack fruit curry to northern larb. Next time we’re in town, he wants us to go to his house so he can cook for us.
Mackerel sashimi

Mackerel sashimi

Raku: Raku is the Japanese restaurant you go to when you want really original Japanese food. This trip, we had a whole mackerel sashimi style. And when we were done with the sashimi, the waitress took the bones away and brought them back five minutes later fried and crispy. We ate it all. They also make their own tofu, which is phenomenally creamy. Another highlight? Poached egg with Uni, salmon roe, raw okra and raw white yam that you mix all together in a bowl before you eat it. Crunchy, fresh and a little bit slimy.

I could write a book on all of the people and places that make me love Las Vegas, like The Beat Coffeehouse and the bar at The Wynn’s Stratta restaurant. And I can’t wait to explore some new-to-us places when we go back, like the Double Down Saloon and the Honey Pig BBQ restaurant. And hopefully hear the Surf Music style of Thee Swank Bastards again.

It wasn’t love at first sight but I’m hooked.

Speaking of which, we’re going back in March. Anybody want to come?