Memphis Championship Barbecue – Las Vegas, Nevada

To barbecue fanatics, a restaurant named Memphis Championship Barbecue is as intriguing as Memphis in May, the annual world barbecue championships in Memphis, Tennessee, an event which has been called the “Superbowl of Swine.” With a name like that, the restaurant has got to be great!

Proprietor Mike “The Legend” Mills is an unprecedented three-time world champion of that esteemed event (Memphis in May, not the Superbowl). He was called “the competition crushing, restaurant-owning Grand Pooh-Bah of barbecue” in the July, 2006 edition of Bon Appetit magazine and authored a definitive guide to barbecue appropriately named “Peace, Love and Barbecue.” He owns several award-winning restaurants: the 17th Street Bar & Grill restaurants in Murphysboro, Illinois and three Memphis Championship Barbecue restaurants in Las Vegas.

With such credentials, it’s obvious Mills knows barbecue and it’s demonstrated in the slow-smoked meats extricated from the smoker at the precisely perfect instance and with just a tinge of pink. Those meats are ameliorated with Mills’ “Magic Dust,” a combination of 18 different spices available on each table in the restaurant.

Las Vegas patrons perennially consider Memphis Championship Barbecue the best wood pit barbecue restaurant in town (according to the Las Vegas Review Journal’s annual poll). The restaurant earned either the Readers’ Choice or the Editors’ Choice awards in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The best way to experience “it all” is with the “grand championship sampler” which features pulled pork, chicken, hot links and beef brisket. The best of the lot is the pulled pork, which is fork tender and succulent. All the meats have a pronounced smoky taste, are light and moist. None need sauce although an excellent vinegar-based sauce is available, a subtle sauce which allows the meats’ smokiness to stand out. The sampler is of championship caliber.

Alas, we’ve also visited Memphis Championship on a night in which it would have been dethroned by the competition. Regrettably, it was the baby back ribs which though infinitesimally better than 99.9% of the ribs you’ll find anywhere else, were of “send back” quality for this restaurant. They were a bit tough and dry, likely the result of over-heating.

Also of championship caliber are the restaurant’s sides: the cream corn and baked beans, in particular.

Memphis Championship Barbecue
2200 E. Warm Springs Road
Las Vegas, NV
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 2 July 2003
COST: $$
BEST BET: Pulled Pork, Cream Corn, Baked Beans

Kokopelli’s Restaurant & Cantina – Sandia Park, New Mexico



Perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of the ancient Anasazi culture is Kokopelli, a hump-backed, flute playing figure commonly found in petroglyphs and pottery throughout the Southwest and as far away as South America.

Regarded as the universal symbol of fertility for all life–be it crops, hopes, dreams or love–Kokopelli might have been relegated to obscurity to all but cultural anthropologists, however, with the emergence of Santa Fe’s modern culture, he has become universally known.

Today Kokopelli paraphernalia has come to symbolize the kitsch and excess of Santa Fe style. Sure enough, Kokopelli’s Restaurant and Cantina has several Kokopelli figures and images strewn about.

It also has some of the best fajitas in the Albuquerque area. By and large the skirt steak served on most fajitas is as tough as a leather belt and the accompanying green and red peppers are drastically under-cooked. Not so at Kokopelli’s where the marinated beef was melt-in-your mouth and delicious.

Not quite as good were the juevos rancheros which I ordered with both red and green chile. The green chile was wholly innocuous while the red chile had perhaps the kick of a legless mule.

The best item on that traditional breakfast concoction were the cottage fries which were cubed potato perfection. We shared an appetizer called espinaca con queso and chips, a spicy dip made with jalapeno jack cheese and spinach. It was probably not as good as traditional chile con queso.

Kokopelli’s has an interesting menu which begs return visits, but not until we visit the many other intriguing new dining establishments on what Duke City residents refer to affectionately as the “back side.”

Kokopelli’s Restaurant & Cantina
12540 N. Highway 14
Sandia Park, NM

LATEST VISIT: 14 March 2003
COST: $$
BEST BET: Fajitas

Commander’s Palace – Las Vegas, Nevada (CLOSED)

When it comes to accolades, there is perhaps no restaurant in America which has been as venerated as the original Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. From being named the best restaurant in America three times by Food & Wine magazine to being named Zagat’s top New Orleans restaurant for 13 consecutive years (1988-2002) and counting, the Commander’s Palace is truly in a class of its own.

The comfortable climes of the Aladdin Resort and Casino attempt to duplicate the original’s inimitable hospitality, incomparable food, impeccable service and sophisticated Southern stylings. In bringing the Crescent City’s most revered dining institution to the desert, the Brennan family has, for the most part, succeeded in reestablishing its classic restaurant without compromising in any fashion. The Commander’s Palace exudes panache, sophistication, Southern gentility, and sheer awe inspiring class which will leave you agape from the moment you walk in until the minute you walk out.

An eminently polite wait staff treated us like royalty, anticipating and attending to our every need, making polite recommendations without undue pressure and politely apprising us of the restaurant’s uniquely fabulous specials.

We began our lunches with Turtle Soup Au Sherry and Gumbo YaYa, two of the most savory soups we’ve ever had. Surprisingly the gumbo was better than the turtle soup for which the Palace is most famous.

My entree, a crispy oyster Caesar sandwich featured garlic crusted “P&J” Gulf oysters with toasted ciabatta bread, anchovy-garlic emulsion, shaved Laura Chenel’s aged goat milk cheese and crisp greens was probably the best such sandwich I’ve ever had. Kim had a Beef Tenderloin “Pirogue” Sandwich which included roasted and slowly braised beef debris in a rich Creole seasoned au jus, stuffed in French bread and glazed with fontina cheese. Every bite was mouth-watering. Both sandwiches were accompanied by the best sweet potato fries imaginable.

The sole disappointment was in not seeing the signature Bananas Foster flambéed table-side. Whether that accounted for the merely mediocre Bananas Foster or not, I’m not sure, but I do know we’ve had better in riverboat casino restaurants. If the Commander’s Palace is a restaurant for the ages, every detail must be flawless.

Commander’s Palace
3663 Las Vegas Blvd S.
Las Vegas, NV


LATEST VISIT: 28 December 2002
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Turtle Soup Au Sherry, Gumbo YaYa, Beef Tenderloin “Pirogue” Sandwich






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Please visit through October 5th, 2014 and help Roadrunner Food Bank earn a $60,000 grant. The Roadrunner Food Bank is competing with about 130 food banks across the U.S. for the grant. Your DAILY vote during Hunger Action Month could help the Food Bank and several of their food pantry partners. The key is to vote every 24 hours and keep them at the top of the leaderboard. The top 50 food banks with the most votes on October 5th will receive the grant.

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