Sin City, long known for its bargain buffets, might need a new nickname: Chef City.
"Las Vegas has become a restaurant mecca," says Chris Colasuono, owner of Red Rock Pool and Spa Service in Las Vegas, where he's lived since 1993. "Whether you like [celebrity chefs] Bobby Flay or Gordon Ramsay, they all have a restaurant--or two or three--on the Strip, and they go from affordable to high-end."
As delicious as that all sounds, the sheer volume of eating options in Las Vegas can also be a bit overwhelming. To help you make the most of your dining opportunities during the Pool Spa Patio Expo, which will be held Nov. 9-14 at the Mandalay Bay, we connected with a handful of industry insiders for their sure bets.
As you go through the list, you'll find a mix of price ranges, locations, and cuisines. If your expense account isn't unlimited (and we're not sure whose is, these days!), don't forget to check a restaurant's website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page for special deals and online promotions. Many also accept reservations online on their own site or through the national site Open Table (www.opentable.com), which allows you to make a reservation and email the details to your companions.
Wherever you go to dine, keep your eyes open for actors, actresses, and other celebs. "You never know who is going to stop in when you're in Vegas," says Joseph M. Vassallo Sr., president of Paragon Pools in Las Vegas.
Oscar's Steakhouse: Local Color
This relative newcomer to the Las Vegas restaurant scene has strong local roots: owner and founder Oscar B. Goodman is a high-profile criminal defense lawyer who also served as mayor of the city for 12 years. "He's such a lovable character," says Vassallo, who says dinner at Oscar's is an experience. "It's a real throwback to the old style of Vegas," with retro decor, Mafia references, and a cast of glamorous Marilyn Monroe-style hostesses who visit customers' tables and share tidbits about Vegas history and more. "The food is excellent, but it's really about the experience," Vassallo says.
1 Main St., Las Vegas; 702-386-7277; www.plazahotelcasino.com/dining/oscars
Battista's Hole in the Wall: Complimentary Vino
If you need a break from the jangle of casino slot machines, you may want to try Battista's. Located behind the Flamingo, this eatery recalls the days of Sinatra and the Rat Pack. "It is old-school Italian," says Larry Scherr, the president of Integrity Pools in Las Vegas. "It's not inexpensive, but it is excellent food." Meals also come with a bottomless glass of house wine.
4041 Audrie St., Las Vegas; 702-732-1424; battistaslasvegas.com
Grape Street Cafe: Notable Wine Bar
You won't find fancy cocktails at this upscale neighborhood bistro, but you won't miss them, thanks to Grape Street's extensive wine list. The menu, which emphasizes California cuisine, features items like baked brie, Caesar salad with blackened salmon, linguini with clams, and more. "I've never had a bad meal there," says Scherr. If you go, you'll want to make a reservation to ensure you get in. "It's not big like the hotel restaurants," Scherr says. "This is where the locals go."
7501 W. Lake Mead Blvd; Ste. 120; Las Vegas; 702-228-9463; grapestreetcafe.com
Ferraro's Italian Restaurant: Elegant Italian
With its homemade pasta (including gluten-free options), grass-fed beef, sustainable fish and seafood, and award-winning wine list, Ferraro's offers elegant, updated Italian for discerning diners. "It's a $100 a head with wine, but it's worth it," says Vassallo, who admits he can't resist the osso buco. "It's the best I've ever had." Located near the Strip, across from the Hard Rock Hotel, Ferraro's is a Vegas favorite (Paragon Pool's Vassallo has known the owner and his son for years) that can also accommodate groups. 4480 Paradise Rd.; Las Vegas; 702-364-5300; www.ferraroslasvegas.com
Maggiano's Little Italy: Great For Big Groups
Yes, it's a chain, but even Vegas locals like Vassallo and Colasuono enjoy this big Italian eatery with its great views of the Strip. Bring your appetite and a group; the generously sized entrees, which include dishes like the restaurant's "Famous Rigatoni 'D'"(herb-roasted chicken, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and yes, rigatoni) are served-family style. It's also great for a business dinner; the restaurant has numerous private rooms, many with their own bar, according to Vassallo. 3200 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Suite 2144; Las Vegas; 702-732-2550; www.maggianos.com
N9NE: Nightlife Central
If you're looking to make a night of it in Vegas, you might want to start with dinner at N9NE, the steakhouse in the Palms. Popular with celebrities and locals alike, N9NE features top-quality seafood and "steak that is second to none," according to Vassallo. After dinner, you can explore the popular Ghostbar at the top of the Palms; as a dinner guest, you'll have a much better chance of getting into the chic nightclub. 4321 W. Flamingo Rd., Las Vegas; 702-933-9900; www.palms.com/fine-dining/n9ne-steakhouse
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab: Crack Some Claws
Despite its landlocked location, Las Vegas is home to a number of great seafood restaurants, including Joe's. Inspired by the original Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach, Fla., this Vegas spot serves up shellfish that you'll remember. "They're known for their stone crabs," says Colasuono. "They are these big, huge crab claws that are the size of your fist." Market prices apply for the stone crab, which come in medium, large, and "select" sizes. But Joe's, which is located in the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace, offers more than seafood; its menu includes steak and even gluten-free options. 3500 Las Vegas Blvd.; 702-792-9222; www.joes.net
The Yard House: Microbrews and More
If you want a break from the fancy cocktails, take yourself to the Yard House. Vegas has two locations for this national spot, but Colasuono likes the Town Square location, which is located about a mile from the Mandalay Bay, in an open air shopping mall. The Yard House, an upscale casual eatery, features American fusion cuisine--street tacos, chilled edamame, smoked gouda and chicken flatbread, sliders, prime rib, and more--and an extensive beer list. "It's a place you can go for a night out with your wife or a happy hour with friends," says Colasuono. "It has classic music, good food, and good service, and it's not going to blow apart your wallet." Two locations: Town Square, 6593 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas; 702-734-9273; Red Rocks Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd., Las Vegas; 702-363-9273; www.yardhouse.com
Panevino: Upscale Italian, Vegan-Friendly
This intimate restaurant is one of Vegas' hidden gems. Known for the warmth and hospitality of its longtime maitre d' Santino Perelli, this Italian bar and restaurant caters to locals with its off Strip location. "The calamari are the best I've ever had," says Richard Kennedy, owner of Alchemist Pool Service in Las Vegas. Panevino also offers common ground to all types of foodies; in addition to Italian dishes like veal piccata or manicotti filled with chicken and spinach, it also maintains a vegan-friendly menu, with gluten-free options as well. 46 Via Antonio Ave., Las Vegas; 702-222-2400; www.panevinolasvegas.com
Viva Zapatas: Worth The Trip
Located 20 minutes from the Strip in North Las Vegas, this authentic and colorful Mexican restaurant is worth the effort. Think fresh tortillas, draft Mexican beers, tableside guacamole, and (Scherr's favorite) seafood tacos. It does get busy, though, and parking can be a challenge. 3826 E. Craig Rd., North Las Vegas; 702-643-8888.
The Bootlegger Bistro: Vegas Tradition
Named after a long-ago relative who smuggled liquor during Prohibition, this bistro is run by a family that's been in the Vegas restaurant business since 1949. Easy to find, the Bootlegger offers a winning combination of Italian favorites, friendly service, reasonable prices, and a convenient location near the Strip, according to Colasuono. The woman behind the menu is Maria Perry, a 96-year-old mother and grandmother who is also the family-owned restaurant's executive chef.7700 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; 702-736-4939; bootleggerlasvegas.com.
Top Notch Barbeque: Texas 'Cue
This Henderson restaurant, which started with a food truck, just opened in 2012, but it's already making a name for itself with its ribs and pulled pork. "This is the best Texas-style barbecue in the valley," says Jeff Fausett, president and CEO of United Aqua Group. You'll also want to leave room for sides like baked beans, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, and more. Also notable: the Cincinnati-style chili, which is a nod to chef Jimmy Cole's past. 9310 S. Eastern Ave., # 124, Las Vegas; 702-883-1555.
Javier's Restaurant: Upscale Mexican
The place to go for high-end Mexican on the Strip? Fausett suggests Javier's, a Southern California restaurant chain that recently opened in City Center's Aria. On the menu: hand-shaken margaritas, various mole dishes, and mouth-watering enchilada, chicken, beef, and seafood entrees like camerones rancheros (prawns sautéed with garlic, poblano chiles, and cilantro). 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas; 866-590-3637; www.arialasvegas.com/dining/restaurants/javiers.
Brio Tuscan Grill: Happy Hour Find
Want to escape the crowds and touristy prices on the Strip? Try Brio in Summerlin. Located just 20 minutes by car from the Strip, Brio offers "a heck of a happy hour," according to Integrity Pools' Scherr. While a gourmet hamburger might be regularly priced at $13, it will be just $3.95 during the 4-6 p.m. happy hour, along with other bar menu items. Also a steal during Brio's happy hour: drinks, which are $5, even for martinis. Can't make the 4-6 p.m. time slot? No worries. Since this is Vegas, Brio also has a second happy hour, which runs from 9 p.m. to midnight. Two locations: Brio Town Square, 6653 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; 702-914-9145; Brio Tivoli Village (near Summerlin), 420 S. Rampart, #180; Las Vegas; 702-433-1233; www.brioitalian.com