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You Gotta Have a Theme

It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that a town devoted to gimmicks has just about every gimmick restaurant there is. No matter your interest, there is probably a theme restaurant here for you, from sports to pop culture and back again. Fans should have a good time checking out the stuff on the walls, but for the most part the memorabilia is usually more interesting than the food. Here are some of the best of the bunch.

The House of Blues, in Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (tel 702/632-7600; www.hob.com; Sun–Thurs 7am–11pm, Fri–Sat 7am–midnight), has a Mississippi Delta blues theme complete with frequent concerts and a gospel brunch. The food is down-home Southern and there is lots of it for pretty decent prices.

Southern staples are also on tap at the Harley-Davidson Café, 3725 Las Vegas Blvd. S., at Harmon Avenue (tel 702/740-4555; www.harley-davidsoncafe.com; Sun–Thurs 8:30am–11pm, Fri–Sat 9am–midnight), alongside shrines to the easy-rider lifestyle evoked by the motorcycle brand.

The Hard Rock Cafe, 3771 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (tel 702/733-7625; www.hardrock.com; daily 8:30am–11pm), has decent burgers and all of the requisite music memorabilia you have come to expect packed in a massive, 42,000-square-foot, three-level behemoth with a gigantic gift shop, a 1,000-seat concert venue, and more. Note: There is a second Hard Rock Cafe at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4475 Paradise Rd., at Harmon Avenue (tel 702/733-8400).

Parrot Heads, as fans of Jimmy Buffet refer to themselves, like to party it up at Margaritaville, at the Flamingo, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (tel 702/733-3302; www.margaritavillelasvegas.com; Sun–Thurs 11am–1am, Fri–Sat 11am–2am), the singer’s tropical-themed cafe/bar/club. The menu runs a range from Mexican to something sort of Caribbean themed to basic American, and it’s not all that bad, considering. Partaking in lots of fruity tropical drinks doesn’t hurt, either.

If the rodeo is more your style, the Pro Bull Riding organization has its own place at the PBR Rock Bar & Grill at Planet Hollywood, 3663 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (tel 702/750-1685; www.pbrrockbar.com; daily 8am–late). It serves up down-home American food in a country-western environment complete with a mechanical bull and tire swings above the tables.

You would think the celebrity shrine and memorabilia factory that is the Planet Hollywood restaurant would be in the Planet Hollywood Resort. But you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s at Caesars Palace in the Forum Shops, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S. (tel 702/791-7827; www.planethollywood.com; Sun–Thurs 11am–11pm, Fri–Sat 11am–midnight).

Carbon Copy Cuisine

There are many restaurants in Las Vegas that you can only find here, but one of the ways that the city has built its reputation for top-notch cuisine is by importing popular dining establishments from other places. By and large meals at these restaurants are fine dining experiences, but too often something gets lost in the translation and whatever secret sauce that made them special in their original locations is lost. Don't get us wrong -- you will most likely have a fine meal at any of the following restaurants but we think there are others that do what they do better.

Beso (in Crystals at CityCenter, 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; tel. 702/254-2376; www.besolasvegas.com; Sun-Thurs 5:30-11pm; Fri-Sat 5:30pm-midnight) is based on the L.A. restaurant of the same name from Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and celebrity chef Todd English. It's a Spanish steakhouse heavy on the seafood and cuts of beef, many of which have a spicy kick to them, and a few Latin specialties like their taqueria (taco) tasting. The steaks are not quite as adventurous unless you go nuts with the sauces (tequila peppercorn anyone?), which you probably should.

Le Cirque (in Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; tel. 702/693-7223; www.bellagio.com; Tues-Sun 5:30-10pm) has been wowing New York diners for nearly four decades with its upscale French cuisine. Too bad the one here in Vegas isn't as wow-worthy. It's not that the food is bad -- quite the contrary -- but it's not the very best in town, and it is among the most expensive. We think there are better French meals to be had here.

We were a little disappointed in the seafood at Michel Mina (in Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; tel. 702/693-7223; www.michaelmina.net; Thurs-Tues 5:30-10:30pm), which is puzzling because the San Francisco original gets rave reviews and lots of stars from those other guides.

You can't swing a feathered headdress without hitting a steakhouse in this town, which is why the Las Vegas branch of the venerable New York eatery The Palm (in Caesars Palace Forum Shops, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; tel. 702/732-7256; www.thepalm.com; daily 11:30am-11pm) is probably not as noteworthy as the original. Red-meat lovers will probably still be happy with the high quality cuts of beef, but with so many better choices, why settle for anything less than the best?

At this point in the game, Spago (in Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; tel. 702/369-6300; www.wolfgangpuck.com; dining room daily 5:30-10pm; cafe Sun-Thurs 11:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-midnight.) represents both the best and the worst of the celebrity chef phenomenon. If you eat at Wolfgang Puck's Beverly Hills location, you might well have the very best meal of your life, but the expensive California/Asian cuisine here is simply not our first, nor even our second, choice for ways for you to spend your hard-won jackpot money.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.