I don’t know what it is about poker players, but as a group we tend to be more receptive towards eating meals out than other groups of people. No where is this more prevalent than Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker.
For most players the WSOP is a month straight of gambling, grief, and grub. A lot of people have told me they don’t like Vegas because they don’t like the summers– specifically the busy strip and the blistering heat. This saddens me, mostly because I think Vegas has a ton to offer outside the strip and away from the heat.
If you’re going to spend time at the WSOP this year, do yourself a favor and rent a car or spend a bit on Uber fare to check out these amazing local restaurants.
This article has been updated in preparation for the 2017 World Series of Poker
Best Pre-Tournament Meals
I’ve played a lot of tournaments in the past ten years and almost all of them still give me a few butterflies in my stomach. Also, the nightmarish bathroom situation at the Rio is not conducive to heavy meals before playing.
- Thai Style Noodle House
A light meal is best and I don’t want to be too far from the tournament in case things run too late, so for this I would recommend Thai Style Noodle House (see: website). It’s super cheap, very tasty and pretty fast. Also good if you want something light for dinner break, since I’ve been there many times with a group of 8-10 people and the bill was almost never more than $120 for the whole table.
- Komex Fusion
On a budget? Komex Fusion (see: website) is American-Mexican-Korean fusion food that’s the lowest price point in town without sacrificing quality. There are two locations on the west side of town and you can easily get out of there for under $15.
- Umiya Sushi
If you feel like getting sushi near the Rio instead, Umiya (see: yelp page) is a 3 minute cab ride away for a very solid all-you-can-eat(AYCE) sushi place that is just over $20 for lunch.
My mom always told me fish is brain food, but I should really watch my mercury levels with how much sushi I throw back at this spot (shout out to Ryan Fee for feeling like he’s gonna die from mercury poisoning).
Best Dinner Break Meals
The key for dinner break is something relatively quick, still somewhat light but definitely filling. 7 hours of play can definitely build up an appetite.
If you’re going to be playing almost every day like I am, you’ll also want something that’s not super expensive because it tends to add up as time goes on. Luckily, there are a bunch of places close to the Rio that fit this bill.
(I think people will be legitimately pissed at me for spilling the beans on a few of these places.)
- Rollin Smoke BBQ
Rollin Smoke (see: website) is a textbook dinner break spot. It’s only a few minutes away via Industrial behind the Rio, very cheap, filling and really delicious.
It’s a faster than average meal as well, so on a 90 minute dinner break you’ll easily have 20 minutes leftover to day dream about finishing the day as the chip leader.
BBQ is a tricky subject with very few good options available in Vegas, so you may even want to hit this spot outside dinner break.
- Tofu Hut Korean BBQ
Another option is Tofu Hut (see: yelp page). It can get extremely busy, but if you can get seated quickly then Tofu Hut is great dinner break spot that is sure to please even the most picky of eaters.
Don’t let the name fool you, Tofu Hut is famous for being one of the highest quality Korean BBQ places in town and is also an AYCE treat with dinner for only $17. If you can, have someone with the day off get a table for you before arriving. If Tofu Hut turns you away, you’ll be right on Spring Mountain Road which makes it a quick trip to many great places.
- Izakaya Go Japanese Grill
Izakaya Go (see: yelp page) is a Japanese grill restaurant that sets the standard for awesome skewers. It’s open late and has a massive selection of different meats and preparations to try. This is definitely a place to go if you want to be more adventurous and try some stuff you haven’t had before.
There are tons of options, but the skewers stand out.
Best Post-Tournament Session Meals
Making it through the day of a poker tournament is always a great feeling and that usually means you want to relax somewhere and have a leisurely meal.
- Chada Thai & Wine
It’s usually around 1 or 2 AM so this limits the options somewhat, but this is the perfect time to check out what is my favorite restaurant in town– Chada Thai & Wine (see: website).
Chada is an institution in town now, being the place that distinguished patrons choose over the more popular Thai option, Lotus of Siam. I think Chada is a better restaurant, so much so that I end up eating here like 10+ times over the course of the series.
The menu can be intimidating if you’ve never been there before, but at this point you can just say “give me what Jimmy would order” because they know what I get and they get this request a lot.
(Or just look around for me when you get there because I’m probably already in the building.)
- Halal Guys
Looking for something a little faster? Halal Guys (see: yelp page) opened up a location here recently just west of the strip on Spring Mountain and it’s open until 4 AM, 7 days a week.
It’s cheap and tasty, but watch yourself on the (very) hot sauce if you want to be able to get to sleep without severe pain.
Best Day Off Meals
Well, you busted the $1,500 yesterday and don’t feel like firing another tournament today. Time to grind a little cash and have a nice relaxing meal.
Chada is still one of the best options (avoid the smug 1-2 AM crowd who just made it through day 1, though), but I think the best usage of this day off is probably traveling to a restaurant you won’t get to try too often.
- DW Bistro
DW Bistro (see: website) is an amazing spot for lunch, dinner or, if it’s Sunday, brunch. It’s Jamaican-New Mexican fusion food which makes it completely unique as far as I know.
Some of their plates are massive piles of food and it’s very hard not to eat it all. If you can only make one trip here, try to make it for brunch. The line is out the door but it’s worth every minute you spend waiting.
- Mint Indian Bistro
Mint Indian Bistro (see: website) just opened up its second location in the west side of town and its original location is still open just east of the strip, so there’s no good reason to ever skip this place.
They reign supreme as the only buffet I enjoy (why pay a lot of money for a large amount of average food?) and they’re open 7 days a week. The last thing you want to do is eat a bunch of Indian food then go hang out at a poker table for 12 hours, but on a day off go ahead and treat yourself to the best Indian food that Vegas has to offer. All for super cheap!
Best Celebratory Meal
Hey, you did it! All those end of day Chada meals paid off.
You won X dollars and now you want to spend X-Y dollars on a meal commemorating the fact that X is a pretty big number. Vegas is catered towards people not paying attention to how much money they just won so your options are pretty open.
- Delmonico Steakhouse
Steakhouses might be the only category that I would say casino restaurants are great for, so a great strip steakhouse like Delmonico (see: website) in the Venetian should definitely be considered.
- Musashi Japanese Steakhouse
Floyd Mayweather is actually a massive fan of Musashi Japanese Steakhouse (see: yelp page), and so am I, though I am not a fan of Floyd Mayweather.
Musashi is a teppanyaki restaurant in the same style as Benihana, but don’t mention Benihana to the chef/owner Tiger because he will yell at you and make you cry.
This is legitimately the best teppanyaki restaurant on the planet and absolutely delicious.
- Fine Dining: E at Jaleo, Picasso
If white tablecloth fine dining is more your speed, a trip to E at Jaleo (see: website) is a pretty awesome experience, but Picasso (see: yelp page) is dollar for dollar maybe the best fine dining restaurant in town.
E is a modernist style restaurant using molecular gastronomy to create some pretty amazing stuff and Picasso is a more traditional fine dining restaurant that’s had the same menu since they opened. Each of them is incredible, but different.
Best Grief Stricken Meal
Nice going, moron. You skipped Chada the night before and bubbled the final table. It’s 9 PM, you won $20k but it feels like you lost a quarter million. Now all you want is a beer and something comforting.
- Cornish Pasty Company
Lemme tell you a secret: Cornish Pasty Company (see: website) is an up and coming little hotspot that is a perfect example of a gastropub that does it right.
They close at midnight, making it slightly early for a lot of Vegas places but in general this is one of the coolest little hangout spots in town. They have a sick beer menu and their Cornish pasties (which are indescribable to most Americans) have a ton of variety and certainly do not lack on flavor.
If you’re looking for comfort food, you’ve found it. Great even if you aren’t having the worst day of your summer.
Best Fine Dining Meal on a Budget
If you don’t want to drop multiple c-notes for an incredible dining experience, try out what I believe to be is my current favorite strip restaurant over at Uncle Sheldon Adelsons’s House of Pancakes (also known as the Palazzo/Venetian).
- Table 10
Table 10 (see: website) is Emeril Lagasse’s best restaurant in town. They serve classic American food done very well, so it’s safe for people who love food and people who aren’t too adventurous.
It’s not white tablecloth, but even a hardcore foodie will be impressed by this spot.
Best Meal – Don’t Leave Town Without Trying This
In my opinion, Kabuto sushi (see: yelp page) deserves all the money in the world.
Kabuto is the best sushi in the city by a pretty large margin and the quality is worth approximately double the price. I’ve done a pretty in-depth review(see: Kabuto review) and could go on for hours about how good it is, but there really isn’t anything other than to say there is no better place in town if you want to impress someone.
This is almost the quintessential place to show someone who thinks that Vegas dining is all about celebrity chefs and knockoff casino joints. Seriously, MAKE SURE YOU TRY THIS PLACE.
Assorted Other Meals
I’d be remiss without talking about a few other great places that always impress visitors.
- Oyster Bar
Oyster Bar (see: yelp page) at Palace Station is absolutely amazing, if you can ever get seated.
Going for lunch is probably your best option, because even on a Sunday night at 4 AM there is sometimes a 1-2 hour wait. If you want something spicy, savory, and delicious though there are few better places.
- Bachi Burger
I get asked about best burger places a lot and I always have to recommend Bachi Burger (see: website) first and foremost.
Slightly cheaper and definitely better than strip options, it’s a place that seldom disappoints those looking for a legit burger.
Shout Out to Poker Player/Restaurant Owners
If you’d like to support restaurants owned by poker players, you should check out Violette’s Vegan (see: website) owned by Cyndy Violette, an accomplished stud and mixed game player…
…and the recently acquired Roma (see: yelp page), which is owned by several poker players including Todd Brunson– an accomplished Twitter superstar who just happens to play poker in his spare time.
Don’t Miss These Meals
So, to recap:
- Best Burger: Bachi Burger
- Best BBQ: Rolling Smoke
- Best Sushi: Kabuto (Expensive) or Oyshi on Rainbow (Cheaper, AYCE)
- Best Steakhouse: Delmonico
- Best Overall: Chada Thai & Wine
One last thought…
There are many other restaurants out there, too many to name, that everyone should try this summer. My goal is to make it so people get away from the strip and start thinking about strip malls instead.
The more you visit them, the more other places will sprout up. Vegas is a great city that feels like a small town, and if you play your cards right you will be able to eat like royalty for not much money.
Poker player, food expert, and dog dad.