Las Vegas Celebrity-Chef Burger Showdown
Lately it seems like somebody ought to rebrand Sin City "Burger City." When high-profile chefs or food personalities want to open a splashy, or not-so-splashy, restaurant these days, they often look to Vegas — and apparently burger joints are no exception. Because when the chips are up we want steak, but when they're down (or when we've had too many free rum and Cokes), it's a burger we're going to crave. Bobby Flay, the Italophile duo of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, and Guy Fieri have all unrolled burger-centric restaurants in the past half-year or so. We recently spent a couple days in the city trying them all out; here's how the celeb burgers stack up.
Apparently last year's Times Square foray to Flavortown (and subsequent scathing reviews) wasn't enough for Guy Fieri. In April, he debuted Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen & Bar inside the Quad Resort and Casino.
Location: Points for being accessible from the Strip and not buried too far inside the Quad. There's an outdoor patio if you don't mind the desert heat.
Vibe: The decor scheme seems to cover all the manly bases: think 2000s-era industrial sports bar (brick columns, red leather booths, exposed steel) meets Western saloon (cowhide-upholstered barstools).
Customers: Not too many on a recent Sunday at 10 AM, but Roger and Chad from Denver, sitting just down the bar, were kind enough to share their nachos even though they hadn't slept.
Burgers: My Triple B Burger ($16, above), one of the more subdued options, turned out to be mind-bogglingly gigantic — not so much a sandwich as a huge pile of food, including a large, confusing mound of shredded lettuce, spilling out from a bun helpless to contain it. Whoever thought that wildly oversalting a smashed, blackened patty that was to be topped with blue cheese and bacon is a good idea should probably have his sodium levels examined.
Extra points: Accompanying fries came in a mix of waffle, shoestring, and home-fry shapes — a nice touch texturally. But they were so overseasoned I could barely choke them down. Let's just say flavor here goes to 11 — maybe even 12 or 13.
When he's not focused on getting your mom jazzed up by high-minded projects like NYC's new Gato, Bobby Flay is getting her excited at suburban malls with his fast-food chain Bobby's Burger Palace, which has locations around the U.S. Back in January, Flay rolled out a Vegas outpost in a standalone space right on the Strip, in front of the Mandarin Oriental.
Location: Unlike the other two big new celeb-chef burger openings, Flay's restaurant is not inside a casino — props!
Vibe: The green, yellow, and orange color scheme could be called space-age retro, especially with spherical light fixtures that resemble orbiting planets, plus wavy counter seating and light fixtures that would be right at home on the Starship Enterprise. An order-at-the-counter setup gives the place a classic fast-food restaurant feel.
Customers: On a Saturday around 12:30 PM, the spot was buzzing with families, groups of guys and even a few businessy-looking folks.
Burgers: Darn good. It's a classy move for a fast-casual restaurant to inquire how I want my patty cooked. The meat was very nicely seasoned and just the slightest bit peppery, and the lettuce seemed like the heirloom kind. The Crunchburger ($8.50, above) — an Angus patty smothered in double American cheese lorded over by a tower of potato chips you must smoosh down to eat — is a gimmick, but a fun and tasty one. Every table gets a holder with a nice selection of sauces, from chipotle ketchup to jalapeño hot sauce.
Extra points: Flay's milkshakes are solid, and the option of a spiked shake — vanilla, caramel, bourbon, anyone? — is a particularly appropriate touch. This is Vegas, baby!
B&B is the name of Mario Batali & Joe Bastianich's restaurant group, which accounts for the slightly confusing moniker of this burger and sandwich place they rolled out late last year (not to be confused with the unrelated Burger & Barrel in New York).
Location: Entering the Venetian from the Strip, I had to tromp around asking people for directions and then go down an escalator and through a casino to locate the place.
Vibe: When I did finally track the restaurant down, it felt kind of blah and corporate, with the B&B logo plastered at the entrance, and the inside felt pretty standard — flat-screens, wooden booths and a splashy orange, yellow, and red color scheme.
Customers: I dined on a Sunday around 11:30 AM and encountered just one big group of corporate types (whose order slowed down the kitchen by 20 minutes) and a couple other solo diners sitting at the bar.
Burgers: When it finally arrived, my Drive-Thru Burger ($9, above) was the best part of the experience. It's done in a fast-food style, but with upscale ingredients, just the way I like it. Two nicely griddled Angus patties are topped with American cheese and housemade pickles plus all the fixings and served between a fresh sesame seed bun; then the whole shebang gets wrapped in wax paper. I wish I could get a sub-$10 burger this good in New York.
Extra points: Even beer snobs would be into the brew lineup, which roves from Shiner Bock to Rogue Dead Guy Ale to Stiegl Grapefruit Radler.