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When Paul James opened Uncle Paulie’s Deli in L.A. almost six years ago, he never imagined one day he’d be getting his own sandwich shop in a Las Vegas casino.
Certainly the idea of opening up in southwest Las Vegas — at least 15 minutes from the Strip — didn’t cross his mind. But now thanks to the innovative new food hall, Eat Your Heart Out, to debut at Durango Resort this fall, several West Coast fast-casual favorites with cachet are now living the desert dream.
“When the opportunity came to meet with Station Casinos, they told me about [their new] neighborhood casino. It was a perfect fit,” says James, adding that one of Uncle Paulie’s business philosophies is, “We’re from the neighborhood, for the neighborhood.”
Paulie’s motto is one that his new landlord can really get behind. Durango is the latest project from Station Casinos (Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch, among others), known for its neighborhood casinos and owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, former proprietors of UFC. Their last Las Vegas venture was the $690-million reimagining of Palms Casino Resort, which they sold to San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in 2021.
All the restaurants inside Eat Your Heart Out have a neighborhood spin. Even though they are located in a food hall, they each maintain a unique storefront evocative of their original locations. There’s dine-in, counter and patio seating throughout 25,000 square feet.
Uncle Paulie’s was founded by longtime friends Paulie James and designer Jon Buscemi, inspired by their love of New York neighborhood delis. With three locations around Southern California, the sandwich shop is a favorite of Jimmy Kimmel, Jeremy Allen White and, of course Pete Davidson, who prominently wears Uncle Paulie’s merch and catapulted it into the pop-culture stratosphere.
“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We just wanted to do classic sandwiches with the hospitality behind it — before you even come in, we see you parking your car, we already know what you’re going to order, that neighborhood feel,” James says of the original concept behind Uncle Paulie’s. “We do cold cut sandwiches — Italian, turkey pesto and prosciutto mozzarella. We do chicken parm, meatball parm, all the deli hits. The BLT, the turkey club and the bacon, egg and cheese — all with a little love put in them. I think it translated so well because L.A. is a transplant city and people miss that.” Similarly, Las Vegas is also known as a transplant city.
With hunger in his belly and a thick slice of luck, James’ sandwich shop blew up. “We just wanted somewhere to go have lunch, look what happened. It’s pretty cool,” he says.
In terms of a signature Vegas sandwich, James says he will let the people speak, promising specials just for Durango but also all the classics — and of course, special-edition merch.
Also joining the lineup at Eat Your Heart Out is West Hollywood’s Irv’s Burgers, which recently staged an incredible comeback thanks to Lawrence Longo, who partnered up with former owner Sonia Hong, to reopen the roadside burger stand after it had been closed for four years. With the help of Hollywood backers such as WME talent partner Brad Slater, Irv’s came back to life.
Longo is a food entrepreneur and CEO of Off the Menu, a food discovery, content and experience platform.
Irv’s dates back to 1946, but it was 2022 when Longo got a call from Tal Cooperman, executive creative director for Station Casinos, who asked for a tasting.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a big step for us.’ The vibe and everything they’re going for. … That’s really what we aligned on. We have the exact same vision for Irv’s, which is a neighborhood, family friendly, burger stand that can fit into every neighborhood in America,” Longo says.
In 2018, Longo ate a burger every day for a year, creating content around the best options in Los Angeles. He tried Irv’s and fell in love.
“Classic roadside — a hot, juicy, crispy patty with all that fresh produce with a nice squishy bun. When it all comes together, it’s like magic in your mouth,” he says. “Months later, I became aware that it was going out of business. And at the time I didn’t have the money to help save the business and in 2018 it closed down.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Longo was looking at spaces for other businesses and he remembered Irv’s. “There’s no way this L.A. burger institution should be closed. It needs to be back up and running in West Hollywood. I called Sonia and offered to give her the money. And she said, ‘Lawrence, I don’t want the headaches of operating and running the business. How about you buy the business from me, and I’ll work for you. And I’ll put my heart and soul into it.’ And we created a deal structure and so I became the owner and operator of Irv’s burgers.”
His idea was to take it back to the classic burger stand and scale it for success. “That idea of going up to the window, ordering that burger. Eating it outside with your friends, your family, making it about the food, and eating it with friends and family,” Longo says. “Bring back that experience of Irv’s being the first roadside burger stand on route 66 in West Hollywood when Jimi Hendrix used to go, The Clash, Linda Ronstadt and every celebrity and musician from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.”
For newcomers, he recommends the original Irv’s Burger. “Make it a double with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayo mustard. Or the Just For You Burger, which is meat, cheese, Irv’s sauce, pickles and a sesame seed bun,” he says.
Longo is also a partner in Prince Street Pizza, which will make its desert debut at Durango, and is a favorite of Rami Malek and Shailene Woodley. Prince Street now has half a dozen locations and is famous for its Spicy Spring pizza, a Sicilian square with fra diavolo sauce, fresh mozzarella and spicy pepperoni. “The type of pepperoni that cups and curls with those little buckets of oil,” he says. Longo will also take Prince Street to Toronto this year.
“I have burgers for lunch and pizza for dinner,” he laughs.
Rounding out the offerings at Eat Your Heart Out are Costa Mesa, California’s Ai Pono Café, serving authentic Hawaiian street food, and Fiorella, the lauded Philadelphia pasta bar from chef Marc Vetri, who also has Osteria Fiorella at Red Rock and Vetri at Palms. Station Casinos’ famous Oyster Bar, which commands a multi-hour wait at its counter at any given time on any day, also makes an appearance as well as three homegrown Las Vegas spots, Spring Valley’s Shang Artisan Noodle and Downtown’s Yu Or Mi Sushi, and Vesta Coffee.
Durango will feature a hotel tower with over 200 luxury guest rooms and suites, a pool and cabanas and an event lawn for celebrations.
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