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Best New Restaurant of 2012

December 31, 2012 at 6:38 PM | by | ()

It felt like if you threw a stick on The Strip this year, you'd hit a new restaurant. But, would you hit the VegasChatter 2012 Best New Restaurant? It's hard to go horribly wrong at a decent dining spot in this town, but it's rarer to stumble upon a location that elevates the meal to truly special. Do some research and you can enjoy an experience you'll be talking about for years. But, what of the 2012 newcomers to the Vegas mix? Who will last? Who are a flash in a pan? Who missed the mark? And, with all the choices, which of these resto rookies drew us back for a second, third or even fourth tasting?

We like to ask Vegas cabbies who they recommend to visitors. They frequently tell us they inquire where the guest is staying and ,9 times out of 10, they recommend a place in that resort. The choices can be overwhelming. We talk a lot about food with other locals. A lot. A common key we noticed this year was taking middle-of-the-road concepts, giving them a twist and adding bonus visual trimmings. It's a Denny's, but super fancy. It’s a buffet, but the size of airplane hangar. It’s a steakhouse, but the chef is on the telly. Sometimes, the food can get lost in the mix. So, we saw some amazing spaces this year and were frequently blinded by the showbiz. Here’s a quickie look back:

We like to cover the waterfront with food. We had a great hot dog at American Coney Island, though we were bigger fans of the chili fries. Great ice cream at the Cosmopolitan's cool, chilly corner bar. Rattlecan brought burgers, pickles and in turn added a new museum to The Strip. They need to create a docent to help you tour the artwork in the space. (They do have a free, small guide listing the artists.)

Gordon Ramsay Steakhouse wowed with hutzpah. And, while folks enjoy the menu, we've yet to meet anyone who has gone back to eat a second time. Sit at the bar, enjoy the cocktails and the scene. Mizumi is 'mazing. The room as wonderful as the food, but it is pricy and we only recommend it for special occasions. We highly praised Allegro which we feel has the best meatballs in town. Others were fans of Carla Pellgerino's creations at Meatball Spot after her shock shift from the Tropicana. And, at the Trop, we've yet to meet anyone who actually paid to eat at Bagatelle.

Bacchanal Buffet is excess incarnate, huge lines, huge choices, but we still prefer Wicked Spoon. Tetsu, slotted into Aria, is extraordinary, but expensive. And, a place best shared with fellow gourmands and aficionados. Aria also brought us Javier’s this year. You'll not see them on anyone's "best of" list.

Downtown, Chef Natalie Young became a pioneer with Eat, the place in 2012 that clued-in locals most wanted to succeed.

But, to our surprise, the place we most returned, enjoyed and made us consistently happy, was Culinary Dropout at the Hard Rock. There are plenty of fancier joints that we could name, but their consistency and comfort goes a long way. It did exactly what it promised to do, arrived on time, looked great, and delivered an up-graded pub menu. The staff are incredible and they do wear their own clothes so it can be be tad confusing. But, the super laid-back atmosphere makes spending extra time here a pleasure. You will see a really interesting mix of folks. From casino wanderers to folks in business meetings and genuine hipsters. While you'll be very close to the pool via the spacious outside patio; inside, it feels very cut-off from the casino floor.

Culinary highlights include the fried chicken and the pork ribs, but you won't go wrong opting for share plates and mix and match. We just like it. It makes us happy to know it's there. It's not fine dining. You can buy a mystery can of beer hidden in a paper bag. But, it is elevated comfort food. If you just want one of their voluminous drink options, sit at the bar and order the soft pretzels and provolone fondue. You'll be glad you did. Oh, we want some right now. And, we're also fans of The Persuasion cocktail.

The music is perfect for us. Anywhere that plays Gang of Four at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday is doing something right. And, the garage meets lounge meets living room feel is perfect for the Hard Rock. We hope they recognize that. So, it's maybe not fancy enough for you head off Strip to make it a destination, but we've heard a few times, that Culinary Dropout is the reason that tips people over the top in paying a visit to the resort. We even heard a couple of times that people on the fence over seeing a concert at The Joint went along knowing they at least could hang out at Culinary.

Culinary Dropout is open Mondays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight and on Fridays until 2 a.m. On Saturdays, it's open from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. while Sundays are 9 a.m. 'til midnight. A brunch menu is available on Sundays.

Runner-Up: Honey Salt

Runner-up is one of those places you'll probably never visit. Which is why we made it our runner-up. Created by the local legends Kim Canteenwalla and Elizabeth Blau, the living room vibe extends to the decor and warm welcome. The service here is phenomenal. The open plan kitchen is truly open. And, the desserts are fantastic.

Ever wondered where real, behind the scenes Las Vegans go to eat? They are going here. You could chart your status in this town by how many people you'll recognize at the adjoining tables. People get up from their seats to mingle and say hello to missed friends. And, it can be wall-to-wall diners. All in an environment without a hint of pretension. People are coming for the food, not be seen, like on The Strip.

Family focused, you can bring well-behaved kids; this is the essence of an up-market hang-out spot. Full of repeat visitors. For those intrigued, look out for notices for the semi-secret “buttermilk-brined chicken” nights. You won’t regret it. We can offer a second opinion that the filet mignon is excellent. If you want to head off Strip, witness an authentic cross-section of Vegas locals in an enthusiastic welcoming atmosphere, Honey Salt shows the way for the next wave of off-Strip restaurants that may prove the dining story of 2013.

Honey Salt is open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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