Celebrity chefs in Vegas has meant one thing: the cost of eating has risen significantly in the last two decades. But you don't have to lose your shirt to get a great meal (heck, you want to do that at the craps table, right?) Here are my tips for eating affordably in Sin City:
1. Want to splurge? Do it at lunch: Okay, so your best buddy at home had an lovely meal at Mon Ami Gabi and has ordered you to do the same. Go instead for lunch and you'll find that entrees are a third less expensive. That's just one example. In fact, many restaurants use the same menus as they do at dinner ... and simply shave 25% to 50% off the cost of the items. It's a great way to figure out which of the big boys is really worth shelling out for, should you decide to do a blowout night on the town.
2. Have a Strip Picnic: Yes, the temperatures can get downright Satanic come summer and it can get pretty chilly in December and January, but the rest of the year, the weather's, well, a picnic. So don't feel like you have to have a sit-down-meal, or even a stand-up-and-graze-buffet for every meal. Instead, grab some food on the run, a sandwich perhaps from 'wichcraft (at the MGM Grand) or Capriotti's (in Red Rock Casino and near the Sahara Casino), or a sausage from Jody Maroni's (in NY, NY), and stroll with it down the Strip. Or if you need to sit, plop down in a keno lounge. The play's slow enough that you could sit there for about an hour for just a buck or two's worth of play.
3. If you're gambling, make sure someone knows it: If you lose enough of your money or time, you may just qualify for a free trip to the buffet. So do sign up for the players-and-slots clubs at the casinos you plan on frequenting, and let the pit bosses know how happy you are to be losing your money to them. A lot depends on your stamina, how busy the casino is, how generous the pit boss is feeling, and sometimes the cycles of the moon ... you just never know. And if you're going to be gambling anyway, you may as well try to gamble for grub.
4. Follow Mom's advice and eat a big breakfast: In terms of bang for your buck, there are few better investments than breakfast in Vegas. Breakfast will usually cost half of what lunch does, and a third of what you'll pay for dinner, and the portions in Vegas are massive.
5. If you prefer hooting with the owls, have dinner at 1am: While "graveyard specials" are not as prevalent as they used to be on the Strip, some of the downtown and off-Strip eateries slash prices dramatically in the wee hours of the morning. Go to the Riviera's coffee shop and you can score steak, ham and eggs for just $5.99. At the Triple 7 in Main Street Station, the cost of one of their famed microbrews drops to just $1. And at the Hard Rock, $7.77 will net you a steak, three pieces of shrimp, a baked potato and veggies if you know to ask for it (it ain't on the menu).
6. Go "ethnic": Every major casino on the Strip has a Mexican restaurant, and its menu is always about half as pricey as the restaurants that surround it. The same can be said for the Asian noodle places that have wiggled into many of the Strip casinos. Off Las Vegas Boulevard, most of the better restaurants are owned and run by immigrants, who bring all of their skills, exotic spices, and outsized ambitions to make it in America. So you're not only getting a great meal, you're helping someone's "American Dream" come true.
7. Clip coupons: You know all those free magazines that you'll find in your hotel room? Take a quick look through 'em. Don't read the reviews -- they'll be uniformly glowing, as the restaurant has paid for them to appear. Instead, troll for discount coupons. As well, stop by the Tix4Tonight booths that sell half-price show tickets in various locations along the Strip. They now also sell coupons for $2-$4 which save either 50% or 33% off the cost of entrees or 35% off the entire bill, including drinks (the type of discount varies by restaurant). Using these coupons, I paid $22 for a $44 rib eye steak at the Bally's Steak House and saved 50% off the entrees at Mario Batali's Enotec San Martin, which is in a prime location in "St. Mark's Square" at the Venetian. A number of other darn good restaurants are being discounted.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers in our Nevada Forum today.
This article is an excerpt from Pauline Frommer's Las Vegas, 2nd Edition, available in our online bookstore now.
Find out more about the Pauline Frommer Travel Guide series, read articles by Pauline, and listen to Podcasts at Pauline's page on Frommers.com.