This is part two of a two-part series. For part one, please click here.
There’s a seemingly infinite amount of things to do, places to eat and drink, and experiences to be had in Las Vegas, and it can all be quite overwhelming for a first- (or even second- or third-) time visitor. We recently had the opportunity to visit the city at the invitation of Visit Las Vegas, and they sent us on a three-day culinary adventure. This was our second time visiting the city (you can find last year’s writeup here), and this time around we stayed at the legendary Caesars Palace, ventured off the Strip to sample some great pizza and “underground” cocktails, checked out the new dining and drinking offerings at the brand-new Park MGM (previously the Monte Carlo), visited Gordon Ramsay’s newest restaurant, and visited one of the city’s top fine-dining restaurants. If you find yourself planning a trip to Vegas, we can assure you that following our footsteps will definitely be worth it.
Where to Stay: Caesars Palace
Caesars Palace is one of the most famous hotels in America, and its soaring towers and ancient Roman theme make it one of the most recognizable resort-casinos in the world. But what’s it like to actually stay there as a guest?
Guests of Caesars have a wide variety of room types and towers to choose from: The curving Julius Tower, which was the first tower constructed and is located right in the center of the casino; the Forum Tower, the Palace Tower, and the most recent Augustus Tower and Octavius Tower. There’s also the Nobu Hotel, which the Centurion Tower was converted into in 2012, which has its own small lobby off the casino floor and a unique, Japanese-inspired aesthetic. Each tower’s accommodations are slightly different, but all the rooms were recently renovated, so you won’t find any of them run-down or in serious need of an upgrade.
We stayed in the Julius Tower, which is right at the center of the action, literally: If you walk in a straight line back from the entrance, you’ll end up right at the elevators. If you don’t want to walk very far to get to your room, we suggest you stay in this tower; the others require a longer walk from the front doors. Our room was modern and comfortable (a $75 million renovation wrapped up in 2016), with large windows that overlooked the pool, a soft bed, a stone and glass bathroom with a double sink, and a warm color scheme.
Caesars Palace is a huge, high-energy resort. Like many of the Strip’s casino-resorts, it’s bustling 24/7, so if you’re coming back at 1 a.m. and are hoping to return to a tranquil oasis, good luck (the front entrance is also perpetually clogged with cars, so finding your Uber might be a tricky, and the cab line gets long at peak times). But once we were in our hotel room, all the hubbub downstairs felt like it was a million miles away, and noise wasn’t an issue at all. Staying at Caesars is staying in the heart of the action, at a super-convenient spot on the Strip, and you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Read the full writeup here.
Where to Eat: Lunch
Last year, MGM Resorts International announced that they’d be completely renovating their Las Vegas resort-casino Monte Carlo into an entirely new concept, the Park MGM. The new hotel has a distinctly French country feel, best exemplified by its all-day restaurant Primrose, which is located right off the lobby. Primrose, which opens at 6 a.m. daily, is made up of a few different rooms, including a spacious and inviting bar and lounge (formally called the Drawing Room), an elegant and simply-appointed dining room inspired by a French garden (which gets plenty of natural light through large windows), and terrace inspired by the French Riviera. A wide variety of original art (much of which is from 1950s Provence) decorates the rooms; artists include Picasso, Cocteau, and Boncompain.
The lunch menu corresponds perfectly with this atmosphere; dishes are made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and many are inspired by traditional French cuisine, with an emphasis on Provencal dishes. Appetizers include chicken tenders with grilled lemon and herbes de Provence and beef tartare; salads include tuna Nicoise, Cobb, and a Mediterranean plate (with avocado, tomato, cucumber, yogurt, feta, preserved lemon, and hard-boiled egg); share plates include crudités and a variety of ham with tapenade; and more substantial fare includes French onion cheeseburger, short rib ciabatta, rotisserie chicken, King salmon, ratatouille, and filet mignon and frites. All-day breakfast dishes are also available, including pancakes and a ham and Gruyere omelette. Read the full writeup here.
One block from the end of the bustling Fremont Street Experience is Evel Pie, a must-visit bar and pizzeria with a wholly unique theme: Evel Knievel. And this place is very much a dive bar, but in a good way: The bar is long (and its edge is padded), there are loyal regulars, the music is loud, the drinks are cheap, and the vibe is casual and friendly. But even if the mood is low-key, this is a place that takes its pizza very seriously. These are New York-style pies, and just like at New York slice joints, there’s a wide variety of pizzas in a display counter that can be reheated to order by the slice; they can also be customized or ordered by the pie. The three pies we sampled here were undeniably delicious, so much so that they’d be right at home in New York. The crust was just the right thickness, and sturdy enough to hold the toppings without sagging, the sauce tasted right out of an old-school red-sauce joint, and the toppings were applied with a deft hand. Evel Pie isn’t just one of Las Vegas’ funkiest bars, it’s also one of its best slice joints. Read the full writeup here.
If you just happened to walk into Hell’s Kitchen, the new Las Vegas restaurant from Gordon Ramsay and Caesars Entertainment located right on the Strip in front of Caesars Palace, and had no knowledge of the show it was based on, you’d immediately know something was up. First of all, a life-size projection of Ramsay shouts (yes, shouts) greetings of welcome to guests as they enter, and lighting and decorations over the large open kitchen divide the space into red and blue “teams,” just like on the long-running Ramsay-hosted competition show. The high-ceilinged space is sleek and shiny, with a slight Art Deco feel, there’s a long bar and a comfortable lounge area, the dining room is spacious and airy, and the red-and-blue open kitchen is the centerpiece of the restaurant. Lunchtime offerings pan-seared scallops (with English pea purée, braised bacon lardons, and pickled fennel); a red quinoa salad (with honeycrisp apples, dried apricots, goat cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and honey vinaigrette); the signature Hell’s Kitchen Burger (with bacon, avocado, Fresno pepper jam, crispy onion, and ghost pepper jack cheese); a short rib grilled cheese (braised short rib, caramelized onion, and white Cheddar on sourdough); a shellfish tower; hot wings; avocado toast; pizzas; steaks; and eggs in purgatory. A $60 three-course menu offers Caesar salad or white asparagus soup to start, beef Wellington, and sticky toffee pudding. Read the full writeup here.
Where to Eat: Dinner
Michael Mina is one of America’s most prolific high-end chefs, with more than 30 restaurants across America. But only two of his restaurants are called simply Michael Mina, and they’re his flagship fine-dining temples in San Francisco and Las Vegas. The Vegas location, which recently underwent a renovation and re-conceptualization, is located right off of The Bellagio’s whimsical art-filled foyer, and the dining room is bright and spacious, with a large display of fresh seafood on ice.
As this bounty might imply, the restaurant is seafood-focused, with an emphasis on super-fresh seafood prepared using creative, global-inspired techniques. This approach is best exemplified in his Market List menu, which boasts a variety of hot and cold shellfish platters, a selection of crudos and toasts, and three unique whole fish preparations. There are two additional menus: à la carte and a six-course Signature Tasting Menu. We opted for the tasting menu, which provided an ideal variety of signature Michael Mina dishes and new creations. Highlights include Caviar Parfait (an elegantly layered dish of potato pancake, deviled egg, smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and a generous topping of caviar), phyllo-crusted sole (served atop mustard beurre blanc and king crab brandade and topped with a quenelle of crème fraîche and a handful of pea shoots), and the signature Mina dish, lobster pot pie (with a luxurious mélange of spring vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, and several large chunks of lobster in a creamy lobster stock-based sauce). Read the full writeup here.
The Park MGM’s Bavette’s an offshoot of the Chicago original, is sexy, stylish, and a whole lot of fun. The cavernous dining room is dim, primarily lit by Tiffany-style lamps, and divided into different sections so each area is cozy but not cramped. The walls are of dark wood and are covered with antique paintings and knickknacks, the seats are leather banquettes, and the music is jazz. There’s a lively bar in the center of the dining room, and the clink of glassware combined with the feeling of luxury and the dim yellow lighting is transporting and intoxicating.
On the cocktail list, you’ll find a variety of martinis (try the Old Raj Classic, with Old Raj gin, Dolin dry vermouth, and orange bitters), several old fashioneds, and underappreciated classics like the Lion’s Tail (bourbon, allspice, lime); Champagne Smash (prosecco, gin, mint, lemon, and lime); and Pago Pago (Mount Gay rum, green Chartreuse, and pineapple). There’s also a massive selection of bourbon, whiskey, and scotch — this is a brown liquor kind of place, after all. The menu is chock-full of the big, brash steakhouse classics that you’d expect from a restaurant like this: grand seafood plateaux; steak tartare; wedge salad; 16-ounce fillets, rib-eyes, and bone-in strips with béarnaise; a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye; roasted bone marrow with onion jam; thick-cut bacon, loaded baked potato. But there are also some surprises: a crab-stuffed avocado, a French dip, fried chicken, short rib stroganoff.
Especially in Las Vegas, a steakhouse is much more than just a place to eat steak; it’s an experience. The folks behind Bavette’s clearly know this. Read the full writeup here.
Where to Drink
The Mob Museum, located in Downtown Las Vegas, is an extremely cool place to visit. It’s chock-full of Mafia-related ephemera, from a wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to a wide variety of artifacts dating back to the mob’s earliest days. But no visit to this museum is complete without heading downstairs into the basement, where a brand new “speakeasy,” The Underground, awaits.
This spacious cocktail bar is smartly designed, with a long bar, ample seating, and some highlights from the museum (like original flapper dresses and other 1920s artifacts) in display cases along the walls. Guests arrive through an old door with a sliding peephole, and a large painting on the wall opens to reveal a hidden exit. There’s also a fully-functioning distillery on-premises, making corn-based moonshine that’s used in some of the cocktails on offer.
The available cocktails tend toward the old-school, with offerings including the Southside (gin, lemon, mint, and sugar), Hanky Panky (gin, vermouth, and Fernet), Corpse Reviver No. 2 (gin, Curacao, Lillet, lemon, and absinthe), Blinker (rye, grapefruit, raspberry, and lavender), and Kickback (rye, pineapple, cassis, and velvet falernum). The Underground Ale, made in the speakeasy’s own brewery, is also available. Read the full writeup here.
Located just off the casino floor of the Palazzo in Las Vegas is Rosina, an intimate and smartly designed cocktail bar with plenty of Jazz Age flair and expertly crafted classic cocktails. Rosina is impossibly elegant, a jewel box designed in shades of gold, black, pearl, and burgundy. Its mirrored surfaces gleam, and crystal light fixtures and chandeliers hang above the onyx-colored bar and the U-shaped banquettes that flank it. There’s a wide variety of seating, including high-top tables with burgundy velvet chairs, low cocktail tables with pearl-colored leather chairs, and a couple round VIP booths with curtains.
Instead of focusing on new creations (The Venetian has The Dorsey, also from Rabin and Ross, for that), the cocktail selection is almost exclusively retro: cocktails range in price from $18 to $21 and include classics like Tom Collins, daiquiri, whiskey sour, mai tai, gimlet, old fashioned, Manhattan, and French 75. Read the full writeup here.
Not only does the swanky Juniper, also located inside the Mark MGM, have the largest gin collection in town, they’re crafting some truly creative (and truly delicious) cocktails with it. Juniper is dim and sexy, with long couches and upholstered stools for seating, grouped around small mirrored tables, each adorned with a small lamp. The overall vibe is subdued and chill, but there’s a nice energy that kicks into high gear later at night, when bottle service becomes available.
The cocktail list is a pleasing mix of old and new, with house-made juices and syrups breathing new life into well-known cocktails and giving new creations a lot to love. Their Ramos Gin Fizz is made according to exacting specifications, with Tanqueray, orange blossom water, lemon, lime, cream, and egg whites coming together in perfect harmony; and standouts among the new creations include A Little Birdie (above), made with Bluecoat gin, strawberry, vermouth, and lemon and served in a bird-shaped glass; and the Carnival, with Tanqueray 10, fresh lime, St-Germain, and cotton candy. Read the full writeup here.
All the experiences described above were provided at no cost to the writer.