LAS VEGAS -- Sorry, Gray Line. We wanted a tour guide who is like Las Vegas itself - loud, larger than life and at least a little bit naughty.
Enter Penn Jillette.
He's loud. Ever hear him on TV, radio or in his stage act? He is not the silent one in Penn & Teller. He's larger than life: 6 feet 6 and, well, we're afraid to ask him how much he weighs.
As for the naughty part, either go see Penn & Teller, who celebrate their fifth anniversary of presenting quirky and mind-boggling illusions at the Rio in Vegas on Sept. 27, or read on.
Gray Line will take you to the volcanoes at the Mirage, the Neon Museum and the Rio Masquerade Show in the Sky. Instead, Penn recommends these five Vegas spots that are easy to find and hard to resist.
-Lotus of Siam
The Web site says the restaurant is only three-quarters of a mile east of the Sahara Hotel, but let's just say it seems like it's on the other side of the world.
"It's in a seedy shopping mall," explains Penn, who has lived in Vegas for 15 years. "There's a rip-off wife-swapping club in that area. There's a secondhand store that benefits AIDS patients, a Chinese restaurant, a Mexican restaurant. It's the kind of place that you'd never go into."
Except for Lotus of Siam.
Gourmet magazine called it the best Thai restaurant in the country. And other dining and travel magazines have raved as well.
"Even knowing (about the reviews)," the devilish Penn says, "when your cab pulls into the mall, you're really going to think your cab driver's going to roll you."
After consulting a map, I drove to the Lotus. When I saw all the Mercedes, Audis and Lexuses parked in front of the restaurant, I felt that my PT Cruiser was safe.
The restaurant would never win any design awards. The no-frills place looks like a Vietnamese restaurant that was decorated in the 1980s and hasn't been updated. At least the glowing reviews and photos of stars on the wall (Billy Joel, Pat Sajak, etc.) are more encouraging than the locale.
Compared with other top-rated restaurants, the prices at Lotus of Siam are "stupid cheap," as Penn puts it. Salmon nam-tok costs $17.95, panang curry $9.95.
I'd recommend the lime drink, a Thai cousin to lemonade. Penn's favorite dish is sea bass with drunken noodles.
Imagine a dark, neon-lit Perkins on steroids _ with a swank 1980s-style bar featuring water that burns.
The menu is as extensive as TGIF's plus breakfast anytime. And the Peppermill never closes.
For Penn, the Peppermill holds special interest.
"That is the restaurant I went in with Paul Provenza at, I think, about 11:30 p.m. and we stayed there `til 8 a.m. and the whole `Aristocrats' (movie) was thought out, laid out, planned, budgeted and scheduled," Penn recalls the fruitful 2005 session. "We went in to talk as friends and ended up being partners in making a documentary."
Calling the Peppermill more "truck stop than casino," Penn says, "It's the kind of place you can sit for 10 hours, ordering cups of coffee and the occasional English muffin and no one bugs you."
Of course, he might bug the servers, who wear short skirts with suspenders. In fact, one time he tried to buy a Peppermill waitress outfit for his then-girlfriend, but the restaurant doesn't sell them.
"But after an `oh c'mon' and a little money," Penn said, "we got a used Peppermill uniform, which I'll tell you functioned better off site than on."