If you’re interested in Las Vegas’ true underground culinary scene, you have to look beyond the bright lights and big buildings on the Strip. Out in the dive bars, neighborhood restaurants and after-hours haunts—the places chefs, bartenders and servers go to find refuge from those fancy kitchens and dining rooms—is where the real action is.
The pop-up dinner may be considered a fad by some foodies, but locals are using these collaborative events to build community and capitalize on the culinary culture in Las Vegas. Forte Tapas chef/owner Nina Manchev is launching her own guest dinner series, Takeover Tuesdays, with a six-course menu prepared by Pinot Brasserie (Venetian) sous chef John Courtney.
You can call it a pop-up if you like, but Manchev says it’s more of a restaurant takeover. “My whole idea is to bring in different people and different culinary talent from all over Las Vegas, create an outlet for them to express what they do and really tailor it for them. That includes more than the food—the music, the décor, the ambiance.” She’s done special event dinners at Forte before and says Takeover Tuesdays will be more casual and conversational, with a focus on socializing and not just waiting for the next dish to arrive.
The events will continue twice a month. The first dinner with Courtney starts with cocktail hour at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23. Tickets are $100 with a portion of the proceeds going to St. Mina Church and the Balkan Cultural Center. For information or reservations, visit barforte.com.
Forte is a natural for such events because it’s a favorite spot for many chefs working on and off the Strip. “Lately I’ve been talking to more of the chefs in town and everyone has so many great ideas,” Manchev says. “We want to bring them all together and let them really stretch out and see what they can do, but also to keep it social like it is when people are hanging out and doing what they like to do in their off-hours.”
Chris Palmeri, chef/owner at Naked City Pizza Shop, has become one of the most active pop-up participants, frequently offering up his spot inside Moon Doggie’s bar as a venue for culinary experimentation. Last week, Palmeri and Naked City hosted a pop-up dinner collaboration with Cutthroat Culinary chef Christian Dolias, where each course was a duo dish allowing each chef to put his own spin on a certain ingredient.
Palmeri doesn’t need another chef to diversify the food at Naked City; he's popping up in his own restaurant. He recently launched Desnudo Tuesdays (desnudo is Spanish for “naked”), offering different, authentic tacos and other Mexican street foods every week from 5 to 10 p.m. Prior to opening Naked City, Palmeri was executive chef at Diego at MGM Grand, so the guy knows his tacos.
Downtown, chef/owner Natalie Young’s breakfast and lunch restaurant Eat will host a pop-up dinner courtesy of chef Jeff Cooper from é by José Andrés—which is kind of an ongoing pop-up dinner experience within Jaleo at the Cosmopolitan—on August 5. Courses will include 90-minute cured hamachi, scallops with jamon Iberico and summer peaches in yogurt. The price is $60 per person, but the event is already sold out. You've got to move fast if you want to eat these pop-ups.