Blatant Localism: Review of Raku

Original at VegasChatter

One Of The Finest Restaurants in America Is In A Vegas Strip Mall

Where: 5030 West Spring Mountain Road [map]

If we told you about a Las Vegas restaurant repeatedly voted and critiqued as one of the best in the country, we think you’d be interested. When we tell you where it is, we think you’ll be surprised.

Raku is a Japanese restaurant that specializes in charcoal grilling. NO sushi. We encountered similar cooking techniques in Tokyo, but this place takes it to whole different level. Offering mostly a specialty menu, making it a specialty destination, chefs yell out when orders are ready. It can take time for individual items to be prepared, or they come out in a rush. It’s not always predictable.

Raku is located further west of Chinatown than you might be familiar with and in a strip mall that will give you immediate pause. This is the place?

Raku is small. Real small. Reservations are a must. We saw at least a dozen people turned away. It’s also open to 3 a.m., meaning it has cult status among city chefs who go for the hours and stay for the food. Just this month, Chef Mitsuo Endo was the sole Las Vegas semi-finalist for the very prestigious James Beard Foundation awards. SOLE Vegas chef. Yes, the whole city was surprised at the lack of recognition for his peers, but few would deny the talents on display at Raku. You can opt for the chef’s tasting menu of multiple dishes, but this writer preferred to jump right in. You’ll probably be more varied in your selections, but we chose to focus on the more unusual items that caught our eye. We don’t regret it.

Pork ears started our meal. Fatty, chewy and crispy. Chilli is recommended to poke the flavor and it works.

Fresh tofu: A Raku specialty and worth it. An amazing texture. Unusual condiments, like green tea salt, are offered to further the flavor.

Beef tendon: Some pieces melted in the mouth. An example of the merits of cooking cuts of meat in this style.

Pork cheek: So tasty. The grill work was really in evidence in this dish.

Pork intestine: The most interesting sounding, least interesting dish of the night, but mustard helped amp-up the blander taste.

Fried tofu: The other Raku specialty. Excellent alone, but the small option of chilli added a little kick.

Pork belly: Melts in the mouth. We’ve noticed how this has become a favored dish among chefs in Las Vegas these days, and this is the finest example we’ve encountered.

Foie gras: The finale and a sublime choice. Truly exceptional. No need to add anything to this creation.

For an encore, we succumbed to the cheesecake dessert and were shocked at how amazing it was. As light and melty as our other dishes. Don’t pass this up. You’ll be full, but its worth saving space if you remember to think ahead.

Chatting with the busy, but very friendly staff, they encouraged us to visit both the bathrooms. Really. Both of them. One has a tree and rose petals on the floor. The other, an ocean theme with an aquarium. Really. Plus, authentic Japanese toilets. Those fully automated ones you’ve heard about. Make it part of your trip!

Raku. Full of surprises. Out of the way. Small. And, remember to reserve. This could be your new favorite Las Vegas secret.

Raku is located at 5030 W. Spring Mountain Road and is open from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. It is closed on Sunday.

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