If forced to make a choice between never eating in Las Vegas again or never playing poker in Las Vegas again, I’m pretty sure that I’d give up poker and keep dining. All things in Las Vegas are usually done well (and there’s a lot), so it’s hard to beat Las Vegas’ culinary prowess. Plus, I can always drive to SoCal to play poker.
Even though Las Vegas does most foods well, it’s culinary fame rests on a small number of dishes—steaks, lobster, and shrimp cocktails rise to the top of that list. Still, Vegas has perfected so many other great dishes, too, and of these, sushi is one of the first to come to mind.
A simple Google search reveals dozens of sushi bars around town. Some of these are on the Strip and some off. Some are as glitzy as Vegas itself, while others offer few frills other than a fantastic meal. Still, with all that, I worked tireless to identify the best sushi places in Vegas. Here, for the first time, is a recap of that journey.
1 – Carnival World Buffet
The Carnival World Buffet in the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino seems like a strange place to begin one’s journey for sushi, and indeed, it is. It’s also not the true place that the journey began. It’s more of a placeholder.
Around the turn of the century, the Rio was home to a small, no-frills sushi bar not too far from the main entrance.
That place will live on in my memory as one of the best sushi bars ever, though like all things, its time has passed. However, it was my hope that perhaps the spirit of amazing sushi might live on in the Rio’s buffet.
Sadly, while the Rio’s Carnival World Buffet offers a grand variety of delicious lunch and dinner options, its sushi falls slightly short of the mark. It isn’t out of this world. Thus, our journey continues.
2 – Bayside Buffet
Critics will undoubtedly argue this point, but Bayside Buffet at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino is the best in Las Vegas. Admittedly, that’s a judgment call based in no small part to the sheer amount of seafood on their buffet and, oddly enough, the Rio actually wins awards for the quality of its buffet.
Regardless, the sushi journey went from the Rio to the Las Vegas Strip where I ended up at the Bayside Buffet. (That’s somewhat of a lie…I was actually looking for crab legs, but lo and behold the Bayside does offer a fairly decent selection of sushi to patrons who have room left on their plate after the rest of the seafood.)
All that aside, after a brief tasting of the Mandalay Bay’s sushi selection, one thing became very clear. Las Vegas casino buffets were no place to enjoy amazing, high-quality sushi. It’s a good place to enjoy vast quantities of sushi, but that’s another story.
3 – Chin Chin Café
It’s up to you New York, New York.
That was my next thought as my sushi journey continued through the streets of Las Vegas. Thus, I found myself walking to New York-New York Hotel and Casino on the Strip. Near the sportsbook, and sort of by the stairs up to the giant roller coaster, is a little sushi place that looks like it could have been a diner if not for the Asian décor.
If you’re ever waiting for your child to get full use of his all-you-can-ride bracelet or your college alma mater is playing in the Final Four, then Chin Chin Café is a nice spot to spend a few hours and a few hundred dollars.
If you go, try both the shrimp tempura and fiery tuna rolls, both of which are high quality and excellent. The shrimp tempura is a deluxe roll that combines crunchy shrimp with crab, cucumber, and avocado for a proper mix of rich, salty, and crunchy in one bite. The fiery tuna takes tuna and covers it in spicy mayo, special sauce, and jalapeno in case the spicy mayo wasn’t enough.
Clearly, Chin Chin Café knows what it’s doing. The fish was fresh and the rolls well-constructed. It also featured the best edamame. Still, it seemed like the sushi was missing something.
4 – Biwon
As I struggled to find an excellent sushi restaurant that was worthy of the title of Las Vegas’ best, I decided I needed to get off the Strip. In what has to be an even more controversial statement than my pronouncement about the Mandalay Bay, most of the best food in Las Vegas seems to be away from the Strip.
There are two things that locals in Las Vegas know, where to find the hottest poker action and where to consume copious amounts of food on the cheap. Usually, the location of both poker gaming and food is a place where tourists don’t often go.
Thus, I found Biwon about 10 minutes away from the Stratosphere. Biwon was an unlikely place to find the best sushi in Las Vegas for no other reason that it’s an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant. But for a few dollars more, it turns into an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ and sushi restaurant. This was enough to make me want to try it.
Open until 3 AM, Biwon rates as my second favorite all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant in the country. The meats are fresh. The wait staff is very friendly, and even the sushi is good. When you go (note I didn’t say “if”), make sure you try the “What the Heck” roll, the “Kiss of Fire roll,” and the “XXX” roll.
All three rolls mix fresh fish inside and out. Their spicy tuna (the star of both the XXX roll and the What the Heck) was salty and just a bit fiery. The sriracha on the Kiss of Fire turned into more than just a kiss, but the soft shell crab more than made up for it.
What Biwon missed, though, that robbed it of the title of best sushi in Las Vegas, was the fine attention to detail. You can get a lot of sushi at Biwon, and it’s all delicious, but it just fell short of what I knew Las Vegas sushi could be.
5 – Nobu
Despite my earlier statement about the best food in Vegas being from outside the Strip, there was only one place left for me to try: Nobu.
Thus, I had no problems sitting down in my chair and ordering omakase (telling the chefs to make whatever they wanted and I would eat it) even after being told that my portion sizes would be “Japanese.” (That’s restaurant code for small and, in this case, expensive.)
$250 later, I had the finest sushi meal of my entire life. Nobu’s army of trained chefs served whole sardines, crunched bones and all. There was mackerel with a dark sauce that turned the oily fish into something rich, deep, salty, and strong without being overpowering. Their simple egg omelet sushi was sweet and refreshing, even as I dipped it in just a hint of soy sauce.
Like Mount Everest, it was the type of meal you only need to do once. Once you try it, you realize you’ve been to the top and nothing else can compare. Plus, like oxygen canisters and hiring guides, that meal was crazy expensive. Still, I have no regrets.
At the end of touring Las Vegas for the perfect sushi, I believe the moral of this story is probably to go to Biwon.
In all seriousness, a little joint off the beaten path is a great place to get a sushi meal, and there’s nothing wrong with it. This is doubly true because I paid around $35 for so much food that I was afraid they’d have to use the jaws of life to get me free from the table.
Still, I have to hand it to Nobu. Sometimes, you end up at a celebrity chef restaurant and you pay a lot of extra money for the ambiance and the name. That’s not what happened there. Those chefs brought out 13 small plates, each offering a flavor combination that I had simply never tried before and may never experience again.
Ultimately, though, maybe the moral is this… As long as it’s not from a gas station, sushi is always pretty good. So, start your own journey and eat as much of it as you can.