High-flying burgers, homey southern classics, romantic French fare: the biggest dining trends in Vegas might be driven more by research than you think.
Shake Shack’s famous Shack Burger.
It should come as no surprise that after years of working toward becoming one of the world’s greatest dining destinations, Las Vegas is now overrun with classic American cheeseburgers. After all, two of the quickest growing national restaurant trends are fast casual dining and chef-driven comfort foods.
But Vegas, of course, takes it to another level. If you’re craving a burger, among the already vast array of fast food favorites, gastropub options, and celeb-branded gourmet burger depots, the Strip has added Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace, Mario Batali’s B&B Burger & Beer, the LA transplant Umami Burger, the local favorite Smashburger, the East Coast icon Shake Shack, and the cultural phenomenon White Castle—all in the last year and a half.
A closer look at this trend reveals that it isn’t necessarily about burgers, however. In Las Vegas, dining developments are all about capturing the customer, with the trends driven by market research and positioning.
Danny Meyer, overlord of Shake Shack (New York-New York, 725-222-6730), CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, and creator of some of New York’s most beloved restaurants, has been pursued by Las Vegas for decades. But only now, when his approachable-burger concept could be offered a place right on the Strip as part of MGM Resorts’ upcoming Park project, has he acquiesced. “Part of my own resistance to being in Las Vegas with any of our restaurants had to do with how casinos have traditionally buried restaurants in the back. I never wanted to do that,” Meyer says. “Here we are part of a vision MGM has that says it will help our business not to bury it.”
Fried green tomato BLTs at Yardbird, with pimento cheese and pork belly.
Restaurant and retail developments are the hottest projects on the Strip. Just look at the Park, the Linq, the Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s, and the altered lagoon at Treasure Island. Tourists love to duck into friendly, party-ready retreats like Tom’s Urban at New York-New York (702-740-6766) or Double Barrel Roadhouse at Monte Carlo (702-222-7735). And popularity in other markets gives hotels direction when choosing new tenants. Did you think the nearly simultaneous local arrival of the familiar-yet-updated Southern fare at the Linq's Brooklyn Bowl (702-862-2695), Town Square’s Pot Liquor Contemporary American Smokehouse (702-816-4600), and Venetian’s Yardbird (702-297-6541) was just a coincidence? Hearty, rustic cuisine is back in a big way in foodie cities like Austin, Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle.
“Vegas is a tough market, even more today when there are increasingly more top restaurants than ever,” says Sebastien Silvestri, vice president of food and beverage at the Venetian and Palazzo resorts. “Every time you open a new restaurant, you have to raise the bar.”
When Silvestri and Venetian brought Daniel Boulud back to the Strip to open db Brasserie last year, they needed to replace the brasserie next door. That’s where Yardbird took over, bringing a homey, fried chicken–focused alternative to the resort’s “restaurant row,” featuring the gastropub Public House, seafood favorite Aquaknox, Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse, and Batali’s B&B Ristorante.
Other bastions of refined comfort food have also bloomed in recent months, on and off the Strip, further evidence of our preference for informality. The Light Group (recently acquired by Hakkasan Group) moved away from the clubby restaurants it pioneered on the Strip with the opening of Executive Chef Brian Massie’s rustic, artisanal Hearthstone (Red Rock Resort, 702-797-7344), a stone’s throw from culinary power couple Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla’s new Andiron, an upscale surf-and-turfery at Downtown Summerlin.
The pot sticker salad at Tom’s Urban.
But the most obvious and persistent Vegas restaurant trend isn’t a style of cuisine; it’s an ever-younger audience. At Bellagio, the megaresort that set a new standard for fine dining on the Strip when it debuted 17 years ago, a rare new restaurant has just arrived. With its Italian small-plates concept, Lago (Bellagio, 702-693-7111) has one of the city’s most acclaimed chefs, Julian Serrano, deftly switching from his classic style to address the way today’s Las Vegas visitor wants to eat.
“The majority of guests coming to Vegas today are 25 to 50, and a lot of those younger people are the ones going to clubs,” Serrano explains. “They go shopping, they play in the casino, they go to bars, and they go to restaurants. They don’t want to be intimidated. They want small portions to share, to taste different flavors and try different foods all in one dinner.” The award-winning chef points out that his popular Spanish eatery at Aria (702-230-2742) originally opened with the straightforward name Julian Serrano. “But the majority of people walking in have no idea who Julian Serrano is. We added Tapas to the name and business has grown.”
photography courtesy of station casinos (hearthstone); by evan sung (shake shack); tom’s urban las vegas (potsticker salad); courtesy of mgm resorts international (lago); el dorado cantina (aguachiles)