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GO BEYOND THE BUFFET: The Evolution of the Las Vegas Food Scene
GO BEYOND THE BUFFET: The Evolution of the Las Vegas Food Scene

Written by Barbara Toombs

It didn’t take long for Las Vegas to grow from its early gambling-town roots on Fremont Street in the 1930s. By 1941, the first casino resort had opened on what would become the Las Vegas Strip: El Rancho Vegas. The financier who owned El Rancho realized that if guests could get food in the wee hours of the morning, it would give them the stamina to gamble longer, and the first late-night culinary enterprise in the city was born. Referred to as the “chuck wagon” by many customers, it was officially named the Buckaroo Buffet and stood out as a novel concept in Las Vegas, consisting of Western-themed cold cuts and a handful of hot dishes.

Not surprisingly, other casinos soon followed suit, each vying to outdo the other. The Desert Inn featured elaborate ice sculptures on their buffet tables, while the Silver Slipper offered a 98-cent spread billed as “50 Epicurean delights, served 24 hours every day.” Chefs in toques reigned supreme at meat carving stations, with deviled eggs, shrimp cocktail, mayonnaise-dressed salads and Jell-O desserts becoming standard buffet fare.

Fast-forward to 1989, when Ruth’s Chris steakhouse came to town, followed soon thereafter by places like Morton’s and The Palm – marking the beginning of the modern history of the Vegas food world. In 1992, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck was convinced to open an iteration of his Los-Angeles-based Spago restaurant at Caesars Palace (later moving to a spot overlooking the Fountains of Bellagio), beginning the celebrity-chef era in the city and helping further the idea that Vegas could be a destination for non-gamblers.

Today, Las Vegas consistently appears on the latest lists of top foodie destinations. Numerous food tours of the city whisk guests to top dining spots both on and off the Strip. A number of restaurants in The Entertainment Capital of the World have earned coveted Michelin stars, including Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, Julian Serrano’s Picasso at the Bellagio, Nobu, DJT, Le Cirque, Michael Mina and Wing Lei. In addition to Wolfgang Puck, celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Scott Conant and Gordon Ramsay draw diners from around the world, as well as rave reviews. Off the Strip, Saipin Chutima’s Lotus of Siam has long been recognized as one of the country’s top Thai restaurants.

Staying true to its roots, the city’s ubiquitous buffets remain – but on a decidedly grander scale. Consider the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, featuring 10 kitchens, 9 chef-attended stations and more than 250 menu items from around the globe, encompassing an area of over 25,000 square feet.

Clearly, Las Vegas has matured into one of the world’s top food destinations. Bon appetit!

This content was originally published here.