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Best Restaurants in Las Vegas, NV

by Monty Preiser

Dining in Las Vegas is not as it was twenty years ago, or even five years ago. It has only been in the last few years that the great chefs of this country have opened restaurants in the city and raised the bar for fine dining to a very high level. Interestingly, most of these already well known restaurants, though they have opened inside casino hotels, are privately owned and operated. What this has done in great part, besides providing fine dining opportunities of all kinds, is relegate most of the restaurants still run by the hotel themselves to a kind of second rate status--usually less expensive, but almost always a fraction of the quality offered by the private enterprises.

Thus, in reviewing the Las Vegas restaurants, let us begin by saying that while most of the casino hotels have what they call their "gourmet room," most are indistinguishable from one another, and not worthy of separate reviews. All will provide a good meal in a nice atmosphere, but rarely will it be special. We will only touch on some of them individually.

It is important to understand the above in a city like Las Vegas, where many gamblers shoot craps, play poker or baccarat and look to their casino host and concierge to recommend places to dine. It makes sense that these people will (if not always, at least usually) tout the restaurants owned by their own hotel. But, as we have said, that is probably not the best choice (with the inevitable exceptions).

Another Las Vegas quirk is the entertainment tax. At any restaurant where you have VOCAL music after 7:00 p.m., you will see a 10% addition to your check mandated by law, not the restaurant. This can become expensive in certain circumstances, and, while sometimes the singing is worth it, sometimes you won't care and might want to be certain you choose a place with no entertainment or just instrumental.

Below, we will be reviewing most of those restaurants that are associated with the big hotels and are privately owned, some hotel owned properties that have maintained excellence, and some out-of-the hotel spots that are providing good food and are worth a visit. As you might imagine, with all the restaurants in this 24 hour city, we won't hit them all. We hope we don't miss your favorite, and strive to bring you some new experiences to try. So back away from those slot machines, poker tables and roulette wheels in order to enjoy some fine Las Vegas food.

3763 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Sometimes you just want to leave the hotels, which, we believe, is often a good choice if you are looking for steak, prime rib, or lobsters you can select from the tank. Alan Alberts, located up an alley and next to Rosewood Grill (the two restaurants are owned by the same people and are remarkably similar) is a surprisingly satisfying place to dine, with its huge appetizers, 2 ½ pound lobsters (at a fair price), romantic ambiance, friendly service, and well prepared meats. The wine list is not as expensive as in many hotel lists, and, while it offers a fair selection, it's not as good as the restaurant thinks it is. This is old time Continental dining.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

The Palms Hotel

Owned by local legend Andre Rochat, who has long had a star in town at his signature restaurant, Andre's, Alize sits high above the city on the Palms' top floor, and is one romantic place. Of course, no restaurant of Andre's could be anything but excellent, and Alize keeps up the tradition. Some unusual dishes such as lobster thermidor or venison are often available, and the cheese trolley is a perfect ending. The wine list is extensive (they boast over 7000) and remarkable in its diversity, and if you like a good cognac, there are about 125 of them from which to choose.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A

Monte Carlo Hotel
401 S. 6th St.

To many, this is the finest French dining in Las Vegas (though it remains to be seen whether the splendid quality will remain since owner Andre Rochat is reportedly spending most of his time at his new gourmet room, Alize). But as of now, you can't go wrong at either Andre's. As you might imagine, 6th Street (located in a former residence) is a bit more casual than its brother on the Strip, and, while it's not advertised, it's a touch less expensive as well.

The menu changes depending on the best products in the market, but house specialties are usually available in one form or another. Even if you think you don't like sweetbreads or escargots, try them here. Consider any of the veal presentations and, if scallops with truffles, foie gras, and port en pappilotte (our favorite in name and taste) is on the night's list, order it too.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: Downtown A Monte Carlo A-

Mandalay Bay Hotel

Charlie Palmer's gourmet restaurant in Las Vegas is a good one. Of course, it is most famous for its multi--story, glass encased wine cellar where pretty women in tight outfits travel up and down by pulleys to retrieve bottles of wine. Watching them is almost worth the trip.

However, Aureole offers a truly world class wine list and innovations. In fact, one innovation is the "eWine Book," which allows diners to see more information than they may ever need about each wine in house. We don't find the food itself to be at the same level as some of its other competitors, but it is certainly wonderful-perhaps just under excellent (hence our primary problem here--it is too expensive not to achieve spectacular food). Do try the lobster chowder with grilled prawns and the roasted duck with foie gras.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

The Orleans Hotel

Everyone has a few places they frequent that aren't usually found on lists of recommended restaurants. Big Al's is one of ours. Here you find fresh oysters and other seafood served by some friendly people. Love the price.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B

Binion's Horseshoe

A Las Vegas institution where the clientele often resembles old Vegas and the old West, you can find more than acceptable big steaks (how about a 20 oz. Porterhouse) and prime rib for shockingly low prices. If you go late at night, and want something a bit lighter, we have always liked the half chicken.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B+

Caesars Palace Hotel

One of the newer fine dining restaurants in the city, Bradley Ogden himself is a well known chef in the west, and the restaurant at Caesar's is his first outside California. It features an ever--changing menu of American cuisine, and makes use of some of the freshest ingredients you will savor (Ogden has developed terrific contacts with California farmers and meat suppliers, and products are delivered almost daily).

Our experience was "correct" from entry to check, but, though the food was wonderfully prepared (recommended is the crispy black cod with baby fennel, artichoke and oyster mushrooms), a certain charm was lacking. We think this may be the institutional influence of the hotel and will be soon overcome. Real pluses are the lovely bar at the entrance, and a large selection of Napa and Sonoma wines. Prices are high.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

Rio Hotel

A bit of a disappointment (but perhaps not surprising since this is hotel owned establishment), this is, nonetheless, a popular seafood room on the Strip. Granted, the roasts and sandwiches are quite good (try the lobster, potato slice, fried panchetta, lettuce, and mozerella on Italian bread for a treat), but the fresh shrimp and oysters were small, average, and, thus, overpriced. If you aren't craving a good raw bar experience, you will probably enjoy lunch by ordering hot preparations.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: C+

Four Seasons Hotel

This is a classic steak house with an added attraction-the ability to order lighter appetizers based on those being served at Aureole, also owned by Palmer (even though Aureole is in Mandalay Bay and the steak house in The Four Seasons, the two hotels are in the same building-just separated by floors).

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

Mandalay Bay Hotel

It's always nice to find a Las Vegas strip hotel restaurant that not only offers the best in food, but a price that is fair. At China Grill you can enjoy cocktails in a lovely lounge, and then dine in contemporary surroundings that add to the ambiance. Feel free to share, as the portions are large enough to do so, but know that the food is served when ready. We like this style as it means the dishes come to the table piping hot, but it can make it difficult to taste each other's food (isn't this required at good Chinese places?).

Truly global in scope, though, you can't do much better than this room. How about the following for some great sounding (and, yes, great tasting) dishes? Sake cured salmon rolls, lobster mashed potatoes, and lamb ribs. Yum.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

Forum Shops at Caesars Palace

This Chinese/French creation of Wolfgang Puck competes for our favorite place in town. The choices of Hong Kong style and Cantonese dishes with French influence is all one could want, and when you add an extensive top of the line sushi bar, a room with colorful ambiance, and fair prices, this is "the place."

Signature dishes include sizzling catfish, and Mongolian lamb, but the entire menu calls out to be sampled, and the chefs will accommodate most requests. Visit here.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Aladdin Hotel

Very reminiscent of New Orleans without the charm of the service (something that may not be unexpected since New Orleans waiters typically never leave their jobs and so are all veterans). Still, we like the intimacy of the various rooms, the menu, and especially the food, which is authentic. And if you are familiar with New Orleans cuisine, you know it is difficult to recreate outside that city.

So we recommend New Orleans dishes and drinks-turtle soup, gumbo, milk punch, eggs sardou, Louisiana pecan-crusted gulf shrimp, the Commanders salad, any oyster preparation on the menu, beignets, Creole bread pudding, etc. The wine list is also a treat.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A-

MGM Grand Hotel

There is a small formal dining room (Grill Room) kind of hidden on one side of the more well known upscale cafe, but we prefer dining in the latter where one side is completely open to the casino. Both restaurants, however, share a long L--shaped tiled bar where they offer one of the largest selections of Tequila in Nevada. People watching and drinking good (and strong) Margaritas just seem to go together.

The food in the Grill Room features different entrees every month, though you will usually find blue corn pancakes and portobello tamales. In the cafe enjoy the BBQ duck quesadilla. Ask for the pumpkin seed encrusted salmon wherever you are. Regardless of your choice of intimacy or openness, this modern Southwest style restaurant delivers the best.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

Venetian Hotel

There are not many restaurants in the city where it is harder to obtain reservations, and deservedly so. Owned by Emeril Lagasse, many of the dishes are Creole or Cajun influenced. Though Delmonico self styles itself as a steak house and, unsurprisingly, prepares perfect beef, lamb, and pork, there is much more. Creative dishes using oysters, shrimp, and chicken is also the name of the game here. In fact, quite often the seafood is so special it becomes the star.

We are always impressed with the wine list and service at all of Emeril's establishments, and Delmonico doesn't disappoint. It is one place where you can feel comfortable following your server's advice.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

Barbary Coast Hotel

Picture mahogany and leopard from another era, and you have Drai's. Yes, some might find this romantic, but it has never done much for us. Neither, we're sorry to say, does the wine list or menu creativity. The food is good, but relatively expensive.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: C+

Caesars Palace Hotel

Enjoy an intimate room serving Hawaiian dishes influenced by many of the famous cuisines from around the world (including Indian, Thai, Japanese, French, and Italian). Recent poor mixing (fusion) of ethnic cuisines has had the unfortunate effect of hindering new and exciting practitioners of the art, but the chefs (led by owner Jean--Marie Josselin) at 808 have it right. Their combinations not only work, but are truly inspired. We loved the wok charred Mahi--Mahi, among almost everything else.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Caesars Palace Hotel

An elegant room, but for the regular diner who is not being "comped" by the hotel, there is nothing really special about the experience. It always kinds of seems to us as if the servers are just taking care of our desires while waiting for the high rollers.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B-

The Palms Hotel

The Garduno family has been serving acclaimed Mexican food in New Mexico for some time, and their two story endeavor at The Palms follows their other great successes. Often employing New Mexico ingredients, this classy establishment offers top shelf drinks, a fresh oyster bar, and dishes representing authentic Mexico (including coastal areas) and old New Mexico. The pan roasts are not to be missed, and the green chile Caesar Salad is a discovery.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A

Rio Hotel

A new restaurant and a new Las Vegas concept - fine Indian dining on the Strip. Gaylord's parent restaurant is at the San Francisco Wharf, and has always been a destination stop for us. The newly opened room at the Rio is serving much of the same food, however, it's a bit too early to give a review (if you go, let us know what you think).

4750 W. Sahara

A popular place for those in the know, Habib's advertises as Persian, but includes many Middle Eastern dishes--all of them reflecting the excellence recognized by the restaurant's many awards. The kabobs are a star, in our opinion, and the traditional appetizers shouldn't be missed. After that, you might have to look at the pictures on the menu to decide what Persian foods to select, or discuss the issue with your friendly servers (warning: there could be a language barrier--this isn't the Strip, you know). Entertainment (belly dancing, of course) is offered.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Flamingo Hotel

While there are many sushi restaurants in the city, and even more than one branch of Hamada, we happen to like the one at the Flamingo. The servers are very friendly and the sushi is ultra fresh. Not inexpensive.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

Four Queens Hotel

Not very well known unless you are a Las Vegas regular, this downtown intimate cellar spot serves some dishes with a difference, such as its Indonesian rack of lamb, and tableside prepared shrimp (grilled on a slab of granite). In addition, a full Continental menu is available, all of it served with the restaurant's famous rolling salad cart.

Service at Hugo's is professional and handled by veterans, and the wine list is well chosen by knowledgeable individuals. We have heard some say Hugo's is overpriced, but we would say it is competitive. In fact, a nice quiet place without the glitz can be a welcome change.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

505 E. Twain

Delicious northern and southern Indian food is served at this little place near Paradise. The buffet at lunch is a winner for the taste buds and the wallet, while dinner is a bit more formal and attracts a clientele well versed in this cuisine. We've said it before, but it bears repeating - when Indian food is good, few other cultural cuisines can surpass it. The Palace is usually worth the visit.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

Luxor Hotel

A beautiful dining room awaits you at Isis, as does enchanting background music from the harp. These elegant touches combine with an a menu flirting with originality to provide a truly nice (and, yes, expensive) dining experience. The baked shrimp stuffed with crab and mushroom is an exquisite dish, and if you like flaming coffees and desserts, this is your place.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Hyatt Regency Lake Resort

You won't (at least up until now) find much about this restaurant in Las Vegas guidebooks, but its sister restaurant is in La Jolla, and is one of the finest Pacific Rim establishments in California (and that's saying a lot). Japingo at the Hyatt Regency mirrors La Jolla in many ways, but most importantly as it regards the quality and freshness of the food. The menu is much of what you will expect, but it is prepared beautifully. The room is trendy and fun.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Bellagio Hotel

The famous New York establishment has become one of Las Vegas' fine gourmet restaurants. With all the modern "takes" on French cooking, it is nice to sometimes find that being up to date does not have to interfere with classic French cuisine enhanced by perfect preparation (when did you last have real Coquille St. Jacques?). A variety of caviars are available, as well as oysters and selections from the rotisserie. Yes, it's expensive, but worth a special evening.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A+

Golden Nugget Hotel

Not included here because of outstanding dining, but because it is reminiscent of traditional Las Vegas residing as it does in a downtown hotel. The food and menu are quite average, but if you are downtown, have a desire for Chinese food, and don't want to take a taxi, this will suffice. The service is some of the nicest in town.

Food Rating: C+ Overall Rating: B-

The Palms Hotel

The Palms may have the best restaurants in town, and the addition of Little Buddha (a branch of the trendy Buddha bar at The Paris) will only enhance that reputation. The affable staff is a big part of the experience here, as is the outstanding sushi. But the core of the success is simply wonderfully eclectic pan Asian dishes with French influences served in a beautiful setting.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

953 E. Sahara #A-5 (Commercial Center)

You will not find more authentic Thai preparation outside of Thailand itself. Chef Saipin Chutima (also an owner with husband Suchay – better known as "Bill") has been featured in every national or regional magazine that knows about her, and chefs from many of the major dining rooms in the city relax here. Service is friendly and informed, and (for a real treat) the wine list is terrific and priced fairly. The restaurant prides itself on its wine savvy, especially in the German wines that so well accompany Thai flavors.

Though the regular menu is long and varied, you may want to ask for the special menu listing the northern Thai dishes which you rarely see made in this country. We feasted on fish cakes with a Thai sweet sauce with ground peanuts; beef jerky with a spicy Thai sauce; giant prawns in a pan Asian influenced curry sauce; sea bass in a light ginger sauce; and a chargrilled steak in garlic sauce that, at $9.95, would more than satisfy anyone's craving for the usual $32.00 sirloin at the big steakhouses. We tasted different German wines, and suggest you do the same. A treat.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Venetian Hotel

Word has it that ingredients are flown in from the famed New York restaurant to this branch to ensure freshness. Whether true or not, Lutece prepares very traditional French cuisine with a lighter touch than in the old days. It's difficult to obtain a reservation here, even though Lutece is one of the more expensive places in town--in fact, we think too expensive for the experience.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B

Paris Hotel

This is a pretty authentic French brasserie with romantic ambiance inside, and a large sidewalk cafe right on the Strip (directly across from the remarkable Bellagio fountains -- an added treat). While seafood is popular (the mussels with traditionally prepared caper mayonnaise are right out of the French coast), the house specialty is the famous brasserie dish of steak frites and French fries. Of course, other entrees and h'ors deuvres are available, and they are all good. The wine list is completely French, and not bad, though we have a problem with French establishments in this country that refuse to carry American wines.

Food Review: B+ Overall Review: A-

Caesars Palace Hotel

We have always liked most of the restaurants at Caesars Palace (though they began to slump in the 90s). Nero's has maintained its standards as a terrific steak house set where you can seek either semi-privacy or watch the crowd. The menu is similar in some respects to the trendy steakhouses of the day, but the chefs here create some additional treats, such as steak tartare and fois gras. Squab was the dish of choice during our last visit.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

The Palms Hotel

Much more than a steakhouse, this Chicago based establishment offers sushi, steak and salmon tartare, huge shellfish platters, and a Champagne/caviar bar in the center of the restaurant. If you like the bubbly, there are over 30 brands (not including the magnums). Located off the Strip (but not too far), N9NE keeps up the trend that has seen many fine (and fun) places open a mile or so away from the crowds on Las Vegas Blvd.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A-

MGM Grand Hotel

This is a cool concept, taking traditional San Francisco area dishes such as Celery Victor and Lamb Chops Narsai, and bringing them to Las Vegas. Served in a classically elegant room designed to remind you of the ethnic melting pot that is San Francisco, the ovens bake a variety of breads every thirty minutes or so. Of course, service is San Francisco chic.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A-

Hard Rock Cafe Hotel

If you follow Japanese cuisine, you know that Nobu in New York and Los Angeles became the rage of the cities, with its hip service, creative menu, and critic proclaimed world class food. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa has now opened numerous establishments under the Nobu name as well as his own, and the reviews have not been encouraging (not an unusual occurrence when chefs venture too far from their original restaurant). Hailed as a true coup for the Hard Rock in 1999 , Nobu serves interesting Japanese cuisine, sometimes adding a Southwestern touch. From our standpoint, service has always been less than desired, and the food here does not live up to the hype.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B-

Bellagio Hotel

Great for late night (or any time, actually) snacking, the open kitchen allows the diner to see the chefs at work (lots of people apparently think that's cool - it's such a fashion). Whether you can see the chefs or not, however, this is a place for authentic noodle dishes from various countries of Asia, along with some outstanding Hong Kong style Chinese food. Noodles is quite small by most restaurant standards, so you may want to go during off hours (yes, they exist even in Las Vegas)

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A

Mirage Hotel

While perhaps not a place you would make a special trip to dine, if you are at a show at the Mirage or next door hotels, Onda would be a nice choice for Italian cuisine. The homemade pastas are the stars in this lovely restaurant, especially the rigatoni boulagnase and lobster ravioli. But the Oso Boco is the room's most popular dish. The garlic, mushroom, parsley and balsamic vinaigrette served with the bread may be the best dip we have ever tasted--truly. We also enjoy the restaurant's bar, where the bartender is fun and skilled and the pianist will relax you with standards and Broadway music. The draw back to what could be a more special evening is the service, which, though friendly, is far from professional.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B

Paris Hotel

Perhaps the most beautiful room in Las Vegas, and without question one of the city's best restaurants, chef/owner Cindy Hutson has created something new for Las Vegas-fine dining based on the fresh and light style of the Caribbean. Already a success in Miami and Washington, D.C., westerners will soon flock to this style of cuisine, which enhances each dish with Island spices, just as easterners took to "California cuisine" in the 90's.

Ortanique offers a well conceived and ever changing wine list, and the service is first rate and knowledgeable. Booths in the restaurant are uniquely designed at an angle (making it difficult to see other booths) so that you and a companion are not side by side, really an uncomfortable way to dine. The feeling of intimacy and romance is made all the more enjoyable by soothing live music Thursday thru Sunday.

The food here is perfect. We suggest the Danish BBQ ribs (you haven't tasted anything quite like them); the duckroll filled with veggies; the salmon stuffed with curried lobster and crabmeat over a lobster/brandy sauce; and the grouper with the best mashed sweet potatoes (infused with pumpkin) we ever tasted. Of course, various other fish and meats are always available, and it's a tough choice. But don't miss this one.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace

As do all Palm restaurants around the country, The Palm in Las Vegas serves huge and well prepared meats and lobsters in a New York type atmosphere. We like the service here -- the staff seems to recognize how many places there are to dine not only in the city, but within a few hundred yards. So they are happy to see you and serve you.

Probably you need no reminder to share your entrees, but don't hesitate to try whatever fresh fish is on the menu. Though not signature preparations, what the chefs can do with fish will not disappoint you.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

400 E. Sahara Ave.

We have been frequenting this off the Strip country French restaurant for more years than we care to think about. It's not well known by tourists unless they are regular Las Vegas visitors, and therein lies some of its charm.

Pamplemousse makes us feel relaxed, offers a nice wine selection, and employs the freshest ingredients possible. In fact, there is no printed menu since what the chef prepares is dependant on what he likes at the market that day. The duck and seafood are our usual choices.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A-

MGM Grand Hotel

One of our favorites in Las Vegas, the staff here is committed to making sure your meal is memorable. The menu changes daily to ensure the freshest of ingredients, and you will find some authentic selections such as shark fin's soup, minced tiger prawns and pine nuts, fried crispy eel, wok prepared spiny lobster, and salt and pepper squid. But don't worry, more traditional dishes can be ordered, too. We recommend leaving the menu up to your captain. You'll love it.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A-

Flamingo Hilton Hotel

Always a nice place, recent expansion has been good for this restaurant, and for its clientele. The service has improved, and the decor is brighter and more attractive. We enjoy the entire menu here, but mostly appreciate the opportunity to dine on excellent Peking Duck without advance notice.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

Bellagio Hotel

To many, Picasso is the quintessential French experience in Las Vegas. Granted, it has won most of the awards available, is set in a gorgeous room, shows off priceless artwork, offers magnificently original dishes, and allows one to select from a quality wine list. Unfortunately, many diners leave with a feeling that the expensive dinner they were willing to experience lacked a little something, and are therefore disappointed without quite knowing why.

We think that inconsistency is the problem here. Not inconsistency between good and not good, but between very good and perfect. A reservation is difficult to obtain, and when you expect perfection, not realizing it is a true comedown. Let us hope you hit a night Picasso's is "on," because it's a gastronomic experience.

Food Rating: A+ or A- Overall Rating: A+ or A

Venetian Hotel

Not our favorite French haute causine restaurant (Renoir's has that honor), but our favorite bistro. Wonderful wild game is featured, not unusual in a restaurant owned by Famed Joachim Splichal, but a bit out of the ordinary for Las Vegas. But the focus is also on the beef, seafood, and traditional country French dishes such as bouillabaise and cassoulet. Everyone also talks about the seafood platter, and rightfully so. Expensive, yes, but a wow.

There is no rushing your meal here. You may as well pretend you are in Europe, and, actually, that is not so difficult a stretch since the rooms are filled with only authentic furnishings brought from France. If you desire to dine outside, you can do that too, though the menu is somewhat limited.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Venetian Hotel

We're sorry, but this endeavor by Wolfgang Puck (how many are there, anyway?) leaves us a bit cold. Geared toward contemporary American cuisine with some Asian influences, the food and service are good, just not good enough to merit top marks and cause one to spend large dollars.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: B

Bellagio Hotel

Certainly there is no prettier steakhouse in the city, and we are happy to say that the staff here seems to be more welcoming to the average diner than elsewhere at the Bellagio. Steakhouses are often set apart by their service and ambiance, since the steaks themselves are prepared these days in substantially the same manner in scores of establishments. Prime features excellent lamb and seafood, so don't stay away if you are looking for something other than beef. In fact, the caramelized pork loin is perhaps the best dish. We aren't thrilled with the value here, but that's about par for any of the country's best steak establishments.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: B+

Mandalay Bay Hotel

A very hot place (figuratively), this trendy quasi Russian restaurant offers over a hundred vodkas and infusions, a "Walk-In Box" for tasting that is very cool (literally), and a bar partially made of a slab of ice. The food is somewhat Russian, such as Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev, but American dishes are available. You don't really go here for the dining, though it is certainly acceptable, but for the ambiance, which is impressive.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: A-

California Hotel

Not well known among tourists, the Redwood Bar and Grill is a candidate for the best value in Las Vegas among restaurants in the finer dining class. Elegant in its own way (perhaps better described as "warm" or "intimate"), traditional Continental fare is served by professionals with a great attitude - they seem to like what they are doing, and appreciate their clientele.

We enjoyed the fish and steak, but the prime rib (something we order sparingly) was the star. A plus for us was the pianist, too few of whom play the dinner hours in the city. If you've been to the more famous restaurants, you'll be surprised at the quality here without having to pay a small fortune to enjoy it.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: A

Mirage Hotel

Renoir poses a conundrum. The food may well be the best in town, but it may also be the most expensive, in fact, perhaps overly so. You cannot escape, should you have a decent bottle of wine, for less than $250.00 before tip, and if you choose the wonderful tasting menu, your tab will increase by another 15%.

Not that we are suggesting you pass this one by, as Renoir does exhibit perfect food, perfect pairings, perfect service, a first rate wine list, and a gorgeous (almost Alice in Wonderland type) room decorated with a myriad of whimsical soft colors and various shapes, not to mention original works of art by the restaurant's namesake. Our foie gras in a ginger pineapple reduction with a pineapple chip, and turbot in a cream/spring pea sauce were among the best dishes we have tasted. But it's all to die for.

So decide if the cost will fit your budget, and if it will, enjoy,

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A+

Rio Hotel

Chef Michael Jordan oversees an operation that, while new at this location, is already in the upper echelon of Las Vegas restaurants. And there is a bonus for this American with French influence establishment. It may be the most reasonably priced of all the gourmet rooms in the city, featuring (as an option) a five course tasting menu for $65.00, and an extensive and beautifully thought out wine list with an imminently fair mark up.

The grilled shrimp over Maytag cole slaw with a drizzle of BBQ sauce, and the salmon tartar are superstars of a sparkling array of appetizers (which also includes, among other selections, grilled sweetbreads and potato bread with blue cheese). Entrees range from rack of lamb to various fish to a very hot peppercorn covered filet that might be great for some, but too spicy for others.

The service in this bright, attractive room is quite correct, though perhaps lacking a certain warmth.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

3763 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Located in its new location right next door to Alan Alberts (the two restaurants are owned by the same people and are so similar they are often hard to distinguish), Rosewood is reminiscent of a 1950's Continental style dinner club. You can find thick steaks, huge live lobsters that you select from the tanks, shrimp cocktail, and other dishes that fit this mode of dining. It's a nice getaway from the hotels. Rosewood advertises a superior wine list, but it is quite average.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B

Mandalay Bay Hotel

The name gives the clue. This night club in a jungle-like setting offers well over a hundred different rums, and one of the city's hottest rooms. You can order from a prix fixe menu and enjoy unlimited entrees (meat, fish, and chicken), or be a bit more judicious and see what is available a la carte (maybe the banana leaf sea bass is for you -- it was for us). The food here is surprisingly good, and the price is fair, but neither of these are the reasons to frequent this unique restaurant. It's just fun, especially if you are (or think you are) a young adult and like to dance.

Food Rating: B Overall Rating: A-

Luxor Hotel

Having less notoriety than many Strip gourmet rooms, Sacred Sea Room is, nonetheless, a pretty place that might give you the feeling you are in an Egyptian fishing village. The restaurant prides itself in serving sea food that is delivered daily, and in providing service that is professional, yet not intrusive. The food is surprisingly good, especially the appetizers (hot and cold), and certain entrees, such as the prawns stuffed with herbs and gruyere cheese, the lobster sauteed in brandy and shallots, and the chicken breast stuffed with lobster, truffles, and spinach. You may not get many recommendations to dine at the Sacred Sea Room, but don't hesitate to have a nice experience here, especially if you are staying at the Luxor.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

4215 Spring Mountain Rd. (Chinatown Mall)

Woo's is not near the Strip, but what a fun place to visit for some of the best Chinese BBQ you can find. Don't expect the experience to be easy. Taxis are often caught up in traffic, sometimes they are difficult to get for a return, and you won't find too much English spoken at the restaurant. But we like authenticity, good food (go with the combination BBQ platter and try it all), and wonderful value (the prices are some of the lowest we have seen in Las Vegas). The best time to go is probably for a late lunch or very late dinner (Woo's is open from about 10:00 a.m. all the way through to 5:00 a.m.). Don't you love Chinese at 2 in the morning?

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Fremont Hotel

Too many Las Vegas visitors ignore the better dining values that are often available in some very good restaurants downtown. The Fremont hotel is not one that beacons the high roller, but its art deco themed gourmet room, the Second Street Grill, is being discovered by the discerning diner who wants top of the line cuisine, friendly service, and a fair check. Chef Rachel Breen prepares some unique Continental specialties enhanced by Pacific Rim touches, and can offer a menu of somewhat traditional Hawaiian food as well. This is a nice find.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Bellagio Hotel

This is perhaps the best of the Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas, as every aspect is well accomplished. The teppanyaki tables are manned by expert chefs, and the service throughout is thoughtful and friendly. Shintaro also boasts terrific sushi. Where it differs from many of its competitors, however, is in the availability of a vast number of excellent Pacific Rim dishes. Of course, being at Bellagio means Shintaro is a bit more expensive than one would like, but it's also a bit better than one might suspect.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

3767 Las Vegas Blvd.

Always one of our favorite traditional steakhouses whether it be in New York, Miami Beach, or Washington, S & W doesn't disappoint in Las Vegas either. The food served here is superb. However, we like the added concept (also in New York), which is the Smith & Wollensky Grill (just around the corner from the main restaurant but with the same address). The Grill serves smaller portions from a limited menu, but from the same kitchen as its "daddy." It is open quite late to accommodate the city in which it operates. Very expensive, especially the well thought our wine list.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace

The fame of Spago and Wolfgang Puck, as well as budding star Chef David Robins, are well served at Spago. It is true that you won't think you got a deal, but at least you should leave being satisfied that you have sampled some of the best California type cuisine available, and know that the menu is updated daily.

If you have not visited recently, Spago has been beautifully remodeled. There are still two rooms -- the informal cafe (which you see from the Forum Shops as you stroll by) and the more formal restaurant. Both locations offer the freshest of everything -- a California cuisine signature. Try the pizzas (with caviar?), and just about anything else.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A

Circus Circus Hotel

Surprise. One of the city's coziest rooms (wood paneled with the broiler in the middle of the main room) is at tourist and child crazy Circus Circus. The Steak House is one of the city's old liners and it remains to be seen how it will fare now that it is challenged by what seems like every high end trendy steak house chain in the country. But for now, feel comfortable in trying the thick and flavorful aged steaks along with some terrific sides. The price is less than most of its new competition as well.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A-

Golden Nugget Hotel

A little better than average food served by waiters who sing Italian songs, usually in average voices as well. But put the two averages together, and add them to a charming room, and you have a nice evening. Stefano's is not inexpensive even though it is off the Strip. The Nugget is a semi-elegant hotel. Prices at Stefano's are a little steep for the quality of the food, but you pay for the entertainment.

Food Rating: C+ Overall Rating: B

Caesars Palace Hotel

With all the excellent restaurants at Caesar's Palace over the years, we have never been too impressed with their Italian rooms. Terrazza is lovely, and a nice place to have a cocktail before dinner, but the food is relatively average compared to its competition.

Food Rating: B- Overall Rating: B

Mandalay Bay Hotel

Enjoy a cocktail before dinner in the men's clubby type lounge, and watch the "virtual" aquarium, which is a large flat screen closed circuit TV showing the Shark Reef. Dine in a plush room with suede booths and red leather walls. Order wine from a nicely conceived list. And then dine on well prepared Continental cuisine with friendly servers.

Food Rating: B+ Overall Rating: B+

Mandalay Bay Hotel

The menu proclaims that Sicilian and Tuscan cuisines meet, and, while the food here does reflect some creativity from Mark Ferguson, it is a bit familiar (you know it will probably be good, though, - it's ANOTHER Wolfgang Puck entry and he knows how to choose executive chefs for each of his restaurants). Del Lupo boasts some of the best staff in the city, in our mind. They are knowledgeable and unobtrusive, allowing you to enjoy your meal in peace. You can find more that acceptable wines here.

Food Rating: A- Overall Rating: A

Venetian Hotel

Wonderful Pan Asian menu, and a definite "go to" if you are visiting the Grand Canal Shops (and doesn't everyone at least once during a Las Vegas trip?). The sushi is often cited as the best in the city, but all the dishes are well prepared.

Food Rating: B+ Sushi Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A-

6182 W. Flamingo Rd.

Lots of the hotels have "Mexican" restaurants, but we have rarely been impressed by them. It isn't that they serve bad food, it is just that most of it is predictable and geared toward how Americans think Mexican food should be presented. In looking for something a bit different, research took us to Viva Mercado's, a little place away from the crowds that features well prepared old Mexican dishes in a more modern healthier style. Owner Bobby Mercado (deservedly) boasts that, " Mercado's prepares all meals with your health in mind. We use only the finest of ingredients, the leanest of meats and cheeses. We use no animal fats to cook or prepare with. Our sauces contain no oil. We broil, poach or stir fry in canola oil. Viva Mercado's chefs prepare daily to ensure freshness."

What else can you ask for, except that the dishes served taste good? Well, they do, and at prices that would let you eat two or three times on the Strip. The salsa choices are worth the trip in and of themselves.

Food Rating: A+ Overall Rating: A

600 W. Warm Springs (McCarran Center)

A real find, and, at least up until now, frequented primarily by locals. The atmosphere is geared toward comfort, the cost is designed to please, and the food is prepared for the discerning diner. Owned by three alumni of Spago, Wild Sage offers American comfort food in friendly surroundings. You might try a Reuben (on homemade rye, of course), meat loaf and mashed potatoes, or a variety of dishes that change daily.

Food Rating: A Overall Rating: A-

MGM Grand Hotel

Here we have a pizza shaped restaurant in honor of the gourmet pizzas featured by many of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants. But, as always with Mr. Puck, don't let the themes or decor detract from the food. It's Italian at its best. We loved the pumpkin ravioli; the white bean veggie soup with smoked bacon; the butternut squash soup with cinnamon creme fraiche and toasted pumpkin seeds; the saffron fettuccine with mussels and spicy tomato sauce; and the sausage and onions. A wonderful experience.

Food Review: A Overall Review: A

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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