“Why would you even review Harry’s?” a friend recently asked. “Nothing ever changes there.” He eats at the funky, colorful, rambling restaurant off Old Las Vegas Highway at least once a week, so he would know.
Harry’s Roadhouse is many things to many people. It’s part roadhouse, of course, part diner, part bar, and, in summer, part garden café, where you can eat lunch amid hollyhocks. It’s also a popular gathering spot, an easily accessible halfway point for folks in town and those more far-flung. On almost any night, go early or be prepared to wait among the hungry throngs.
One room looks like it was pulled from the set of Diner , with retro-style tables, chrome-accented chairs, swiveling cushioned counter stools, and baked goods taunting from behind the glass of a refrigerated case. In the heart of the building is a warm but wonky room with a wood-beamed ceiling and walls littered with local artwork. You might see a couple on their first date here, or a multigenerational party of 10.
Along the back of the sprawling building is an old-fashioned screened-in porch — a cheerful spot with colored walls and tables wrapped in vibrant oilcloth. In the bar, locals regularly post up for a pint or one of Harry’s renowned margaritas. Unless you specify otherwise — and your server might give you a funny look if you do — it will be served up, like a martini, not on the rocks, with a little extra alongside in the shaker, like a drugstore malted. Adjoining is a cozier dining room with a kiva fireplace.
My curmudgeonly friend is right about the menu. Much of it has remained the same for as long as I can remember: salads, nachos, pizza, pastas, burgers, steaks, and other comfort foods. There are some regionally inspired dishes, too, from New Mexico options to Pennsylvania scrapple and a decently executed Southern-style blackened catfish — a nice slablike filet served with creamy golden grits and leafy dark-green collards.
The house salad was fresh but unremarkable and slathered in an overly oily dressing. Though it sounds disconcertingly like a Waldorf, the gala apple salad is a light, crunchy, well-balanced jumble of lettuce, mildly sweet fruit nuggets, walnut pieces, and lightly twinging blue cheese in a delicate poppy-seed dressing.
Hanger steak is a tough cut to master. Harry’s “rancherostyle” version was evenly, amply seasoned and reasonably well cooked, though still mostly too chewy. The whole plate seemed like a classic cowboy meal: meat and peppers and just-tender pinto beans with some guacamole and a mole that was fine, though a bit too sweet.
The wild mushroom pizza includes an array of shrooms and a bit of spinach on a minimal layer of marinara. Mozzarella with a fresh milky flavor is applied in moderation, and the crust, which was too tender and cakey for my taste, is ideally thin and charred in spots.
An array of classic desserts — pies, cakes, cobblers, and crumbles — is always available. The chocolate cream pie is like a sweet little grandma with a black belt in aikido: unexciting cocoa-tinted filling and clouds of whipped cream, but with a deep chocolate flavor, intense smoothness, and intoxicating richness that will kick your butt.
And then there’s the breakfast menu, which includes just about anything you’d want in the morning, from baked goodies, oatmeal, pancakes, and waffles to eggs, migas, huevos rancheros, and chilaquiles. The buckwheat pancakes were exemplary, oversize flapjacks with a nutty, grainy, mildly sweet complexity and studded with tiny, intense wild blueberries.
Harry’s breakfast burrito ranks in the “fine” category. You’ll get plenty of egg, a little bit of cheese, and red and green chiles that taste fresh and house-made but are easily forgotten. I felt slightly cheated by the too-crunchy, charredlooking nubbins of potato in mine — maybe they came from the bottom of the mise en place bin.
Service can be uneven. During calmer hours, you’ll get quick attention. On chaotic nights, though, employees can be abrupt. You might wait a while before someone shows up at your table, and the beer you ordered might languish on the bar, getting warm before anyone remembers you ordered it. Your water glass might sit empty unless you reach across the diner counter and fill it for yourself.
Still, people work hard here. At the diner counter, you can watch the kitchen staff busting their humps, standing and sweating for hours on end by the pizza oven or over flaming burners and steaming pots. Particularly, if you’ve never worked in a restaurant and are fond of the cleaned-up glamour of shows like Top Chef , this will be an eye-opener.
Harry’s has a great location. It offers a huge range of foods and styles, and it does a lot of them well. Maybe things don’t change much here, but, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.