Hot Pastrami

Hot Pastrami at Carnegie Deli
Wow. Tough call.

First of all, read this. My feelings about the Carnegie Deli outpost in the Mirage have always been the same: it's a tourist trap, they make silly, huge, wasteful sandwiches, and it's not that good anyway. But ... I gave Canter's Deli another chance, and it paid off. Then I read two food critics' opinions on my city's best pastrami, and both claimed Carnegie. So I had to do it. To conclude a recent evening of Stripwalking, I took a seat here, drank a cup of coffee and munched on a small bowl of big, juicy pickles, and ordered the straight-up hot pastrami on rye with a side of fries.

It's fantastic. I'm going to have to compare and contrast: this sandwich is quite a bit bigger than Canter's. More meat, and it has more fat and more flavor. It is significantly more moist. Even though I prefer leaner sandwich meat, I really loved the stuff. It's a great pile of long slices of pastrami, whereas Canter's was sliced so thin, the meat almost becomes shredded. Carnegie pastrami has more texture and bite to it. But I couldn't grade this sandwich higher because Canter's rye is superior. This bread is just okay. Not so fresh, maybe? A little dry and not a lot of flavor or crispy-on-the-outside satisfaction. It couldn't handle the meat. The classic deli mustard on the table was just fine.

So what have we learned about forgiveness? More importantly, this pastrami checkup should serve as yet another reminder to my fellow Vegas locals that if you're not rockin' the Strip, you're missing out. Our best food is down here, people. Eat it.


House Special Sandwich

House Special Sandwich (banh mi) at Hue Thai
Banh mi is a special sandwich. It represents an organic combination of two wildly different cultures and cuisines, French and Vietnamese. I love banh mi because the elements that come together to make this sandwich are so different.

Hue Thai, a second-story restaurant in one of Las Vegas Chinatown's many restaurant-laden strip malls, serves a diverse menu of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Lao food. The cuisine here is a muddled mix of different traditions rather than stick-to-your-roots authenticity. There are several different meaty ingredients to choose from to anchor your banh mi, mostly cold cuts and grilled meat and not so much of the classical terrine you would find on a truly authentic banh mi sandwich. But on the House Special sandwich, there is a slab of something called Chinese Meatloaf. While I'm sure it's composed mostly of pork, and its texture leads me to believe it was steam-cooked, there's really no way of knowing what I ate on this baby. But it was good. There also is grilled pork, salty and sweet, and a sliced ham-like cold cut on the House Special.

For veggies, it's got cilantro leaves (and some stems, too, for fun!), jalapeno, lightly pickled carrot, cucumber and daikon. The bread is an ultra-crispy French baguette, nice enough to make that crackling sound (you know what I'm talking about) when you bite in. The thing about banh mi at Hue Thai is the price. They're cheap. It's about 4 bucks for a smallish sandwich. One sandwich leaves me wanting more. Two whole sandwiches makes me full for the day. It's a great deal either way.

BK Breakfast Muffin

BK Breakfast Muffin at Burger King
Fuck you, Burger King.

Like everyone else, I occasionally succumb to advertising. I thought the commercial was funny, the one where the king and his big plastic head break into McDonald's corporate offices to steal the McMuffin file and then scoot off into the night. Funny and effective, because it made me wonder: if BK really is making a replica of the McMuffin, a signature item in McD's evil repertoire, and branding it by admitting theft, can it really be exactly the same as a McMuffin?

The answer is no. Impossibly, it is worse. Much, much worse. Completely disgusting. Inedible. Granted, it is an English muffin -- or at least some dried-out, brick-hard, tasteless version of one -- with scrambled egg, sausage and melted fake cheese. There once was a time that I found some merit in occasionally eating fast food, particularly sampling new items from fast food menus, because I figure it's cheap and normal, and most people in America are eating it on a somewhat regular basis. This way, I will never slip too far into the snobbish, self-important realm of the traditional food critic or restaurant writer. Like a politician who tours the scary side of town to shake hands and hold babies, I could stay in touch with the common eater always. But after this "meal" ... fuck all that. I'll stick to taco shops and greasy diners to get my regular-people-regular-food fix. Breakfast at BK is out.

The Philly Veggie Burger

The Philly Cheese Veggie Burger
I know what you're thinking. What's with all the damn veggie burgers? Two things. (1) The wifey is kinda-sorta vegetarian. Not really, but when she was hardcore, she acquired a taste for veggie burgers. Turns out they're not so bad. (2) When you write about rich food, you eat a lot of rich food, and I'm sorry, but I've got to make some cuts somewhere. I love a good beefy burger, but I have to spread those suckers out.

So veggie burgers it is, sometimes, and there's no sense in making the same old thing over and over. You gotta try something new. I've heard of combining cheesesteak with burger before, and I respect that some people might consider a cheesesteak VB as sacrilege. But this thing is mighty tasty. The benefits of a veggie patty over a beef patty are numerous. It's lighter (so you don't die later on that night) and its flavors are not as overwhelming so this patty is going to blend together more harmoniously with other sandwich ingredients. From the top down, we've got quite a bit of grilled sweet onion and green bell pepper, melted cheddar cheese (vegetarian I'll do, vegan I won't), and a nice VB that was cooked in the same pan as the veggies, all on a soft wheat bun. No, it doesn't taste like a Philly, or a burger. It just borrows. And it delivers. This is probably my favorite VB so far.


Pepe Sub at Jimmy John's
A ham sandwich, huh? Sounds kinda boring. A plain old ham sandwich is something you order when you don't care. "Eh, fuck it, I'll just have a ham sandwich." Nothing fancy about it.

Jimmy John's ham sandwich is good. The ham is pretty standard stuff, large, round, thin slices of applewood smoked piggy-meat, with provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato and mayo on that 8-inch, homemade French sub roll. It's good stuff, even if it is a plain old ham sandwich. The Jimmy John's bread is superior stuff, and that's what makes this average sandwich at at average franchise much better than the Subways and Port of Subs of the world.

Charred Tuna Sliders

Charred Tuna Sliders at Society Cafe Encore
The slider is a very popular little sandwich these days, even in Vegas, a city slow to jump on foodie trends. The sliders at the upscale Society Cafe at Encore are among Vegas' best. Here you can choose the meat of your preference for these baby burgers: filet mignon, sirloin done Sloppy Joe-style, or these suckers -- charred rare tuna on a puffy little bun with an Asian cucumber salad (with carrot, maybe sprouts, maybe daikon, and a vaguely sesame light dressing), some shiso (an Asian herb like mint only not as strong) and some barely-there wasabi cream.

Each of these sliders is about a three-biter, and it's a pretty tasty bite. The fish is fresh, firm and dense, just like a great piece of sashimi with a very quick sear around the edges. The other toppings are correctly subtle, letting the tuna shine. The bun was a bit dry, but what's inside is moist enough to create a pleasant consistency.


Spinach Veggie Burger

Spinach Veggie Burger
The typical veggie burger, on a whole wheat bun, is given a subtle makeover here with fresh baby spinach sauteed in garlic and mustard and olive oils, a wipe of mustard, melted cheddar cheese and some nice thick slabs of red onion. The crunch of the onion created a nice texture shift from the softness of everything else, and the slight bitterness and strong garlic notes in the spinach really stood out. Another strong re-invention.


Fresh Fish Sandwich

Fresh Fish Sandwich at Garfield's Restaurant
It can't be easy to be Garfield's. This lovely lakeside restaurant is the newcomer to the upscale Vegas suburb known as Desert Shores. The tiny retail center it calls home already is headquarters to the Village Pub video poker bar and cafe and, more importantly, the locally beloved Marche Bacchus, a French bistro with terrific food, great and affordable wine and serene views of the man-made lake. Garfield's has those views too, a charming preppy vibe and a seemingly solid menu. But for now, it seems like the place people will go when Marche Bacchus is too busy. Perhaps it can rise above that description.

Sandwich-wise, Garfield's has its work cut out as well, what with the also beloved lobster salad croissant holding court next door. But this simple fish sandwich is a winner. It's made with whatever the kitchen has fresh, which happened to be sand dabs on this visit. The flaky flounder was cooked perfectly, a nice light bite on this supremely soft roll with tomato, red onion, chopped lettuce and maybe a bit too much sauce, something of a thinned-out tartar. The moisture of the fish and vegetables was enough to provide balance to the bread, so this generous spread of nearly flavorless condiment was quite unnecessary. Otherwise, it's a tasty lunch, complete with thick cut fries and a glass of pinot noir on a breezy day by our fake lake.


The New York Yankee

The New York Yankee at Jason's Deli
With its mountainous menu, busy seating area, extended salad bar and free ice cream cones, Jason's Deli feels like anything but a deli to me. But if this is the big corporation version of your friendly neighborhood sandwich spot, you could do a lot worse. Many of the sandwich selections are surprisingly good, including this meat-filled beauty. The New York Yankee, while ridiculously named, stacks hot corned beef and pastrami, swiss cheese, and your choice of mustard or mayo on rye. The bread left a bit to be desired but the meats are lean and sliced very thin, creating a very satisfying bite. Authenticity isn't the name of the game here, but there's something to be said for convenience.


Double Combo

Double Combo (turkey pastrami and salami) at Bagel Cafe
I love the bread. Bagel Cafe bakes its own breads and this seedy rye is exceptional, with perfect textures and a standout flavor strong enough to compete with this massive meat stack. Great, great bread.

I'm not sure, however, if this is what I ordered. Overstuffed meat sandwiches are a specialty at Bagel Cafe, and of course you can mix it up with two or three different selections. I asked for turkey pastrami (house-made) and Hebrew National salami, the soft, bologna-ish kind. Perhaps this is just peppered turkey breast, juicy and tasty in its own right, but I'm not sure if the flavors were pastrami-ized. Even so, it was a great, savory combination, complemented only by a generous squirt of National Deli mustard. As you might guess from this photo, it is impossible to eat the whole thing. Half was plenty.