Delicious Eats in Downtown Vegas

Zappos' Downtown Project has spawned a restaurant scene that is creating a new reality for Las Vegas.

Five years into Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's Downtown Project, the initative has had its ups and downs. But there is one part of the plan to create a city of innovation and entrepreneurship just south of the Freemont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas that lands firmly on the success part of the ledger. That's been the development of restaurants, bars and nightlife options currently found in the burgeoning district. 

This is of particular interest to meetings groups that have been coming to Las Vegas for a number of years. Many of them may have attendees who are looking for something outside of the the over-the-top glitz and glamour that the city does so well. Something that may be defined as, for lack of a better term, "more real." 

One day after IMEX America ended, I took a tour of some of the restaurants in the district with Donald Contursi, president of Lip Smaking Foodie Tours, and found an eclectic array of dining and venue experiences that look to the future of Las Vegas while preserving a piece of its often neglected past. 

Ground Zero for the culinary scene in the district has to be Carson Kitchen, featuring a funky farm-to-table take on comfort food, served out of the repurposed John E. Carson Hotel, a mid-century motel, complete with a courtyard. The establishment actually hosted an event during IMEX America. 

"Hyatt did an event for 65 attendees, many of which were invited by their salespeople right off the show room floor," says Contursi. "Food is a great way for people to connect to each other and to a destination."

Other great spots we visited include:

•  Therapy, which features fried chicken on red velvet waffle sliders washed down with "The Smash," their signature cocktail of bourbon, blackberries, fresh lime and mint.

•  Inspire, a lounge and nightclub with a great rooftop for events and a hidden 180-seat theater.

•  7th & Carson, your corner sports bar, but with a menu that includes items featuring caviar and tempura.