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Monday, March 15, 2010

El Sombrero Cafe


Located on Main Street just a couple of blocks north of Charleston Boulevard, in what I've heard a second-rate TV celebrity refer to as "the sketchiest neigborhood," El Sombrero Cafe is a bonafide Las Vegas institution, with a provenance that goes back to 1950. Across the street is the always-interesting Gambler's General Store, and just down the block sits the Opportunity Village Thrift Store and The Attic.

El Sombrero Cafe is a little place, with only about a dozen tables & booths wedged into a single dining room accessed through a door that's actually smaller than the one on the front of my own home. On today's visit, the place was so busy that the Princess & I had to be seated at the staff table, the TV-tray-sized table at the back of the dining room near the kitchen door, where the waitresses usually keep the stacks of menus & pitchers of water & soft drinks. No one seemed to mind the handwritten sign on the door stating that their credit-card machine was down and they could only accept cash.

This is normal, as the El Sombrero Cafe does the majority of its business nowadays with the noontime lunch crowd from the downtown legal district. I would recommend coming here after 1 o'clock to avoid the rush. Full disclosure: I have never been here for dinner. The "sketchy" neighborhood encourages daylight visits. In fact, I don't think this place is open at night.

I have previously written about the merits of comfort food. And El Sombrero Cafe represents one of the best comfort food bargains in Las Vegas. The Princess has declared it her favorite place for feeding her craving for the simple burrito (i.e., meat, lettuce & cheese bundled in a tortilla). I prefer the combo plates that are available for about $10.


The food is here is uniformly delicious and shows what can be done when simple recipes are executed with real expertise and care. For example, my taco was generously filled with perfectly-cooked spicy ground beef (properly drained of fat so that the shell stays crunchy), the shredded lettuce was fresh and crisp, and the grated cheese was creamy and tasty -- not that processed crap I've been served at lesser eateries.

And the service at El Sombrero Cafe is also uniformly excellent. Two waitresses glide through crowded dining room, keeping drinks filled and refilling chip bowls so that everyone can keep gorging on their delicious salsas. Adding to the homey atmosphere is the fact that, every time I've been here, people are constantly waving & saying hello to each other from table to table. (Anecdote: at the table next to ours, a newly-paroled former local politician was sharing prison stories with some lawyer buddies, and I shamelessly eavesdropped all through my lunch.)

While the fixtures here are bareboned, the walls are festooned with celebrity pictures, and one can spend their waiting time checking out all the signed portraits. These are not mere decoration. Their sheer number bespeaks the landmark status of El Sombrero Cafe. Above our little table hung a photo of Kenny Rogers, standing in the kitchen with the chef and a busboy, with a scrawled inscription extolling his love of the place.

Our total bill for 2 lunch plates, soft-drinks, and an endless amount of chips & salsa: $26 plus tip. A bargain, considering the quality, the atmosphere, and the entertainment.

Lest you think that my opinion of this place is entirely idiosyncratic (and the evidence of the always-crowded lunch hour isn't enough), John Curtas's excellent review of El Sombrero Cafe can be found here.

To round out a perfect lunchtime visit to downtown, head over to Luv-it Custard for dessert -- unless, that is, you haven't already stuffed yourself with El Sombrero Cafe's excellent sopapillas.

El Sombrero Cafe
807 South Main Street
(702) 382-9234

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