SLO ’n’ Steady Wins at Justin Kingsley Hall’s New Pop-Up

The Dino’s parking lot gets an unexpected touch of class with the culinary veteran's slow-food concept.

The powers that be in Las Vegas City Hall have never understood people such as Justin Kingsley Hall. They’ve never understood that the revitalization of beaten-down neighborhoods doesn’t come from canopied light shows, shopping malls, overpriced condos or even a dot-com billionaire who buys up prime land like the Monopoly man to create a master-planned community for hipsters (as much fun as all those things may be). Truly organic urban renewal comes from artists and entrepreneurs who seek out whatever space they can afford on often unglamorous blocks and put their all into them. If city officials would give their projects one-tenth the accommodation they’ve given to the aforementioned gimmicks, perhaps Hall would have picnic tables for his customers when they dine at his new pop-up restaurant, SLO-Boy.

Chef Justin Kingsley Hall’s playful menu includes a Coq-in-a-Box. | Photos by Krystal Ramirez

Chef Justin Kingsley Hall’s playful menu includes a Coq-in-a-Box. | Photos by Krystal Ramirez

Hall is the latest Strip veteran to use the parking lot of dive bar Dino’s to develop a new concept, following in the footsteps of Naked City’s Chris Palmeri, Felix Arellano of Viva Las Arepas and Josh Clark of the Goodwich. Since February 5, the Comme Ça veteran has been using the now-permanent kiosk to produce rustic American cuisine that both reflects the slow-living, casual vibe of his adopted hometown of San Louis Obispo (Get it? SLO …) mixed with a slow-cooking sensibility and a nod to French cuisine. It’s a lot more sophisticated than anything his predecessors have offered.  Operating as “the Goodwich TBD: Concept Kitchen,” Clark is leasing out the kiosk on three-month terms—just long enough to allow chefs to test concepts without being locked in. At the two-month mark, chefs have the option of re-upping for a longer stay.

The other standout dish here is the tamale cup. It’s a chili-like stew of beef cheeks with fig and ancho mole that would stand proud on its own, but is made even better by the bottom layer of slightly sweet popcorn masa.

SLO-Boy’s location and ambience are gritty and loaded with street cred: The stand is decorated in street art; a seedy watering hole is a mere 30-second walk from the window; and the Olympic Garden strip club is just across Las Vegas Boulevard, in case you’re in the mood for a post-meal lap dance. With the weather getting nice, I can’t imagine a more inviting urban dining experience … if there were a place to sit. But the city made the Goodwich’s Clark remove his tables from the large parking lot (which is generally empty during operating hours), because the kiosk’s license as a food stand doesn’t allow it. That problem will hopefully be rectified when Dino’s opens its new patio seating, which is overdue but expected shortly.

On the bright side, Dino’s welcomes customers who want to sit down to carry in their order, rather than use the hood of their car as a table. And the SLO-Boy staff will even take your order and deliver it to the bar. The only downside—other than not being able to take in the sunshine and fresh air—is that the dark lighting makes it impossible to fully appreciate the beauty of the food Hall puts into his cardboard takeout containers.

Porchetta with potatoes

Porchetta with potatoes

That food consists of three main courses—tri-tip, porchetta and roasted radish roots and greens—that come with one of three sides for $10. A beef cheek tamale cup, dandelion greens with egg and optional porchetta, and a tri-tip sandwich (all pop-up concepts at the kiosk will be required, Clark has said, to offer a sandwich) come a la carte for $7-$9.

The house specialty, however, is Coq-in-a-Box: a half Cornish hen, a portion of which is Southern fried while a second is braised. The fried chicken is topped with a bright green and spicy sauce. For my admittedly timid palate, it almost has a bit too much spice. But, thankfully, the milder braised portion and the accompanying mustard greens help cool down the tongue between bites. That dish is $12, but tends to run out well before closing.

The other standout dish here is the tamale cup. It’s a chili-like stew of beef cheeks with fig and ancho mole that would stand proud on its own, but is made even better by the bottom layer of slightly sweet popcorn masa.

Tamale cup | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Tamale cup | Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The tri-tip entrée is fairly basic, but the two sauce options— a sweet, thin barbecue or Kingsley’s Green Sauce (created by Hall in the past to please his Indian customers)—are both good enough to make it worth a try. The pork belly in the porchetta is only for those who truly love to eat pig fat. (And, unfortunately, the chef is a little sparing with the delicious walnut stuffing.) But the decision to put a runny fried egg on top of an order of dandelion greens is nothing short of brilliant, allowing me to clog my arteries while eating a salad.

SLO-Boy kiosk exterior.

SLO-Boy kiosk exterior.

There’s also one dessert, a bread pudding, priced at $5, but the jury is still out on that. The first time I had it, I loved the way it was infused with the tastes of whiskey, butter and salted caramel. But on the second go-round, it was an undercooked mess that no one in my group enjoyed. I’ll leave it up to you for the tiebreaker.

A concept that’s been in gestation since Hall first served food under the SLO-Boy banner at Motley Brews’ Downtown Beer Fest in 2015, SLO-Boy delivers something extremely rare: the chance to get a delicious, made-to-order meal in the $10 price range. Now, if only we could sit down in a nearby smoke-free, outdoor environment to enjoy it, it would be that much better. But that would involve someone in city government thinking about what really helps bring about change in a rundown neighborhood.

Al’s Menu Picks

  • Coq-in-a-Box ($12)
  • Cheeky Tamale Cup ($9)
  • and porchetta ($10 with one side)

SLO-Boy

1516 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-327-3192. Open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon-Sat. Dinner for two, $20-$30.

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