When Wolfgang Puck created a branch of his famed Los Angeles restaurant, Spago, in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in 1992, he opened the floodgates for other chefs to copycat their own concepts.
He fueled a culinary revolution that changed the face of Las Vegas, which now has the distinction of being the most expensive dining city in the United States.
Today visitors are confronted with not only Britney Spears, Elton John and Jennifer Lopez on flashing three-story billboards, they’re just as likely to see Thomas Keller, Michael Mina and Jose Andres smiling down on them.
About four years ago, dining and entertainment replaced gaming as the biggest draw to the city.
With 41 million visitors last year (by comparison, San Francisco had about 18 million), that is an enormous food scene. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken from Los Angeles. Together, their restaurants are like a food fantasy on steroids, representing a dizzying mashup of every region.
The roster of celebrity chefs over the years reads like a James Beard Who’s Who: Mina and Keller from the Bay Area. Yet this polyglot raises an important question: Does Las Vegas have a culinary soul?
I decided to find out by concentrating on the many newer, original concepts around the city.
I found that, while a few of the newest restaurants are in the monolithic hotels lining the 4-mile Strip, the most interesting and affordable are up to 14 miles away in less traveled parts of the city.
With Uber and Lyft as viable alternatives to the notoriously expensive taxis, tourists are finding their way to these places — and this is where I began to find a more cohesive culinary thread.
“You’ve got three very distinct things going on,” said Elizabeth Blau, one of the country’s most astute restaurant consultants, who lived in New York but has made Las Vegas her home for the last 18 years.
“You’ve got the Strip, which is all about luxury, indulgence and astronomical budgets.
Very few places in the world have that opportunity to spend several thousand dollars a square foot on interiors.