A locally grown food festival founded to promote the city’s unsung culinary talents is stepping things up significantly this year.

Vegas Unstripped, held in 2018 and ’19 on the patio at Downtown favorite Esther’s Kitchen, is set to become a full-fledged outdoor fest on October 16, when the event expands to include 30 local chefs plus drinks and live entertainment. Main Street will be shut down for it between Colorado and Imperial Avenues.

It feels appropriate for innovative chefs and restaurateurs—Oscar Amador from EDO Tapas, John Arena from Metro Pizza, Justin Kingsley Hall from Main St. Provisions, Brian Howard from Sparrow + Wolf, Gina Marinelli from La Strega and many others—to showcase their skills in the Downtown Arts District, which has quickly become one of the hottest dining drags in Las Vegas.

“If we did this out on the street in the first year, you could have just put up a few cones and you’d be done,” jokes James Trees, proprietor of Esther’s Kitchen and one of the restaurateurs who has helped boost the buzz along Main Street.

Trees and Eric Gladstone, principal at local hospitality PR and marketing agency Feast of Friends, created Unstripped as a local-focused version of the long-running Vegas Uncork’d celebrity chef event, which staged its last weekend food bash in 2019. Uncork’d attracted tourists and locals to the Strip for experiences at big casino restaurants; Unstripped has always taken a by-the-city, for-the-city approach, aiming to raise awareness of off-Strip chefs and dining destinations.

After taking a break during pandemic-plagued 2020, the event will be bigger than ever. “We really wanted to be on Main Street, because the Arts District still feels like the cultural heart of things in Vegas,” Gladstone says. “And what would they do for festivals in any other city? They’d shut down the street, because it’s important.”

Guests at the evening event pay one price to sample all the food from all the chefs, and beloved local bars like the Sand Dollar Lounge, Herbs & Rye, Jammyland, Golden Tiki, Garagiste and the Silver Stamp will be pouring drinks.

All participating chefs will cook a dish or several dishes they’ve never presented in their restaurants or at other events, a requirement that spikes creativity and inspires friendly competition.

“We’re doing a porchetta di testa with a tonnato sauce, a completely amazing dish no one’s ever seen and they’ll never see it again,” Trees says. “I couldn’t sell something like that at the restaurant. But this is an event to see chefs really show off and be surrounded by their friends who are supportive.”

The lineup has changed a bit since its announcement on September 1. The Black Sheep’s Jamie Tran and Brezza’s Nicole Brisson had to bow out due to conflicts, but new additions include Daniel Ontiveros from Resorts World’s upcoming Carversteak and Ismaele Romano from the new Via Focaccia at Ellis Island Casino. Other up-and-coming local chefs include Jackson Stamper from Ada’s, Matt Meyer from Served and Keris Kuwana from Keris Sweets. Familiar favorites include Marc Marrone from Graffiti Bao, Johnny Church from Johnny C’s Diner and Gio Mauro from Pizzeria Monzu.

“It’s also designed for chefs to see people will support you for taking a chance and going out on a limb,” says Gladstone. “This is a festival that has a point, to show that this is a viable food city. And for people hopefully coming from other cities, we want them to feel like they really saw something. The feeling of being under those lights on Main Street, it’s going to make them say, ‘Wow, this is not the Vegas I was promised.’”

VEGAS UNSTRIPPED October 16, 8 p.m., $115-$145. Downtown Las Vegas, vegasunstripped.com.

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