Las Vegas is a city entirely given over to life's guilty pleasures. Sure, you can hit Nevada's desert oasis of neon lights for the gambling, the shows, or its many, shall we say, adult offerings, but foodies know that the real reason to come to Vegas is to experience its cuisine. Many of the world's most-celebrated chefs supervise restaurants on The Strip, making it easy to keep up with global gastronomy trends. There's also a vibrant food scene off-Strip that's worth exploring, and a number of excellent annual food and drink events.
- Heading to Reno or South Lake Tahoe? Check out The Food Lover's Guide to Nevada.
1. The Big Splurge
2. The BurnA more underground and affordable choice is off-Strip at Lotus of Siam (953 E. Sahara Ave., (702)735-3033). It doesn't look like much, but chef Saipin Chutima’s place has an international reputation as the best Thai food in the West, if not the entire continent, according to Gourmet magazine. Try the Issan Sausage, which is grilled, served with fresh chile, ginger and peanut, and costs just $9.95.
3. The Creative Cocktail
Sin City runs on alcohol, but there's no reason to go for the mundane. Creative mixology rules the day at Bar Charlie, at Restaurant Charlie, directed by famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. (3325 Las Vegas Boulevard South, (702) 607-6336.) Pull up to the bar and enjoy vintage cocktails served in pre-prohibition style, such as the Sazerac, made with real absinthe, or a post-modern concoctions that include unusual ingredients like Manchego cheese. (UPDATE: Bar Charlie and Restaurant Charlie closed in March 2010. Here are other bars to try.
4. The FantasyEnoteca San Marco is a creation of frequent Food Network star chef Mario Batali. (3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South, (702) 677-3390.) The restaurant is located inside The Venetian casino, in the San Marco piazza area, which is quintessential Las Vegas fantasy. When you sit on the "patio," and blur your eyes a little, you could almost believe you've left Nevada for Italy. Enoteca San Marco is a great choice for a wine and nibble break, choose from a comprehensive selection of fromaggi and charcuterie. Be sure to try the finocciona, a salami cured with fennel, cracked pepper, and a little curry, direct from Seattle's famous Salumi Artisan Cured Meats. Salumi is owned by Armandino Batali, who is also Mario's dad.
5. The Hearty BreakfastStart your day off right at Hash House A Go Go (6800 West Sahara Ave. (702) 804-4646.) The restaurant has a fun, metallic agri-industrial vibe, and it serves what it calls “twisted farm food”. As you might expect, the house specialty is crispy potato hash, which you customize by adding your choice of roasted chicken, corned beef, house-smoked salmon, chorizo, meatloaf, or veggies. Your hash will be topped with two eggs any style, and served with fresh fruit, and a huge fluffy biscuit. Yep, this is hearty fare, and the portions are both eye- and pants-popping. So it's a good idea to share, well worth $2.50 extra plate charge. Breakfast entrees run about $12.00.
6. The Modern Buffet
Okay, okay, a buffet does scream vintage Vegas, and not in a good way. But El Rancho Vegas, the very first hotel on The Strip, had a buffet, which basically makes it an indigenous food form here. So try to slot a good one into your foodie itinerary. The Buffet at Wynn (3131 Las Vegas Boulevard South,(702) 770-7000.) has 16 cooking stations, and earns good reviews for its seafood, particularly its King Crab legs. The Buffet at Bellagio (3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South,(702)693-7111.) earns raves for its Kobe-style beef and duck, as well as its desserts, particularly the chocolate-dipped strawberries.
- Here's a comprehensive list of buffets in Las Vegas, with contact info, operating hours, and prices.