Credit: Original article published by Barrett-Jackson.
Written by Barbara Toombs
Millions of visitors are understandably attracted to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas’ renowned Strip each year, where world-class resorts, casinos, shows and incredible dining options are the name of the game.
What many don’t realize is that there’s another fascinating side to the Entertainment Capital of the World, headlined by two cultural districts known simply as Downtown and Chinatown.
Downtown Las Vegas (also known as DTLV) is really where this unique desert city got its start. In 1931, construction began on what is now known as the Hoover Dam, attracting thousands of workers to a site just east of the city. To capitalize on this growing workforce, savvy businessmen began building casinos and showgirl venues along Las Vegas’ only paved road at the time: Fremont Street.
Today, DTLV is comprised of three distinct districts. Many visitors to the city are already familiar with one of them: the Fremont Street Casino District, which contains museums, restaurants and bars, as well as the original Las Vegas casinos, including El Cortez, Golden Nugget and Golden Gate. Here you’ll also find the renowned Fremont Street Experience, which debuted in 1995. This pedestrian-only thoroughfare is covered by a canopy of more than two million LED lights and a state-of-the-art sound system that comes to life every night for a spectacular sound and light show called “Viva Vision.”
A popular attraction in this district is The Mob Museum (the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement), which showcases intriguing tales and the age-old dichotomy of good guys versus bad guys. Explore at your own pace, go on a guided tour or uncover museum surprises as part of a group scavenger hunt. Want a literal “taste” of old-school Las Vegas? Plan to dine at Top of Binion’s Steakhouse, perched on the 24th floor of Binion’s Gambling Hall. The restaurant dates back to 1965 when it was known as Top of the Mint, the signature dining spot at The Mint hotel tower. The interior design (and menu – think steak, prime rib, lobster and even Baked Alaska) is a throwback to an earlier era when the mob ran much of Las Vegas, but the real draw is the spectacular view through dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows.
Built in 2002, the Fremont East Entertainment District (FEED) is a six-block area that stretches from Las Vegas Boulevard East to 8th Street and from Ogden Street South to Carson. FEED is pedestrian-friendly, offering diverse street life and many eateries, cafes, bars and lounges, as well as ample shopping opportunities and lively entertainment. A must-see attraction in this district is the Downtown Container Park – a dining, shopping and live music venue made of 45 colorful repurposed shipping containers, all fronted by a two-story, fire-breathing praying mantis who made its original debut at Burning Man. Nearby is the popular Bin 702 – one of many great dining choices in the area – featuring a great selection of beer and wine, as well as a tantalizing choice of charcuterie and cheese, sandwiches and small plates for sharing.
In recent years, The Arts District – or the 18b as it’s also known (a reference to it occupying 18 blocks of Downtown Las Vegas, loosely outlined by Commerce Street, Colorado Ave, Fourth Street and Hoover Avenue) – has been growing in popularity. Its monthly “First Friday” block party and art walk features food trucks and live music, serving as a backdrop for artists showing their works off at a variety of open-air and indoor galleries. These include The Arts Factory, home to over 30 artists and art galleries, and ArtSquare, a hip establishment that houses design stores, designer’s studios, wellness spots, and food and drink outlets. Behind The Arts Factory sits one of many great dining choices in The Arts District: Taverna Costera, serving up delicious Coastal Mediterranean fusion that draws inspiration from coastal Spanish, French, Italian and Greek cuisines and beyond.
Just a couple of miles east of the Strip, along Spring Mountain Road (roughly between Rainbow Boulevard and Interstate 15), lies the city’s amazing Chinatown, which has grown in leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Here you’ll find the largest collection of Asian businesses in Southern Nevada, including a multitude of authentic Asian restaurants, gift shops, a hair stylist, a reflexologist, home decor, an Asian supermarket and the only Chinese bookstore in Nevada.
At Chinatown’s heart is the enormous and ornate Chinatown Plaza, featuring a colorful, dragon-adorned, Tang Dynasty-inspired gate and gleaming statue. The entire area serves as a small cultural exhibit, and signs scattered throughout contain information about Chinese art and history. The real attraction in this section of Las Vegas, however, are the Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
Vietnamese and other ethnic eateries (not just Asian) serving up what many have deemed some of the most compelling food in Las Vegas. Case in point: Among the 2023 James Beard Award finalists is Kaoru Azeuchi, chef at Chinatown’s acclaimed Kaiseki Yuzu Japanese restaurant. If you’re craving Chinese, a great option is Noodlehead, featuring authentic hand-made Chinese noodle and rice dishes with broths on a continuous simmer of close to 24 hours.
Be sure to carve out some time while you’re in town for the Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction to explore these lesser-known but well-worth-visiting gems in the Entertainment Capital of the World.