Mott 32 opens its first U.S. location, and Marc Vetri and Roy Choi also make their Vegas debuts. Here's what to order.
One great thing abour Las Vegas is that you think you’ve seen it all and then somebody comes in and changes the game. Here are three major dining players who have just opened their first Vegas restaurants and look poised to dazzle and dominate in 2019:
The back story: The first U.S. outpost of a Hong Kong powerhouse, Mott 32 at The Palazzo is an upscale Chinese restaurant that’s both classic and modern. Helmed by group executive chef Man-Sing Lee (who previously earned two Michelin stars at the Man Wah Cantonese restaurant inside Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental) and Vegas-based head chef Alan Ji (previously chef de cuisine at the excellent Wing Lei), Mott 32 serves dumplings, barbecue, noodles, and the best Peking duck Vegas has ever had, but there are plenty of 21st-century touches here. The sleek main room, along with the intimate dining chambers, the glassed-in kitchen that allows guests to see dishes being prepared, and the brick oven for duck, all add to the splendor of a restaurant that’s built for high rollers but also for anybody who wants their blowout meal in Vegas to be somewhere that’s not a steakhouse. With a $108 Peking duck that a table of four can easily share, this restaurant is more accessible than you might think.
What to order: The applewood-roasted Peking duck, of course. It’s cooked and rendered and crisped to perfection before being expertly sliced tableside. There’s such precision involved with every facet of Mott 32’s ducks, including their age (42 days), their size (2 kilograms), and the way they’re air-dried in a special refrigerator before entering the oven. The ultra-thin steamed pancakes add a masterfully calibrated amount of softness and chewiness to every bite.
If you want a bonus duck dish, we recommend the Kung Pao-style Peking duck rack that has a nice hit of heat and mala from Sichuan peppercorns. You can also get a pleasant jolt from Mott 32’s hot-and-sour soup dumplings made with Iberico pork. Another riff on a beloved dish is Mott 32’s version of char siu, which is made with the pluma cut of Iberico pork and glazed with yellow mountain honey. It’s sweet, unctuous, and completely correct. The triple-cooked wagyu short ribs seem like a nightmare for the kitchen, which has to slice the meat off the bone and then reassemble it on the bone, but the ultimate result is tender, flavor-packed beef that will probably make you happy that you came here instead of a steakhouse.
3325 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-607-3232
The back story: Marc Vetri opened Philadelphia’s Vetri Cucina in 1998, and his first Las Vegas restaurant is a perfect place to showcase the pasta prowess he’s honed over the last two decades. The Vegas outpost of Vetri Cucina has a lofty perch, on the 56th floor of Palms, a resort that’s in the middle of a nearly $700 million transformation. There have been some elegant Italian restaurants in Vegas over the years (we still miss you, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare), but Vetri’s mastery of flour, water, and eggs feels next-level in a city that keeps hitting new heights.
What to order: As many pastas as you think you can eat. Then maybe go ahead and order one or two more and marvel at how Vetri balances earthiness, sweetness, and all the other things you want in pasta. The saffron fusilli with lobster, tomato, and pernod is simultaneously delicate and spectacular. The mafaldine with wild duck ragu and olives is simultaneously rustic and luxurious. Comfort yourself on a chilly day by ordering almond tortellini with truffle butter. If there’s tajarin with bottarga as a special, you’ll probably want to get that too.
For secondi, there’s Massimo Bottura-inspired roasted and smoked baby goat with soft polenta. For dessert, there’s ricotta gelato and, if you’re lucky, some freshly baked panettone that’s refreshingly soft and light. The tableside zabaglione service for the panettone is a wonderful Vegas flourish.
4321 W. Flamingo Road, 702-944-5900
The back story: L.A. street-food legend Roy Choi’s first Vegas restaurant feels like a party with its neon, its bar designed to look like an L.A. liquor store, its slushie machines, its DJ booth, and its menu with remixes of the chef’s greatest hits. Choi has a deep and diverse following, and this Park MGM restaurant is steps from the Park Theater where Lady Gaga has a residency. So on December 28, opening night for Gaga, Best Friend welcomed Katy Perry, Regina King, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson along with an L.A. restaurant-industry crew that rolled heavy. There were also Choi fans who sat alone at the bar and ate Korean barbecue and big, funky hot pots.
What to order: We totally understand if you come here for Kogi short-rib tacos and Chego pork-belly bowls, but you should also know that Best Friend has great new L.A.-inspired dishes like a nicely tangy and spicy slippery shrimp that’s an ode to Yang Chow. Choi’s also repping Pot, the restaurant he used to have in L.A.’s Koreatown, with purpose and passion in dishes like uni dynamite rice and hot pots that include resplendent kimchi jjigae loaded with pork belly, tofu, scallions, and herbs.
The banchan is à la carte here, and the Korean barbecue is cooked in the kitchen, but the pickled vegetables and the sizzling platters of short ribs, spicy pork, and garlic chicken are crowd-pleasers for both galbi newbies and diners who are used to eating at Hobak or Magal on Spring Mountain Road. And if you’re dining with a big group, don’t skip the chili cheese spaghetti: It’s a huge bowl of noodles alongside a bowl of spicy, beefy, bean-free chili that was the exact kind of ragu I wanted to fortify myself with at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night.
3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd, 702-730-7777