If I ever find religion, I can assure you it will not be one with dietary restrictions. It takes a special kind of faith to forgo all the tasty treats proscribed by Judaism, Islam and certain sects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Add the fact that kosher Jews are prohibited from eating food prepared in kitchens that are not 100 percent kosher, and their choices for dining out are particularly limited. So I’m excited to let my kosher friends and readers know about a new restaurant called Kosher on the Grill, which offers rabbi-approved Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine.
If the idea of kosher Mexican food sounds odd, I agree. But Kosher on the Grill’s owner, Israeli-born Jew Gino Gambino, insists Mexican food is very similar to traditional Jewish home cooking. So when he became bored with eating the Mediterranean fare offered at most of Las Vegas’ kosher restaurants, he was inspired to open his own restaurant.
Of course, some traditions had to be tweaked a little to make the concept work. His burritos ($12), tacos ($4.40 each, three for $8) and Mexican platters ($15-$20) are available with chicken, steak, carne asada or birria, but no cheese. Obviously, the same rule applies to the various bowls on the menu ($10-$12) — even the nacho bowl. Gambino’s birria is also untraditional. It’s not a goat stew, but a mixture of seasoned lamb and beef cooked carne asada-style. When I asked about it, the chef explained that goat isn’t kosher — although my research says otherwise. I sampled it in a burrito, and while it wasn’t like any birria I’ve ever had before, it was pretty tasty.
The Mediterranean side of the menu is much more traditional, although it does offer some twists that set it apart from other local restaurants. Most of the shawarma I’ve eaten in Las Vegas, for example, has been pure lamb. Here, it’s a mixture of lamb and baby chicken. The result is a lighter, healthier product that is actually some of the tastiest shawarma I’ve had anywhere.
Kosher on the Grill’s falafel is also different than what I’m used to, at least as far as texture and color. The exterior is thicker and crispier, and the center is a brighter shade of green. When I asked about it, Gambino explained it’s Tel Aviv-style, not Jerusalem-style. The difference, he explained, is his use of onions, garlic, cilantro and other herbs, with no breading in the mix.
Both the shawarma and the falafel are served in sandwiches ($7-$10) or as platters ($12-$14 with two sides). You can order sandwiches in a traditional pita, or a thicker, chewier bread known as lafa. If you’re having falafel with the works — tahini, hummus, pickles, tomatoes, cucumbers and the restaurant’s fresh-cut French fries — do yourself a favor and go with the lafa. The sandwich is delicious, but it’s huge, and I can’t imagine it holding up well with thinner bread. (I’ve never heard of putting fries on a falafel, but Gino told me pita sandwiches in Israel always come with fries.)
The Mediterranean menu also offers a grilled, lightly seasoned chicken dish known as pargiot ($14 with two sides). And there are five salads: hummus, babaganoush, potato salad, red cabbage with mayo, and green cabbage salad. I’ve only sampled the hummus, and it was absolutely amazing — nicely seasoned with cumin, black pepper and a healthy dose of garlic.
When I asked what inspired him to open a kosher Mexican restaurant, Gambino told me he wanted to offer something different to the Jewish community, and it’s obvious he hopes the place will develop a following amongst people who share his faith. The counter is scattered with pamphlets for religious meetings, Jewish-based companies, even bris ceremonies.
Hopefully the modest little restaurant will draw an even larger, more diverse audience. While the menu is simple, it’s done well and offers some unique twists you won’t find anywhere else in town. And who knows, if the big guy was serious when he wrote all that stuff in Leviticus, maybe it’ll help me score some points to make up for my heathen ways.
Kosher on the Grill, 8665 W. Flamingo Road, 570-5003. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.