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A Decidedly Non-Foodie Trip to Las Vegas

I never want to stay at a hotel that doesn't have a giant chocolate dragon in the lobby ever again.
I never want to stay at a hotel that doesn't have a giant chocolate dragon in the lobby ever again.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

So, this past weekend I went to Las Vegas and celebrated the wedding of two very dear friends with a bunch of my very best friends (including one who was Skyped into the ceremony from Turkey) and wore a beautiful blue dress and red lipstick and danced all night and made sure everyone in the wedding party had all the Advil and fashion tape and fake eyelashes that they needed because that's what a bridesmaid does and watched my friends sign their ketubah in a beautifully intimate moment in a sunlit room and cried as they stood in front of their family and friends and wore painful shoes and read the lyrics to a Black Keys song at the ceremony and laughed as another friend read A Lovely Love Story complete with dinosaur voices and cried and laughed some more and had the time of my life.

In other words, I was in Las Vegas for a wedding and for my friends. Not for the food. I barely made an effort to eat like a professional during this first ever trip to Vegas, but still managed to come across some of the best food I've had in a while.

Such is the allure of Las Vegas, it seems. And while I couldn't care less about the gambling or the shows or the lights on the Strip, I can see why people come to Las Vegas to eat. It's total sensory overload in every single aspect, and that includes the food.

I have a feeling my trip would have been incomplete without gorging on crab legs.
I have a feeling my trip would have been incomplete without gorging on crab legs.

I found myself doing exceptionally touristy things with glee -- things like eating platefuls of crab legs off a buffet and oohing excitedly over a giant chocolate dragon and taking pictures of the "world's largest chocolate fountain" inside the Bellagio. It felt right somehow. When in Rome, I suppose.

Even a quickly grabbed roast beef sandwich with watercress and horseradish mayonnaise was shockingly good.
Even a quickly grabbed roast beef sandwich with watercress and horseradish mayonnaise was shockingly good.

And I found myself enjoying things I never thought I would, like a buffet that serves endless bone marrow troughs or frozen cocktails brought to me by a cute girl in a tiny bikini by a pool filled with German tourists.

The miso-braised sea bass at Tao is every bit as amazing as every other tourist says it is. So was everything else here.
The miso-braised sea bass at Tao is every bit as amazing as every other tourist says it is. So was everything else here.

Las Vegas is ridiculous, but that's the joy of it -- I think. Everyone there is happy to be there. They're all having their own stupid brands of fun, and it encourages you to have your own stupid brand of fun, too.

Pro tip: Sake is marked up far less than wine in the restaurants here. And it encourages you to have more fun with your sushi.
Pro tip: Sake is marked up far less than wine in the restaurants here. And it encourages you to have more fun with your sushi.

If your brand includes encouraging the gondoliers at the Venetian from the patio of a Tex-Mex cantina while you consume surprisingly delicious pomegranate margaritas and mushroom empanadas, go for it. If your brand is staring slackjawed at the over-the-top absurdity of a fake Parisian street inside Paris Las Vegas, you can do that, too. No one cares here, because they're too busy having their own fun.

My friends teased me for wasting stomach space on cauliflower and roasted beets, but this is MY VACATION, DAMMIT.
My friends teased me for wasting stomach space on cauliflower and roasted beets, but this is MY VACATION, DAMMIT.

And if your brand of fun includes eating, Las Vegas is purpose-built for that. I suddenly didn't mind paying $30 for a buffet when I found that the food on it was legitimately good.

A buffet filled with tiny pork banh mi and steamed dumplings? I'm in.
A buffet filled with tiny pork banh mi and steamed dumplings? I'm in.

I would pay money for the cool carrot-ginger soup or the pork and duck egg congee from The Buffet at the Aria, as well as for the angry mac 'n' cheese or the lamb gnocchi at the Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan.

It tasted as good as it looked.
It tasted as good as it looked.

I also happily paid $6 for an opera cake from a chain of patisseries, so exceptionally pretty and well-made was it.

And although on one evening I paid dearly for a glass of bourbon inside the MGM Grand, it was because I'd just blown $80 of my buddy's money at the blackjack tables while we waited for our "free" drinks in the casino.

Including the $100 he threw down on the table while we waited for the waitress to come back with our drinks, that was the most expensive glass of Knob Creek I've ever drunk.

But that's not to say that everything here is expensive (despite the $4.50 coffees each morning).

My friends and I gorged at Tao on our last night in Vegas and spent only $130 each (with tax and tip), and I found excellent cask ales on draft at Todd English P.U.B. in our hotel for not much more than I'd expect to pay at The Hay Merchant.

The only good part about leaving Las Vegas is the warm cookies they give you in first class.
The only good part about leaving Las Vegas is the warm cookies they give you in first class.

And if it's this easy to eat good in Las Vegas without really trying, I can't wait to go back for a proper food vacation some day. Preferably with a padded savings account in tow.



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The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

713-528-9805

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