Once known for copious but unadventurous food that filled up gamers and got them back to the tables, Vegas has transformed into a world-class dining mecca. Marquee chefs the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Joël Robuchon and Michael Mina burnish their brands here. Big names continue to unpack their knives: Gordon Ramsay recently opened his fifth Vegas restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, which resembles the set of his eponymous TV show. A meal out now can be the evening’s main event at $200-$300 a person. But frugal gourmets still find plenty to chew on.
Ways to save: Look for cheaper pretheater menus, and early- and late-night happy hours with discounted eats that can make a meal. Buffets have skyrocketed in price (expect $40-plus dinners at popular Strip properties), but they’re cheaper at lunch and on weekdays and a bargain off-Strip.
Players club cards include restaurant discounts. Those offered by big Vegas chains — MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — are good at their eateries.
It’s a good bet you’ll have a memorable night at Julian Serrano’s serene Picasso, savoring tasting menus amid genuine Pablos and flashes from the Bellagio resort fountains. The best buttery mashed potatoes — a signature dish — beckon at Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand resort. Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian serves spectacular slabs of dry-aged beef as well as Creole-style seafood. Bobby Flay brings his bold Southwest flavors to Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace as a less-pricey option. And that famous $5,000 burger? It comes with truffles, foie gras and a bottle of rare Petrus Bordeaux at Fleur by Hubert Keller at Mandalay Bay.
Fans of belt-busting binges gobble up this Vegas staple. A good buffet showcases international cuisine, cocktail shrimp, a nice cut of roast beef, maybe king crab legs and dozens of I’ll-diet-tomorrow desserts. The Bellagio’s revamped spread offers all-you-can-eat caviar (it’s not the ritzy stuff, but still). Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace is highly rated, as is local fave Studio B Buffet at the off-Strip M Resort, which includes wine and beer. Caesars Entertainment’s “Buffet of Buffets” all-day pass to spreads at a half-dozen resorts is $49.95 for loyalty club members, $59.99 for others.
Ethnic Dining Neighborhoods
Vegas isn’t all buffets and boldface names. It has its share of ethnic eateries, too. Head to Spring Mountain Road, where Strip chefs gather after work at Raku, a Japanese charcoal grill in a strip mall. Or go to Vegas’ Chinatown Plaza, also on Spring Mountain Road, for over a dozen Asian restaurants.
Downtown foodie scene
Trendy restaurants are everywhere these days, with prices lower than on the Strip. Tiny Le Thai dishes up tongue-tingling curry and $9.95 lunch specials. The Park on Fremont does low-cost brunches (order the French toast ham/turkey/gooey Swiss cheese Monte Cristo and sit in its funky outdoor garden). Check out the only-in-Vegas gimmick eatery Heart Attack Grill, where servers dress as nurses and guests don hospital gowns to eat a “quadruple bypass burger.” Downtown also boasts inviting craft cocktail bars.
Every Las Vegas native worth his or her poker chip has plopped into a booth at the Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge or gotten buzzed at its bar on a retro cocktail with paper umbrella. At Hugo’s Cellar in the Four Queens downtown, step back in time with cherries jubilee flambéed table-side. Sit in the red-leather Sinatra banquette at Golden Steer Steakhouse, a former Rat Pack haunt that proudly claims the largest baked potatoes in Vegas alongside dry-aged beef.