Mac & Cheese Daddy

Mac & Cheese Daddy at Johnny Smalls
This is fairly ridiculous. The Mac & Cheese Daddy plate from the new Johnny Smalls eatery at the Hard Rock Hotel actually comes as an order of three sliders, each stacked with a nice rounded pile of deep fried macaroni and cheese, heirloom tomato, arugula and garlic aioli. As a sandwich, it's pure crazy, and highly ineffective. The dry, spongy roll clogs up your chewing pleasure, and there's no trace of the taste of the vegetables or spread. It's all mac and cheese, and while that part is mildly tasty, it's not nearly flavorful enough to compensate for this culinary experiment gone wrong. Johnny Smalls is a fun, intriguing restaurant, a menu full of small, party-ready noshing options. This isn't one of the good ones.


Veggie Burger

Veggie Burger at Shari's Diner
You’ll find all the usual veggie burger trappings here, but it’s the little things that make this sandwich stand out. Amid the de rigueur lettuce, tomato and onion, the Shari’s cooks lovingly nestle rings of fresh green bell pepper. It’s such a small addition, but one we haven’t seen anywhere else, and the bell pepper adds crunch and the perfect clean, crisp flavor.

The “burger” patty itself nicely navigates the road between being just another bland faux-meat disc and veering into the land of the overworked, crumbly, handmade veggie burger patties that have started popping up in some of the city’s finer burger joints. It’s flavorful, and the bits of veggie, grain and seeds maintain a nice texture. Have the Shari’s staff throw some sweet potato fries on your plate, and you’re set.

The Kalua Mini

The Kalua Mini
In a large family of wannabe chefs, I'm perfectly comfortable stating my only sister is the best cook. Her idea for a Hawaiian-themed potluck could have gone wrong very easily, but through careful planning and strategery it instead yielded this wonderful morsel of a mini sandwich.

The main ingredient is her version of kalua pig, 10-hour slow-cooked pork shoulder shredded into deliciousness. Typical kalua is smoky and salty. This is both, with an extra tang from some chili peppers and a heavy dose of soy sauce. It's actually very salty, but meant to be eaten alongside white rice. In this case its extreme savory notes are counter-balanced by almost-too-sweet King's Hawaiian brand rolls. To add some crunch and bite, we made a pickled vegetable salad of carrot, daikon, jalapeno, cilantro, red onion and black sesame seed. There could have been a bit more heat with more jalapeno, but the natural juice from the pork offered plenty of spice on its own. I know every ethnic cuisine has its version of sandwich, but I've never seen or heard of a Hawaiian sandwich. Allow us to offer up the Kalua mini. It's tasty.


The Olympian

The Olympian at Johnny McGuire's
Johnny McGuire's Deli comes to Las Vegas from Aspen, and although the Colorado ski town and its Vegas digs at the popular "lifestyle" center Town Square may share a certain upscale atmosphere, this fun, loud sandwich shop feels like a college hangout. During our first visit, a quick chick worked the register while two cooks worked the line at breakneck speeds with A Tribe Called Quest bumping powerfully overhead. It's good.

Not as good as this sandwich, however. The Olympian, which I ordered on a home-baked white sub roll, is somehow compact enough to fit into my face even though it's stacked with grilled corn beef, turkey, pastrami, onions, peppers, melted Swiss cheese, a bit of coleslaw, tomato and a dressing very much like Thousand Island. The dressing and slaw provided only a bit of moisture to loosen things up as the dominant flavors came from the cheese, the fresh bread, tasty turkey and the salty grilled meat. Typically a sandwich with this number of ingredients will come off muddled, but this taste is bright and clean, delicious and addictive. And green peppers, these slightly sizzled, are quickly becoming my choice for most sandwich-friendly veggie.

Johnny McGuire's has a bountiful crop of custom sandwiches to choose from, with the Olympian being the most elaborate. We will be exploring the menu further.


Chili Dog

Chili Dog at Pink's
It's important to note this chili dog was consumed at Pink's in Las Vegas, at the Planet Hollywood resort on the Strip, and not at the iconic original Pink's on La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, which opened in 1939. I'm betting it's the same chili dog at both spots, but I've heard and read some chatter that Vegas Pink's just ain't the same. That's a common complaint when some famous food stand or restaurant makes the jump to Vegas, but in my experience, it's only valid about half the time.

The normal Pink's chili dog has mustard, chili and onions. That's what I ordered, but I received this sucker, which has plenty of mustard and chili but no onions, and the added appeal of a slice of American cheese hiding in the bun, under the dog and the chili. Pink's is quite famous for its chili, and it's serious stuff: incredibly thick and meaty, densely seasoned with cumin, deep brown and lava-like in consistency. It's not spicy, and in fact could use a little more seasoning. But it's satisfying for those who like classic, diner-style chili, and it's not too greasy. The mustard and cheese are standard (onions would have been nice) and the bun is soft and tasty. Pink's serves Hoffy brand hot dogs, all-beef beauties with the natural casing that provides a snap when you bite in. This is a 10-inch weiner, or a stretch dog as described on Pink's menu. Another interesting touch is that Pink's grills its hot dogs, which really brings out the salty and garlicky flavors of the frank.