Ultimate Food Weekend: Las Vegas

By Kathleen Squires  |  November 4, 2013

Up until about 20 years ago, dining in Las Vegas was something done very quickly to refuel between hands of blackjack. Money was to be spent in casinos, not for a multicourse meal in a restaurant. Oh, how things have changed. As Las Vegas reinvented itself for the umpteenth time in the 1990s, and income from other entertainment options started to eat away at the gambling market, food became a draw rather than a distraction. Visitors began to demand good food; add a continually growing and thriving local community, and you’ve got enough options to fill a global roulette wheel. These days, odds are if you are visiting Vegas you’ll find good eats. Our sure bets are below.

  • Ethnic Eats

    Hailed for its Asian food, Vegas has its very own Chinatown, curiously set in a corridor of strip malls on Spring Mountain Road. What they lack in atmosphere is made up in flavor and quality, however, at spots such as Kabuto, which serves sushi piece-by-piece alongside superior sakes. The robata grill is the centerpiece of Raku, while Monta is the spot for a steaming bowl of ramen. Elsewhere, legendary Lotus of Siam is often called the U.S.’s best Thai restaurant, and the Asian-style burgers at Bachi Burger have won a cult following. Origin India is the preeminent Indian restaurant in the area, and humble Los Antojos has gotten great press for its Mexican snacks.

  • The City’s Signatures

    The all-you-can-eat buffet was invented in Las Vegas, and today’s quality smorgasbords have certainly shed the format’s bad rap. The Bellagio’s The Buffet, for example, goes through 8 lbs. of caviar every weekend as part of their Gourmet Dinner Service on Friday and Saturday nights, while part of the fun at Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan is admiring the mini fry baskets, baby cocottes and tiny Chinese take-out containers, as each serving is individually portioned—an impressive feat for a buffet that feeds an average 2500 people a day. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace lives up to its name, with over 500 items, claiming the title of Vegas’ largest spread.

  • Decadent Feasts

    Nothing says Vegas like the word “splurge.” After hitting the jackpot, diners can indulge in over-the-top treats such as the $750 Decadence D’or cupcake, made with vintage chocolate, Tahitian gold caviar (whatever that is), Louis XIII Remy Martin cognac and edible gold flakes at Sweet Surrender in the Palazzo. Or how about a $5000 Fleur Burger, a blend of Wagyu beef, foie gras and truffle from chef Hubert Keller at Fleur within the Mandalay Bay. Normally the burger costs a not-too-shabby $75; the “5000” comes with a side of 1995 Chateau Petrus, jacking up the price a bit. The Guinness Wook Record-holding Golden Opulence sundae at Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace demands a $1000 price tag for ice cream with chocolate truffles, gold-covered almonds, edible gold leaf, gold sprinkles and caviar.

  • Top Toques

    You can’t toss a pair of dice without hitting a celebrity chef in Las Vegas. Even if you can find their cuisine in your hometown, Sin City is where to find their biggest, showiest venues ever. There are a few chefs that have the distinction that Las Vegas is the only city in the U.S. where you can enjoy their cuisine. Joël Robuchon, for example, has 17 restaurants across the globe. Since his restaurant in New York City closed in 2012, Vegas is his only U.S. outlet, with two restaurants within the MGM Grand: Joël Robuchon Restaurant and L’Atelier Joël Robuchon. Guy Savoy’s coterie of restaurants stretches from Paris to Singapore, but Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace is the only spot where Americans can eat his food domestically. Same goes for super-chef Pierre Gagnaire, whose Twist at the Mandarin Oriental is the only U.S. outlet for his playful, modern cuisine. And Top Chef Master Rick Moonen may have made his name in NYC, but the Mandalay Bay is the now the only place to enjoy his cooking, at RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room.

  • The Markets

    Just because it's in a desert doesn’t mean that Vegas doesn’t have any farmer's markets. There’s one to be had practically every day of the week. Find them in various parks on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; every Thursday at the Springs Preserve, courtesy of Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich; indoors in the heart of Downtown on Fridays; and all weekend long, from the Fresh 52 collective.

  • Where to Feel Like You’re on the Set of Swingers

    It’s hard not to shout, “Vegas, baby!” the minute upon setting foot in Sin City, thanks to Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn in Swingers, the 1996 buddy film that brought retro back. Downtown around Fremont Street is the destination for the best in throwback-chic, with hip eateries such as Pop Up Pizza, breakfast favorite Eat, and the trendy bite bar Mingo and Commonwealth for classic cocktails. Every second Saturday of the month, El Cortez Hotel sponsors Vegas StrEATs, a food truck and live music festival.

  • Brunch

    It’s a great American pastime, and a great way to soak up an all-nighter in Sin City. Mary’s Hash House has been a popular favorite for two decades, serving up breakfast all day, every day, and with every kind of hash imaginable, from roast beef to turkey and salmon. Perhaps it inspired the San Diego-based chain Hash House A Go Go to move in and thrive with four locations where the fried chicken Benedict is the talk of the town. Though there’s nothing Brazilian about it, the Sao Paolo Café in the Rio was called out by Saveur magazine for its excellent hash browns. And there’s a reason why The Fountains Brunch at the Bellagio is so famous: where else can you watch “dancing waters” while building your own omelet? Finally, Bar + Bistro is also known as a recovery room thanks to its Hangover Brunch. White-chocolate toast? Polenta honey cornbread? Enough said.

  • Sweet Stuff

    Las Vegas has been on the cutting edge of the cold and creamy ever since it unveiled Luv-It Frozen Custard in 1973. Recently, LA chef Jet Tila entered the market with his proprietary Kuma Snow Cream, a distinct invention that is “lighter than cream, creamier than shaved ice and more flavorful than yogurt.” Chocolate & Spice, from former Aureole pastry chef Megan Romano, is the go-to for elegant confections.

  • Old-School Favorites

    If you’ve ever wondered: Where would the Rat Pack eat? The answer would be at the veteran steakhouses Binion's, at the top floor of the hotel and casino of the same name since 1951, or the Golden Steer, which hearkens back to 1958. A popular red-sauce joint founded in 1949, however, Bootlegger Italian Bistro, predates them both. 20 years ago two names were responsible for providing the model for the fine-dining era as it is known today: Wolfgang Puck, whose Spago set the tone in 1992, and Julian Serrano, who has been dazzling diners at Picasso in the Bellagio since 1993.

  • Credit: Nick Murway

    Wash It All Down With

    Sunrise Coffee, right near the airport, is a great spot to wake up and to play a card game or two at, just after the red-eye. And it doesn’t get more Vegas than Holley’s Cuppa, which is owned by an acrobat at The Wynn’s Le Reve. For tea, it’s hard to beat the sophisticated selections at the Mandarin Oriental’s Tea Lounge.

    Tenaya Creek Brewery is the area’s foremost local brewery, while Freakin' Frog is known as Vegas’ first craft beer bar, with its vast selection of 1200 beers. Five50 at the Aria has a well-chosen draft and bottle selection that pairs perfectly with a pie, while Todd English P.U.B. features over 80 craft brews. Real hopheads won’t want to miss the Desert Hops Festival at The Cosmopolitan, which rolls into town on November 9 to highlight 150 beers from 25 countries.

    Booze enthusiasts will enjoy the intimate two-hour mixology training course offered at the Monte Carlo, complete with tastings, of course. Just reading the menu at Herbs & Rye offers an education in the history of the American cocktail. Otherwise, trend-spotters will want to keep an eye on the beverage program at the Aria, which just imported molecular-expert Craig Shoetter from Chicago’s Aviary. Hakkasan, which at 80,000 sq. ft. boasts being Vegas’ largest nightclub, is the 'in' spot for bottle service. Peppermill, which has been featured in every Vegas flick from Showgirls to Casino, is a classic, while the Downtown Cocktail Room is the speakeasy du jour.

  • Where to Stay

    Las Vegas’s first chef-branded stay, The Nobu Hotel, opened earlier this year with a spanking-new Nobu restaurant, the brand’s largest at over 12,000 sq. ft., and in-room dining that includes new signatures from the chef, including green tea waffles and bento boxes designed by the chef himself. Other food-forward stays include the Aria, with a restaurant collection that includes chefs Masa Takayama, Shawn McClain, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Michael Mina, while the Cosmopolitan has rounded up the likes of Jose Andres, Scott Conant and David Myers with eateries sure to inspire sweet dreams.