It’s an even year, so you know what that means... InfoComm in Las Vegas! I enjoy InfoComm in Las Vegas, but there’s no denying that the city is carefully engineered to suck every last dollar out of visitor’s pockets. That involves all aspects of your visit, not just gambling, but also dining. Las Vegas is no longer synonymous with $1.99 steak dinners; it’s a luxury dining destination with more Michelin stars, celebrity chefs, and cuisines than any other 4 mile stretch on the planet. Such distinction comes at a price; Zagat states that Las Vegas is the most expensive restaurant city, with the average meal cost at $47.53, notably higher than New York ($41.76) and the national average ($35.44) (http://www.zagat.com). This is great if you’re on an expense account or a visiting high roller with comped meals, but if you’re living off a per diem or a rep/manufacturer entertaining clients, InfoComm in Las Vegas can be an expensive gamble. To make things even tougher, the lack of an Extron Bash this year means one more night that you’ll have to devise your own meal plans or pray for a manufacturer to take you to dinner.
One way to keep expenses down is to eat “off the Strip” and it’s the first recommendation a local will make. It’s true, Las Vegas has excellent meals at low prices in local neighborhoods. But let’s be honest, you come here every other year for the Las Vegas experience, not to spend your evening in a boring strip mall deep in suburbia.
So, I’ve created this blog post for the InfoComm visitor that is looking to maximize their dining budget, but still enjoy glamourous Las Vegas, eating well and having a good time. Please note that many places on this list are going to be more expensive than your night out at Applebees, but should keep your bill lower than the Zagat average. While I have verified operating hours and details with the restaurants, please note that everything is subject to change because nothing stays the same in Las Vegas for very long.
On the Strip:
Just like buffets have become ubiquitous, over the last couple of years properties have added gourmet burger restaurants. These aren’t fast food burger prices (more on In-N-Out later), but you’ll enjoy a quality meal for much less than other casino table-service restaurants. Every burger location will have their own unique spin on their burgers and, unlike their fast-food counterparts, they’ll also have a wide selection of craft beers or alcoholic milkshakes (because it is Las Vegas, after all). In my opinion, the best burger restaurants on the strip are at Burger Bar, BLT Burger, and Holstein’s.
Burger Bar, located in Mandalay Bay
BLT Burger, located in the Mirage
Holstein’s, located in the Cosmopolitan
Bar or Lounge Menus
Delicious burgers are also available in many high end restaurants that feature a bar or lounge menu. These special menus are only available in the bar or lounge of a restaurant but feature quality, casual food for less money than the dining room. Ordering from the Bar Menu doesn’t mean you have to sit at the bar, there is usually seating close to the bar if you’re with a small group. The Steak Burger at Bradley Ogden was named the 2009 burger of the year by GQ magazine and it’s available on their lounge menu. StripSteak has a delicious Wagyu burger with duck fat french fries that will blow your trade show badge right out of its lanyard.
To give you an excuse to cut out of the show early, some Lounge menus include food specials as part of the bar’s Happy Hour. Many of the restaurants from Celebrity Chef Michael Mina include these deals, such as American Fish in the Aria and the local favorite SeaBlue in the MGM Grand.
There are many restaurants with Lounge menus that I haven’t listed above. If you’re interested in a restaurant and want to know if they have a Lounge Menu, just walk up and ask the hostess.
American Fish, located in the Aria, closed Monday, Lounge menu items are $5 each from 5 - 7
Bradley Ogden, located in Caesar’s Palace, open Wednesday - Sunday from 5 -10
SeaBlue, located in the MGM Grand, $5 bar snacks, $2 each oysters, $2 1/2 dozen shrimp Sunday - Friday from 5:30 - 7
StripSteak, located in Mandalay Bay, $6 - $10 appetizers from 4 - 6
If you need a long mid-day break from the show, you should check out one of the Strip’s hottest new restaurants with a Prix Fixe lunch menu that’s a fraction of their dinner prices. Milos, the Greek restaurant in the Cosmopolitan, offers a three course lunch for $20.12 and it’s outstanding. Plan to be away from the show for at least two hours since the service is excellent but very leisurely. Comme Ca in the Cosmopolitan also offers a $22 three course lunch special during the weekends. Even if the location doesn’t have a Prix Fixe, lunch is a good time to check out an restaurant’s dinner favorites in smaller portions and at better prices.
Milos, located in the Cosmopolitan, $20.12 lunch special from 12 - 2:30 daily
Comme Ca, located in the Cosmopolitan, $22 lunch special from 12 - 5 Friday - Sunday
Hidden, Cheap Pizza on the Strip
You won’t find one of the Strip’s cheapest places to eat on a property map or the casino’s website. It’s supposed to be a secret, but the Cosmopolitan’s “Hidden Pizza Place” can be found down a dark hallway on the third floor, between Jaleo and Blue Ribbon Sushi. A New York-style slice with cheese will cost $4.50, and it’s a perfect last stop after a long night of “late night networking.”
“Hidden Pizza Place”, secretly located in the Cosmopolitan, 11 am - 4 am
Really Close to the Strip
Here are some recommendations that are close enough to the Strip that you can still see the bright lights, but far enough away to be easy on your wallet.
Lotus of Siam
Las Vegas is home to what is widely recognized as the best Thai restaurant in the United States, but it isn’t located inside of a casino. Lotus of Siam is in run-down strip mall east of Las Vegas Boulevard, and worth the short drive from the Strip or Convention Center. Make reservations or go early or late to beat the rush, since the restaurant gets very busy every night, especially on weekends. Don’t stick to the usual Pad Thai or Curry dishes you get at your local Thai restaurant, be adventurous with their extensive menu. Start with the Nam Kao Tod appetizer, which is basically deep fried rice krispies with sour sausage that will guarantee you return to InfoComm in Las Vegas every two years. Other favorites include Nam Prik Ong, a ground pork “dip” that you spread over rice or vegetables and Khao Soi, a unique specialty of northern Thailand with egg noodles in a curry sauce and coconut cream. Considering their excellent reputation, the prices at Lotus of Siam are very reasonable and probably just a few dollars more than what you would pay at your local Thai restaurant.
Lotus of Siam, 953 East Sahara Ave, approximately $10 - $15 taxi ride, (702) 735-3033, Lunch 11:30 - 2 Monday - Friday, Dinner Daily 5:30 - 9:30
When visiting Las Vegas, many East Coasters make a pilgrimage to In-N-Out Burger. I personally love the Double-Double Animal Style and believe it’s one meal that is totally worth the hype. Most people flock in taxis or hotel limos to the location west of the Strip, on Dean Martin and Tropicana. Sure, it’s close to the Strip, but the place is an absolute madhouse unless you hit it at off hours (which are like from 3 to 3:30 in the afternoon). Save yourself the aggravation and visit the less busy UNLV location that’s only 3 miles from the Convention Center.
In-N-Out Burger, 4705 S Maryland Pkwy, at Maryland and Tropicana, approximately $10 - $15 taxi ride, 10:30 am - 1 am)
If you haven’t been to downtown Las Vegas in the last couple of years, you should make the trip. The zip line that runs down Fremont Street is a real thrill in the evenings and a good stress release from a long day at the trade show. Many of the properties have been remodeled in recent years and are becoming more comparable to the Strip but at lower prices and with better odds in the casinos. The $2.99 shrimp cocktail at Du-Par’s in the Golden Gate casino is loaded with tasty shrimp but is not recommended right before a zip line ride. The recently remodeled Plaza Hotel has a Hash-House-A-Go-Go which has been featured on Man vs Food thanks to their enormous breakfast portions of creative food at a fair prices. In the East Fremont area of downtown, the recently opened Le Thai restaurant is a great stop before you venture to one of the great cocktail bars in the area for some zip line liquid courage. If you don’t have a rental car, plan on a taxi ride of approximately $20 to Downtown.
Du-Pars, located in the Golden Gate Casino, 24/7
Flightlinez Freemont, (702) 410-7999, 12 pm - 12 am Sunday - Thursday, 12 pm - 2 am Friday - Saturday
Hash House a Go-Go, located in the Plaza, Sunday - Thursday 7 am - 11 pm, Friday - Saturday 7 am - 1 am
Le Thai, 523 Fremont, 11:30 - 12 am
Jimi Gonzalez is manager of the Technologies Division at ION Electric.