Most people associate the bright lights of Las Vegas with gambling and outrageous nightlife.
But stop going to Vegas to gamble — go for the food.
But on a recent trip to Sin City, I was shocked by the number of lesser-known, reasonably priced establishments that offered excellent dining experiences.
More than 60 new restaurants have opened, been designed, or plan to open in Las Vegas, according to Travel & Leisure. Many of these are affordable establishments with entrées in the $US15-$30 range. It makes sense that the food scene is expanding: thanks to Vegas’ nearly 40 million annual tourists, the restaurant industry rakes in an estimated $US8 billion annually, according to Applied Analysis. The demand for great, attainable food is there, and the city has begun to deliver.
Contrast this with a decade ago, when the Vegas culinary scene was an arms race for hotels on the Strip to acquire a five-star restaurant. “When I first came 10 years ago, we felt a sort of competition between the restaurants that were within the casinos to set up these quality restaurants,” Joël Robuchon told Business Insider. “I knew the president of MGM, and he was very passionate about food and beverage. He came to Paris and asked me to open a high-end dining restaurant; he wanted somebody who already had three stars in the Michelin Guide.”
MGM Grand did ultimately open a Joël Robuchon, as well as Robuchon’s L’Atelier, both of which now boast Michelin stars. For more ultra-high-end dining the Strip, the Bellagio has Picasso, a restaurant filled with works by the late artist, the Mandarin Oriental has highly-rated Twist, Aria has barMASA and Jean Georges Steakhouse, and Caesars Palace has Guy Savoy. The list goes on and on.
If you want to break the bank to eat amazing food, Las Vegas has you covered.
But whereas it used to be all about the fine dining, Vegas restaurants today are placing more value on quality food at affordable prices. Hotels now have sports bars, buffets, and sushi spots with ridiculously good food, and these places are mere doors away from the fine dining powerhouses that used to dominate the scene.
Take for instance TAP, a new sports bar that recently opened in the MGM Grand. With more tahn 60 huge flatscreen TVs lining the bars, and classic bar food like sliders and spinach dip on the menu, some foodies would walk right past it. But the executive chef Steve Barr has the best fried veggies in the city (his green beans and onion rings still manage to have a snap) and TAP’s Reuben sandwich is made with pastrami that melts in your mouth.
There aren’t very many sports bars on the Strip, so it would be very easy for TAP to have simply relied on the standard beer and burgers. Instead, they make their own ice cream, cure their own meats, and offer a specialty beer flight menu.
And TAP isn’t a rarity. House-cured meats, fresh ingredients, and homemade fare like bread or ice cream are becoming standard at casino establishments and on the Strip.
And then of course, there’s the true heart of the Las Vegas culinary scene, which has also seen a revamp: the buffets.
From the huge selection at the Bellagio Buffet to the amazing food at the Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon and the high-class fare at the Bellagio’s Jasmine, Vegas buffets are shaking their abysmal reputations. The ones I tried were all top-notch, with cooks and staff at each station who were not only knowledgeable about how the food was prepared, but where it came from.
There’s no doubt the food scene in Las Vegas will continue to get better. Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis is coming to the Cromwell and everyone in Vegas is excited about Daniel Boulud’s upcoming DB Brasserie at Venetian, both of which will be opening on the Strip in 2014 and promise to only add to the city’s burgeoning foodie culture.
So the next time you’re in Sin City, skip the sinning and get right to the food.
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