"Rest assured that you have been dining at one of the best Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas."
It was a Vegas-based friend of mine who first told me about Raku, a cosy Japanese restaurant in Chinatown, some 15-minutes’ drive from The Strip. Forget about sushi, because at Raku, the menu is centred around delicious grilled skewers straight from the robata, a traditional Japanese charcoal grill. The special binchotan charcoal is imported directly from Japan and so are most of the condiments and the ingredients used for cooking, ensuring flavours are authentic.
Raku has been around since 2008, but for quite a while it stayed a well-kept secret among the Vegas locals. Now, the secret is out in the open, and even though Raku hasn’t received the same kind of rock star fame as the sister restaurant Sweets Raku, located in the same shopping plaza and specialising in gorgeous dessert creations, you’ll need to book a table well in advance.
The interior at Raku is dark cosy than sleek, but with a natural born zen-vibe that nobody has been overthinking. With grilled options ranging from pork ear and fish belly(!) to Kobe-style beef fillet and asparagus with bacon, there is something for everyone, and with most items being around $2-3, there is really no reason to be holding back.
Raku also has plenty of delicious food that has not been on the grill. One of the dishes that everybody’s talking about, is the uni (sea urchin) with poached egg and salmon roe. You’re supposed to stir it all together, so it transforms into this gooey, slippery mass. Not too appetising to look at for the uninitiated, but profoundly mouthwatering for uni lovers like me. Slurp, and it was gone.
The tofu at Raku is house-made and delicious, so even if you are not a big fan of tofu, I strongly suggest that you give the tofu at Raku at try. It is served cold or hot, and while the cold version is probably best suited for the tofu aficionados, who appreciate the clean, subtle taste of fresh tofu, I would recommend the hot agedashi tofu (tofu in a delectable dashi sauce) for those of you, who are still considering. This will win you over, for sure.
In addition to the ordinary menu, Raku also has a good selection of daily specials, and when we were there, one of them was raw Kobe-style beef. Served with nothing else than a tiny blob of wasabi, and so tender it melts in your mouth, this delicacy is a must-try for the more adventurous eaters.
"Go for the local vibe, fall in love with the food"
Raku has an impressive selection of sake, and the staff are happy to help you pick one that suits your preferences as well as your wallet. After making your choice, staff then bring you a tray with beautiful ceramic sake cups, and you choose which one you want to drink your sake from. You can also order a Japanese beer with your food, but be aware, that some of the beer bottles are very large and meant for sharing.
In spite of the popularity, the locals still outnumber the tourists, and Raku is probably the closest you get to a true hidden gem in Las Vegas. While the settings might be casual, the service and the food are both five star, but at prices so low, when the bill was handed over, we had to look twice to make sure they had not made a mistake and charged us too little. My dinner at Raku was such a nice experience, and I cannot recommend that place enough. Go there for the local vibe, fall in love with the food and the wonderful staff and rest assured that you have been dining at one of the best Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas.
About the author
Sanne is a 30-something blogger based in Dubai and writing her thoughts on travel and food at mitziemee.com. Born in Korea but raised in Denmark, her two great passions in life are food and travel, so she travels a lot, and she eats all the time. On her website, Sanne shares her tips and thoughts on dining, nightlife and things to do with her readers. Sanne has previously worked as a cabin crew and an airline pilot, but she also has an eminent past in computer science engineering and bachelor’s degree in business.