In Vegas with a craving for a burger? There’s the obvious choice, In-N-Out, with a convenient location just off the Strip. But what if you want a freshly-poured craft beer with that? Enter Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar, nestled in the mall connecting Mandalay Bay to the Luxor. Best known for his critically acclaimed French restaurant, Fleur de Lys, one might wonder what might have possessed the chef to open a burger joint.
The guy just really likes burgers. Perhaps “like” is a bit of an understatement — “obsessed” would be more fitting. Look at his other Las Vegas establishment, Fleur, and it’s hard to miss the audacious $5,000 Fleur burger (though it's really just a bottle of ’95 Petrus that happens to come with a wagyu burger adorned with foie gras and truffles). A similar burger (sans Petrus) goes for a cool $60 at Burger Bar, a bargain in comparison.
But odds are, most people probably aren’t going to order such a thing after a rough night at the tables. More likely, they’ll go for the American classic, a Black Angus beef burger topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onion on a sesame bun, served with fries. Having published a cookbook on how to make a perfect burger, and also having recently opened another location in San Francisco, Keller would seem to know a thing or two about burgers. So there’s a lot of anticipation in the first bite.
The verdict? It's a good burger, but it's hard to see how anybody else could get away with charging $14 for it anywhere but on the Strip, or from a room service menu. The patty is juicy and succulent, if not particularly flavorful, but that might just be the impetus to spring for some aioli, some homemade Dijon, or the signature peppercorn sauce. All of these things, of course, are extra.
And that’s where the trouble starts. Because this place nickel-and-dimes customers who stray from the ordinary. There’s an “option” to build your own burger, but it’s not hard to see through the gimmick after running through the mental math. The options are so tempting that suddenly one’s best intentions of having a modestly-priced meal go out the window — Black Angus beef ($9.50) just seems so pedestrian when compared to the wagyu from Snake River ($16), and the standard toppings just seem plain boring when one can get oyster mushrooms ($1.25), grilled asparagus ($1.50), and black Perigord truffle sauce ($5.50). Never mind the 1/3-ounce of shaved black truffle ($30) or the seared foie ($12). And this is all without fries.
The place has a full bar, some granite-topped tables, and booths featuring flat-screen TV’s. The vibe is that of a sports bar, albeit, in an upscale yet somehow Disneyland-esque style that screams “only in Vegas.” The service is top-notch, however, with a friendly, knowledgeable bartender and a waitstaff that is quick to take orders, even when the place is at its most hectic. Quality brews are on tap — witness Chimay, Delerium Tremens, and Pyramid Haywire hefeweisen. And the boozy milkshakes are equally tempting.
It’s natural to really want to like this place — there’s just so much potential. But with its off-putting pricing structure and just good, but not necessarily life-changing burgers, Vegas is just screaming for a serious competitor. Then again, there’s always In-N-Out.