Insight USA Insight Where the locals go: Downtown emerging as dining destination By Sarah Feldberg / February 23, 2016 Share 1 Carson Kitchen, from the late chef Kerry Simon, is a modern gastropub emblematic of the downtown dining scene. Photo Credit: Peter Harasty -- Where do the locals go? It’s a question that travelers ask again and again, the beginning of a search for the authentic heart of a place, the effort to feel the reality behind the made-for-tourist veneer. In any major travel destination, there are businesses that primarily cater to visitors, and there are visitors who want nothing to do with them. In a city that receives 42 million guests annually, there’s a whole city within a city designed to draw and serve the tourism machine. Locals do go to the Strip, of course. They eat, they drink, they see shows and concerts, and yes, they occasionally gamble. But recently a developing dining scene has begun drawing locals and with them curious tourists to a different neighborhood: downtown Las Vegas. “It’s changed a lot and it’s changed in a really short amount of time,” said Brock Radke, associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly and editor of sister magazine Industry Weekly, who covers dining and nightlife in Las Vegas. (Full disclosure: I previously worked at Las Vegas Weekly and occasionally still write for the magazine.)That change has come about largely due to funding from the Downtown Project, an investment group backed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh that has committed to pouring $350 million into downtown Las Vegas and building on a foundation of businesses in the area that have been catering to the local population for years. Since Downtown Project’s launch in 2012, the group has invested in over 300 businesses, including a dog park, a whiskey bar and the Las Vegas Hostel. Many of those investments have gone to chef-restaurateurs, and as a result, a lively, approachable dining scene has grown out of the urban pavement. “It is pretty remarkable,” Radke said. “I don’t think anybody thought that it would ever be any kind of a food destination, let alone a very hip dining destination with a collection of restaurants where all the young people want to go.”Those restaurants include Le Thai, a downtown pioneer that serves heaping portions of tricolor curry and “awesome noodles”; Eat, a breakfast and lunch joint where you can grab chilaquiles and grilled cheese; and Carson Kitchen, a restaurant from late chef Kerry Simon where the convivial atmosphere is aided by flowing cocktails and shareable small plates. At the Downtown Container Park, a shopping center comprising shipping container-style units, there are petite eateries serving tacos, gourmet hot dogs and exotic fruit pops. Last year brought Cajun favorite Zydeco Po-Boys, tasty gastropub Glutton and Flippin’ Good Burgers, a fast-casual spot that serves burgers, fries and custard concretes. And the openings continue: October saw Smashed Pig, a British pub with a full menu, and December brought F. Pigalle, a red light district-themed fondue spot where exterior neon lights flash the words “hot dip.”“They’re mostly all small-business restaurants,” Radke said. “Not necessarily like a mom and pop, but they’re all independent operators.”Unlike so many of their Strip brethren just down the road, the restaurants are all moderately priced. No $30 burgers or $60 steaks here. They’re also all within a few minutes’ walk of each other, allowing guests to bounce between them and the neighborhood’s numerous bars. “That doesn’t happen in Vegas unless it’s in a casino, strip mall or mall,” Radke added. “We don’t have walkable food districts like that.”The connection between the tourism industry and the neighborhood’s dining scene has been growing as well. Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which runs dine-arounds that stop at various restaurants to create a full meal, now offers a downtown tour. And on February 16, Fremont Street casino the D announced a new program that will allow its players club members to use their comp dollars beyond the property’s walls at Le Thai and sushi spot Bocho just down the road. “Developing this partnership is a win-win,” Derek Stevens, owner of the D, said in a press release. “I’m thrilled to expand my guests’ dining options with two of my favorite restaurants, which in turn will drive additional traffic to other downtown businesses.” Now when the locals go to grab a bite downtown, they may find they’re not the only ones enjoying the neighborhood’s bounty.