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Food in & between Phoenix & Las Vegas? Staying @ Mandalay Bay in Vegas for weekend convention in early September.

Friend & I are making the drive & we'll eat almost anything that can't move fast enough to get away from us. Instead of steak, lobster & steak ... we tend to prefer excellent Mom & Pop places, ethnic places, non-franchises ... places that locals frequent but don't show up on the travel guides. We are primarily looking for places easy to get to enroute.

Just to be specific ... we'll be staying a day or 2 in Phoenix, go up 60 thru Surprise, Morristown, Wickenburg,
up 93 thru Big Sandy, Kingman, Boulder City, Hemenway Pass, Railroad Pass
& finally spend Fri evening, Sat & Sun in Vegas.
Though we will be at a convention at the Mandalay Bay, we'll undoubtedly get down on the Strip.

Thanks for any suggestions. My last time in PHX was w/ folks who never went out to eat. Haven't driven thru Vegas for 30 yrs -- I suspect it might have changed :-)

Thanks ... Lagniappe :-)

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  1. There's a new In N Out in Kingman, Stockton Hill exit from I-40. Best I can tell that'll be the best chow between PHX and Vegas.

    Be sure to check out Fleur De Lys at Mandalay Bay. Even if you don't have the budge for a splurge dinner, a bar hang is highly recommended.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GroovinGourmet

      Thanks on the tip on the Fleur De Lys ... guess I'd better pack more than jeans & boots, eh? Since we'll be in the building ... we'll certainly check it out.

      As to the In-N-Out ... don't remember them from when I lived in Calif ... but folks seem to like their Double-Double's. It sure sounds like a better alternative to Cheetos & Diet Pepsi enroute! :-) Got it on my travel list!

      Thanks

    2. As far as in between, stick to Flaming Hot Cheetos and Sunny Delight. Seriously.

      Where will you be staying whilst in Phoenix, so we can steer you towards the most convenient options? There's a lot of good chow here.

      Ethnic + mom & pop = Cyclo (Vietnamese, some of the best in the country) or Mi Cocina Mi Pais (Ecuadorian and beyond) or Barrio Cafe (authentic upscale Mexican) or Carolina's (awesome Mexican dive)

      Ethnic + non-franchise = Los Sombreros; many others.

      1 Reply
      1. re: themis

        Rats! Don't know what part of town he'll be staying in yet. He's driving to PHX in a week for a 4 week temp hospital job ... so my best guess is that he'll be in striking range of the medical center. But friend will be in PHX for several weeks & will check out the local places ... so your advice is much appreciated. I figure I'll fly in 1-2 days before we head off to Vegas & he'll make me pay for dinner at a few of the good places he's discovered.

        I'll definitely pass on your recommendations ... they all sound exactly like we enjoy trying.

        Our measure of authentic Mexican ... is an outstanding Mole' sauce, & horchata & tamarindo on the menu to drink. And you know how hard it is to get a quality Mole!

        Thanks for the places you've listed ... and any you'd care to add later.

        Ed

      2. There is (or was last fall at least) a BBQ joint in Wickiup that we enjoyed, Joe's I think. They had a tasty white bean side dish that we've not had elsewhere. Look to your left as you pass through town and don't blink!

        1 Reply
        1. re: dcooke

          I deduce (after a search on the map) that you must be speaking of Greater Metropolitan Wikieup, AZ? Yep ... I can see what you mean about blinking & missing it :-)

          I'm in San Antonio ... and some of the best damned BBQ (beef) in the country is just up I-35 in Lockhart. Smoked so well, they don't even bother serving it with red goop ... and you won't want any sauce (but the turistas, who don't know better, can get it on the side)! IMHO ... if they need to smother the BBQ w/ tomato & vinegar ... there's something they are hiding.

          So ... the all important question ... does Joe's put BBQ sauce on their servings? :-)

          Thanks

        2. We don't hide anything with sauce. We believe the meat should stand on it's own. But you can have sauce if you like.

          1 Reply
          1. REPORT ON THE SAT -> PHX -> LAS Trip ... LONG ... brace yourselves.

            Thanks to all who gave me advice re: good places to eat from Phoenix to Vegas. Due to some changes in everyone's schedules, I was only able to touch on a few of them, but I'll give a bit of feedback on what I found.

            Normally, on a trip to a distant town, & taking our chances on "interesting" looking restaurants, we might expect to hit the jackpot on 60% at best ... but on this trip (w/ some helpful chowhound recommendations) we hit the jackpot at every restaurant. And ... except for the In-N-Out burger, we managed to totally avoid all chain restaurants & didn't have to worry about choosing between the 16 oz or the 32 oz steak. Friends & I would prefer something ethnic, mom & pop, and interesting with quality ... rather than some other mass-produced, unimaginative stuff you can get at any large restaurant.

            WEDNESDAY

            First ... landing in PHX at 7am, friend picked us up at the airport & got on the freeway directly for Vegas. So much for a few dinners in PHX (I thought)!

            Wikieup, AZ is exactly 1/2 way to Vegas AND we just happened to arrive a few minutes before 11am. Coincidentally, "Eat at Joe's Barbeque" opens at 11am according to the sign in his front window. I was running on 2 hrs of sleep, and friend who9 was driving had been up & working since 5pm the day before ... so we weren't as perky as we could have wished. An 18-wheeler pulled in & turned around & came to the door waiting to get in ...and confirmed the BBQ is very good. Joe was in the kitchen ignoring us & the lights were on, so we assumed he was just casual about his hours. But then he left a few min after 11. We were curious why Joe hadn't opened up & took another look at the sign & noticed that the HOURS were in bigger, darker letters ... but "Closed Wed" was in smaller, less-obvious gray print. As I said ... we were tired & hadn't noticed. But at least we had a chance to stop & stretch our legs.

            We continued up the road to Kingman to the In-N-Out Burger recommended there. Despite the crowd, we had good service & enjoyed the Double Doubles. Although I've spent lots of years off & on in Calif, the In-N-Out chain has never coexisted in an area with me, so it was nice to try someplace other than Whattaburger. (McDonald's is NEVER an option).

            We got to our hotel in Vegas, and the clerk who gave us our room keys had a Portuguese accent, so we asked her recommendation on Portuguese restaurants. She gave us 2 names, 1 BIG casino restaurant (rated as $$$$$) & another place "too far out of the way" & also gave us the impression that it was a place where real people eat. Cruising around looking for a chowhound recommendation for a Tapas place, we stumbled upon a strip center that had 4-5 good looking possibilities (Marrakech - Moroccan & Shalimar - Indian & the Tapas place) and, lo & behold ... there was the place that was "too far out of the way." We looked at the window menus of several places & settled on YOLIE'S BRAZILIAN STEAKHOUSE (@Paradise Rd & Corporate ... just to the E of the Sahara at the North end of the strip). It was 10pm & the place was virtually empty. Of course, they pushed their bottomless pit of assorted mixed meats at $34 a head ... but we weren't into consuming mass quantities of flesh and settled on more digestible limits.
            We started w/ the appetizer of Roasted Peppers in oil & vinegar ... pricey at $7 ... but good.
            One friend ordered the Feijoada ($17) which had a deep, rich base & plenty of meat.
            We opted for the Lamb Shish Kabob at $19 ... the lamb was perfectly medium & juicy w/ great flavor
            We had the Red Zin (Ed Meades Zinfandel from Mendocino) at $9/glass and it went marvelously with all the meats & the feijoada. Friend chose a Merlot & enjoyed it
            We finished with the Creme Brulee which was the first I'd tried (to my recollection ... I don't jump at custards or the highest cholesterol on a menu) ... and it was excellent. The one friend told me that it was creamier than most & rated it very highly.
            The service was friendly & eager ... 3 waiters for our table. The head waiter took my advice on the red zin & had it with his dinner (I noticed he poured his glass a bit fuller than mine! :-) We got outta there for $63 + tip. An excellent meal, good company & a long shot cheaper than some $$$$$ casino restaurant.

            THURSDAY

            We started the morning with conferences, & weren't particularly hungry, so avoided the buffets. Our immediate options were Starbucks, Starbucks or Starbucks ... all of which had long lines. But "Red, White and Blue" in Mandalay Bay (across from the Fleur de Lys) had large coffees for $5 & simple pastries for $4 & up. I opted for just a 16oz Mocha ... & wound up coming back before noon for a 2nd. The line was much shorter at RW&B but from what I could tell, the coffee cost a little more than Starbuck's. No complaints about the coffee ... and it was worth it not to have to wait in a line of 50 for a silly cup of coffee.

            After our conferences, we were hungry AND we had to pick up our show tickets, so we hopped the tram & got the Cirque de Soleil "Zumanity" tickets into my pocket first, then thought we'd walk up the strip a ways to see a few of the other casinos.

            WARNING: I stopped at Partaga Factory (a Cigar outlet) at 105 Las Vegas Blvd (in the Smith & Wolensky bldg) for a cigar. Glad I didn't spring for one of the $80 pre-ban Havana's ... the cigar I got out of the same walk-in humidor was a 3yr sun-dried Death Valley dog turd. DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY THERE ... they don't take care of their cigars. I smoked less than a 1/4" of it before throwing it away.

            By the time we were 1/2 way up the Strip, my the friend who knew Vegas mentioned that the Thai place we were aiming at was just 'this far' (holding up his fingers 1/4" apart) away on the map. I took him at his word & since we were far enough from the car at the hotel, I was game for walking the rest of the way. Well ... 1/4" on the strip map ain't just 4-6 blocks :-) Did I mention the approaching black clouds & lightening? By the time we got to the Sahara, we were walking into 30mph headwinds & a dust storm and we KNEW we were gonna get drenched any minute. Well ... the restaurant was at least another 2 miles past that! And when we got to the address ... the sign was on, but inside the windows on Sahara, it was black. Uh oh! another place out of business? So, it was finally dark, we were bracketed by lightening tops & had just walked >7 miles. We went around the block to try to find someplace else ... and saw a few options, but seemed to be in a square of oriental restaurants & groceries. Serendipitously, we walked up the other side of the same building & found the entrance to LOTUS OF SIAM (our intended target) there. Damn ... we were glad to finally sit down!
            I ordered the Lime Drink ... it was tart & refreshing ... nothing could have hit the spot after a forced march! Friends ordered the Thai Iced Tea.
            We started w/ the Shrimp Mee Krob which was new to me. I like Thai food but certainly don't know the names of a lot of the dishes except the few that you can find in any small town in the US ... I haven't had the advantage of spending time in Bangkok ... so I was at the mercy of a friend's advice. I was told that this Mee Krob was done w/ unusually thin glass noodles ... kinda of a "California" version ... but we agreed it was very good. I ordered 6/10 in spiciness ... friends ordered 3/10 & we shared & split dishes. We moved on to the Papaya Salad & Shrimp Larb which were very good. I won out on the spiciness on the Larb ... and it was definitely warm! By the time I was done, I DID look like I'd walked in from a rain storm :-) The Lime drink didn't balance as well w/ the rest of the meal & I would have preferred the Thai Iced Tea with the rest of the meal, but was too full to change over.
            We topped it all off with Mango & Sticky Rice which was the perfect finish for the meal. The service was helpful, efficient & friendly but didn't hover & wasn't annoying. We got out of there for $40.80 +tip. Feeling invigorated, we walked about 2 miles back up to the strip & got the monorail home ... we ended the evening with beers in our room & were happy to put our feet up & watch a bit of TV before collapsing early.

            Seeing "MENOPAUSE" the stage comedy production was considered briefly ... but our dogs were barkin' ... and the motion didn't get seconded.

            FRIDAY

            We needed to be at the conference early & the BAYSIDE BUFFET at Mandalay Bay was convenient. I know by the recommendations that it isn't rated as one of the best ... but it was where we needed to be & the line was short. I'm sure the 'great' buffets are rated by the breadth of the choices as well as the quality, but we couldn't complain about the quality at Bayside. I started off w/ a plate of blue cheese, prosciutto, salami, a few other cheeses, a chicken/apple sausage & went back for blueberry stuffed pancakes topped w/ praline sauce, & a plate of fresh strawberries, pineapple, blackberries & blueberries, a tiny quiche Lorraine. More than enough choices for me and all of 'em were delicious. We filled up w/o getting bloated & got outta there at $14 a head (plus a generous tip for a hard working waitress ... the only one in Vegas who bothered to say 'Thank you'

            Conferences all day ... got out about 5ish. We had plenty of time to get to the room, clean up & hoof it over to NYNY to see Cirque de Soleil's "ZUMANITY" ... one of at least 5-6 shows they are running in Vegas. We didn't have any interest in showgirls shaking it, or in 99% of the "celebrities" who had a show there (none of 'em were worth $100 tickets), and the other Cirque shows were either water shows, pure acrobatics, or aimed at the kiddies ... Zumanity looked like a compromise to get something more adult. We were delighted w/ the show. The tickets went for $93 or so a head ... but we called & said there was a special w/ the hotel & got $30 knocked off ... and a drink for each included. Considering lots of shows were going for $100-140, I wasn't complaining. I was vice president in charge of food, restaurants & entertainment ... friend who knew town was in charge of hotel rooms. I don't think the others were planning on a show, so we all came out of it happy. Fernando is the MC at Zumanity and was hilarious ... just think of a Joel Gray from Cabaret who can lick his eyebrows. The show has something for everyone ... 400# hispanic twins with bouffant red hair & wearing spandex, a midget, a water scene that hinted at lesbian, a gay fight-cage scene, a knife throwing scene w/ an unsuspecting member of the audience, a BdSm whip scene, and recruiting members from the audience for several scenes. I can't recommend the show highly enough. If you want to get involved, sit in the front row OR on one of the central aisles on the main floor. It's not for juveniles ... but great for non-prudish adults. Unlike some of the Cirque shows, the stage requirements are not too complex, so if it becomes a travelling show, it should be almost as good.

            After Zumanity, we walked back to the hotel, picked up the car & drove to MAGURA @1305 Vegas Valley Dr ... a bulgarian restaurant ... and not a single non-bulgarian there besides us. The Bulgarian Music DVDs were playing full time & there was a large party table being served in the middle of the room.

            We started off with Zajorka Beer & Kamenitza Beer ... we repeated later w/ the Kamenitzas. We had spicy peppers for an appetizer ... some were mild ... some were mighty perky. Then there was an assorted salad selection w/ 2 different dips, fresh cucumbers & tomatoes & topped with Kashkeval cheese (marvelous!). Then from the Grill ... we split a mixed kebab (not on the menu but suggested by the waitress). Another entree we split was the Pork Kavarma which had a great sauce. All was excellent, well-balanced flavors with each other ... very harmonious on the palate. I convinced friends to blow the diet & we finished w/ Tiramisu (which was excellent & monstrous) ... and the baklava ... which was the very best baklava I've ever had. Usually the honey on baklava is straight honey ... thick & waaaaay too sweet. But they diluted the honey a little & I think flavored it w/ a bit of lemon ... it was perfect. Looks like I've forgotten the total cost, but it was more than reasonable & I recommend the restaurant highly.

            SATURDAY

            We slept in ... skipped the last part of the conference ... it looked like it was gonna be a rehash of the same stuff by a speaker we'd seen on Wednesday.

            We took an alternate route back & stopped at the Lodge at Cliff Castle at Camp Verde, AZ. Typical hotel rooms ... not too fancy, but not run down. The casino was nothing to rave about after Vegas. But we got there in time for happy hour. $8 pitcher of beer ... and keep the pitcher. We ordered the RedTail ... but the keg wasn't cooperating so they put out a pitcher of Bud Light instead. Oh well ... it was wet & cold. After the pitcher, we adjourned to the dining room for an early dinner.

            They threw down a small loaf of warm bread w/ a bowl of Kalamata Aioli ... marvelous!
            We ordered the fried, breaded cactus strips w/ chipotle rance dressing ... a very nice balance fo flavors.
            Friends had the Mushroom soup and it was hearty & excellent.
            I got the Black Bean soup ... a bit on the salty side, good ham flavor in the background.
            The waitress recommended the Wine Taster if we weren't sure of which wine to get.
            I got a St Francis Red Zin (unimpressive), Cline Viognier (a bit harsh), & Bueno Vista Pinot Noir (also unimpressive)
            We also had Markham Pinot Noir, Maryvale Cabernet Sauvignon & Gundlach Merlot ... all unimpressive.
            For an entree I had the Trout w/ Pine & Squash nuts ... which would have been a flop except for the thin piece of napolito under the trout that made the flavor for the dish.
            The duck (in some sort of red sauce) was dry & tough [we were warned away from the rabbit cuz it was tough ... I can only imagine!] ... the duck was only 1/2 finished ... everyone raided my fish.
            Others finished w/ a bread pudding which was very good ... I went with the Kahlua Creme Brulee which was very nice.
            The waitress did her best, but had the whole room to herself ... other waitresses were busy on the patio or in private dining rooms. The host kinda helped out a little when it suited him. Very good background piano after the dinner rush started.
            Overall a pretty good meal which could easily have been great if the duck hadn't been a doorstop & the wines hadn't been Discount Liquors bargain bin wines. But ... I did get a free beer pitcher out of it. $59.20 before the tip .... I tipped the waitress well ... it wasn't her fault.

            SUNDAY

            We got up late & drove back to Phoenix in time to do some errands & business & get a lunch before the flight back home. KNOWING we wouldn't have any time to eat in PHX, I had left my chowhound list behind, but I'd sent it to friend in advance & he had checked out the neighborhood. We drove down a strip near ASU & we notice a Peruvian place in a strip center. Not sure if it was on a recommended list, but it "looked interesting."
            RINCON PERUANO at 120 S Alma School Rd in Mesa was just our kinda place.
            We started w/ some Chica Morada (purple corn drink) & Inca Cola (yellow nondescript junk put out by the coca-cola company!) ... so we all switched to the Chica Morada after that.
            For appetizers: Choros a la Chalaca (mussels smothered by coarsely chopped tomatoes, corn & onions w/ lime juice ... marvelous!
            and Papa Rellena: ground meat w/ raisins, olive, onion, egg all wrapped in mashed potatoes & broiled til barely crispy on the outside ... down-home Peruvian cooking ... excellent.
            I went for the Picante de Mariscos ... mixed seafood (shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels) & baked potato slices in a sauce made from a powdered yellow pepper ... mildly spicy & perfect on the seafood. With a side of rice.
            Others went for the Saltado de Mariscos ... shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels, clam, onion, tomatoes, onions with french fries ... also w/ rice on the side
            Ok ... full again! But the gods told me to order the Flan. Well ... I historically dislike flan ... it's just too bland for me. But this flan was enough for 2 ... 2" tall ... and loaded w/ Bailey's Irish Cream ... a great taste to leave on the palate when walking out the door ... now I've gotta find an Rx for Bailey's Flan!

            It was a couple of hours til the flight ... so we did some more business errands & stalled a bit. We got to the airport area early because of previous horrible traffic. So I offered to buy a last round of beers if we could find a bar. Lo & behold ... a non-descript dive on the side of the road just N & E of Sky Harbor ... the NuTowne Saloon. It seemed perfect ... the darkest, coolest bar we could have found ... and by the time our eyes had adjusted to the dark, murals of naked men on the walls :-) I asked the bartender what he had that was cold ... and he said "My heart" ... but when I asked about drinks ... he clarified that we could have any type of beer we wanted ... as long as it was Bud Light. Well ... not my type of beer ... but it WAS cold & wet ... and that fit the ticket. One beer & it was time to say goodbye to companions & let TSA sniff my socks & xray my underwear. I made it to the car w/ my virginity intact without having to hold hands or declare who was whose bitch.

            I was thru the checkout & standing & waiting for the plane 2 hrs before the flight. At least I had a seat. I can't tell you how much of a letdown 1 oz of off-brand salted airline peanuts was after a week of good food.

            But upon arrival in San Antonio, I remunerated friend who picked me up with a couple of Shiner 97's (a new Shiner brewery product out only 2 days). A decent beer. The bartender thought it was the best product from Shiner ... it left me rather flat ... no follow through ... left kind of a hollow taste. But it was better than Bud Light. Maybe it'll grow on me.

            So ... am sure that was more information than some of you wanted. But if anyone wants the restaurant addresses or websites, I might have 'em.

            Frankly ... I'm very happy to have run the gauntlet in Vegas (& the whole trip) w/o resorting to multiple franchises, over-priced Casino restaurants ... and we didn't even repeat the ethnicity of any meals. AND it was all good ... a lot of it was great. The young lady who accompanied me was not used to eating at mom & pops ... or so many ethnic places. But I think I've made a convert away from mass produced franchise swill.

            Now it's time to diet!

            Thanks again to everyone who sent me advice on places to eat & places to avoid.

            1. Wow, killer review! My folks went up to Vegas this past weekend and brought back a couple of ribs from Eat At Joe's. Oh. My. God. So rich, so smoky, so meaty... wow. I'm planning a trip to Vegas just to eat at Eat At Joe's.

              It wouldn't surprise me if the person with the Portuguese accent was from the other country that speaks Portuguese, Brazil. I remember working at an enormous resort here in Phoenix, we had LOTS of staff from Brazil, and I never saw any from Portugal. But then, I haven't heard anyone from Portugal speak, so this is a pet theory at best. So next time, ask about rodizio and feijoada ;-)

              Nu-Towne? Oh my. Well, at least you didn't have to worry about any of the customers trying to steal your lady away.

              Oh, and I know I shouldn't go off topic, but my big loves are food and Cirque du Soleil, so it's really hard to resist a bit of postscript... Cirque doesn't aim for the kiddies, they're all great shows, word on the street is the new Beatles themed show "Love" is the best one, get the midprice seats for it. Email me off the board and I'll give you tips as to the various Vegas Cirque shows for the next time you're there.

              1. We ate a place called "Eat At Joe's BBQ" in Wikieup, about the half way point between Las Vegas and Phoenix and it was great! We were there in October of 2005 and we liked it so much on the way to Phoenix that we stopped there on the way back to Vegas. The couple that own the place are really nice down home people and they play some great rock/blues music while you're munching on your sandwich. I recommend it. The website is eatatjoesbarbecue.com and you can see pictures of the food and their menu.

                1. Thanks so much for reporting back, Ed. I'm especially happy that you visited Magura. I like the food and atmosphere there and the owners are lovely people. I have never been there for dinner, so it's usually been empty when I've eaten there. It becomes the de facto community center for Bulgarians in LV, and I always wish I was there when the alcohol was flowing.

                  Yours is about the third report in the past few months of the Mandalay Bay buffet being high in quality. Maybe it's time for an official uphill alert.