Did you know Las Vegas has a Chinatown?  None of my out of town friends knew this, and were surprised when I spoke of it.  Granted, it’s not very close to the big hotels, and it’s not a quaint, clearly delineated tourist locale, like the ones in New York or San Francisco, but some intrepid visitors and eaters have discovered Vegas’ Chinatown - roughly two and a half miles of Spring Mountain Road, lined with strip malls, tea shops, karaoke clubs, and Asian-themed eateries, just west of the Strip.

My first trip to Chinatown was about three years ago, when I reviewed Hot N Juicy Crawfish.  That visit was kind of an “eat and run” affair - we took a taxi to the restaurant, had our meal, then went right back to the Strip.  This time, however, my friend Rhiannon was my guide.  She had told me of a couple of places I might enjoy, so we got in her car and away we went!  

Our first stop was a true, out of the way, no-frills, hole in the wall called Diamond Chinese Restaurant.  This hidden gem was tucked away under the I-15, in a rather seedy looking strip mall at the intersection of Industrial Road and Mel Torme Way.  Hard to spot, it was hidden behind Sonny’s Saloon and Casino, a divey little joint at the corner of the mall.  Still, Rhiannon knew where to go, and we pulled into the parking lot and headed inside.  Diamond Chinese is a family owned and operated eatery, with a small staff - one, maybe two servers at most.  The decor was simple - gussied up fluorescent lighting, linoleum floors, formica tabletops - many with Lazy Susans, a few pieces of Chinese art on the walls, and nooks containing Asian vases.  In the corner, a glowing fish tank was home to some lobsters and perhaps a Dungeness crab.  

The menu was fairly extensive, and featured mostly Cantonese dishes, along with a few Szechuan offerings to round it out.  We ordered quite a few dishes to share - a good decision, as everything was served family style.  We started with the Potstickers - nine tasty, pan fried dumplings filled with a mixture of minced pork and scallions.  Golden brown on the outside, not too doughy, and not greasy at all, they came served with a biting vinegar soy mixture.  Next came one of my favorites, the Hot and Sour Soup.  I’ve tried many versions of this classic over the years, but I can safely say that this was the most nuanced, layered, insanely delicious hot and sour soup I’ve ever tasted.  Lighter in color, and loaded with mushrooms, big chunks of tofu, delicate ribbons of egg white, and strips of roast pork, this soup was rich, hearty and flavorful, with a hint of vinegar, and a gentle heat that bloomed at the back of the palate with every spoonful.

Our main dishes arrived next.  We had ordered the Lemon Chicken, for which Diamond Chinese is well known, but the server goofed, and brought us the Orange Flavored Chicken.  Rather than be difficult, we told him we’d try that dish instead.  As it turned out, it was terrific!  Chunks of wok-fried chicken coated in a bright red sauce, with dried chiles and bits of orange peel, it had a spicy punch balanced out by the bright citrus note of the orange, and we were more than happy with our “mistake.”  The Spicy Szechuan Shrimp, which I ordered extra spicy, was tongue-tingling perfection - a mound of good-sized prawns in a zesty sauce filled with sliced green onion and red pepper flakes, finished off with slices of fresh jalapeño peppers.  Finally, I had always jokingly thought of our last dish as a food myth, but here it was: the House Special Egg Foo Young - eggy, oniony little omelets, in a thickened pork gravy, served with shrimp, chicken and pork.  Although I can’t remember ever having tried the dish before, the subtle, slightly salty porkiness of the gravy gave it a homey flavor that was comfortingly familiar, and very, very tasty!  

After dinner, Rhiannon suggested a drink at a local bar, so we headed deeper into Chinatown, to 3939 Spring Mountain Road, the location of the fabulous Golden Tiki!  This ultra-hip, fun, colorful bar was an immersive experience echoing the tiki bar culture that flourished in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60s’.  Conceived by Branden Powers, and designed and built by Danny Gallardo and Billy “The Crud” Toney, this tropical paradise was a feast for the eyes - a “lava cave” entrance, tables under palm frond roofs, an enchanted waterfall with giant clamshells, colorful lamps that looked like island drums, and gorgeous hand-carved tiki idols everywhere.  There were three distinctive areas in which to sit: at the Golden Idol bar, in the Pirate’s Cove, or in the skull-strewn Headhunter’s Village.  There was even a giant clam banquette, where partiers sat to take “shell-fies!”

The staff contributed equally to the retro-cool ambience.  Rex Dart, the resident DJ, was spinning fun, often silly novelty records like Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater,” to which we sang along gleefully.  The bartenders were mostly local musicians, and the waitresses were pin-up girls and burlesque performers with names like Ms. Red, Asia DE Vinyl, and Buttercup!

There were numerous potent tropical drinks from which to choose, including the classic Mai Tai, the Polynesian Haze, with a flaming shot glass of 151 proof rum stuck inside, or our choice, the delicious Painkiller, made with rum, orange juice, coconut cream and Dole pineapple whip!  YUM!

I’m already planning my next visit to The Golden Tiki, and I highly recommend you do a little off-Strip exploring as well, especially if you’re looking to experience a different side of Vegas.  So when you come to Las Vegas, take a little side trip to Chinatown and have an adventure of your own.