As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am frequently asked by my visiting friends and family for recommendations on things to do and places to eat in Las Vegas.
Below is a list of my favorites, which includes some well-known establishments and some of Vegas’ best-kept secrets. (I will keep this post updated to reflect new discoveries, so bookmark it if you want access to an up-to-date reference.)
Oh, and I should preface this with an important piece of info: I don’t do clubs. If you are looking for a definitive Vegas club guide, my apologies, but you won’t find it here. For everything else, read on…
Eat/Drink on the Strip
Joe’s Stone Crab. My favorite restaurant ever. It became my fav when I was still in Chicago (so visit the one there if you can’t squeeze it into your Vegas trip), and I couldn’t be happier that I don’t have to live without it now that I’m in Sin City. Located in the Forum Shops at Caesars, this place is always classy with the best service in town. Everything on the menu–from the fish to the steaks to the sides–is always perfectly prepared and worth the money. In fact, whenever I visit a new upscale seafood or steak place, Joe’s is what I compare it to; if I’m dropping the money on an expensive dinner, it has to be better than Joe’s to justify my return…otherwise, I’ll just go to Joe’s! And you MUST save room for dessert. Joe’s is known for its Key Lime Pie, but my favorite is the Coconut Cream Pie–it’s the best you’ll ever have. P.S.–Vosges Haut-Chocolat is right next door, and see my notes on that below.
American Fish. Chef Michael Mina’s new restaurant in CityCenter’s Aria Resort is a place (one of the few) that I would recommend alongside Joe’s. While Joe’s provides a classic experience both in menu and atmosphere, American Fish feels a bit more trendy (though it certainly has classic elements–the cocktail menu, for example, which features authentic pre-Prohibition concoctions). Things to not miss: lobster corn dogs for an appetizer (oh-my-god), the scallops (because you’ve never had them prepared this well), and the bacon-wrapped sturgeon if you must have meat. These are my personal favs, but I’ve sampled a good portion of the menu and haven’t been disappointed with any of it. The desserts are rather amazing (how about cracking a hard candy full of whiskey over your chocolate cake?), so indulge freely.
Olives. Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I have a major thing for chefs, and let’s just say I wouldn’t mind finding one chef in particular cooking in my kitchen: Todd English. Olives in Bellagio is the only iteration of this restaurant on this side of the Mississippi, so if you’re not planning to be in NY or MA anytime soon, catch it while you’re here. You’ll add to the oh-so-yummy menu’s Mediterranean flair if you request seating on the patio, which overlooks the Bellagio lake and gives you a spectacular view of the fountains. (Like the other restaurants I’ve mentioned so far, this place is pricey, but can you really put a price on Todd English? :D)
Sage. Chef Shawn McClain’s (the man behind Chicago’s Spring and Green Zebra) first Las Vegas restaurant features earthy American cuisine that is to-die-for. It’s housed in an intimate, beautifully designed space at Aria that is perfect for a romantic outing or if you’re seeking to get away from sensory overload. It’s pricey, but worth it.
Serendipity III. If you haven’t visited the Big Apple original, you now have a chance to get a Frrrozen Hot Chocolate in Vegas at Caesars Palace, and you definitely should if you’re visiting in July. The food is on the cheaper side for a restaurant that sits on the Strip (I recommend sitting on the patio for some excellent people watching), and the atmosphere makes this place great for families.
Stripburger. Located on the northern-most end of the Fashion Show Mall (access is from the outside of the mall), this outdoor burger joint is no-frills, but lots of fun. And pssst, even on a Saturday night, I’ve never had to wait for a table. The burgers and fries are tasty, but do not miss the shakes (the butterscotch and chocolate versions are my favs here). And if you’re feeling really adventurous, give the fried pickles a spin; they’re really good!
Peppermill. The Peppermill, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. (a little bit north of Encore), is a must-visit while in Vegas. This coffee shop has been serving up huge (and yummy) portions for more than 30 years. It’s a 24-hour joint, which makes it a great place to satisfy midnight munchies, and its vibrant interior takes you back to Vegas’ retro heyday.
Todd English P.U.B. Yes, here we go with Todd English again. This casual East Coast-style pub in CityCenter (access from either Aria or Crystals) has a killer raw bar, a huge beer menu and plenty of tasty food for everyone in your group. Everything I’ve tasted here (including the giant desserts) is excellent, but since discovering the lobster rolls, it’s the only thing I order. One warning: beware the awkward restroom attendant.
Jean-Philippe Patisserie. JPM was the subject of its own blog post here, so reference back to that if you want more details on this delectable eatery. JPM has two locations in Vegas, one at Bellagio and one at Aria. The Bellagio location is small, but features the world’s largest chocolate fountain, and the Aria location is much larger with ample seating. JPM sells sandwiches, but this is the place to go for a great sugar fix. I prefer to go for the breakfast pastries, but you can’t go wrong with an after-meal visit for one of the outrageous desserts; the cakes, the tartes…everything is divine.
Cafe Gelato. Cafe Gelato is the BEST gelato in Las Vegas. Don’t take it from me, though, take it from an Italian native who recently told me this is the only place in Las Vegas that serves authentic Italian Gelato. It’s located inside Bellagio right across from the entrance to the pools–just ask for directions to the pool area and you can’t miss it. Pick your poison here, as every flavor seems to be better than the last.
Vosges Haut-Chocolat. OK, this isn’t a restaurant…well, not really. Vosges first opened in Chicago while I was still in college there, and there were plenty of days that I spent my lunch money on a duo of Vosges truffles instead of a sandwich. So, if you’re in the mood to be decadent, you could have a meal here. However, with the Vegas location right next to Joe’s Stone Crab in the Forum Shops at Caesars, I recommend the chocolate for an appetizer. Whatever you choose here, add a Mo’s Bacon Bar to your order; trust me, you’ll love it!
Parasol Down at Wynn. Also not a restaurant, but it’s a great place for a cocktail. Grab a table on the patio and enjoy the strange but amusing show on the small lake in front of you. It’s usually not crowded, but if there is a wait for a table it’s usually a short one.
Eat/drink off the Strip
Vintner Grill. Located in an unassuming office building in Summerlin, this chic American Bistro feels like it belongs in a much more cosmopolitan location than suburban Sin City. Located at 10100 W. Charleston Blvd., Vintner Grill is a locals’ favorite that works as well for a date as it does a business dinner. It’s not required, but most dress to impress.
Nora’s Cuisine. Nora’s was one of the first off-Strip gems I found after moving to Vegas, but it’s no secret to locals or tourists alike: this place is always packed! Despite its casual atmosphere, do not venture here without a reservation or you could be in for a long wait. Located at 6020 W. Flamingo–in a strip mall, no less!–this Italian joint is a short cab ride from the Strip and perfect for a low-key but incredible meal. The pesto and alfredo sauces are killer, but if you can stray from the standards try the Alla Nora (spaghetti topped with eggplant, ground beef, tomato sauce, pesto and cheese), as it’s a truly special dish.
Osaka. Japanese at its finest, a former co-worker recently told me that Osaka was serving (great) sushi in Las Vegas long before it was mainstream popular. Also a short cab ride from the Strip at 4205 W. Sahara, its teppan grill is as good as its tempura. Super casual with a friendly staff, Osaka is most fun for groups looking throw back some sake and have a great time.
Hachi. Looking to do Japanese in a more intimate setting? Venture to Red Rock Casino Resort in Summerlin and you’ll find this chic yet affordable Japanese restaurant. Hachi hint: skip the entrees and order several plates of appetizers and sushi for a delicious, filling and cheaper meal. Hachi’s chicken fried rice is always a crowd-pleaser, so be sure to order it for your table. For dessert, don’t miss the green tea beignets. Cocktails are a must here–the ever-changing menu always serves up something special.
LBS. Also at Red Rock Casino Resort, LBS is the perfect place to grab a burger with friends. Order the potato twisters (a hybrid of fries and potato chips) for an appetizer and enjoy the vibe as you wait for your delectable burgers to arrive. LBS mixes up some great cocktails with Vitamin Water and serves an excellent milkshake.
Bob Taylor’s Ranch House. Far up in Northwest Las Vegas you’ll find a great steak/seafood dinner in one of the city’s few, true classics. This eatery, tucked away at 6250 Rio Vista St., is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and bordered by one of Vegas’ busy freeways, but when it opened in 1955 and served meals to celebs like Frank Sinatra, it was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Vegas is known for tearing down its history, but the Ranch House prevails. Don’t miss this little bit of Vegas history; it’s worth the 20-minute drive from the Strip to experience its charming Western ambience and finely prepared steaks.
Hash House A Go Go. Featured on television shows ranging from Man vs. Food to Martha Stewart, you can’t miss this “twisted farm food” while in Vegas. Located at 6800 W. Sahara, it’s not too far from the Strip, and serves the best breakfast in town. (Lunch and dinner are also served, but you can’t beat the breakfast.) Known for its crazy combos (sage fried chicken with bacon waffles, for example) and epic portions (the pancakes are the size of tires), Hash House is always busy, but worth the wait. Two other Vegas locations recently opened if you can’t get to the original: one inside Imperial Palace on the Strip and one in the M Resort.
Red Rock Lanes. If you find yourself at Red Rock Casino Resort, make time for a fun-filled bowling excursion. Best on a Saturday night for cosmic bowling, these are my favorite lanes in town. Want to do it up VIP-style? Rent one of the alley’s private lanes, and they’ll let you pick your own playlist of music videos for your further entertainment.
Penn & Teller. A most entertaining show, Penn & Teller just celebrated their 10-year anniversary at Rio. A comedy and magic combination, you’ll delight in Penn’s wit and Teller’s impressive sleight of hand. Fair warning: Penn’s religious (or lack thereof) and political opinions work their way into the act, so the easily offended may prefer to steer clear. Though, I like to think that even those that don’t agree can find enjoyment in this impressive act–I’ve seen it twice and would happily go back for round three.
The Atomic Testing Museum. A museum? In Vegas? It’s true! The Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E. Flamingo, is a short cab ride from the Strip and details Nevada’s important role in the U.S.’s atomic history–hundreds of nuclear tests took place at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 to 1992. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and features as many great artifacts of the atomic age as you’d expect to see in any of the Smithsonian’s D.C. museums.
Bellagio Fountains. If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ve probably already seen them a dozen times, but they never get old. If you haven’t been the Vegas, the famous fountains are the best free show in town.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Located on the far western side of Las Vegas, Red Rock is a locals’ favorite for hiking, climbing, repelling, biking and picnicking. Want to see this beautiful park, but not the outdoorsy type? Drive the 13-mile scenic loop and take in the sights of the enormous red cliffs and natural desert landscape; there are plenty of pull-offs for photo ops along the way.
Mt. Charleston. Located about 35 minutes Northwest of the Strip, Mt. Charleston offers a great escape in both summer and winter. While Vegas bakes in July, Mt. Charleston offers temperatures that are usually about 20 degrees cooler than the lower parts of the Valley. Come here to hike, picnic or have lunch at the scenic Mt. Charleston Lodge. In the winter, visit the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort for some snow-filled recreation.
Hoover Dam. Don’t miss this incredible feat of engineering or its historical ties to the Las Vegas Valley and nearby Boulder City. A new overpass bridge was recently opened here and is itself a modern engineering marvel, so make the 30 minute drive to catch this landmark in all its glory.
Want feedback on a place not on this list? Leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to respond!