I don’t know of a Vegas hotel where you can’t order room service and eat in your room. I’m not including the Strip Travelodges in this or some other motels that don’t offer food. Otherwise you can often do a lot worse than simply stay in bed and wait for the knock on the door.
In general terms cost isn’t the main issue with Vegas room service. Food is pretty much the same price it will be in whatever in-house restaurant you’re ordering from. Sometimes there’s a service charge but mainly it’s just a case of tipping the guy who brings the food to the room and remember, don’t stiff him!
The twin issues I’ve repeatedly found are delay and cold food. First and foremost these places are absolutely massive. Take the MGM Grand as an example. If you’re on a high floor at the end of the corridor it can take up to ten minutes to get to your room from the lift lobby. Your food comes from further afield than that; usually from the bowels of the hotel. After it’s prepared it waits to be collected then transported to you. If you’re ordering cold then no worries but hot does not always arrive hot.
The second problem is the wait you’ll sometimes encounter. If it’s a busy time of day and the restaurants themselves are barely coping with the guests sitting in front of them it’s going to take even longer to get to you in your room since you’re not a priority. I suggest you order outside of busy periods unless you don’t mind a delay of up to an hour.
For the rest of this post let’s assume you’re going out. There are literally over a thousand restaurants to choose from in Vegas and I can’t list them all so I’m going to approach this by category and give you some examples that I like, or not or I’ve heard about from reliable sources.
We don’t really do buffets back in the UK unless it’s lunchtime at the local Chinese or Indian or perhaps at the hotel for breakfast. Americans on the other hand do buffets big style – how did you think they came to be that size? You’re in Vegas so you’ve got to try at least one right? Chances are your hotel will have its own buffet although not all do – The Venetian for instance doesn’t have a buffet per se although the Grand Lux Cafe does offer a modest breakfast buffet on the left hand side when you enter.
Rule number one is that Vegas buffets are more about quantity than quality. This may not be entirely true when we get to some of the very high end establishments like Bellagio or Wynn but, by and large, you pile it high without necessarily getting the best taste and flavour (or sometimes any at all). I confess I’ll eat pretty much anything and I don’t have a low price threshold (I still love a McDonald’s) but I find that one buffet a week is about all I can handle. I forget every now and then, turn in for a breakfast buffet and then regret it.
Aside from drinks the routine is similar throughout. You get in line to pay. If you have a player’s club card above the bottom rank you can usually get in a separate queue which gets you past the tills somewhat quicker. Some venues like Harrahs even have a different entrance. You can usually use comp Dollars on your loyalty card or charge the meal to your room if the buffet’s in-house. Once you’ve paid you wait in another line and are shown to a table by a hostess. It can be a long walk to your table. These places are generally massive as they have so many guests to accommodate at busy times like breakfast. Once you have a table you’re given eating irons then you go up to the buffet stations and pick what you want and bring it back to the table.
Some places have you order your drink when you pay. Your selection is printed out and a ticket placed on your table. The server comes up, reads it and fetches it. Sometimes the server takes your drink orders then fetches them. A few places let you self-serve your own drinks but this is becoming rare now and will doubtless soon cease altogether. There’s nothing to stop you having more than one drink; say coffee and juice. Iced water’s usually provided as well. If you want alcohol you’ll have to pay extra but they’ll fetch you pretty much anything to the table.
Tip: make sure you remember where you’re sitting. As I say, these places are vast and you might not find your way back to the table again until your food’s gone cold. Look for a feature or something and remember it. Some rooms try to help by giving you an old playing card and leaving it on your table but it’s hard to see the nine of Clubs from one hundred yards away.
You’ll see people do it but don’t cram all manner of different things on your plate together. There is literally no limit. You can go up as many times as you want until the buffet closes and you can have a new plate each time so don’t put prawns and custard on together. Do however hang onto your knife and fork. One of the ways they tell who’s paid from who hasn’t is by restricting the supply of cutlery.
You’ve eaten your first plateful. You leave the empty plate on the table and go up to graze again. When you come back the dirty plate will usually have gone but your knife and fork will still be there. You use them again and repeat the process. Spoons are pretty much the only cutlery you’ll find up by the soup, desserts etc. Don’t like the idea of using the same utensils again for a different course? Avoid buffets or be very nice to the server.
Most buffets offer salad, fruit and seafood in addition to the hot dishes. Most offer pizza, Chinese, Indian, American and other hot dishes although there are likely to be a limited number of choices within each range. If, for instance, you really like Chinese you may be disappointed as there may only be two Chinese items to pick from. All offer desserts as the Yanks love them. Almost without exception I find that the desserts look fantastic and taste of absolutely nothing at all. There are a multitude of small cakes, pastries and the like all tasting of air. Maybe that’s just my palette, try for yourself and let me know. Until I’d been to Vegas I’d never seen people eating cake, sweets and desserts for breakfast but you’ll soon get used to it.
There are often long queues for buffets. I think it’s because people believe they’re getting a really good deal but that’s so not the case. You might be surprised at the prices. I’ve set out below a list of buffets I’ve been to with an indication of price per adult on a Saturday evening (as at 1/16, plus tax) and any comments that spring to mind:
- Aria – $30.95 – actually closed for remodelling I think as of January 2016, upstairs, not to my mind worth $35 a head.
- Ballys – $16.95 – what you pay is what you get; more batter, less meat, less choice.
- Bellagio – $37.99 – among the best in terms of quality but I was expecting far more. If you’re staying at the Bellagio and paying the price to do so what are you doing in a buffet?
- Caesars Palace – $26.95+ – slightly cheaper for a high end establishment but sadly nothing to write home about, rather like the rest of the property.
- Circus Circus – $15.99 – real bargain basement fare. I didn’t like it and you could argue it should be cheaper.
- Excalibur – $19.99 – Ballys like except the whole place is in need of TLC.
- Flamingo – $24.99 – I don’t like being rude about the place as my daughter loves it but I tried it again in December 2015 and rate this as way over-priced for what it is with limited choice.
- Harrahs – $27.99 – OMG, I love Harrahs and have stayed there more than anywhere else on the Strip but the choice is modest as is the quality (I’ve had to complain before) and the price is way too high.
- Luxor – $19.49 – like much else about the Luxor it’s decent value and I quite like the room.
- Mandalay Bay – $27.99 – akin to Caesars Palace.
- MGM Grand – $30.99 – too expensive, huge.
- Mirage – $25.95 – looks better than it is, poor choice of what I like.
- Monte Carlo – $19.99 – like Harrahs but a lot cheaper and more realistic for what it is.
- Paris – $27.99 – not tried it so can’t help.
- Rio – $24.99 – I think the Rio actually has three buffets (ordinary, seafood and Indian) which sets it apart from the remainder.
- Wynn – $34.99 – the most expensive, or near to it, as you would expect and probably top in terms of quality over quantity.
So, do you still think the buffet’s good value? The bigger houses offer deals where you can pay a reduced amount for unlimited buffet access in a day or even a week – ask at the cash desk. The idea of more than one buffet a week, let alone in a day, makes me want to retch.
Compare the cost of a buffet with an average McDonald’s meal. The buffet will be better value if you stuff yourself but do you want to do that? If not then they’re not really cheap at all. I know of two McDonald’s restaurants on the centre Strip; next to Harrahs and in the Monte Carlo food Court. Incidentally I’ve never come across a KFC on the Strip. If you do please let me know where! There used to be a Burger King at the back of O’Shea’s but it left. There are many other value burger joints to choose from like Johnny Rockets in the Flamingo and at Fashion Show Mall.
Denny’s is always a favourite – you get the same from thousands of Denny’s all over the USA. The prices are the same as well even though you’re on the Strip in Vegas. There’s one near the MGM and another opened in 2015 above Walgreen’s between Harrahs and the Venetian. They’re open 24 hours a day and must be good value as there’s almost always a long queue at all but the quietest times of day. If you’ve never been to Denny’s it’s like a better version of Little Chef.
Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood is open 24/7 and pile it high. Without a doubt my favourite delicatessen restaurant was Carnegie Deli at the Mirage. They pile it even higher so you struggle to eat it all. I love the Matzo Ball soup and the menu is extensive. The food hasn’t changed but instead of it being a restaurant proper you now get in a queue to place your order (without the benefit of a proper look at the menu) like you were ordering a takeaway, you pay, get a number on a pole, go and sit down like in a cafeteria and wait for your food. Ruined.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs is located in New York New York. I’ve actually eaten from Nathan’s in Coney Island and you get pretty much the same fare here too.
BLT Burger occupies the space in Mirage that Siegfried & Roy’s tigers used to hang out in but probably tastes rather better. It has a good reputation and is often very busy. Rather more expensive than Mickey D’s but also more glamourous.
Back to New York New York as Nine Fine Irishmen deserves another mention. It’s a bar really but also serves interesting food that’s not overpriced like bread pudding. If you like cider you need to visit as you’ll struggle to find it elsewhere.
Toby Keith’s Bar and Grill is my favourite country music venue. It’s on the second floor at Harrahs towards the back of the property by the Carnaval Tower elevators. The menu isn’t the biggest but it contains all manner of things from nachos to ribs and steaks. You can eat at benches, tables or at the bar. I like the bar because the bar staff are definitely among the best in Vegas and have all the tricks (and some you’ve never seen before). There’s usually a band after 9pm in the evening. A couple of the ice creams are superb. The place really rocks when the rodeo is in town in early December.
Hash House a Go Go is to be found upstairs towards the back of The Linq near the cashier. The jury’s still out for me but I’m going back in March 2016 so I’ll check it out again. It’s another place open 24/7 which is necessary if you gamble until the middle of the night. The food is all a little left of centre – melon next to your bacon and so on. This is one of these ideas that you have to try then you’ll love it or hate it.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface but one of the joys of Vegas is seeking out different restaurants each night of your stay. If you find something you really like or don’t then let me know, particularly if it’s good value.
Lemongrass at Aria is definitely one of the better Chinese restaurants in Vegas that won’t have you breaking the bank and you can have it brought to your poker table in the poker room next door while you play!
PF Chang has been at Planet Hollywood (even when it was called the Aladdin) throughout my sixteen years of coming to Vegas and I love it for the atmosphere and the portions. When I used to visit with a group of big, hairy men we couldn’t eat it all and that hasn’t changed. Good value for money.
Number one for me is California Pizza Kitchen at Mirage. I like to sit at the counter and watch them toss the dough then bake the pizza. I like the servers at the bar who are always friendly and know what they’re about (and not just trolling for tips). Mid range in terms of price. A second outlet is also opening at the Park.
There are many places you can buy slices of pizza like in the downstairs food court at the Venetian but I like to sit and eat mine.
Cafe / restaurants
You have a hard task if you’re going to beat the Grand Lux Cafe at the Venetian / Palazzo. The menu is huge and has some real treats on it. My favourites include their Lemon Chicken Piccanta and Crispy Caramel Chicken. They have smaller lunch portions if you want them (yes, the portions are Vegas size) and lunch specials. One of the reasons I like to play poker at the Venetian is because I can have anything from the full Grand Lux menu brought to the table while I play. I often eat my breakfast here.
Steak, Hot, Trendy and Upmarket
For a big, cheaper steak in a fun environment try the Outback Steakhouse above Casino Royale, next to Harrahs. Sure, this is a nationwide chain now but this was one of the early outlets in the country. Loudish music, fun servers and it won’t break the bank. Don’t be put off by the very low rent surroundings – it’s much better upstairs.
Before we look at the following selected restaurants, some of which are very expensive indeed, I have to point out that we’re now into territory where you have to make reservations. I don’t mean at 6pm for later this evening, I mean in advance, days and weeks in advance. The more expensive restaurants in Vegas and certainly the fashionable ones get fully reserved way in advance. Even after you’ve made your reservation expect a call on or near the day to check you’re still coming! Book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
- Superb French cuisine at Bouchon, The Venetian.
- Carnevino at Palazzo for some of the best steaks in town.
- Cut by Wolfgang Puck at Palazzo is considered by many to be the best steakhouse.
- Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand combines French and Asian cuisine in surroundings that are certainly opulent .
- Lago by Julian Serrano at Bellagio serves a wide variety of Italian food at a premium and has some very interesting dishes.
- Le Cirque at Bellagio is famous for classic and contemporary French cuisine and particularly its truffles.
- If you like Sushi you’ll love Mizumi at Wynn.
- Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace serves the same cuisine as the one on the rue Troyon in Paris.
- Sage at City Centre is for those of you who want up market American cuisine with twists like foie gras creme brulee or a choice of 10 types of absinthe from a roving cart.
- Spago at the Forum Shops was Wolfgang Puck’s original Las Vegas restaurant serving fine up market Italian cuisine.
- The SW Steakhouse at Wynn includes outdoor dining overlooking the Lake of Dreams and is said to be the only place in the United States where you can get true Kobe beef.
- For Japanese fare try Yellowtail at the Bellagio for many interesting and novel dishes
- Among the newest on the Strip is Carbone at Aria, featuring Italian-American with what is said to be top service.
- Harvest at Bellagio has some of the most interesting dishes I’ve ever come across
and not all of which I fancy trying.
- Herringbone at Aria serves California-inspired coastal cuisine with an emphasis on seafood.
I’m not the greatest foodie, not least because I come to Vegas to play poker, usually on my own and I’m not going to dress up and fine dine as a table for one! I really have only scratched the surface with my list above. I’d like this blog to work by you, the reader, trying things out and letting me know what you think. Then I’ll put it out there for others to see what they think too.