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RAKU GRILL

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West of The Strip

5030 W. Spring Mountain Rd.

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702-367-3511

website

$30-$76

Daily 6pm-3am

Japanese

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AT A GLANCE

What is it?

Fantastic Japanese small plates from their robata (charcoal) grill.

Where is it?

On Spring Mountain Road, a few miles west of The Strip.

What kind of food is served?

Close your eyes and point - it's that good.

What is the atmosphere like?

Tiny but quiet and very nice.

How is the service?

They will help you navigate the tricky menu.

What are the prices like?

Cheap per item but easy to rack up a big bill.

What else do I need to know?

They best reason to get off The Strip that I can think of.

What's the bottom line?

One of my favorite restaurants in town.

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FULL REVIEW

I've been telling you for years that if you want to experience the best cuisine that Las Vegas has to offer you really need to get away from The Strip. True, there are some fantastic restaurants at the major resorts but the real hidden gems - the places that will make you rave and tell all your friends about how smart you are for finding it - are nowhere near the bright lights of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Case in point: Raku Grill. Located in the dark back corner of a dusty Strip mall about two miles west of The Strip, this tiny Japanese restaurant is like a Zen oasis. It only seats a couple of dozen people but if you are lucky enough to be one of them you will be treated to one of the best dining experiences in all of Las Vegas.

The focus of the menu is on items from their robata grill, the Japanese version of a charcoal grill. Everything they serve from here is small in size - sort of the Asian version of tapas, mostly served on skewers - but the flavors are bigger than you could possibly imagine. Everything we sampled - and we sampled A LOT - had a smoky and rich undercurrent that enhanced the tastes and textures of the primary dish, making each one thematically cohesive but still unique.

Here's the list of what we tried: asparagus wrapped in bacon (if you don't like asparagus, this will change your mind); tomato wrapped in bacon (surprising - biting through the tangy bacon and getting the sweet burst of cherry tomato flavor); lamb (like mini-chops on a stick); chicken breast (dripping in juice); Kobe beef with and without wasabi (go "with" - the wasabi isn't as strong as it is in some places and it makes the hearty chunks of beef even more delightful); grilled chicken (a ground up version of the breast meat and even better, somehow); duck (not usually a fan, but loved this); and pork cheek and pork ear.

Yes, regarding the latter two there are some, uh, unusual items on the menu, which have gotten a lot of attention in the rave reviews that have already been written about this place. But as you can see from our laundry list of choices there is plenty to eat here that won't scare away the less adventurous eaters.

And how were they? The pork ear was my least favorite of the bunch, a little too dry and chewy for my tastes, but the pork cheek was basically like biting into a piece of bacon lard and I mean that in a really, really good way.

Note that while my dining companion and I ate through a hearty chunk of the menu there is a lot more to sample including tofu and vegetarian options, lots of seafood flow in fresh from Japan, rice and noodle dishes, odin pots, and more.

The prices per item are very low, with most in the $2-6 range although there are a couple that go above $10. The danger here, of course, is that with each thing only being a few bites, you can run up a hefty bill by just continuing to order more and more, which is exactly what we did. There were two of us at the table and with wine, beer, and tax we managed to blow through about $110. You can obviously do it for significantly less if you are paying attention but once you have your first bite, all willpower will go out the window so be careful.

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