In a city famous for overabundance, explicit consumerism, and crazies, food and drinks are anything but scarce. The prices, however, skyrocket. Most celebrity chefs have an outpost in Vegas -- Jose Andres has Jaleo, Alain Ducasse has Mix, Wolfgang Puck has, well, Wolfgang Puck. And as if that weren't enough, the nightlife gives Miami a run for its money.
Just ask Michael Schwartz, who headed out to Vegas to watch the Miami Heat win the finals at Hyde -- Bellagio not the AAA -- overlooking the synchronized dancing waterfall. Although heat was upon us, we -- the genuine Michael and I -- were the only Heat fans in the trendy lounge that made an exception to be casual for the NBA Finals. There was a Heat win and lots of drinks -- at $18 a pop. This called for a meal that would act a sobering agent and would also prove wallet-friendly before a long night of fear and loathing in Las Vegas.
Some noodles for the soul were in order. Both Caesar's Palace and Bellagio have noodle bars in their lobbies, but those aren't the best noodles in Vegas. They also don't come from the proclaimed top two buffet's in Las Vegas, as per USA Today, both of which serve noodles and pho, although the dumplings at The Wynn are pretty good. No, instead the best noodles come from an unassuming and elusive spot 10 minutes off the strip in the middle of Chinatown by the name of Monta Ramen.
The Japanese noodle house is smack in the middle of a Japanese/Korean plaza. It's 11 p.m. on a Thursday night and the place is slam-packed with Asians. Outside we meet Mike, an Asian pharmacist coming to get his fix. When we ask if this place is good, he nods and gives an "ehhhh." Soon enough we realize Mike is a ramen connoisseur and knowledgable on his broths -- pork & chicken is the best, or so he says.
Monta Ramen serves "KURUME" style Tonkotsu Ramen - broth made from selected pork bones and the unique soy sauce imported from Japan. According to Mike, Monta is the best noodle place in Vegas, but nothing compares to Ippudo in New York. Right before he's escorted to his seat at the bar, he tells us to just get the most expensive noodles on the menu. "That's the best."
The menu consists of four different types of hot ramen - from thin to wavy noodles and chicken, pork, or a combination broth - all served with basic toppings - two slices of pork chasyu, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and green onions. The priciest - the miso ramen - has pork & chicken broth with thick wavy noodles. You can get extra kaedama, or noodles, for $1.50. I know what you're thinking -- noodles with no egg? That's a topping. For 50 cents you can add some butter and corn to your noodles -- but who adds corn and butter when there's flavored egg and takana (mustard leaf) for just $1.50? There's also kimchi, nori, shredded green onion, and extra pork chasyu, in case you feel like going all out.
Noodles are served almost instantly and oozing of smelly porky goodness. The broth is perfectly light and salty, just as it should be, without being overly fatty. The takana and flavored egg adds just the right amount of toughness and heat to the tender pork chasyu. Condiments sit with you on the tables - shredded ginger, completely minced garlic, sesame seeds, chill, and vinegar. But they are not necessary.
For this South Floridian that just recently got a whiff or slurp of what good noodles are with Momi Ramen, Monta is completely new territory. With toppings a bowl of noodles at Monta will cost you $10.95, just enough to allow you to pay with credit card -- you must have a $10 minimum charge. That's what the sign says.
So when visiting Vegas and in the mood for some Japanese don't go to the familiar Nobu, which got a group of 10 of us individually sick. Start your night off the strip at Monta. Just make sure you have a way of getting back - catching a cab out there is quite the challenge, unless you speak Japanese or Korean. If you're lucky you'll end up making friends with an Asian pharmacist who will give you a ride back to the strip after some noodles and before some fear and loathing.
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