Chow Bella Road Trip: Raku

I don't get people who hate Las Vegas. What's not to love about a city devoted to modern-day Roman-style excess, with interesting restaurants at every turn? I just got back from a long weekend there, and I can't think of any better destination to take you far away from the daily b.s. in a short amount of time.

I love the fantasy of it, the sheer variety of foods, the way you can stroll through a casino and browse fine-dining menus as if you were window shopping. (And then there's the actual window shopping -- knocking back a few cocktails and pondering the python handbags at Prada.)

Of course, I don't like to leave everything up to chance -- researching and planning a trip (especially the dinners!) is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. Dinner number one turned out to be the easiest place to choose, as the restaurant Raku was recently listed along with Phoenix fave NOCA as a national semifinalist for the James Beard "Best New Restaurant" award.

I had a blast at Raku (5030 W. Spring Mtn. Rd., 702-367-3511), a tiny strip mall joint located on a stretch of road dominated by Asian businesses, with plenty of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese spots along the way. It's not on the Strip, which says a lot about the down-to-earth vibe here --cheerful and about as authentically Japanese as anything you'll find in the States. There are only about 7 tables, with a few more seats at the counter. For that reason alone, reservations are a must. And get this: they're open 'til 3 a.m.

Awesome, creamy foie gras chawan mushi (custard) with a juicy piece of seared duck on top

This is a real Japanese izakaya -- a tavern, basically, with lots of shareable dishes. I deliberated over the lengthy sake menu for a few minutes, then decided on a flight of three very good featured sakes. After that, I ordered food in a few installments, just to make sure I didn't go overboard (I always order way too much food at these kinds of places). 

It was a great experience -- reasonably priced and so tasty. Can't wait to go back! I've posted a lot more photos after the jump.




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