Las Vegas has always had a love affair with food. Back in the day, Vegas was known for making cheap eats popular across the United States. When Vegas tried to go family-friendly, the trend of featuring food went right there with it.
Today’s Las Vegas is the more adult-oriented, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” version of itself. And it has continued to feature some of the best food in the world.
Unsurprisingly, in a town that attracts entertainment moguls, concerts, celebrity athletes, famous people, and Las Vegas visitors in general, a lot of this food is served up by restaurants bearing the names of world-renowned chefs.
In fact, there are some restaurants that stick out like a sore thumb in the bright lights of Vegas. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. In fact, some are amazing. They’re just strange. Need an example? How about 10?
10 – The Giada Restaurant
With apologies to celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, having her restaurant in Las Vegas always seemed a bit incongruous if not exactly strange. Okay, it seems kind of strange.
Giada is everywhere and, as such, it makes sense that she would extend her culinary empire to Sin City. At the same time, she’s always had a squeaky clean image that just seemed strange being nestled in the heart of an adults-only playground.
With all that said, there’s nothing wrong with Giada in Las Vegas. In fact, it was voted best Power Lunch in Las Vegas (which is also strange… you don’t really associate power lunches and Vegas). Oh well, moving on.
9 – Rao’s Italian Las Vegas
For those of you who don’t know Rao’s, it is in itself a celebrity. Based out of New York City, Rao’s is famous for being the restaurant for which you can’t get a table. Every table is booked every day in perpetuity by the same crowd and unless you know someone, you’re probably not getting a seat. On top of that, the food is rumored to be amazing and the owner is often featured on Food Network.
With all that said, it kind of makes sense that a famous New York eatery made the journey to Las Vegas, just not Rao’s. First, for symmetry’s sake, I would have loved to see it in New York, New York, but that’s beside the point. Basically, this venue inside the Caesars Palace Casino does the original Rao’s no favors.
It ruins the mystique because suddenly it’s very easy to get a table in the Las Vegas venue (and frankly no place in Vegas should be easy to get a table at…) Secondly, the food suffers for not being located near home base. All in all, it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.
8 – El Burro Borracho
This will be the first time we hear from celebrity chef and Raiders superfan Guy Fieri. It won’t be the last.
El Burro Borracho, or the drunken donkey, is Fieri’s lower cost eatery located in the Rio.
The menu looks much like his line of taco shops, which are tacky approximations of the way a donkey might decorate a low class cantina. El Burro Borracho steps up the class a bit, but the food remains largely average to poor in its rating. Given how good food can be in Las Vegas, it’s definitely strange this place was made.
7 – Hell’s Kitchen
Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant, is strange, but for different reasons. If anyone has ever watched the show Hell’s Kitchen and secretly desired to eat there, walking into the Hell’s Kitchen will be the fulfilment of that particular culinary fantasy.
While the restaurant layout itself doesn’t exactly match what’s on the screen, the open air kitchen is divided into blue and red kitchens and serves all of the popular TV show favorites. You can order steaks, risotto, beef Wellington, and so on. Given the prices, it’s probably good that the food quality is absolutely through the roof.
It’s just strange there’s no one yelling.
6 – Burger Bar
If you spend any time watching food television, especially Iron Chef and Iron Chef Masters, then you have probably heard of Hubert Keller.
So, of course he opens a burger bar. Because why not?
I’m not criticizing Keller or his restaurant. I respect him and his cooking far too much to do that. It’s just that he’s a world-class chef. He has a great restaurant known as Fleur, which is amazing. It’s just odd that on top of that, we have a burger place… An expensive, magnificent, ultra-chic burger place.
5 – Cabo Wabo Cantina
It’s probably just me, but the whole Cabo Wabo Cantina experience outside of Cabo San Lucas itself just seems out of place, being conveniently located just outside the Planet Hollywood Casino, which faces directly onto the Strip. Of course, owner Sammy Hagar didn’t consult with me before opening this location or the other one in Hollywood.
Instead, Hagar keeps the place rocking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, serving Americanized beach fare for prices that actually make you want to come back. The drink menu is also pretty decent, though its clear where Cabo Wabo Cantina makes its money.
Ultimately, what really makes Cabo Wabo strange is that it just feels like a Vegas spot. Vegas has lots of themed eateries where you can get a meal and an overpriced drink. If not for the name, Cabo Wabo would just be another restaurant.
4 – Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar
He’s back. I told you he’d be back.
What’s strange about Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen and Bar is how average it is. The models on its advertising page look like they came from a stock photo site, the décor lacks that “drunk donkey barfed Americana all over the place” feel of some of his other restaurants and the food is pretty average according to most reviews.
It’s strange that it doesn’t.
3 – Joel Robuchon
Copy everything I said about Hubert Keller and apply it to Joel Robuchon, the man for who the restaurant Joel Robuchon is aptly named. Well, that and the fact that Joel Robuchon isn’t a burger bar, it’s a really, really high class restaurant helmed by one of the best chefs in the world.
It just seems strange that a man of his caliber would open his flagship in Vegas. It certainly has the Vegas price tag without the Vegas “devil may care” attitude. For some reason, that means if I am going to eat at one of his restaurants, I’d probably just travel to New York instead. It certainly feels more dignified.
2 – Robert Irvine’s Public House Restaurant
Public House has always been a bit of a head scratcher. It was opened in 2017, well after Irvine’s hype had faded, his controversy had come and gone, and he was generally banished from the public eye.
Then, all the sudden, his upper half is gracing the side of the Tropicana Hotel like the casino thinks his name alone is going to draw a crowd. It’s not that the gamble didn’t pay off, it’s just a strange thing to bet the farm on, even in a city known for big gambles.
1 – China Poblano by Jose Andres
I don’t know what to do with China Poblano by world-renowned chef (and one of the greatest humanitarians of our time) Jose Andres except go back there and eat again. And again.
China Poblano is a Chinese-Mexican joint that features absolutely no fusion cuisine. I went in expecting General Tso’s tacos or stir-fried fajita egg rolls. Instead, I got a menu with two sides—one Mexican, one Chinese.
In the end, I had the best shumai of my life and lost a bet to my waiter that cactus tacos are disgusting (they’re not gross at China Poblano).
Still, who else but Jose Andres opens a restaurant that literally can’t decide what it is? That’s the kind of place Robert Irvine used to shut down on Restaurant: Impossible. Strange, but delicious.
And thus ends our tour of the strange establishments in the Las Vegas food scene. It covered some restaurants we’d love to go to again (China Poblano and Hell’s Kitchen) and some places we’d avoid when going to Sin City. All in all, there’s no awful food in Las Vegas, so even when a restaurant is strange, it’s probably still pretty good.