Las Vegas Restaurants Get Ready for a Summer Frenzy
Las Vegas, where casinos were allowed to operate at 80 percent capacity on May 1 and might be at 100 percent capacity on June 1, is preparing for one of the wildest summers ever. Chefs and restaurateurs around the city are anticipating a huge amount of pent-up energy from tourists and locals as COVID-19 restrictions lift.
"We're trying to brace ourselves," said Jason Rocheleau, who's opening Brezza and Bar Zazu with acclaimed chef Nicole Brisson at the new $4.3 billion Resorts World casino that's set to debut June 24. "People are not going to go overseas as much this year. They're going to travel shorter distances. We've got all of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and California, in driving distance. People are ready to come out for sure."
Resorts World, on the north end of the Strip, will be the biggest casino opening in Vegas since The Cosmopolitan was unveiled in December 2010. And people are already clamoring to eat at Brezza and Bar Zazu.
"Jason and I will be sitting in meetings, and he'll be getting texts for reservations," Brisson said. "And I don't even have a kitchen yet."
Rocheleau, who adds that convention business has started picking up and that he's already booked three buyouts for later this year, has seen demand surge at restaurants all over the city.
"You go downtown on a Sunday afternoon and it's packed," he said.
In the Arts District, not far from downtown, chef Bruce Kalman is working to open Soulbelly BBQ in May. In addition to Central Texas-style barbecue and his riffs on other regional American barbecue, Kalman plans to have live music five nights a week at his new restaurant.
"I've always wanted to have a place that's fun," Kalman said. "And right now, I think people are going to need fun. I think people are going to need excitement."
There should be no shortage of excitement in Las Vegas this summer.
At Brezza, Brisson will serve coastal Italian food. Expect lots of handmade pastas and premium seafood. Brezza will also have "modern takes on classics'' that are inspired by Brisson's mentors, including legendary butcher Dario Cecchini. Plus, Brisson will play around with Italian-American dishes like stuffed artichokes. Bar Zazu, inspired by tapas bars, should be a lively spot where guests can enjoy sherry, mezcal, and wine tastings while sharing cheese, charcuterie, and Mediterranean small plates. Bar Zazu will also be a chill daytime spot for coffee and sweet and savory pastries.
Other Resorts World's dining options will include ¡Viva!, a modern Mexican restaurant from respected L.A. chef Ray Garcia. Genting Palace will serve Cantonese dishes and dim sum at the casino. Wally's Wine & Spirits, a Beverly Hills institution, will open a Resorts World location with a restaurant, wine bar, and market.
Famous Foods Street Eats at Resorts World will be a food hall inspired by Asian hawker stands. There will be Singapore street-stall standouts including Geylang Claypot Rice and Hainanese-chicken specialist Boon Tong Kee. Hong Kong's Ah Chun Shandong Dumpling should also be popular at the food hall.
"Western stalls'' at Famous Food Street Eats will include an outpost of Houston's Blood Bros. BBQ from Robin and Terry Wong and pitmaster Quy Hoang, who are known for blending Texas barbecue and Asian flavors. Marcus Samuelsson's Streetbird, Steve and Kevin Aoki's Kuru Kuru Pa Yakitori, and Mozz Bar by James Trees will also be part of the food hall. This is a big year for Trees, who opened off-Strip sensation Al Solito Posto at Tivoli Village in January.
Beyond Resorts World, other new casinos have already made a big splash in Vegas this year. Downtown's Circa resort is where guests can place bets at a three-story sportsbook and party at the gargantuan Stadium Swim pool amphitheater before eating oversized deli sandwiches at Saginaw's, surf-and-turf at the Barry's Downtown Prime steakhouse, or lobster fried rice at pan-Asian destination 8 East. The off-Strip Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, on the site of what was formerly the Hard Rock casino, has high-profile restaurants including Michael and David Morton's One Steakhouse and an outpost of L.A. chef Kris Yenbamroong's celebrated Night + Market.
Brisson believes that Vegas is in the middle of a dining renaissance. After running the kitchens at Carnevino and Eataly on the Strip, she opened the off-Strip Locale before joining Resorts World. She points out that other prominent Vegas chefs like Trees have also gone from casinos to off-Strip restaurants and back again. She's happy to be in a city where tourists go out of their way to eat off-Strip while locals become regulars at glamorous casino restaurants.
Brisson wants to have industry nights and collaboration dinners with other chefs at her Resorts World restaurants. This makes sense. The new off-Strip Vegas Test Kitchen is bringing in crowds with pop-ups and eclectic programming. Vegas has plenty of room for culinary experimentation.
"Vegas has changed immensely," Brisson said. "We're seeing great restaurants off the Strip, and that's great for the local community. I'm excited about bringing that excitement that's off the Strip on the Strip. We're realizing that we all have to work together as a community. We're one big food chain."
At Soulbelly, Kalman likes that he has a big patio space in between two microbreweries. He's carved out a section for his offset smokers, and he's ready for Soulbelly to give the Arts District even more of an outdoor-party vibe.
"We're expecting a line here for sure," said Kalman, who's had popular barbecue pop-ups during the pandemic. "You'll walk in the front gate and walk around the smokehouse and into the restaurant. The first thing you'll see will be our meat-and-three line and a big old yellow cooler full of ice and beer. And you'll order right there."
Kalman, who previously cooked at L.A. restaurants including Union, has spent much of his career making Italian food. The urge to do barbecue came to him after he catered a party for the Foo Fighters and befriended Dave Grohl, who happens to be a smoked-meat aficionado.
"To me, there's a lot of crossover between Italian food and barbecue," Kalman said. "It's all very soulful cooking."
This will be an easy thing to verify this summer. Soulbelly is a couple blocks away from Esther's Kitchen, where Kalman's friend Trees serves some of the best pastas in Las Vegas.