A Sneak Peek at Downtown Grand’s Restaurants

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Downtown Las Vegas (mostly Fremont Street) has always been a great place to go for cheap gambling, food and drinks. Its nightly “block party” vibe appeals to many of us. And it’s just neat to see what old Vegas looked like, with casinos set right next to each other, easy to walk in and out of–in contrast to the Strip, where going to the resort “next door” can still result in a very long walk.

But for many years, it was difficult to convince other tourists that they should pry themselves away from the Strip for so much as an evening to go Downtown and see “classic Vegas”. I have a feeling that’s going to change very soon, and in fact, it already has for many of us. There are so many exciting things happening down there now–the new Mob Museum, the nearby Smith Center, the renovations at the D Las Vegas (formerly Fitzgeralds) and the Golden Gate, new bars up and down Fremont Street, the zipline, and now, the expansion of tourist-friendly offerings beyond Fremont Street–where tourists formerly feared to tread.

The D Las Vegas

The D Las Vegas

Recently, Fifth Street Gaming hosted a group of Vegas bloggers including me at the Mob Bar for a sneak peek at the new Downtown Grand. The Downtown Grand, opening later this year, will be located on the site of the former Lady Luck on 3rd Street between Stewart and Ogden. This resort is part of Fifth Street Gaming’s four-block Downtown3rd Redevelopment Project.

If you haven’t heard anything about Downtown Grand yet, you can find a few details on Fifth Street Gaming’s website: They’ll have 35,000 square feet of gaming in the casino, 700 slot machines, and 30 table games. They’ll also have 8 bars and lounges (woohoo!), 11 restaurants and 650 guest rooms. You can find lots of posts about it at VegasChatter as well, including photos of the resort under construction and the finished rooms.

Caprese sandwich

Picnic will be serving Caprese and prosciutto sandwiches on focaccia bread.

What I’m most excited about right now, though, is the food. I’ve always treated my one or two evenings Downtown per trip as an opportunity to eat cheaply, away from Strip prices. I’ve usually gone for a traditional Vegas meal like a prime rib dinner, which can be had for $10 or less downtown.

That’s about to change. After sampling some of what Downtown Grand will be dishing up, my attitude about dining Downtown has been blown wide open. I cannot wait to explore more of their food offerings on future trips. Here’s why:

Shrimp Spiedini

The Mob Bar’s shrimp spiedini

The Mob Bar

I was thrilled to learn that the Mob Bar will be moving across the street from its current location to the Downtown Grand, where it will be closer to the Mob Museum and in the center of the action at that resort. The Mob Bar is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat after visiting the Mob Museum and frankly, any other time. (Try the chicken parm sliders and the shrimp spiedini—you won’t be sorry.)

The Commissary

Downtown Grand’s The Commissary is an area with several food outlets which you might be tempted to call a food court, but please don’t. They prefer to call it a “curated collection of restaurant foods.” And going by what I learned—and tasted—I think that’s a very apt description. It’s definitely not going to have your typical McDonalds-Subway-Sbarros options.

The Commissary will include 3rd Street Tacos, offering street tacos with authentic Mexican sodas. It will also have an i♥burgers shop. (They have great, juicy burgers, and their parmesan fries are to die for.)

Bacon Burgers

i♥burgers’ bacon burger

There will also be a Coffee and Crepes store, and a bao (Asian pork sandwich) shop where they will “play around with Western ideas for bao”, like bacon-and-egg bao. Sounds intriguing.

What else can you expect?

The Stewart + Ogden Diner and Bistro will pay homage to two prominent figures in Las Vegas history, Archibald Stewart and Peter Skene Ogden (the streets were named for them) while offering both a traditional menu (Stewart was a “meat and potatoes” man) and a more adventurous menu (Ogden was an explorer).

Shave Ice

The magnificent shave ice of 9th Island

A restaurant called 9th Island will serve Hawaiian specialties (naturally), including what I have to say is the best shave ice I’ve ever tasted. Granted, I’ve only had shave ice once before, but it was in Hawaii, so the fact that this was even better says a lot. It had small chunks of fruit in it (Coconut? Pineapple? I couldn’t tell), and I couldn’t stop eating it. It was mighty tasty and will be sure to refresh on a hot Vegas day. (The name 9th Island refers to Las Vegas often being called the “9th Island” of Hawaii, since so many Hawaiians visit the city on vacation.)

Pulled pork sliders

Pulled pork sliders from the Deli

The new Deli will serve pulled pork sliders on Sweet Hawaiian Rolls. These were truly great pulled pork sandwiches—the pork was flavorful and saucy, but the secret ingredient for me was the Hawaiian sweet roll. Art Bar will have tuna tartare, which I didn’t try because I am not a fan of raw meats of any kind. (However, Swanky Dietitian claims it was the best thing she tasted that night.) There will also be an as-yet-to-be-named Chinese restaurant moving in to the resort.

Tuna Tartare

Art Bar’s Tuna Tartare in a sesame cone with spicy sprouts


The concept promising the most fun, though, is Picnic, a “park on a roof” – not just a rooftop pool area with some landscaping, but they’ll have actual grass. Picnic will play host to outdoor movies and concerts where you can bring your own blanket and lay it out and enjoy a night out under the stars. (So basically, it’s like Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool area, but with grass and probably a more laid-back, down-to-earth locals crowd.) There will be food you can purchase there, too, including some mouth-watering mini shrimp tacos with avocado corn relish and caprese and proscuitto sandwiches on focaccia bread.

Mini Shrimp Tacos

Picnic will offer mini shrimp tacos on its menu

The Downtown (and Downtown Grand) Attitude

All of the above sounded great to me, but then it’s hard not to get excited when you’re stuffing your face with delicious free food. But what really impressed me, even more so than the incredible food, was the vision for the resort. I could have listened to Zach Conine, Vice President of Development for Fifth Street Gaming, talk all night. As he articulated Fifth Street Gaming’s attitude, and the general attitude of Downtown (vs The Strip), it clicked for me.

They really “get it” in a way I don’t think many Strip resorts do. They’re not focused on making sure they get the biggest piece of the (existing) pie, to use a common metaphor. Their focus is on making the pie bigger, so there’s plenty for everyone. Let’s face it, would Downtown be a destination anyone would want to visit if there were only one decent resort there? Of course not. And if all they had to offer were the exact same things everyone else has to offer, what would be the point?

All the businesses Downtown lift each other up and complement each other; collectively, they make Downtown a desirable destination. Therefore, they’re all invested in each other’s success. As Zach put it, if another hotel Downtown has something the Grand doesn’t have, that’s still another amenity for their guests.

“We don’t want to keep people on our property and not let them leave. That doesn’t help us,” Zach said.

This is a collegial attitude you don’t often see among Strip resorts. That’s the attitude that is causing such exciting changes Downtown. In my opinion, that’s the attitude that is going to revitalize Las Vegas in the coming decade.

Disclaimer: As mentioned, Fifth Street Gaming plied us with free food that night, but there was no twisting of arms for blog coverage in exchange. My opinions and enthusiasm are 100% my own, as always.

15 thoughts on “A Sneak Peek at Downtown Grand’s Restaurants

  1. Jeff Spain

    Nicely written Gray! You get it too! For years and years, I only stayed on the strip. Then about 5 or 6 years ago, some friends convinced me to come downtown for a night of gambling. i loved it! After that, I began spending more and more time downtown. The last couple years, I almost always stay downtown for most of my 4 or 5 trips per year. I still like the strip but there is definitely something special about downtown! I cant wait to see how the Grand turns out. Thanks for a well written piece!

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      I do, Jeff, thanks. I hear your story a lot from serious gamblers. Downtown is the place to be for gambling. The only thing that prevents me from staying Downtown for an entire trip is the lack of activities there during the day (other than gambling, drinking, shopping and eating). If Downtown could ramp up incorporating fun things to do during the day–and maybe bring in some great headliner shows, too–I could see myself making the switch.

      1. Hardware

        That has been my contention: more is needed for the non-gambler downtown. I’m said it before, how did Neonopolis fail when there’s so little in the way of entertainment offered during the day? Granted, I’m not much into bowling or movies on vacation, but give us shows, spectacles and more to keep us coming back. They’re finally starting to get there, thanks in part to nearby developments, such as the Mob Museum, and I keep crossing my fingers a smaller version of the LIberace museum will open up in Neonopolis, as I read was the plan for 2014.

        I love pinball, so I’d love to see some of the Pinball Hall of Fame machines find a second home in Neonopolis. I know they have machines at the Riviera, and I’m sure the space is free, but it’s a poor use of the games. Put it within reach of thousands of people each day. (Why somebody hasn’t figured out a way to make a buck off of a display of vintage slots and other gambling devices I don’t know. I’d pay to see that.)

        And give us more entertainment and shows. Louie Anderson’s new show at the Plaza is what I’m hoping for… medium-name entertainment at night. They’re never going to have a Cirque show downtown, but find a way to draw people downtown for shows that people will know about when they read the tourist mag. I know the Scintas are beloved, but they’re not a household name. Many casinos may lack the space for a showroom, but there are too many possibilities for downtown not to do better. But what do I know?

        1. Gray Cargill Post author

          Ooh, I would love to see the Pinball Museum move Downtown! What a great idea! I completely agree with you about the lack of things to do Downtown during the day, and at any time for the non-gambler. I do hope they are thinking of that and planning to do something about it. Great thoughts.

  2. Dave

    I never thought of it quite that way before, but I think Zach Conine hit the nail on the head when he said that downtown businesses compliment one another rather than compete. It’s so much easier to walk from one place to another than it is on the Strip that even though I tend to stay at the Golden Nugget, I have no hesitation to head over to, say, the D for a change of scenery or a coney dog.

    I’m also glad to hear that the “food court” at the Grand will be more upscale than the typical burger/pizza places. I tend to eat smaller meals (“eat until you’re not hungry any more, not until you’re full”), and sit-down restaurants often give me more food than I really want.

    Thanks for another great post!

    — Dave

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Those weren’t his exact words, Dave, but that was the gist. Yes, it’s much easier to go from place to place Downtown than on the Strip. GASP. You called it a food court! 😉 I like your philosophy, by the way “eat until you’re not hungry any more, not until you’re full”.

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  4. Jeff Spain

    I read the other day the Grand will be open in September! I hope its ready for my September 19th through 22nd trip!


      1. Jeff Spain

        Well, it wasnt open when I was there a couple weeks ago. I am hopeful it is open when you are there in October so we can read your full report! Have you heard any updates as to their soft launch date?

        1. Gray Cargill Post author

          They’re opening on October 26, Jeff. Unfortunately, that’s a week after I leave town. But I’ll see if I can get a sneak peek for you guys.

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