Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro chef and owner Mayra Trabulse has one goal: to create compassionate cuisine with a level of flavor that reflects her diverse cultural background. As she shared with Katherine Fernelius of Vegas Seven, Mayra is half Lebanese and half Cuban, and was born and raised in Mexico City. After moving to Las Vegas and attending community college, Mayra found herself unfulfilled. She decided to relocate to Florida, where she began to explore the politics of eating and her own relationship with food. She founded a catering business and became a private vegan chef before returning once more to Las Vegas to share her signature Caribbean- and Southwest-inspired dishes with Nevadans.
Mayra incorporated the Spanish phrase "pura vida" into the moniker of her eatery because it's a greeting or a farewell that can signify a sense of community and enjoying life slowly. That's exactly what she wants diners to feel at the restaurant, where she uses local, organic, fair-trade ingredients and incorporates macrobiotic, Ayurvedic, and raw-food principles in her low-temperature cooking. Mayra enhances her creations with unrefined oils and sweeteners and grinds whole spices for maximum flavor. Boasting a designated gluten-free area of her kitchen, she can cater to most any dietary restriction—Vanessa Meier of The Green Girl Next Door blog described how Mayra composed custom, on-the-fly dishes that were "beautiful and clearly prepared with so much love" for her and her husband.
And Meier isn't the only critic to take note of the blossoming restaurant: it earned Las Vegas Weekly’s 2012 Best Vegan Eating award and was named the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Dining Pick of the Week in October 2012. Mayra and her team also cater special events and bake custom vegan wedding cakes for couples being married by an Elvis wearing faux-blue-suede shoes.
“Japonais is a culinary experience that blends immense enjoyment with sturdy savoir faire,” declared former Chicago Sun-Times food critic Pat Bruno, writing of the sleek Asian eatery near the edge of the Chicago River. While one coexecutive chef, Jun Ichikawa, lends his expertise to the sushi side of the restaurant’s menu, the other, Gene Kato, designs its selection of hot plates. Together, they churn out traditional and modern dishes—such as the house-specialty Kobe prime rib and Le Quack Japonais, a house-smoked duck slathered in hoisin sauce and mango chutney—whose appeal led Condé Nast to name their establishment one of the top 66 restaurants in the world. Ingredients from both surf and turf star at the sushi bar, which serves options such as spicy king-crab nigiri and a Crazy Veggie roll that insists on wearing its lab coat and goggles at all times. As selections emerge from the kitchen, says Bruno, “the presentations … are elegant … the shapes and swoops of the plates are a feast for the eyes.”
The two dining rooms at Japonais meld industrial Japanese design with a touch of European richness. Squares of gold velvet frame an oversize mirror that hangs over the Red Room, the restaurant’s more formal dining space. Across the hall, the Green Room’s slate-and-brick fireplace and whimsical tree centerpieces that occasionally don sweatpants add to its more relaxed atmosphere. Wavy ceiling panels and Lucite chandeliers accentuate the high ceilings that unite the two spaces, hanging over a staircase that leads downstairs to the riverwalk café. There, sheer drapery panels frame views of the Chicago River for those seated on pillow-laden couches and chairs. As they lounge, guests can sip specialty cocktails or enlist the top-shelf liquors to help them win gargling contests against the river.
With more than 700 locations, Jamba Juice proves to the masses that nutrition can be speedy and delicious. Since the beginning, the company’s product philosophy has revolved around choosing whole fruits and other natural ingredients over artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and preservatives. The menu is completely free of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and it offers additional accommodations for vegan and gluten-free diets.
This naturalistic approach is fully realized in Jamba Juice's selection of smoothies. Made with 100% fruit juice, sherbet, and frozen yogurt, the frosty delights range from all-fruit smoothies such as peach perfection and strawberry whirl to more indulgent creamy treats, including peanut butter moo'd, an enticing blend of peanut butter, bananas, nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt, and milk chocolate.
For those with heartier appetites, steel-cut oats steep in soymilk before being enhanced with toppings such as apples, cinnamon, and brown-sugar crumble. The lunch hour presents protein-packed mini wraps, toasted bistro sandwiches and California Flatbreads that pack only about 320–420 calories each.
From its 1978 opening in New York City, Via Brasil Steakhouse has withstood the test of time and critics to bring the churrascaria tradition to diners on both ends of the country. At the stately Las Vegas restaurant, South American traditions come through not only in the more than 18 meats that grace tables but also in the way each one is prepared and served. The special churrascaria cooking traces its origins to southern Brazil's gauchos, who wound down their long days of herding cattle on the Pampas by roasting cuts of beef over crackling fire pits and writing up formal business proposals for opening steak houses in America. Today, chefs continue that tradition by roasting slabs of meat on rotisserie grills, then slicing each one tableside in order to give diners the exact cuts and temperatures they desire.
Inside the restaurant, an opulent surrounding of marble columns and countertops, floral centerpieces, and huge, sunny windows complement smartly dressed servers as they tote skewers to tables and carve off tender morsels of top sirloin, leg of lamb, and salmon. Selections from 16 side dishes garnish each savory cut of meat with exotic ingredients such as hearts of palm and yucca fries, and a salad bar urges diners to help themselves to more than 30 unique recipes. To complement the feasts, an ample wine cellar and a resident sommelier help diners bring out the rich flavors of each dish with expert advice on the dozens of bottles from around the world.
The folks at Rambo's Kitchen admit it sounds a little crazy—a 1960s-themed diner with pop-culture paraphernalia and a surfer vibe. But they challenge guests to come in and fall in love with the eclectic, friendly spot, where they dish up breakfast, lunch, and dinner at all hours. Outside, rainbow-colored patio umbrellas shield alfresco tables, and inside, you'll find what Jim Begley of the Las Vegas Sun refers to as "a kaleidoscope…awash with psychedelic tones" and tributes to the '60s, be they vibrant daisy prints or pictures of celebs such as Twiggy and Jim Morrison.
Many reviewers caution diners not to judge the place on its flashy decor alone, or, as Begley puts it in Las Vegas Weekly, "you'll miss out on some great cooking." The menu's all-day breakfast specialties include freshly baked biscuits ladled with country gravy and pork chops paired with two eggs. Lunch offerings range from traditional to off-the-wall: freshly shaved pastrami piled on marble rye goes up against burgers loaded with peanut butter and bacon. The signature Rambo burger stuffs its half-pound patty with cheeses, then stacks it with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and an onion ring or a vintage Beatles record. Diners who want to linger in the psychedelic ambiance can order up a hand-scooped malt or shake, which arrives in an old-fashioned tin and garnished with whipped cream.