Few Las Vegans are as thoroughly keyed into the local culinary scene as Unlokt co-founder Alexandra Lourdes, so we couldn’t resist asking her for a few foodie recommendations.
Alexandra Lourdes is a woman of many talents. Case in point: In 2011, while earning a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she and business partner Drew Belcher co-founded Unlokt, an app and website that connects users with the kinds of restaurants, bars, and insider information (think happy hours, late-night menus, and half-priced wine nights) that only locals tend to know about. “We’re kind of like matchmakers,” Lourdes says, “except instead of connecting people, we connect locals to the businesses they’ve been searching for.”
As part of an ongoing collaboration with vegasmagazine.com, Lourdes and the Unlokt team have agreed to let us in on some of the newest hot spots and must-try dining experiences on their radar (you can view their first article for us here). In between stories, she opened up to us about her favorite Vegas restaurants, the challenges and rewards of launching an app, and her ultimate foodie fantasies.
You created Unlokt while still a student; what was the motivation behind founding it? I couldn’t waste one more hour of my life Googling the best local place to go in a city and be steered in the wrong direction. My business partner, Drew Belcher, and I came up with Unlokt to finally have a platform that would be like having a local with you at all times giving you the best recommendations.
What have been the most rewarding and most difficult parts of launching an app? Building something that both businesses and locals actually love to use is what’s most rewarding. There have been several times that I’ve gone out to eat with my Unlokt hat on and locals have come over to me to just to say how much they love what we’re doing for Las Vegas. Not being able to code ourselves has been the most difficult part. If I could go back in time, I would have learned how to code starting in middle school.
So, what’s the best meal you’ve had in Las Vegas? This is hard, so I’m going to have to go with the first meal that popped in my head: salmon avocado curry from Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen.
Which restaurant is at the top of your list to eat at next in Vegas? Everyone has been talking about the new Downtown restaurant Chow, which blends Southern-style soul food with fine Chinese cuisine.
If you could eat a meal at any restaurant in the world, what would it be? There’s a restaurant on the side of a cliff in Switzerland—it’s called Äscher Cliff. I dream of taking a foodie photo there.
Any tips for getting the most out of your dining experience? Do your research! When I travel, I literally spend hours researching, reading blogs, and looking at social media to find out the local tips.
If you could have any chef come cook for you in your home, who would it be and why? Tal Ronnen. He’s the author of The Conscious Cook and the famous chef who prepared the meals for Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day cleanse. He also created all the vegan menus at Wynn and Encore. I’m not vegan, but I’m in awe of this man—I love that he can make vegan meatballs that taste better than the real thing.
What’s your best-kept foodie secret in Vegas? I have two, with one being Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen on a Thursday night for half-priced bottles of wine. [Also,] Andrea’s at Encore has a secret locals’ menu that I’m obsessed with. If you’re a local, you can go into Andrea’s and ask for the Bronze locals’ menu filled with amazing $6 food and drink options.
What’s one local restaurant we should all check out if we haven’t already? Duh, Nittaya’s. Another favorite of mine is The Barrymore—it’s such a classic, romantic restaurant that’s hidden in an old Vegas hotel.
What are some of your favorite places to spend time in Vegas? Most nights, you’ll find me at Downtown Summerlin at places like Andiron Steak & Sea or Gelato Messina.
What’s your favorite thing about Vegas? How small this city is. Being that it’s so small, you can really do anything here with the right support. The Vegas community is so supportive of entrepreneurs.
Which cities do you hope to bring Unlokt to next? Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami!
What’s something about you that might surprise people? I’m a total introvert. I actually am a total homebody and could live happily not talking to anyone except for my two dogs. However, with the career path I chose, I’m forced to be an extrovert and have been blessed to have made some amazing friends all around the world because of it.
You also have a Ph.D. in higher education—what inspired you to pursue that? I have two passions—one is food, and the other is helping others succeed. My dissertation research focused on how to help more underrepresented students graduate from college.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give to other young entrepreneurs? Always follow your gut. Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you before you begin.
What are we going to see next on menus in Vegas? Vegas is growing so quickly, and it’s so exciting to see chefs getting more adventurous. My prediction is that we’re going to start seeing more and more cultural and ethnic foods with quality ingredients.