Skip the buffets.
For basketball loving sports-bettors, the opening days of March Madness stand out as an extravaganza like few others. Officially known as the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, March Madness is a series of single-elimination hoops showdowns that decide college basketball’s champion team. The first round, running from March 14 through April 3, provides opportunities for gamblers to wager on a total of 32 games. Hence, action-junkies flood Las Vegas and glory in 12 premier days of unbridled wagering. Last year more than $200-million was put at risk and God only knows how many Buffalo chicken wings were consumed.
But any gambler who dines exclusively on greasy wings and the like, while running up gambling debts in Vegas, is a double sucker.
Considering the ever-expanding number of food choices there, this string of games doubles as a culinary holiday for sharp risk-takers who like to dine well. We advise skipping the buffets laid out in casino ballrooms—the food is lousy and prices are high— and, instead, going the ala carte route and freestyling your March Madness sustenance. Here, then, are some of our favorite spots for chowing down while gambling it up.
Being that breakfast is the foundation meal, don’t buy into the temptation to skip it or to grab a substandard blueberry muffin on your way to the big-screens and betting-windows. Instead, make it your business to watch the first round of games at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Its newly installed sports book—complete with a news-zipper relaying ball-playing info, a state-of-the-art wall of monitors, and gratis tables for pool and Foosball—stands out as a top place for catching games.
Just as importantly, one floor up from the casino and sports book, you can grab one of the best to-go breakfasts in Vegas (if not, honestly, the country). Eggslut, which originated in Los Angeles, has a Vegas outpost in Cosmo that is perfect for takeaway—you queue up and order at a counter. The eggs are sublimely cooked and perfectly presented. If you want to keep things neat while doping out wagers, you can opt for the signature Slut: a coddled egg sitting atop pureed potatoes and served in a glass jar with a freshly baked baguette for soaking up yolky goodness. Runny eggs and mashed potatoes are a more miraculous combination that one might think. Forget about Wheaties; this is the breakfast of champions.
Then again, if you’re in the mood for meat, the Gaucho Sandwich (medium egg, seared Wagyu tri-tip, chimichurri sauce) will satisfy—and don’t be scared off by the promise of less-than-soft eggs—they’re not dry, it all works. And be sure to grab extra napkins for this one. You can easily wind up with sauce running down your arm after a couple of bites into the Gaucho’s warm brioche bun. Because lines at Eggslut can be annoyingly long, have a friend save your spot while you hop over to almost-adjacent The Juice Standard for a couple bottles of, arguably, Vegas’s finest cold-filtered beverages and nut-milk concoctions.
Ten minutes away by foot, Aria Resort & Casino is known for having some of the best dining options in town. They include sublime sushi at Masa, the Vegas iteration of Carbone (designed with a 1970s edge of splendor, it could have been an over-the-top location in Casino) and the superb Sage where chef Shawn McClain blows it out with a great farm-to-table menu. Luckily for us basketball fiends, McClain also runs an elevated pizza joint abutting the sports book. Five50 Pizza Bar spins up thin-crusted pies with toppings that include ghost-chili salami, clams, truffles and smoked mozz. Salads are good bets as well. Our personal favorite: the chopped, with fantastic soppressata and provolone.
If you want to watch the games in true baller-style—and your bets are already in place—head to Aria’s second level and check out Herringbone, the brainchild of Top Chef contender Brian Malarky. From the sounds of things, the fish-centric spot (crab-and-lobster-loaded seafood spaghetti ranks as a must-order) is being transformed into a food-lovers’ sportsbar with lots of monitors and a projector. Just one catch: a table for two comes with a $500 minimum and it goes up from there. Yes, it’s pricy but you’ll stuff your face in grand style (Herringbone’s bacon and egg ravioli stands out as world-class stoner food) and maybe your gambling acumen will help to balance things out.
If you live in New York or L.A., you probably know all about the fifth-flavor spiked patties from Umami Burger. But there’s just one problem with those coastal locations: you can’t legally bet on games while you’re eating delectable beef on buns. At Umami Burger inside SLS Las Vegas, no such inconvenience exists. Indoor and outdoor dining are both available—yes, every seat comes with a view of the restaurant’s generously distributed screens—and prices start at a rather decent $50 minimum person. You’ll eat that up in no time—don’t forget the skinny fries slathered in house-made truffled cheese—and have plenty of cash left over for betting at the steps-away windows.
Beer-centric gamblers do well at the micro-brew intensive Beer Park—situated on an outdoor perch, overlooking the Strip and situated at Paris Las Vegas Casino—where, despite a tie-in with Budweister, there are dozens of micro choices in bottles and on draft. Giant screens, elevated bar food (the conceit is that you are at a fancy outdoor barbecue, complete with sturdy picnic tables) and shuffleboard make it a fun place for pigging out on, both, college hoops and satisfying comfort food. Enjoying it, though, requires a $150 minimum per person.
Or you can always head downtown to the The D, which does away with any pretenses you may find on the Strip. Table limits are low, and, both, the sports book and the casino’s Long Bar—which physically lives up to the name and keeps things simple/good by serving up perfect martinis—make for great viewing spots. Hunger pangs there are efficiently dealt with in a manner that goes classically well with the watching of games: top notch crispy-skinned chili dogs, courtesy of American Coney Island Las Vegas, which originally made its bones as a haunt for Motor City rockers and the fans who love them.
After the final seconds of play tick down, head upstairs to the D’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse by Joe Vicari for a big-boy post-mortem on the day’s games and wagers. The classic, high-end beef-joint, imported from Detroit (casino boss Derrick Stevens hails from there), evokes a Sin City of yore with enveloping banquettes and a macho menu. Consider a 32-ounce tomahawk steak plus hearty pappardelle with veal ragu for the table. And if you happen to spot a burly, exuberant guy in a loudly colored sport jacket, it’s probably Stevens himself. Don’t feel shy about strolling over and asking how he did. As old school as the restaurant, the crew-cutted Stevens will surely have had bets on the games—and, like most gamblers, he’s not shy about discussing them.