//How dining in Las Vegas became world class

How dining in Las Vegas became world class

Jenny Southan gets good odds on the huge variety of eateries in Downtown Las Vegas

The majority of people visiting Sin City stay on the Strip, and it’s easy to understand why – it’s where all the luxury hotels are, the flashy casinos and fancy restaurants. Love it or loathe it, you can eat incredibly well in Las Vegas – over the years it has seriously upped its game from the all-you-can-eat buffets of before. You can eat black cod miso at Nobu in Caesar’s Palace, Oscietra caviar at the MGM Grand’s Joel Robuchon and whole roasted branzino at David Chang’s Momofuku in the Cosmopolitan. Las Vegas is no longer just about slot machines, but haute cuisine.

There is a limit, however, to the amount of fine-dining your stomach and wallet can manage in one trip. Fortunately, just a 20-minute drive away in Downtown Las Vegas, a host of trendy new dining places are emerging, putting this eclectic area of the city on the map. In fact, the area as a whole is being revitalised thanks to investment from local millionaire entrepreneur Tony Hsieh, founder of online shoe store Zappos, which has a campus nearby. There are still some unsavoury parts of Fremont Street, but if you know where to go you’ll discover eating and drinking worthy of the hippest parts of Brooklyn and Shoreditch.

Head to Donut Bar (124 S 6th St) on your coffee break and take your pick from trays of fresh doughnuts. The most popular is the pocket-sized creme brulee, a crisp glaze on the outside with a smooth vanilla cream filling. The maple bourbon, Nutella, and strawberry split are also delicious. At lunchtime, pop into Evel Pie (508 Fremont St) for New York-style pizza slices in a bar inspired by famous American daredevil Evel Knievel; Goblin Sausage, Cheesy Rider and Veg’d Out are all up for grabs. When your meetings are over, Bin 702 (707 E Fremont) in the Container Park does charcuterie cheese boards and wine on tap.

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While the outrageous Heart Attack Grill (450 Fremont St) has been plying its trade for years, publicly weighing customers before beckoning them in for the world’s tallest hamburger, the Kitchen at Atomic, just up the road at 927 Fremont St, is a rather more stylish joint. It’s actually one of the oldest bars in the city – back in the 1950s it used to let people sit on the roof to watch the atomic bomb tests going off in the desert. Opened last year, the restaurant now serves elevated New American fare (poached lobster mac and cheese bites anyone?).

If you’re in search of Mexican flavours, La Comida (100 S 6th St) serves more brands of tequila than it has seats, and dishes up all manner of tacos, enchiladas and burritos, piling pico de gallo, jalapeño and creamy guacamole into moreish bundles. Meanwhile, Park on Fremont (506 Fremont St) has a picturesque garden out the back where you can order tender, smoked beef brisket sandwiches, and Carson Kitchen (124 S 6th St) goes out of its way to impress with gourmet small plates. The baked brie with bacon jam, wild mushroom and smoked mozzarella flatbread, and cocoa-espresso NY strip steak are standout. Eating out in these parts is no gamble. 

Q&A with Cathy Tull

Chief marketing officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

What are the must-see experiences/events/locations in Las Vegas?
One of the best things about Las Vegas is there is something for everyone. We have the best restaurants, entertainment, spas, pools, special events and outdoor adventures, just to name a few. Las Vegas is constantly evolving, so whether you’ve visited once or a dozen times, there’s something new to see or experience. In the past year, we’ve had three professional sports teams come to our city: Vegas Golden Knights ice hockey, Aces professional women’s basketball and the Las Vegas Lights FC. We are excited for the Raiders football team, who just had a game at Wembley Stadium, to relocate in just a couple of years. The atmosphere at these sporting events is electrifying. Downtown Las Vegas has an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops, artwork and museums and gives the visitor a real sense of the history of the destination. We have an amazing mix of artists with resident shows including Bruno Mars, Gwen Stefani, Lionel Richie and Lady Gaga, who begins her residency this winter. Las Vegas is also surrounded by natural beauty, so a hike in Red Rock Canyon or a helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon are must-do activities.

When is the best time to visit Las Vegas?
We are lucky that Las Vegas is a true year-round destination with unique special events and entertainment offerings that suit every taste. The best time of year to visit completely depends on your personal interests. A music lover would especially enjoy the Life is Beautiful Festival in the fall, Electric Daisy Carnival in the spring, or any of the residency shows such
as the Backstreet Boys, Cher or Rod Stewart. For the foodies out there, Vegas Uncork’d is a weekend full of food, wine and fun. A sports fan should check out the Ultimate Vegas Sports Weekend in early March where you can enjoy hockey, Nascar, rugby, UFC and bull riding all in one weekend. Las Vegas enjoys warm and mild temperatures most of the year, which is perfect for relaxing pool days and outdoor adventures.

Do you have a favourite Las Vegas hotel?
With nearly 150,000 rooms, Las Vegas has more inventory and variety than any other US destination, so there is something for everyone’s taste and style. I can tell you some unique aspects about a few hotels to help make the decision easier. The Bellagio is a true Las Vegas icon. The displays in the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are so inspired, creators consult with many different artists to bring seasonal creations to life. The Flamingo Las Vegas just finished massive room renovations and even has a wildlife habitat complete with exotic birds and real flamingos. The Cromwell is a unique boutique hotel that offers one of the best views of the Strip from the pool. The Park MGM is also newly renovated and rebranded and the NoMad is a popular, chic brand that just opened this fall.

Do you have a favourite restaurant?
Las Vegas is a culinary mecca featuring the best restaurants from the finest chefs in the world, so I can always find something that I am craving! A great way to experience multiple eateries is by booking a Lip Smackin’ Foodie Tour, which arranges for guests to experience four or five different venues on one tour. The guides are fun and knowledgeable and their list of tours are expanding all the time to include restaurants in Strip hotels, including Aria and The Venetian, plus a Downtown Las Vegas tour that incorporates a great deal of history in the dine-around. Las Vegas has a stellar reputation for welcoming celebrity chefs, but the first to set up here was Wolfgang Puck. His signature restaurant Spago is still a popular hotspot. Other celebrity chefs with popular Las Vegas restaurants include Gordon Ramsey, Giada De Laurentiis, Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Joel Robuchon and Jose Andres, just to name a few.

Describe your perfect day in Las Vegas
How about I give you a perfect Las Vegas day for a visitor! Start your day with peace and relaxation with a one-hour morning session of yoga at the Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, or a morning helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon. Next you can brunch at any number of fine restaurants including Primrose at Park MGM or the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. Next you may want to get some sun at one of the many luxury pools, such as at the Waldorf Astoria, the trendy Cosmopolitan or the rooftop pool at Downtown Grand. For some retail therapy, check out the new Wynn Plaza, the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s or the Las Vegas Premium outlets. You can also spend the afternoon practising your swing at Top Golf Las Vegas or flying down Fremont Street on the SlotZilla zip line. Dinner and a show would round out the night and the choices, as mentioned before, are endless.

Tell us about Las Vegas’s ever growing sports scene
I think you’d struggle to find a destination that hosts a wider variety of sporting events than Las Vegas. We have long been home to some of the most iconic boxing and MMA matches, the National Finals Rodeo, the PGA tour, minor league baseball, Nascar and the Rock’n’Roll Marathon. Now, with the addition of ice hockey, women’s basketball, soccer
and the upcoming relocation of the National Football League’s Raiders from Oakland, Las Vegas will continue to build its reputation as the sports capital of the world.