Las Vegas Wanderlust

by Jeff Heilman
Las Vegas, Nevada at Night

With so much to see, taste, explore and experience, is it any wonder why Las Vegas continues to be one of the most popular destinations for travelers from around the world?

Home to 11,916-foot Charleston Peak (www.gomtcharleston.com), nearby Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is another locals’ playground for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and skiing. Unique attractions include the hike-in Mary Jane Falls.

Donald Contursi, Las Vegas, Nevada Chef

Donald Contursi
Photo: David Becker

Paralleling Death Valley National Park (which hit 130-plus degrees this summer), desolate Highway 95 leads two hours north to the ghost town of Ryholite and nearby Goldwell Open Air Museum, where giant outdoor sculptures include a haunting “Last Supper.” More art beckons an hour north in historic overnight-capable Goldfield, including The International Car Forest of the Last Church.

Expanding culinary tourism is part of a larger trend that is taking place in this desert oasis. “Growing awareness of Vegas’ multi-dimensionality is making travelers more adventurous,” said Donald Contursi, founder of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours (www.lipsmackingfoodietours.com). “While not always sexy and polished, off-Strip realms are hard to beat if you value real and authentic.”

As a top-selling server at high-end Strip restaurants, the native Chicagoan once customized culinary experiences for guests. In 2015, he parlayed that passion into his informative VIP-style insider tours, which eliminate the guesswork of where and what to eat.

“There are hundreds of options on the Strip and Downtown alone,” said Contursi, whose tours cover both. “With their table waiting at the restaurants on our programs, our guests bypass the line, enjoy select signature bites, and move on. People want that exclusive feeling in Vegas.”

After a decade of revitalization, Downtown is a dynamic dining destination, with reneergized Fremont East primed for culinary and cocktail crawls. My go-to joints include Downtown Cocktail Room and Evel Pie (evelpie.com) for the Snake River rattlesnake sausage slice. Convivial gastropub Carson Kitchen, breakfast and lunch oasis eat. and tasting plate-driven 7th & Carson are draws on adjacent Carson Street.

Attached to Atomic Liquors, Vegas’ oldest standalone bar, late-night magnet Kitchen at Atomic was recently helmed by Strip veteran Justin Kingsley Hall, who is now prepping his Main St. Provisions in another hot culinary destination, the 18b Arts District (www.dtlvarts.com).

Chef James Trees (Photo: Peter Harastys)

Zoned for creativity, this historic neighborhood below Downtown brims with culinary talent. Champions include local son James Trees for his outstanding Esther’s Kitchen (www.estherslv.com).

Raised on pasta and trained by the best, including Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay, Trees’ Italian soul food, such as my scratch-made cacio e pepe, is five-star amore.

Pioneers mingling with Main Street’s antique vendors include sister mixologists Pamela and Christina Dylag, who opened their Velveteen Rabbit (velveteenrabbitlv.com) in 2013.

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