Las Vegas’ vintage restaurants: A wide-ranging list of favorites

(Illustration by Wes Rand/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Las Vegas was founded 117 years ago on May 15, 1905, and over the decades, it’s grown from a dusty whistle-stop into one of the world’s great restaurant cities. But it’s also a place where eateries have come and gone for decades, often with astonishing speed. Thankfully, many notable establishments have survived the 20th century and welcome hungry guests to this day.

We’ve rounded up a wide-ranging list of our favorite vintage Vegas eateries. Some are well-known for having opened long ago; others might come as a surprise, as in “wow, that place is 60 years old?”

It certainly is, so let’s get eating — or reading, that is.

The swanky ’50s

When most people think about Las Vegas’ oldest restaurant, Bob Taylor’s Ranch House frequently comes to mind. It opened in 1955, and its northwestern valley location was far from burgeoning Las Vegas, let alone the early Strip.

It’s a longtime favorite of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who started dining there with her husband, Oscar (a former mayor himself), shortly after the young couple arrived in Las Vegas in 1964.

“We found Bob Taylor’s Ranch House,” Goodman said. “It was so casual and so fun.

“We were living in Paradise Valley,” she said, commenting on the desert trek it once took to get to Bob Taylor’s. “We felt like we were driving to Utah. But it was so fabulous.”

But, in the same year, the precursor to Vickie’s Diner — which is now located in the redeveloping Commercial Center on East Sahara Avenue — opened on Las Vegas Boulevard. Elvis is said to have eaten there.

A few years later, two more iconic Las Vegas destinations were founded. In 1957, Mount Charleston Lodge was built in the forested Spring Mountains, and for decades, visitors sipped on the alpine destination’s signature Drambuie- and brandy-infused coffee. Sadly, the lodge burned down in late 2021, but its owners plan to rebuild. Also, the perhaps most Rat Pack-styled establishment in Las Vegas — the Golden Steer Steakhouse — started serving Caesar salads and filets mignon in 1958. Sinatra, Martin, Davis and friends enjoyed ring-a-ding-ding evenings at the establishment.

The swinging ’60s

By 1960, Las Vegas began to grow as a significant community, leading to the opening of the Italian American Club, which serves up live music and hot pasta dishes daily.

In North Las Vegas, Jerry’s Nugget dates to 1964, and its retro-styled diner is a vibrant eatery that draws many customers with an impressive display of desserts. At the same time, the Tap House Italian American Bar & Grill started ladling out minestrone.

When it comes to breathtaking views, Top of Binion’s Steakhouse has been a lofty destination for chicken-fried lobster since 1965, and it recently reopened after being shuttered during the height of the COVID crisis.

Just west of downtown Las Vegas, Rancho Plaza Shopping Center opened in 1966, and not long after, Great Wall Chinese started serving wok-fried dishes along Charleston Boulevard. Not far away, Blueberry Hill Family Restaurant started flipping flapjacks that same year.

And in 1967, Osaka Japanese Bistro began serving sushi and teppanyaki dishes on West Sahara.

The funky ’70s

A new decade saw significant growth to the valley. In 1970, the German-American Social Club of Nevada brought schnitzel and sauerkraut to North Las Vegas. Behind the Flamingo, Battista’s Hole in the Wall began plating family-style pasta dinners complete with complimentary wine that same year. And the neon extravaganza that is the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge first lit up the north end of the Strip in 1972.

1973 was a big year for food in Southern Nevada. Luv-It Frozen Custard, an ever-popular gathering place, opened on East Oakey Boulevard. The luxurious experience of Hugo’s Cellar began in the Four Queens. And Farm Basket — home of “Gobblers” (fried turkey sandwiches with Miracle Whip and cranberry sauce on the side) and “Clucketos” (rolled chicken tacos) — opened on West Charleston Boulevard.

A bumper crop of new eateries marked 1975. Now located in Chinatown, Kung Fu Thai & Chinese Restaurant first served Asian cuisine downtown. The Hush Puppy plated up Southern specialties like fried catfish and barbecued baby back ribs. El Torito Cafe brought Mexican cuisine to Henderson along Boulder Highway. And Chicago Joe’s Restaurant started serving spaghetti and meatballs in a repurposed downtown brick house.

A bit later, Gyro Time brought pita bread and creamy cucumber sauce to the corner of Wilshire Street and West Charleston Boulevard in 1978. And the Omelet House began serving hearty breakfasts in 1979.

The go-go ’80s

In recent years, Las Vegas has become one of the leading pizza cities in the U.S., something that would probably never have happened if locals’ favorite Metro Pizza hadn’t been founded in 1980. The year also saw the launch of Doña Maria’s Tamales.

In the fine dining realm, 1982 was a banner year. Michael’s Gourmet Room, now located at the South Point, started welcoming gourmands. Piero’s Italian Cuisine first opened its doors to community leaders, entertainers and occasional mobsters — just as portrayed in “Casino.” And the wonderfully Old West-themed The Steakhouse at Circus Circus fired up its dramatic mesquite grill.

“Locals is what made this restaurant,” said Ron Randazzo, general manager of The Steakhouse, even though it’s located in a Strip property. “When we first opened up, I’d say (our guests) were 80 percent locals.

“It was a hidden secret,” he said. “Then we kept winning awards, and little by little, the word got out,” said Randazzo, who astoundingly has worked at the restaurant for 37 years. Most of his colleagues have worked there for decades, as well.

In 1984, Aloha Specialties began, and now thousands of visitors make a pilgrimage to the second floor of the California Hotel for steaming bowls of saimin. Also in that year, Coffee Pub on West Sahara Avenue became a favored place for power lunches.

In 1985, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar set up shop on the west side of town. Now it’s a notable feature along Paradise Road.

And slightly secluded Lakes Lounge started serving Americana specialties like pot roast in 1987.

The exuberant ’90s

The final decade of the 20th century dawned, and Lindo Michoacan first presented its extensive Mexican menu to famished diners on East Desert Inn Road in 1990.

1992 was remarkable, as it saw the birth of Nora’s Italian Cuisine, a family-run eatery that would presage later eateries: three Old School Pizzeria locations and Monzù Italian Oven + Bar. Out in Boulder City, quaint Southwest Diner would start cooking its signature pork chile verde. Then came the watershed moment of the modern Las Vegas restaurant world: Wolfgang Puck opened Spago in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace; the era of the celebrity chef had arrived.

Still going strong and serving timeless eats like creamed chipped beef on toast, homey Lou’s Diner opened in 1993. The surfing- and water skiing-themed Coffee Cup Cafe set up shop in Boulder City in 1994. And Casa Don Juan’s Mexican combination plates and margaritas drew crowds to South Main Street in 1995, years before the Arts District sprung up around it.

1996 was significant in big-name dining on the Strip, as Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand proved Spago’s success true: Celebrity chef-driven restaurants could make it in Las Vegas. That same year, the Bagel Cafe opened on South Buffalo Drive, expanding the valley’s options for Jewish deli noshing.

Then, in less than a year between fall 1998 and late summer 1999, a quartet of megaresorts — the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, the Venetian and Paris Las Vegas — opened. Collectively, these properties would change the Las Vegas food game for the decades to come.

And to close the final decade of the 20th century, Chinatown Plaza on West Spring Mountain Road opened in October 1999. It’s now an integral part of Southern Nevada’s restaurant culture and is an international dining destination.

Oldest establishment

Of course, there were restaurants in Las Vegas before the ’50s, but little remains of that bygone era. There are exceptions. North Las Vegas’ Hitchin’ Post Saloon and Steakhouse has roadside origins in 1948. Bootlegger Italian Bistro, now firmly ensconced on the southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard, has roots stretching to 1949. But the Pioneer Saloon in nearby Goodsprings is the grandpappy of all Southern Nevada restaurants — it dates to 1913.

Contact Greg Thilmont at gthilmont@reviewjournal.com. Follow @gregthilmont on Instagram.