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How I lived it up in Vegas without breaking the bank

Amelia Rayno, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Travel News

That's right. At Yama Sushi -- an establishment that boasts rarely seen varieties and cuts from whole fishes -- an all-you-can-eat special costs just $23.

In a sea of bargains, I thought, this might be the best deal on the strip -- er, the strip mall, that is.

I was in Vegas' Chinatown, a neighborhood that rivals those in San Francisco and New York in size and sports some of the best food in the city, yet is often overlooked, in part because much of it is confined to dull strip malls. But on this rainy January evening, it couldn't have felt more posh.

Just an 8-minute cab ride from the Las Vegas Strip, China­town has plenty more to offer -- from a charming Thai wine bar (Chada Street) to Korean barbecue (Tofu Hut and more) to Asian-American fusion (Sparrow + Wolf). On a Monday night, parking spots were hard to come by and many eateries were nearly packed.

I topped off dinner a couple of storefronts down at Golden Tiki -- a bar with oversized wooden doors and tiki totems for handles. Inside, I was plunged into near blackness, then, when my eyes adjusted to the low lighting, transported to a tropical paradise with bamboo walls, water features, hanging lanterns and a "sky" full of shooting stars. Cocktails ring in around $12, still a relief after I'd mistakenly ordered an $18 martini near the Luxor casino a night earlier.

Off the strip and around the city there are other gems touting great food and low prices.

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On my first night in town, I wandered over to the Arts District, northwest of Las Vegas Boulevard, for First Friday, a free monthly festival. For $10, I hit one of the many food trucks for three al pastor tacos, then browsed the various art stalls and studios, meandering past baby strollers and body-painted women, dancers and drag queens, pottery booths and poodles with hats. Nearby ReBar -- that's part thrift shop, part cocktail bar that donates a portion of drink sales to local charities -- sold me an Old Fashioned for just $7.

Just north of the strip, meanwhile, Viva Las Arepas churns out savory Venezuelan sandwiches for between $4.50 and $8.

South of downtown, the quirky Sister's Oriental Market & Video touts authentic Laotian food next to Asian dried goods -- and bootleg videos. When I went to the counter to order, an Asian-American man was getting up to leave.

"I'll be flying back from New York for your food again," he told the owner -- a jovial woman who called me "sis" and checked in with me twice to "make sure I wasn't crying" from the spice.


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