Dining - Pho Saigon 8 by Vegas Food Nerd

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PHO SAIGON 8
BY VEGAS FOOD NERD

Our small, yet prolific corner of our city, located just a few steps away from the madness of the Las Vegas Strip, which we all know as “China Town,” has many eclectic offerings for those looking for dynamic flavor and unique tastes. Traveling down Spring Mountain Road can be overwhelming in terms of choosing a restaurant to dine in. On the night in question, my friend and I stopped in a small, unassuming place called Pho Saigon 8. It is a simple, no frills place that churns out Vietnamese comfort food. The interior is pretty stark, yet feels very clean.  

It’s a little embarrassing as a food writer to admit this, but I’d never had Pho. I had heard the tales of this big bowl of noodles that the diner can customize to their heart’s content, but had yet to experience it for myself. So the mission for our meal that night was to try the Pho. But, as I’m never one to discriminate when it comes to sampling a menu, we tried a few other things, as well.  

We ordered a few different plates and big bowls of Pho Tai (noodles in a broth served with rare eye round steak). First to hit the table were their Egg Rolls, which are crispy, flavorful, and stuffed very generously with beef and pork. They come with crispy green lettuce to wrap them in, which gives a bright crunch to the deep fried treats when you eat them. Next up we tried one of their Rice Plates with Sliced Pork. The pork had a BBQ flavor to it and was very tender. Finally came the dish we had come to try—our Pho Tai was served: big steaming bowls of broth with rice noodles and the rare beef that was quickly cooking down from the heat of the broth. With the soups, they also offered two plates of ingredients that you could add to customize your Pho, such as crispy bean sprouts, sliced jalapeños, Thai basil, mint leaves, cilantro, lime wedges, and a chili sauce. Then you grab your chopsticks in one hand, and your soupspoon with the other, and dig right in. I’d recommend trying the broth first before doctoring your bowl up too much. I found it velvety smooth with a nice flavor and added flavors as I ate. It was good, really good… like a big, warm hug for your insides. The restaurant is open from 9am-10pm everyday, due in part to Pho being a great hangover cure. I haven’t tested that theory just yet, but I can imagine if you were feeling a little under the weather, a bowl of this stuff would bring you the comfort you might be seeking. So I came, tried, and finally downed some Pho. Only problem now is that I seem to crave it everyday.

TASTE THE ROCK
Red Rock Casino has been advertising this new promotion quite a bit. Participating restaurants at the resort will be offering tasting menus starting at $5 from 5pm-7pm Monday-Friday. Sounds fun, right? A chance to restaurant hop and try different flavors for a couple of hours sounded like a perfect way to dine out, and I couldn’t wait to try it. We went on a Friday night early enough to beat dinner rush and take-out time, trying different places. First up: Hearthstone Kitchen. I had heard great things about this place, and walking in, we loved the design and feel to the place. Our server heads over and we ask what they have for Taste The Rock menu. She had no clue that they were running the promotion and had to ask a manager. Then she came back to the table with a small menu with only four items to choose from. Nothing appealed to us on the menu except for their draft white wine for $7, so we decided to share the Chickpea Chopped Salad to start. The salad was good, but not the deal that had beckoned to us from the marquees, and the pour on the wine was very low, almost ¼ of a glass. For the price—not a deal at all!  

Next we headed over to Mercadito to see what tastes they had to offer. Our server at this stop did at least know about the promotion, but once again, we were a bit disappointed by the lack of selection offered. We decided to try their Surf and Turf Tacos off the Taste menu, along with their house Margarita that was on it, as well. We liked both items very much, though the portions were small. The tacos featured seared rib eye with a tequila-infused hash of asparagus and cauliflower, topped with a tempura shrimp and a grilled Serrano pepper. It was the best “taste” of the night, hands down, and the Margaritas were very well done, as well.  

We wanted another go round at Mercadito, but decided that we might as well round out our tasting with a final restaurant and headed over Red Rock’s latest Italian place called Salute. Upon reaching the hostess stand, our greeter informed us that the promotion had just ended. We were confused and said the sign said: “‘Til 7pm,” and it was only just now 6pm. She went back to speak with a manager and miraculously found that it was indeed still going on and brought back the menu to show us. Once again, the offerings were slim, but we figured we’d give it a chance anyway. Then, when we asked for a table, she told us that if we were ordering from the discount menu, then we could not sit at a table in their pretty much empty dining room. This did not sit well with us, but we tried to keep an open mind and sat at the bar ordering a couple of glasses of their discounted Pinot Grigio ($8 a glass), and split the discounted Chicken Picatta ($13). The wine pour was a little better this time around and the chicken came quickly to the bar. It was a lackluster attempt at Picatta. The chicken wasn’t tender enough, and the sauce was just mediocre at best. I know of restaurants around the corner with much more reasonable price points that make much better versions of this dish. Disappointed with our evening, we wrapped up the bill and left for the night. Taste the Rock is a great idea in theory, yet it was executed in such a poor manner that it will be quite some time before I visit Red Rock Casino. As a local, I expect jacked up prices on the Strip, but not around the corner from my home.

DUNKIN’ DONUTS
HOLIDAY TASTING MENU
When you write about food, many brands start to slowly reach out to you to try new menu offerings in hopes that they might find their way into my next article or blog post. A little before the holiday season got into full swing, I was invited by my local Dunkin’ Donuts outpost to try their new holiday tasting menu. We started with the classic Pumpkin Latte—and it fit the bill in flavor. It tasted like drinking pumpkin pie and coffee all-in-one—like multitasking for your palate. Next up we tried their Peppermint Mocha Iced Latte, Snicker Doodle Macchiato, and their Sugar Cookie Iced Macchiato. Pumpkin was by far our favorite, but I would definitely give the silver to that tasty concoction that did taste a lot like a sugar cookie.  

Alongside our drink selections we got to try their new Snicker Doodle Croissant Donut, the new Caramel Cheesecake Squares, and their new Sweet Black Pepper Bacon Sandwich. Okay, the cheesecake squares were good, but that croissant donut with its snicker doodle coating and it’s gooey filling was just so good. They charge a premium to get this donut at their shops, but it is worth it. All of us at the tasting seemed to swoon over it.  

After all the sweet offerings, it was a welcome delight to try the bacon sandwich. The Dunkin Donut master that was guiding us through our tour of tastiness said they decided to double the bacon—and who can argue against that? These are all seasonal offerings and will be gone by the end of January, so get there soon to get your fix. Also, if you hit any local Dunkin shop from 2-6pm throughout the month of January, you can try one of their seasonal drinks for only $1.99.  

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