Shackburger at Shake Shack
In less than 16 hours, Shake Shack arrives in Las Vegas. It's the only Shake Shack west of Chicago, and it swings open the doors right on the Strip at the New York-New York casino. It's kind of a big deal. I don't believe that because it's so good, though everybody raves about it. (This is my first taste of Shake Shack.) I think it's a big deal because this is the first time Shake Shack has opened in the same state as In-N-Out Burger, and in fact you could drive away from the Strip on Tropicana Avenue for just a few minutes and find In-N-Out. Those people who rave about Shake Shack's delicious quality and noble simplicity remind me of the west coast people who stand loyal to In-N-Out for the same reasons. So now, really for the first time, we can compare the two fast-food burger sensations side by side. I can't do that yet, because my sneak peek tasting at the Shack included this single patty Shackburger, and my normal order at In-N-Out is the Double-Double. Eventually, I will eat Shack's double, and then we'll see what's what. But for now, let's focus on this Shackburger and only sorta compare it to In-N-Out because, well, it's very similar. A thinner patty of obviously fresh, high-quality beef, not at all over-seasoned as to allow its satisfying meaty splendor to shine. It's all-natural Angus beef, freshly ground, a secret blend of specific cuts of cow, cooked medium unless you say otherwise. The bun is soft and almost spongy, different from In-N-Out because there's potato starch in it. Melty American cheese, lettuce, tomato, no onions unless you order them, and spread, er, Shacksauce. The sauce is certainly derivative of the ketchup-and-mayo "secret sauce" everybody uses, but it's thicker, creamier, more voluptuous and indulgent than most, including In-N-Out's. The Shackburger is not huge. It's the perfect size to force you to consider a second cheeseburger after you've quickly devoured the first. And it's decidedly delicious, pinpointing everything we love about a cheeseburger and all the satisfaction included therein. The whole point of the Shackburger is to take it apart, find the best possible everything, and put it back together again better than ever. And it's successful in that attempt. But yeah, I have to have the double. The thing is, the Shake Shack cheeseburger and the In-N-Out cheeseburger cannot be equal. They are too similar. They must be compared, and there must be a winner. Everyone must choose for themselves.


Sandwich Sundays Presents: Everything on Everything

Everything on Everything
Sandwich Sundays gets even sweeter when you pick up your supplies from Bagel Cafe. A holiday get-together proved the perfect excuse to get way too much meat, cheese, veggies, pickles, bagels and spreads from our favorite deli—nay, the best deli in Las Vegas!—and go to work. We couldn't decide what to put on our everything bagel, so we didn't—we grabbed it all. Turkey, ham, roast beef and pastrami, Swiss cheese and cheddar, lots of yellow mustard, tomato, cucumber, and pickles on the side. (Whitefish salad on the side, too, but that's another subject.) The result? Pure nap-inducing pleasure, a thick mess of meaty splendor. Add a soft couch and a football game and all of a sudden, holidays with the family is the best thing that ever happened.


Panchero at Cheffini's
Cheffini's refuses to disappoint. A holiday hot dog tasting presented the opportunity to try several of their wild wiener variations, including the Panchero—a lovely grilled frank topped with caramelized onions, red bell pepper aioli, diced and grilled bits of chorizo and a classic chimichurri sauce. And wow, do these flavors sing. Rich, sweet onions. Creamy, zingy mayo. Fatty, spicy, caramelized bliss from those squares of chorizo, which seem to magically work their way into every bite. You gotta give it up for sausage on top of other sausage. And the chimi, which could overpower any standard hot dog due to its powerful garlickyness, somehow fades into the background, a soft blast of brightness when you least expect it. Cheffini's hot dogs are magical.

New York, New York

New York, New York at Steiner's Pub
Our favorite neighborhood bar comes correct on its chili size, undressing the burger's top bun and adding plenty of rich, house-made chili, melted cheese and onions. A chili size, remember, is not a chili burger. The key is proper proportions: just a little bread, a nice thick patty, way too much chili. Truth be told, this sucker could use another ladle full of the stuff, especially since Steiner's chili is serious (diced sirloin, black beans, red chilies). But the kitchen keeps it compact in case you want to put the bread back on top and eat it like a true sandwich, which is admirable. I guess. Again, way too much chili is key. Why do they call it the New York, New York, and reference Donald Trump in the menu description? We're not sure. But that silliness could never take away from this deliciousness.


Torta Pescado

Torta Pescado at Pinches Tacos
Frequently we snap an underwhelming photo of an outstanding sandwich and this, amigo, is one of those times. Are we surprised that a truly great torta came from one of our favorite Vegas taco shops? Not at all. Pinches is consistently delicious, and maybe a bit overlooked due to its location in the Downtown Container Park. Up until now, we've overlooked its tortas, instead opting for pollo mole tacos. This fluffy yet firm, slightly sweet roll is absolutely stuffed with crispy fried, fleshy white fish, moist and flaky and lovely. There's a spread of refried pinto beans and another of guacamole, plenty of Mexican sour cream, cilantro, onion, and a Veracruz-style slaw. The sandwich is tender and crisp, meaty and fresh, hearty yet not heavy. The sign outside of Pinches reads "Real Mexican food made by real Mexicans," and we can't help but think how well Mexicans do sandwiches. We need to do a whole lot more tortas.


Char Siu Pork Roll

Char Siu Pork Roll at Buddha Belly Deli
Buddha Belly Deli is one of the most exciting sandwich shops to open in the Las Vegas valley in quite some time. Why? Because they're incorporating familiar, drool-inducing Asian flavors into classic sandwich structures, like a beef dip with pho au jus and a Sloppy Joe with red curry short rib. It's a fantastically fun menu, and our first stop was this big, beautiful pork roll. A mixture of brioche and Hawaiian sweet roll, this fluffy, buttery bread creation is piled high with delicious (if a bit dry) char siu roasted pork shoulder, sliced into thin, almost crisp shards. A traditional Vietnamese veggie trio of carrot, daikon and jalapeño joins the party, plus a sprinkle of crunchy slaw and a sweet hoisin barbecue sauce. It's fusion at its finest, subscribing to no rules other than the most important sandwich guideline—if it's delicious, add it to the mix.


José Andrés Burger

José Andrés Burger at Umami Burger
At the California locations of Umami Burger, the porktacular José Andrés burger was a one-month special. At the Las Vegas Umami, planted firmly at the new SLS resort, this decadent bite is a regular item on the menu. Just another reason why Vegas rules. José creates a patty out of ground pork and cured ham, of course, and the Umami crew cooks it through but keeps it juicy, sweet and savory. There's also piquillo pepper confit—which is pretty much our favorite side dish at José's insane Bazaar Meat just down the hall at SLS—offering robust, rich sweetness; pure gluttony in the form of creamy, roasted garlic aioli; a little more depth from caramelized onions; and some nutty, sharp goodness from the addition of manchego cheese. It's truly delicious when you get a bit of everything at once, and it really doesn't eat or taste like any burger you've ever had. It's a true sandwich, and you should try one.


Cheese Breakfast Biscuit

Cheese Breakfast Biscuit
If you want a great breakfast sandwich, make it yourself. You don't have to go all-out like we did: making cheddar jalapeño biscuits from scratch, slicing one open and melting even more sharp cheddar cheese on both sides, frying coins of capacola until crispy and bacon-esque, and wrapping everything around a fried egg with yolk ready to explode. Super-rich, slightly greasy, a little spicy, pretty much perfect. After building and devouring this sucker, we almost dare you to make a better breakfast biscuit bite.

Grilled Cheese

Grilled Cheese at Echo & Rig
It's hard to tell this crispy, cheesy mass is even a sandwich, and that's because Echo & Rig uses some kind of super-soft, thick, almost creamy bread to assemble its version of a grilled cheese. It's really good, actually, creating the sensation of not really knowing where the spongy bread ends and the delicious fillings begin. And there are some wonderful things inside, mainly specks of tender braised beef short rib and three wildly different cheeses—white cheddar, gruyere and parmesan. There's a certain sharpness in every bite, but even more richness. It's not a gooey grilled cheese per our personal tradition, but it packs plenty of flavor and toasty satisfaction.


Bacon Cheeseburger

Bacon Cheeseburger at Wimpy's
I really wanted Wimpy's to be great. It's unclear whether this middle-of-nowhere North Las Vegas burger stop is related to some sort of franchise, but it does use the Wimpy iconography. (You know, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." No? Am I the oldest guy in the room?) I drove all the way out to Centennial Parkway and Commerce just to get a Wimpy burger, all but sure this would be the next great find, a dive worth the trip, a burger worth talking about it. And yet, disappointment. It happens. It's not the fault of anyone in the kitchen here. They seem to mean well. It's just a matter of using the most standard, most boring, cheapest ingredients possible. The thing is cooked well enough but has no flavor or juiciness. The bacon and lettuce are crisp. The bun is soft. But nothing tastes like anything. Somehow the bread was room temperature, the burger was warm, and the rest was ice cold—including the unmelted cheese. This is what happens when you cook frozen patties. In a restaurant. That's supposed to be a burger joint. Sorry, Wimpy.