I've been going to Vegas several times a year for years now, so it's safe to say I know my way around Sin City. Here's my list of places to stay, places to eat and things to do.
Where to Stay
The Cosmo is my favorite place to stay in Vegas. It offers a nice balance of fun, refinement, and excitement while still being clean and not smelling like your typical nasty casino. The decor is modern and playful, the casino floor is always immaculate, and their restaurant, bar and entertainment options are some of the best. Plus, being an Autograph Collection hotel, it’s a Marriott Rewards property, which allows me to not only use or gain points when I stay, but also more often than not gets me a room upgrade. On about four occasions now I have been upgraded to their stunning wraparound terrace suite, which features a large master suite, three bathrooms (two full baths with showers and one powder room), a full size kitchen, dining room, living room, wraparound balcony with loungers, and even your own washer and dryer.
The Cosmo also features some great restaurants—STK, Momofuku, Egg Slut, Blue Ribbon, and my favorite restaurant in all of Vegas, the über exclusive é by José Andrés (more on that below).
The Sahra Spa makes you feel as if you have just entered a traditional Hammam in Morocco or the UAE. The impressive entryway features a corridor of 30 foot ceilings, surrounded by brown stone walls with water cascading down them. The quality of the treatments are top-notch and the facilities to use before and after (the sauna, jacuzzi, cold plunge and aromatherapy showers) are arguably the best part. If you’re a hotel guest, you can have access to the facilities for something like $30 for the whole day.
Though I typically feel the Wynn is best for a much older crowd, there are still some very good things to be said about this hotel. The rooms are nicely appointed and spacious, the casino floor is always immaculate, and like the Cosmo they manage to somehow keep the smoke smell at bay. There are wonderful high-end restaurants right in the hotel, even better high-end shopping (but let’s be honest, what decent hotel in Vegas doesn’t have high-end shopping?) and the clubs are surprisingly good too. XS is fun for their night swim party and Encore Beach Club is one of the best day clubs in Vegas. Though my preference is always the Cosmo, I certainly won’t turn down an opportunity to stay at the Wynn. Typically rates run around $300 a night, unless it’s a fight weekend, holiday weekend, or if there’s a major event in town. Then you’d an expect to see costs (at all of the hotels really) into the thousands.
My opinion of the Bellagio is a bit like the Wynn—it’s a very nice place to stay, but a little stuffy and definitely caters to the older crowd as well. It lacks anything fun or playful—which I find to be an important part of Vegas—but still offers nice rooms, a clean casino floor, good restaurants, and again, high-end shopping. Rates are usually slightly cheaper than the Wynn but not by much.
The Venetian & The Palazzo
You really can’t go wrong if you stay at one of these two sister properties. They’re both all-suite hotels, so even the base room is a beautiful, spacious suite with a sunken living room and giant bathroom. You can find both high and low end shopping—the Palazzo shops includes stores like Barney’s, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo, and Montblanc (sadly, the Christian Louboutin store has moved to the Wynn) and the Grand Canal shops have good mid-level stores and eateries. You can even take a ride on a gondola in the faux Venice canals (though I don’t recommend it—go do the real thing). There are also a number of great restaurants—Bouchon, CUT, Delmonico, Yardbird and Lavo. And Tao nightclub also has pretty decent food. The rates are typically pretty reasonable: about $250-$300 on a regular weekend that’s not a fight weekend or holiday.
Where to Eat
é by José Andrés, Cosmopolitan, The Strip
As I mentioned earlier, é by José Andrés is easily my favorite restaurant in all of Vegas (and that’s a big feat considering the number and caliber of restaurants that Vegas has to offer) and perhaps even one of my top five restaurants in the world. I have eaten here a number of times now and have never once been disappointed, each time leaving just as mesmerized as I was the first time. Be forewarned though—é by José Andrés seats only eight diners and requires a golden ticket for entry, so be sure to book your reservation in advance. The books open up three months in advance and require prepayment of the entire meal, but it’s 100% worth it. é by José Andrés offers a playful dining experience, usually with somewhere around twenty courses (they’re small though, so you don’t feel like you’re going to die afterwards) and offers incredible Spanish wine pairings if you like. The food is innovative (think a lot of liquid nitrogen and things that look like something you think you are eating and are something entirely different) yet incredibly tasty all at the same time. Sometimes I think chefs can lose the importance of flavor and balance when trying to get too “fancy” with their dishes—the chefs at é by José Andrés understand this issue well and never seem to sacrifice flavor for smoke and mirrors.
Guy Savoy, Caesar’s Palace, The Strip
Guy Savoy comes in as a close second to é by José Andrés. I have dined there several times, and having eaten at all of the three-star Michelin restaurants in Vegas, I can say it certainly deserves the three Michelin stars. Everything from the food to the ambiance and the service was phenomenal from start to finish. On my most recent visit, we opted do do their longest prix fixe menu, which was incredible. I will forever crave that egg and caviar dish that they start off with. It’s one of their signature dishes, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations [CHECK THIS], and it’s to die for. Though it’s your pretty traditional, stuffy French fine dining experience, the food is superb and the service is even more impressive. Get the chef’s tasting menu to enjoy the full experience—the bread cart, the dessert cart and the cheese cart at the end are arguably some of my favorite parts of the meal. Definitely do the cheese course as one of your desserts--the selection is incredible. Come hungry though—if you want to enjoy it all you’ll need quite the appetite.
We also did the wine pairing and had some of the most amazing, highly sought-after wines. But don’t order the premium wine pairing unless you’re prepared to drop some serious cash—they have just about every bottle of the best wines in the world, and the cost matches the exclusivity and quality. The do of course have a master sommelier in the restaurant at all times, who will make it his or her mission to perfectly pair your dishes with wines that are equally as impressive as the food is tasty, so if you’re looking for an elegant, lavish dining experience, the premium pairing is the way to go. It does come at a cost though—though it varies, I think the premium pairing with my last meal added close to $500 on top of the already steep $348 tasting menu. For two diners, our tab came out to about $1,500. Even considering the high price, I will be going back to Guy Savoy over and over and over again. If you're a foodie, this place is a must-visit.
Joël Robuchon, MGM Grand, The Strip
Joël Robuchon’s flagship restaurant, his namesake, features upscale fine dining in an artistic, sophisticated style. Joël Robuchon restaurant is the epitome of luxury; it is well-known that they most assuredly deserve all three of their Michelin stars because though the food is obviously top-notch, the service and the accoutrements are phenomenal. Every little detail is given paramount importance, right down to the cutlery, the stemware, the flowers on the table, the white linens, and the soap in the bathroom. Literally every detail is purposeful, thoughtful and pre-planned. They obviously use the finest stemware and china (mostly Bernardaud—my favorite—and some custom pieces) and the service is absolutely impeccable.
I typically do the chef’s tasting menu, which consists of 9 courses (or really about 13 if you count the amuse bouche, the bread cart, the cheese cart and the dessert cart) and it is incredible. Whenever I can, I typically try to do the chef’s tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant because it is usually the best way to experience the restaurant’s best dishes. Joël Robuchon’s chef tasting menu is no exception—the menu is perfectly curated so that the diner can still pick some of the dishes while still being guaranteed to taste some of the most popular.
Like Guy Savoy and just about every other three star Michelin restaurant, their wine list is no joke. They offer three tiers of wine pairings, with the gran cru pairing obviously serving as the most extravagant, with bottles of wine that sometimes even the most well connected of wine snobs can’t get their hands on. It’s expensive but worth the splurge for sure.
Nobu, Caesar’s Palace, The Strip
While it certainly can't compare to Nobu Malibu (I'm not sure how you beat those views), the Nobu in Vegas still boasts the same incredible food and attention to detail. The food is amazing. Some of my favorites are the tiradito (seriously, order it with anything--scallops, hamachi, etc.--it's ALL good), the toro with caviar and wasabi, the uni shooters with duck egg and ponzu sauce, and the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño. Definitely recommend Nobu for your next stop in Vegas.
Twist, Mandarin Oriental, The Strip
Though this restaurant comes up on Opentable as one of the highest rated restaurants in all of Vegas, my experience at Twist was actually a bit of a let-down. I feel as though I should still post something on it though because in light of all the other positive dining reviews, I feel like we must have been there on an off night or something. It certainly wasn’t so terrible that we won’t go back, but it wasn’t A+ either.
My business partner and I went there after reading reviews over the years talking about how great it is. So we figured we'd give it a shot. The service was excellent but unfortunately the food was lacking. Some of our courses lacked seasoning, creativity and precision. It actually seemed like overall they may have been having an off night and perhaps the food suffered as a result of it. I will definitely give this place another shot, but currently would give it only 3 out of 5 stars because when you compare it to other restaurants in the same price point in Vegas (Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, etc.) it just does not compare. Hopefully my next visit will be better. The restaurant is admittedly quite stunning though, so it does get some serious points for that. And it’s located in the quite, more refined hotel option in Vegas—the Mandarin Oriental—which is conveniently located in the middle of the strip just between the Cosmopolitan and the Monte Carlo, just past Crystals shops.
UPDATE: I heard recently that the Mandarin Oriental in Vegas actually closed. It was bought up by the Waldorf Astoria chain, who has plans to revamp the property and reopen again in August. Expectedly, Twist has closed along with it, but it is unclear whether or not Twist will reopen once the Waldorf Astoria opens its doors.
CUT, The Palazzo, The Strip
Though a steakhouse (and not completely what I would categorize as typical fine dining), CUT makes the fine dining list because it is just one of the best steakhouses out there and the quality of the non-steakhouse food is definitely fine dining. This is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Beverly Hills and Vegas—it’s an oldie but a goodie. The cocktails, the food and the service are all incredible, over and over and over again. My favorite dish is the Kobe beef ribeye, which is excellent with a side of bone marrow (not that you need or should put anything on that steak). You might even get to see Wolfgang while you're dining--when he is there, he will usually come out and greet each of the tables. This most often happens at the Beverly Hills location, but he’s been known to make an appearance or two at the Vegas location as well.
Momofuku is a relatively new addition to Vegas, and owner/chef David Chang chose the perfect location for his new addition—the Cosmo. With Chang’s creative and playful style of food, the Cosmo seems to be the perfect place for Momofuku. The restaurant is modern, with a lot of steel, concrete and industrial touches, while custom artwork by David Choe adorn the walls. My favorite is the ramen, but just about everything is good.
Craftsteak Las Vegas
With all the great steakhouses in Vegas, this is one that you can avoid. I put it on the list because so many people think that as one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants, it must be good, but like a lot of the other celebrity chef chain restaurants out there (think Emeril and Bobby Flay, ugh...), it’s just not good. Too commercialized, too much focus on pleasing the fanny pack and tube sock wearing tourist from Ohio, and too basic. So #basicbitch. I know it sounds snotty, but I really despise this restaurant. Allow me to explain: the overall issue is that quality is sacrificed and they can’t even really do the simple stuff. If you can somehow fuck up a steak, a Caesar salad and creamed spinach (I mean, it’s spinach, garlic, a lot of cream and a lot of butter... how do you fuck that up??), then you don’t deserve to even have your doors open. I split a tomahawk ribeye with my friend and then shared some creamed spinach and had a salad to start. The ribeye was overcooked and just wasn't all that good. While the salad was good (it was a pretty standard, average caesar salad), the creamed spinach was cold and lacked flavor. I would not eat here again. If you're looking for a good steakhouse, go to CUT, Delmonico's, Mastro’s, Prime or The Palm instead. In fact, go anywhere else.
We almost always stop at The Palm at least once while we are in Vegas. Their seafood towers are amazing and the price on the lobsters is actually really reasonable. Last time we were in we enjoyed a bottle of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, two giant lobsters and a caesar salad and everything--including the service--was incredible. The Palm is a good place to stop at really any of their locations, but the one in Vegas is great. Unless you're seated "outside" (it's inside the mall), you don't feel like you're in Vegas at all. It's a great restaurant.
Lupo by Wolfgang Puck, Mandalay Bay, The Strip
Lupo offers decent, reasonably priced Italian food. You really can’t go wrong at one of Wolfgang’s restaurants, and Lupo is no exception. The calf liver steak is my favorite, but the pastas really steal the show. If you’re looking for a more reasonably-priced restaurant that still has good food, Lupo is a good bet.
Egg Slut, Cosmopolitan, The Strip
The best place to grab some brekky after a long night out at the clubs. That runny egg sandwiched between a brioche bun and some cheese is just what your stomach will want with the hangover you most assuredly will have. Prepare for a line though—anytime from mid-morning to mid-afternoon is packed (though you’re probably safe if you go super early since most people eating there are definitely NOT up early).
Burger Bar, Mandalay Bay, The Strip
Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar is a great go-to restaurant if you are looking for a good quality burger for a decent price. They have just about every type of burger you can imagine—from bison burgers to even the elaborate and gluttonous foie gras, truffle and Kobe beef burger) and are casual enough that you can go in a t-shirt and jeans. They even have adult milkshakes, so be sure to save room for dessert.
Mon Ami Gabi, Paris, The Strip
If you’re looking for a kitschy, cute Parisian-like cafe that overlooks the strip and has outdoor seating, Mon Ami Gabi is your place. You have to be okay with touristy though—this place definitely attracts the best and worst of travelers, not only because of its style and price point but also because it is right smack in the middle of the strip.
The food is quintessential French bistro and the waiters even wear silly stereotypical “French” outfits (think black and white striped shirts, berets and red scarfs… I put “French” in quotes because personally I don’t find it very French at all)—all things that I would typically despise but for some reason this is a place I find rather charming.
What to Do
If the restaurant list above isn’t an indicator, I don’t know what is, but clearly one of my favorite things to do in Vegas is to eat. Vegas boasts some of the best restaurants in the world, as most of the world’s best restauranteurs decide to open up a space in Vegas too. You can find everything from fine dining to cheap eats, so whatever your budget is, take advantage of the plethora of food options while you are there.
Even if you’re not a big gambler, Vegas is the place for people of all abilities to gamble and have fun. Don’t have a lot of money? Find one of the old-school places on the strip that have cheap tables. You can play $1 roulette at Casino Royale or even lower denominations at places on Fremont Street in old town. Don’t know how to play? There are several casinos that offer group classes for free, and most dealers will be patient with you and will explain the game. Blackjack dealers in particular are friendly to newbies, and will tell you what “the book” says you should do based on the odds. You can entertain yourself (and drink for free!) for hours by just sitting at a casino table.
Do a Spa Day
Everything is bigger and better in Vegas, and the spas there are no exception. Places like the Wynn, the Cosmo, Bellagio, Venetian, Mandalay and MGM all boast incredible world-class spas. The Sahra Spa at the Cosmo (see above) makes you feel like you’re at a traditional Turkish bath in the Middle East. And the list of services provided at the Wynn’s spa is pretty impressive—they offer just about everything you can think of.
See a Show or Concert
This one’s kind of an obvious recommendation, but if you haven’t seen a show in Vegas you definitely need to. Las Vegas is known for its extravagant live shows—including everything from cirque du soleil acts, lively dance routines, and famous musicians like Celine Dion, Elton John, Cher and Britney. Most of the hotels will offer tickets to the shows for cheap when you buy directly from them. Often times when I go to Vegas, I will check Stubhub for concerts and shows that are taking place the weekend I will be there. That way you can see all the concerts and other events that are happening in Vegas that weekend.
What can I say? This place is HEAVEN if you're a golfer and would still be fun if you didn't like golf at all. Since I don't have a Top Golf near my home in California, this is my favorite thing to do when I come to Vegas. The games are super fun so it's great whether you want to practice your swing or just mess around and have fun. The facility is incredible and their third floor private bays and the pool are so fun. The beers are great and they have a nice selection of just about any liquor you want. Forgot your glove or need a hat? No problem. You can pick one up at the Pro Shop downstairs. What's also great is that the food is actually good too. I love this place!
Play some “real” golf
Vegas, like most desert locations, features incredible, top-notch golf courses. My favorite is Cascata, and though it’s not directly in Vegas, it’s in nearby Henderson and is only about a 45 minute drive away. The drive out there is worth it though—the golf course is in impeccable shape and the views as the course winds through the mountains are absolutely stunning. Pony up for a caddie if you play here though—the insider knowledge and ease of not having to grab your clubs or retrieve errant balls when you’re playing in 100 degree heat are well worth the additional cost. A typical round of golf will run you about $300 though.
Another good one—and a more affordable option—is Bali Hai, which is right next to the strip. In fact, if you’ve flown into Vegas before, you’ve probably seen it from the air. Located just south of Mandalay Bay and right next to the famous Las Vegas sign, Bali Hai offers a fun, well-maintained golf course that’s easy to get to and very affordable. They also have the playful—yet admittedly gimmicky—“Par Girls”, who are scantily-clad, typically good-looking women (clearly they know their target crowd, and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not me...) who offer up the opportunity to “caddy” for you (translation: give you something nice to look at during the round... and it’s not typically their face) and even betting games while you’re on the golf course. One game that’s typically almost always there is one where you bet $20, and if you make it on the green you double your money (or you get a prize... I can’t remember exactly). Either way, it does add a little bit of fun to the round, and you are under no obligation to play if you don’t want to.
Get Off the Beaten Path
It’s easy to stick to the strip when you’re in Vegas. With all the big, grandiose resorts that have everything from shopping and dining to sports and concert venues, t’s also just as easy to not even leave your hotel. But some of the best and most unique experiences in Vegas can be found off-strip. If you’re into photography or just want to get more likes on Instagram, head to the Neon Museum (formerly called the Neon Boneyard) and snap away. The Neon Museum is about 5 minutes off strip and features an entire outdoor museum of old abandoned neon signs. If you want to see an older side of Vegas, where the casinos are cheap and the mullets and tattoos are aplenty, head over to Fremont Street. Are you a collector of antiques or a fan of Pawn Stars? Go check out their storefront, which is in downtown Vegas just South of Fremont Street. Or maybe you go check out the Mob Museum, which is also nearby.