Favorite On-Strip Drinks And DIning

I was asked to create an “On-Strip” companion piece to my “favorite Off-Strip” wining and dining places. Here are my current favorites:

I’m not one for boisterous bars, so my favorite places to imbibe (with one exception) are the lounge areas of restaurants. If you’re looking to dance or hook up, this isn’t the list for you ;).

Picasso (Bellagio). In addition to being one of the best restaurants in town, Picasso boasts one of the nicest places to have a drink. The bar itself only seats six, but there’s also a small adjoining seating area. The room is lovely and adorned with works by the artist. Most nights Kirby is behind the bar, and his cocktails are masterful. If you’re inclined to wine, Robert Smith is the resident Master Sommelier. Note: Picasso doesn’t serve food at its bar, so if you’re peckish it’s not the place to perch. Bonus: Picasso has a private patio right on the lake.

CUT Bar (Palazzo). In addition to the 8 or 10 seats seats at the bar, CUT – the Las Vegas iteration of Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse – offers plentiful seating in its lounge. The bartenders (usually Damian, Christina and Ryan) are extremely knowledgable about bourbon and whiskey, of which the bar has an extensive selection. They’re equally facile with classic cocktails, and can also make custom concoctions for you. In addition to the “rough cuts” menu of bar snacks, the full menu is available at the bar.

Mandarin Bar (Mandarin Oriental, in City Center). This place is the exception, and it’s pretty heavenly. No walk-in traffic (most people don’t realize the Mandarin exists, let alone know where it is or how to get there). Its floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide an astonishing view up and down the Strip. Tasteful drinks (and some nibbles) served in a refined environment. Best of all: you can actually reserve a table with no minimum or “bottle service” requirement.

Sensi (Bellagio). If you like ginger ale, you have to stop by this bar, because they make it from scratch using a base of ginger juice, lemon juice, lime juice and simple syrup. It’s astonishingly good, and you can enjoy it with or without alcohol.

Sage (Aria). A generous range of bourbons and whiskeys, with enthusiastic and knowledgable barmen. Express even a modicum of interest in the selection and they’ll likely put three or four of them down in front of you to taste before you decide.

Carnevino (Palazzo). While you’d absolutely enjoy a meal in the dining room, if you’re more into happy hour you’ll be very happy here. They have it all: house-made limoncello, a selection of Amaros, and everything in between. You can dine at the bar, either from the full menu or a small bites menu. Two or three of the latter and you’ll be out of there with a very happy tummy for $20 bucks or so.

Le Cirque (Bellagio). Seven seats at the bar, where you can dine or not (as you please). You’ll feel you’re far from the madding crowd, in a jewel box of a room. Most people don’t realize you can go in for just a drink, so you’ll be rather in the know to belly up here.

Picasso (Bellagio). Since Chef Julian Serrano is in the kitchen full-time, this is one of only five AAA 5-Diamond restaurant in Las Vegas (the others are Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, Twist, and Le Cirque). What you’ll get is impeccable French food, wine and service in a gorgeous room. It’s our go-to special occasion place. Note: tasting menus only; they start at $115 per person. Call ahead if you want a vegetarian tasting menu; they’re happy to oblige with advance notice, and it’s sublime.

Charlie Palmer Steak (Four Seasons). Tucked away in a downstairs corner of the Four Seasons (another place most people don’t know exists – it’s part of the Mandalay Bay complex, with its own separate lobby and entrance) is this glorious steakhouse. No views to boast of; in fact, it has no windows whatsoever. What it DOES have is insanely good steak and seafood. Pro tip: ask for the MJONE menu. Three courses for $49, includes bottomless house wine. Cheers!

Country Club Grill (Wynn). A long hike through the corridor leading to the convention and meeting area rewards you with this refined room overlooking the famed Desert Inn Golf Course. You’ll feel a million miles away from the Strip, in a good way. Like all Wynn restaurants, it offers both vegetarian and vegan menus.

Yardbird (Venetian). The Miami restaurant, famed for its fried chicken, bourbon and brunch, opened here in January. It was a hit from day one. If comfort food is your thing – think fried chicken and waffles, and/or macaroni and cheese), this is the place for you!

HEXX (Paris Las Vegas). Most of the restaurants with  fountain views at Bellagio are pricey fine dining places. HEXX, across the street, is more casual-contemporary, and has outdoor patio seating right on the Strip with views almost as good. Bonus: it’s open 24-7, so if you’re looking for a place to eat after a show or party, it’s a much more attractive version than most of the coffee shops.

Buddy V’s (Grand Canal Shoppes). Generous portions of home-style Italian food, casual ambiance, and Buddy’s famous “Lobster Claw” is on the dessert menu. Score!

Off-Strip Dining Recommendations

For those who have asked, here (in alphabetical order) are our favorite places to eat and drink away from the Strip, and why we love them. Mileage given is distance from the Venetian (DFV); ymmv. Bonus: excellent food, unpretentious surroundings, and you’ll likely save more on your bill than you’ll spend on the taxi.

Carson Kitchen. New-ish downtown eatery from famed chef Kerry Simon. Absolutely delicious small plates, burgers, mac-n-cheese. Three words for you: fried chicken skins. No reservations and some tables are community style. Bonus: head around the corner to the Downtown Cocktail Room after. DFV: 3.6 miles.

Chada Thai and Wine. Spectacular food, with an impeccable wine list to match (particularly Rieslings and Burgundies), both brought to you by owner Bank Atcharawan. Call ahead; it only seats about 40. Pro tip: Open until 3am. DFV: 3.3 miles.

District One: In the same shopping center as Chada. Recent and much-lauded addition to the Vegas dining scene. Predominantly Vietnamese menu, and insanely delicious Vietnamese iced coffees. Open until 3am. DFV: 3.3 miles.

Herbs & Rye. Cocktail it like the locals do. Enjoy some steak or tapas while you’re at it. Open until 3am. DFV: 2.5 miles.

Honey Salt. Seasonal farm to table menu, and a darling of Westside locals for both lunch and dinner. Owned and operated by LV restaurant power couple – and darned nice people, too – Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla. DFV: 9.1 miles.

Japanese Cuisine by Omae. Michelin-starred Tokyo chef Takeshi Omae opened his Vegas outpost not in a glittering casino, but in a nondescript Strip mall, and it’s well worth your time and wallet. This utter jewel box of a restaurant – it seats only 12 – is open for dinner only, Tuesday – Saturday. Prix fixe menus ($65-$150 per person) only. Reservations, if you’re lucky enough to score one, are mandatory. DFV: 2.4 miles.

Made L.V. This second restaurant by Blau and Canteenwalla, opened about 5 months ago, is more of a tavern than its sister Honey Salt. Try the flash-fried chicken wings; if you’re a veggie, the “eggplant pastrami” sandwich is for you. Lovely staff. DFV: 9.3 miles.

Marche Bacchus. Lakeside dining in Las Vegas not at Bellagio? Check. The longtime chef from Valentino in the kitchen? Check. A wine shop in front that serves as the “wine list” – just add $10 for corkage? Check. As in, check it out. Lunch and dinner daily. Free wine tasting on Saturdays (usually 11:30-1:30). DFV: 10.6 miles.

Raku. You don’t need me to sell this Japanese grill to you – just check out the number of “Best in Vegas” lists atop which it sits. Only seats 50 or so; calling ahead advised. Open until 2am. DFV: 2.3 miles.

Raku Sweets. Sister of Raku. A sparkling, tiny restaurant that offers a gourmet 3-course “meal” of desserts. Looking to impress a client, vendor or boss with a sweet tooth? This is your place. Only seats 20 and doesn’t take reservations. Hold out for one of the dozen seats around the counter. Closed on Wednesdays. Open until midnight. DFV: 2.3 miles.

Yonaka. Innovative, excellent Japanese tapas/sushi. Open ’til midnight Sunday-Thursday; ’til 2am Saturday and Sunday. DFV: 2.7 miles.

For more on these places and some further suggestions, read Las Vegas, Off The Eaten Path, a recent piece by NY Times critic Peter Wells, or check out the Eating Las Vegas Top 50 by longtime local critic John Curtas.

Have a fun CES, and bon appetit!




Wynn Villas

Wynn Las VegasAn upper floor window at Palazzo affords a glimpse of what few get to see otherwise: the luxury villas at the front of Wynn Las Vegas. Three of them sit above the casino floor; three face toward the pool complex (click on the photo to enlarge it for a better view). They each have private plunge pools and lush foliage for privacy.

Las Vegas Lighting

I’ve long had a fascination with light fixtures, and Las Vegas – my newly adopted hometown – offers an exciting array of them. From functionally utilitarian to over-the-top, from vintage finds to multi-story custom-designed installations, I find them irresistible. I’m documenting my discoveries on a Pinterest board:

Follow Arlene Wszalek’s board Las Vegas Lighting on Pinterest.

Do follow along, and let me know any others you recommend in the comments below.

10 Things To Know About The High Roller

The High Roller is visible from almost everywhere in Las Vegas. Seen here from the Hard Rock Hotel.

The High Roller is visible from almost everywhere in Las Vegas. Seen here from the Hard Rock Hotel. Photo by Arlene Wszalek.

The High Roller, which opened on March 26, is an engineering marvel. At 550 feet, it’s the tallest observation wheel in the world – even taller than the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer. It’s already an indelible part of the Las Vegas skyline and well worth a visit. Here are 10 things to know before you go:

1. The 360-degree views of The Strip and the entire Las Vegas valley are stunning, whether you ride during the day or at night. Helpful videos played onboard point out your altitude, various landmarks, and when you’re about to reach the top of the wheel. The ride lasts about 30 minutes.

2. Each capsule (as they’re called) can hold up to 40 people, and has two seating areas for those unable or unwilling to stand during the ride. When crowds aren’t extensive, you may have as few as a dozen or so people in your capsule, which gives you plenty of room to roam around and take in the 360-degree view.

Here’s an example of the view during an evening ride. Note that the wheel moves quite slowly – about a foot per second – and very smoothly. This video was taken with a handheld iPhone.

3. The cost of a ride depends on when – and with how much flexibility – you want to ride. Current prices: $25 for daytime rides, $35 for nighttime, and $60 for an “express pass” to ride day or night and skip any lines. If you’re unsure exactly when you’ll be able to ride during your stay, you can buy a one-day flex pass that lets you ride once anytime on a given day for $45, or a three-day flex pass (ride one time during a 3-day window of your choosing) for $55. You can buy tickets online or on site; they’re the same price either way.

Pro tip for Nevadans: During the month of April, kids under 12 can ride free with an accompanying paying adult showing a valid Nevada ID.

This panoramic view includes (from left) The Venetian, The Palazzo, and Wynn Las Vegas.

This panoramic view includes (from left) The Venetian, The Palazzo, and Wynn Las Vegas. Photo by Arlene Wszalek.

4. Those with deep pockets (or who hit it big at the casino) can buy out a capsule starting at $1,600. (You still only get a single 30-minute ride, however.) Food and beverage catering is available for buy-outs at an additional cost. For private capsules or group rates, call 866-574-3851 or email Group Sales.

5. No outside food or drink is permitted on the High Roller, so finish up before you head over. You can buy drinks at a bar located inside the queue area, however, and take them on board with you.

6. As a new operation, they’re still working out some of the kinks. The first time we tried to go, we had pre-paid tickets for an 11:30pm ride. However, it was a slow night and they decided to shut down early despite having pre-sold tickets for later rides. We turned up to find the entrance locked. We tracked down a manager via the gift shop, who gave us passes to return another day. So my advice for now would be to avoid pre-paying for ride times that fall within an hour of closing time.

7. Getting there:

High Roller

The High Roller as seen from The LINQ.

  • By Foot. The High Roller is located at the end of The LINQ, a lively new restaurant, club and retail thoroughfare off The Strip. It’s located directly across from Caesar’s between The Flamingo and The Quad (formerly the Imperial Palace).
  • By Car. Plentiful free parking is available in back of the High Roller, off Koval Road. However, during special events (like the ACM’s “Party For A Cause” April 4-5), the parking lot might be unavailable. In that case, your best bet is to park at a nearby hotel and walk on over.
  • By Taxi. There’s a dropoff right at the High Roller entrance. However, during busy times (like the ACM event mentioned above), the taxi queues will likewise be daunting. Have the driver drop you at Caesar’s or Bally’s or the Venetian instead, and walk over.
  • By Monorail: The Las Vegas Monorail passes right under the wheel. Exit at the Harrah’s/The QUAD station.

8. The wheel generally stays in continuous motion. As it passes through the loading area at the bottom of the wheel, doors on both sides of the capsule open. Those boarding enter from one side, and those leaving disembark from the other. 

9. The wheel does occasionally stop, without notice, to allow wheelchair access or to give a large party time to board. That might be disconcerting to those already mid-ride, so I hope they’ll be adding an announcement when such delays happen to let people know that they’re intentional, brief, and no cause for alarm.

10. You might be so entranced by the view that you don’t notice the music played during your ride, but it’s a clever, thoughtful playlist. All the songs are themed to being aboard the wheel or to Las Vegas. You’ll hear snippets of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round,” Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation,” and so on. For good measure: The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” serenades you as the ride ends.

Disclosures: None. We paid for our tickets, and have no affiliation with The High Roller or The LINQ.

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