Las Vegas locals have all sorts of differing opinions about Summerlin, the master-planned community that grew so quickly in the 1990s and attracted thousands of new residents to the western Valley. If there’s one universal agreement, it’s that this neighborhood has a surplus of great restaurants, probably more than other ’hoods around town. That wasn’t always the case and, in fact, restaurant development lagged here in the early boom days.
Then there was Grape Street Café.
“I was working at Carluccio’s Tivoli Gardens and making pretty good money for my age when we started to work on Grape Street,” says chef/owner John McKibben. “I told my partners if we weren’t going to Summerlin, I wasn’t quitting my job. This neighborhood just needed a restaurant like this back at that time.”
As soon as the cozy wine bar and restaurant opened in the strip mall at Buffalo and Lake Mead in November of 1997, it was packed. “We were on a two-hour wait from the get-go,” McKibben says. “I was thinking: Waiting for two hours? What’s wrong with these people? We had to get our patio up and running early. But it just got bigger and better, and we actually paid all our bills within a year and a half.”
Grape Street’s early success wasn’t due only to a lack of competition. It might have been the first neighborhood wine bar in Las Vegas, offering dozens of options by the glass and still-popular half-price bottles on Mondays. The cuisine has always bent toward Italian and Mediterranean favorites, with eight or nine specials on the chalkboard every night. “Sometimes I wonder why I have a menu instead of just listing ingredients, because people order off-menu so much. But that’s when it’s fun,” McKibben says.
There are simple classics regulars order every time, like the penne in pink vodka sauce with asparagus, basil and prosciutto, or the steak salad with feta cheese, tomatoes and a lemon-oregano dressing, which worked its way from one-time special to standard. Oenophiles spend hours sampling different varietals—there are 400 wines to try—and sharing baked Brie in pastry with caramelized onions and apricot preserves or tapas plates with Greek meatballs, goat cheese “cigars” and sweet roasted garlic to smear on toasty baguette slices.
Technically, Grape Street is just outside the Summerlin community boundary, a block away from the Pueblo neighborhood. While Summerlin has grown farther south and west—and many other great restaurants have sprouted up—this place continues to thrive, giving these locals what they want every time.
“I’ve seen so many amazing people, watched families grow up and their kids go to college and then come back. It’s been crazy and awesome,” McKibben says. “I think it’s the combination of having great employees, most of them have been here 10 years or more, and consistency with the food. Our guests keep coming back, and they know what they’re gonna get before they walk in the door.”
Grape Street Café 7501 W. Lake Mead Blvd. #120, 228-9463. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.