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Las Vegas Dining


As recently as the early 1990s, the restaurant scene in Las Vegas was governed by the notion that visitors were not prepared to pay for gourmet food. All the casinos laid on both pile-'em-high buffets at knock-down prices, and 24-hour coffeeshops offering bargain steak-and-egg deals, but virtually the only quality restaurants in town were upscale Italian places well away from the Strip. The theory was that the longer tourists spent lingering over their meals, the less time they had left to play the tables.


Now, however, the situation has reversed, as the major casinos compete to attract culinary superstars from all over the country to open Vegas outlets. The first such venture was Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Caesars Palace, back in 1992; these days, as each new casino opens, it's taken for granted that it will have as many as ten world-class restaurants.


Asked what had persuaded him to relocate to Las Vegas, one leading chef replied "three million dollars." Many tourists now visit the city specifically to eat at several of the best restaurants in the United States, without having to reserve a table months in advance or pay sky-high prices. Which is not to say that fine dining comes cheap in Las Vegas, just that most of the big-name restaurants are less expensive, and less snooty, than they are in their home cities.


Another break with tradition is that these days the accountants require each sector of a casino-resort to be financially solvent. Where once it was considered worth running the restaurants and showrooms at a loss because they lured in gamblers, they now have to be self-supporting. Thus prices are not what they were, with buffets more like $8 rather than $3, and breakfast specials at $4.50 not $1.99. Even so, for budget eating Las Vegas still beats anywhere else in the country.


At most times, it's generally possible to get a same-day reservation for any Las Vegas restaurant; to secure a table for Friday or Saturday night, however, call as far in advance as you can. Guests in the same hotel as a particular restaurant seldom get any special priority.


The restaurants reviewed in this section form only a tiny proportion of the total. If you're staying on the Strip in particular, the choice is overwhelming, and you'll almost certainly find a good restaurant to suit your tastes and budget in your own hotel. For that reason, the places reviewed in this section tend towards the higher end of the spectrum - it takes an exceptional restaurant to be worth making a special effort to reach.


In terms of price or quality, let alone convenience, there are few reasons to venture off into the rest of the city; good places do exist away from the Strip and downtown, but the best are right where the tourists are. The one exception to that rule is that certain cuisines have as yet been unable to get a foothold on the Strip; if you want Indian, Thai, or healthy Greek food, for example, you'll have to drive out and find it.