From hammer chicken and dry-aged steak to queso and classic cocktails, Las Vegas dining is as exciting as ever.
Las Vegas, a place that remakes itself again and again, is in the middle of another dramatic transformation.
The city’s new NHL team, the Golden Knights, is dominating at T-Mobile Arena and making Vegas an absolute party on game nights. The massive Monte Carlo adjacent to the stadium is in the process of turning into the luxurious Park MGM and NoMad properties. There’s buzz about forthcoming casino-resorts like The Drew, which will include the Vegas Strip’s first JW Marriott and the city’s first Edition hotel. And popular destinations like Caesars Palace and The Venetian and The Palazzo continue to raise their bets on both celebrity chefs and the rise of casual-cool dining.
Not since CityCenter opened in December 2009 and The Cosmopolitan opened a year later has the Strip felt this electric. Whether you’re on the street, in an elevator, playing blackjack or drinking at a new bar, it seems like almost everybody is talking about the Golden Knights and all the new places that have opened or are in progress. Even our waiter during lunch at the new Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen tells us that he’s been going to a lot of hockey games. He says he gets off at 6:30 and will be checking StubHub to see if he can get a last-minute Golden Knights ticket for a reasonable price. If not, he’ll go watch the game at a bar.
And we haven’t even gotten into the WNBA team (the Aces, formerly the San Antonio Stars) and the NFL team (the Raiders) that are on their way. These are some lucky athletes. They’ll get to eat, drink and party in a city that’s ready to embrace them. They’ll get to enjoy some of the country’s best restaurants and bars as Las Vegas keeps adding more flavor and flash on the Strip. In the meantime, you can do the same.
Here are eight new Strip places that are raising the stakes:
This high-roller Chinese restaurant at MGM Grand is nothing less than game-changing. China Tang’s stunning Beijing duck takes more than 24 hours to prepare before it’s roasted in an imported oven. The duck is carved tableside and divided into portions of glorious crispy skin, wonderfully fatty skin-on meat and trimmed meat. Then duck scraps are used for a grand-finale dish like salt-and-pepper duck or lettuce wraps.
The whole thing is tremendous, but don’t just take our word for it. Sheridan Su, the Vegas chef who just got named a James Beard Award semifinalist for Flock & Fowl, tells us that this is the best Beijing duck he’s ever had. Shirley Chung, the Top Chef runner-up who previously cooked at big Vegas casino restaurants and is now working on Chinese restaurants in L.A., says the presentation is “fancy and authentic, very much like current big restaurants in Southern China.” And, she adds, “I feel like Vegas has the best fancy Chinese food [in America] right now.”
China Tang is a place where you can order hammer chicken, a soul-warming dish that’s stuffed with mushrooms and pork belly before being wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and clay. It’s then baked for five hours before you smash it with a hammer at your table. Oh, did we mention the dish is doused with rosé and lit on fire right before you hammer it?
What shook us to our very core at China Tang, though, was the Sichuan grouper, an elegant and uncompromising dish that overflowed with chiles. Pure mala magic. We also enjoyed the delicate crab dumplings, the fragrant pork soup dumplings and the sweet, smoky barbecue pork collar.
China Tang is Hong Kong-based Lai Sun Group’s Western Hemisphere debut. The MGM Grand restaurant is a place built for blowout banquets that also include Cantonese preparations of whole lobsters and crabs while a Chinese lounge singer performs. China Tang is, in a word, transporting.
This steakhouse and bar was born in Chicago, but it feels perfect for glamorous Vegas nights with dry-aged rib eyes. Bavette’s is the Vegas debut for restaurant mogul Brendan Sodikoff, whose Chicago empire also includes Au Cheval and much more. Bavette’s is a key part of Park MGM’s new restaurant collection. (L.A. superstar chef Roy Choi will be opening at Park MGM later this year.)
On evenings when the Golden Knights are playing, the back parlor at Bavette’s is the place to be. You might even see a player or two hanging out before or after the game. Whether you’re here for steak, a burger, a plate of next-level short rib stroganoff or spiced fried chicken with some of the best mashed potatoes you’ll ever eat, you’ll quickly learn that the portions here are gigantic. (Your attentive waiter might even warn you.) And chances are, you might still be inclined to clean your plate.
The dimly lit room is sexy old-world glamour, with red banquettes and dark wood and beautiful chandeliers and a gleaming bar featuring excellent cocktails. “It’s like my Benny Goodman Pandora station,” a dining companion says of the playlist here. The hot fudge sundae royale will give you childlike glee.
Black Tap at The Venetian might be best known for its highly Instagrammable (and trademarked) CrazyShakes, but don’t sleep on chef Joe Isidori’s excellent burgers and habit-forming queso and chili. Isidori is a serious chef who earned a Michelin star at DJT in Vegas and cooked modern Italian food at Arthur on Smith in Brooklyn. He started his Black Tap empire in Manhattan after having an epiphany that he can sum up in three words: “Fuck fine dining.”
Isidori uses beef from revered meat supplier Pat LaFrieda in both New York and Vegas. Every week, the Vegas Black Tap gets a truck with 2,000 pounds of LaFrieda beef (500 pounds more than what each of his New York restaurants use). Isidori serves classic “All-American” cheeseburgers, chili cheeseburgers, pizza burgers and burgers inspired by both Mexico City and Texas. But it’s the Greg Norman burger with wagyu, house buttermilk-dill, blue cheese and arugula that won the People’s Choice award three years in a row at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash.
We love the Greg Norman burger, but we’re just as enamored with the Texas-style queso and the chili (made with beef, chorizo spices and apple cider vinegar before being finished with some hot sauce). This is bar food at its best in Vegas. And for those who don’t eat beef, Isidori’s got a turkey burger, a vegan black-bean burger and an extremely herbaceous falafel burger. A Brooklyn Blackout chocolate shake can work as a late-night meal, too.
Mediterranean breakfasts with avocado, tomato, cucumber, feta, hard-boiled egg, labneh, olive oil and toast. Provencal-style fried chicken tenders and garden vegetable fries. French onion cheeseburgers and bouillabaisse. Park MGM’s Primrose is here to elevate the three-meal-a-day café experience in Vegas.
Whatever time of day you visit, we recommend one of beverage director Emily Yett’s cocktails. Yett, an award-winning competition bartender who previously made drinks at off-Strip bar Herbs & Rye, has trained her staff to interact with customers about the kind of experience they desire. Looking for a Bloody Mary? Primrose makes one with Yett’s dirty martini blend. Want something with a little Bénédictine? Yett will be so happy to sort you out with The Aristocrat (headlined by Hennessy V.S. cognac) Want a mashup of what people drink in the Mediterranean with what people drink poolside in Vegas? Yett will rock your world with Di Coco, an Aperol spritz made with fresh coconut water.
“This is a layered cocktail,” says Yett, who was looking for a way to merge Aperol with the flavors of a piña colada. It starts with aperol and pineapple juice that’s shaken before being topped with fresh coconut water. There’s also a little bit of Plantation Stiggins pineapple rum. Primrose is next to Park MGM’s pools. The Di Coco is going to be extremely popular as things get a little warmer in Vegas.
Other cocktail highlights include the Moulin Rouge (with Bulleit bourbon), the Lavender Sgroppino (with Absolut Elyx vodka) and the Smoked Bijou (with Bombay Sapphire East gin). Again, this place is here for whatever mood you happen to be in on any given day or night. It’s also about paying attention to the little details: Just check out how Yett, for example, uses scraps to make gorgeous garnishes.
“Our generation is really conscious about waste and reusing and utilizing everything,” says Yett, who’s creating both classic and of-the-moment drinks with an eye on the future.
When you walk into this Caesars Palace restaurant inspired by the hit TV show, you’ll see a video of Gordon Ramsay welcoming you into the space. The open kitchen features cooks dressed like the blue and red teams on the show. There’s clearly an audience for this kind of spectacle: The 300-plus-seat Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen is one of the busiest restaurants in Vegas, full of guests eager to get a taste of signature Ramsay dishes like lobster risotto and beef Wellington.
The eggs in purgatory’s spicy tomato sauce packs a good punch here while the golden beet salad is a refreshing way to start lunch or dinner. The Notes from Gordon is a fun cocktail with gin and green tea that comes with a souvenir: a little note with one of many catchphrases from the show. Plus, there could be some tableside smoke or fog if you order the right cocktail or dessert. OK, here’s one hint: Look for the word "smoke" on the cocktail menu. Another hint: Get the pineapple carpaccio, and jealous guests at other tables might pull their phones out to film what you’re eating.
Giada De Laurentiis has opened a quick-service spot at Caesars Palace for grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and treats like gelato and delightfully cake-like lemon ricotta cookies. The antipasti breakfast sandwich with Nueske’s bacon, prosciutto cotto, mortadella, piquillo pepper mascarpone and provolone is a nicely constructed crowd-pleaser, and we enjoyed a strawberry and cream-cheese danish here two days in a row. The space also includes a wine bar with cheese and charcuterie if you’d prefer to linger.
This jewel box of a cocktail bar at The Palazzo is brought to you by New York nightlife legend David Rabin and famed mixologist Sam Ross. (Rabin and Ross are also the men behind The Dorsey, a larger cocktail lounge at The Venetian). Rosina, an intimate bar with a capacity of just 65, focuses on the classic: negronis and mai tais and Manhattans and martinis and French 75s. But there are also surprises like a secret julep menu with options that showcase rum or mezcal and tequila.
This bar, attached to sister restaurant Hexx at Paris Las Vegas, has a kitchen that makes its own bean-to-bar chocolate. There’s plenty of savory food here, too, but we really recommend Alexxa’s as a dessert destination where you can also get punch bowls and pitchers of sangria. Alexxa’s uses housemade chocolate for cannoli and for churro bites. The mango spring rolls with sticky rice, coconut cream and toasted sesame are a lovely chocolate-free option.