Nellie's Southern Kitchen
The executive chef at Nellie’s Southern Kitchen dishes on his path to Vegas and the food that makes the city feel like home.
Family is at the heart of everything for chef Mario Nichols. “I started with the love and passion of watching my mother and grandmother in the kitchen at a young age,” says the executive chef of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen at MGM Grand. He spent countless hours in his home kitchen watching them prepare meals, and quickly learned that there were rewards for shadowing his mother. “I realized I could always get a sample,” Nichols says.
“Ask your advisor to arrange a limo ride to dinner, with a stop for photos at the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign.” – Addie Bell
After rising through the ranks in local restaurants, Nichols was called to help a former manager and mentor cater special events for the Charlotte Hornets’ private jet. “I was blown away,” he says, “And it was just like, what do I have to do to be able to do that full-time?” The gig motivated him to continue along the path to restaurant ownership.
During Nichols’ years as chef-owner of Grits N Greens Southern Cuisine and then Smith’s Soul Food Bistro, both in North Carolina’s Gaston County, Kevin Jonas Sr., the Jonas Brothers’ father, became a frequent customer at Grits N Greens. There, the two struck up a friendship. Jonas had already opened Nellie’s Southern Kitchen in honor of his grandmother, Nellie Jonas, a former North Carolina cotton mill worker. “I told him, ‘I love what you’re doing and what you are about. I would love to see you grow. I think we can grow together,’ ” Jonas recalls. Nichols made the tough decision to step away from restaurant ownership, but the rewards came quickly.
Southern egg rolls at Nellie's Southern Kitchen.
He took over the culinary team at Nellie’s in Belmont, North Carolina in 2021 and moved to the restaurant’s Las Vegas outpost in 2022, enhancing Nellie Jonas’ century-old recipes while adding his own staples. Menu stars include classics such as chicken and dumplings and Nichols’ shrimp-and-grit cakes with Cajun cream sauce and pico de gallo, alongside New American dishes – braised short ribs; Southern egg rolls with barbecued chicken, mac and cheese, and collard greens in a crispy wonton wrapper; and waffles with fried lobster tails, strawberries, and cinnamon-honey butter. We asked Nichols to share a few of the Black-owned dining spots he’s come to love during his time in Vegas; here are his picks.
Must-Visit Black-Owned Restaurants in Las Vegas
Nichols met Gritz owner Trina Jiles by chance at a local restaurant-supply retailer. Her café serves up hearty entrees named for Deep South states, and a fried catfish fillet is considered a side. “It took me back home,” Nichols says of the food. Come hungry for the Gritz big breakfast, with four fried chicken wings, two eggs, a bowl of grits, and a waffle.
DB’s Cajun Kitchen
“The vibe is so dope,” Nichols says of this off-Strip diner beloved by locals. At this restaurant, known for its chill music and laid-back New Orleans theme, the gumbo, po’boys, crab boils, and the “Rich Boy” sandwich stuffed with lobster, sausage, and shrimp are must-order crowd-pleasers. Deep-fried lobster and shrimp, along with the Bayou fries topped with crab, shrimp, green onions, and a special house sauce, are perennial favorites too.
Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
The line often wraps around this Strip-adjacent building, with diners hankering for tender fried chicken and specialty “dranks,” such as the spiked Kool-Aid or red berry vodka fruit punch.