Aburiya Raku, or simply known as Raku, found in the heart of Las Vegas’ Chinatown, is a Japanese pub that generally specializes on the robata, grilled meats and vegetables, but it’s so much more than that (I’ll explain later). While doing research for my trip about three weeks prior to my flight to Vegas, I’ve asked my Twitter followers about to eat there and searching through food forums, many have praised and mentioned Raku as one of the few places I must eat. After reading that unanimous “vote”, I picked up my phone and made reservations.
From where I stayed on the strip, I had to hail a cab to take me there; about a 10 to 15-minute ride. As the cab rolled along, Vegas’ Chinatown is basically composed of strip malls of Thai, Korean and Chinese restaurants and grocery stores along W. Spring Mountain Road. If I had more time, I would consider exploring Chinatown’s Asian markets.
Once I arrived to Raku, it’s found toward the back of the strip mall and its only sign was this large canvas sign hung at the front door. When I entered inside, around 6:30, I was already greeted with a small crowd of people in front of a young Japanese hostess taking people’s names, phone numbers, and number of guests for the party because they’re already booked for the evening but at least on the on-call list, and some were taken to their tables. When it’s my turn (about five minutes), we’re welcomed with a friendly “hi”, I told her my reservation and my dining companions and I were escorted to our table.
As I finally settled down, the main dining room was already packed, including the bar. It’s a small restaurant mostly decorated with dark lacquered wood and deep burgundy walls and little flourishes of cute lucky animals found around the hostess stand or near the bar and decorated with a medium-sized bouquet of tall flowers to break up the dark color palate.
As our waitress came to our table, she greeted us in Japanese and asked in English, “What would you like to order?” I named a number of dishes from their regular menu, a dish off the menu. She then lugged over a large chalkboard daily special (seen above) and ordered a dish from there, too.
The first two dishes brought out to us were the Seafood with bonito guts ($8), Yellowtail carpaccio ($12), and Poached egg with sea urchin and salmon roe ($9).
The seafood with bonito guts was a rainbow of sashimi in a bowl. Silky, cubes of tuna, salmon, and salted bonito innards, fatty salmon cubes, with fresh salmon roe and uni (or sea urchin) popping in my mouth, leaving tastes of sweet and salty. (This dish is off the menu.)
The yellowtail carpaccio was a beautiful expression of food minimalism by letting the pristine quality of the fish speak for itself, enhanced by a minute dollop of either yuzu and pepper mixed in grated daikon radish (colored green) or momiji oroshi (red colored; grated daikon radish mixed with dried chili pepper).
A cold dish of poached egg with uni (also known as sea urchin) and samon roe looked like an usual bowl of neatly piled ingredients: a large, poached egg on one end, perfectly minced white mountain yam adjacent to it, miniature honshimeji mushrooms, a large puddle of ikura (salmon) roe, and a couple of slices of raw okra. The waitress told us we are supposed to mix this before we eat. Mixed we did and it looked like a messy mixture of all things gooey and chunky. Not the most appetizing thing to look at but it tasted rich (from the barely poached egg), gooey (everything there was barely cooked, at most) and delightful. The mountain yam and raw okra added the needed crunchy texture.
The next set of dishes that came out of the kitchen were tontoro (grilled Kurobuta pork cheek) (two orders; 1 order = 1 skewer; $7 each), Kobe beef with wasabi ($10.50), foie gras don ($10), and sea urchin & wakame seaweed soup ($5.50).
The grilled meats were amazing. They were luscious, tender, and tasted like the meat you ordered but much more intensified from the time on the grill. The pork cheek was creamy and delicately sweet and smoky. The Kobe beef with wasabi did have real grated wasabi root on top. To those who never ate it before, it doesn’t have the same piercing heat as the wasabi powder or paste (it’s actually green-colored horseradish) and it’s delicately floral.
The uni seaweed soup was something I wish I can eat when I feel under the weather or on a chilly day. The clear, seafood-flavored broth was accented by wakame seaweed. The duo of uni tongues floating in the soup contributed to the briny flavor even though it lost its silky texture.
The foie gras don had a large piece of braised duck meat on top of the custard (seen here). It’s essentially a foie gras enhanced chawanmushi with dashi and soy sauce. It’s very good.
While we’re eating the four aforementioned dishes, the Suji: grilled Kobe beef tendon ($3.50 per order) was. I’ve heard many good things about this particular grilled band of connective tissue. What perplexes me, in a good way, was the sheer size (probably 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches per chunk) and how insanely luscious and (barely) gelatinous it is. The texture is very similar to bone marrow except it holds up its shape from the collagen. After eating my portion for a good five minutes, I couldn’t stop talking how good it was. I’m still thinking about it to this day.
The kitchen was saving the best for the finale, the evening’s special that I ordered for the group: Kobe beef tataki ($18). Our waitress came out with the said dish with a shallow bowl containing a grater and a well-grated chunk of pink Himalayan salt. She described to us what was in the dish, grated in front of us the salt, and told us to get a little bit of everything in one bite. This barely grilled Kobe beef that’s sliced and thinly pounded, marinated in vinegar, and garnished with myoga ginger, onions, ponzu, plum jelly, garlic chips, sancho pepper, spicy daikon radish. This dish was a flavor bomb – sour, tart, silky, beef-y, onion-y, and crunchy – this silenced my entire table for a good 30 seconds. All we can utter was pretty much, “Oh my goodness!” “This is amazing!” I do remember the myoga ginger imparted a haunting floral, spicy end note after all the robust flavors passed its phase. This dish was mind blowing that we flagged down the waitress and ordered another one.
We ended the meal with complimentary cups of Hōjicha teas as a non-alcoholic digestif, as the house knows pretty well that we ate a lot and most of our dishes were rich. Dessert didn’t appeal to us as we felt like we’re going to need a wheelbarrow to roll us out the door, through the parking lot, and hail a cab back to our hotels.
Overall, this was the most exciting and inexpensive meal during my stay in Vegas. Also, it is the best meal I ate as of the past 12 months. If you ever go to Vegas and have one evening to eat outside of the Strip, I highly suggest you go to Raku. When we paid the check and about to step out, the entire FOH (front of the house) staff and chefs yelled their goodbye with Itterasshaimase!.
If they ever open a restaurant in New York City, with the same quality and prices (like that’s ever going to happen), I’d be a regular and eat there at least every week. That’s how much I love this place.
Side note: I’m aware as of the past year or so, Raku expanded to serving kaiseki dinners, showcasing the chefs’ prowess with a seasonal menu. It’s a relative steal, starting at 10 courses for $100. If I ever had the opportunity to eat there again, I would go with this path. I heard it’s very special and different than their typical food served.
For more photos of my meal, please click through my slideshow below:
5030 W. Spring Mountain Road
Las Vegas, NV 89146
Telephone: (702) 367-3511
Dinner only from 6pm-3am, except Sundays
Reservations are optional but highly suggested for prime dinner hours