The Thrillist Awards: Vegas' Best New Food, Drink & Everything Else of 2015
There's been a ton of awesome newness that's sprung up in Las Vegas over the last few months, from mouthwatering burgers to creative lunch menus, to off the Strip Chinese restaurants that serve ham and cheese sandwiches. But what about the VERY best new stuff? The clear standout winners you’d want to see in a clean, concise, and incredibly thoughtful list? Well, look no further, because you’ve found precisely that list.
Best new burger
Despite being known for plump, delicious steaks, Old Homestead pretty much always had a burger on the menu. However, something wasn't quite right. So the team took their time and came up with a new one that is truly among the best you'll try in Vegas. The Old Homestead burger is made with 10oz of seared dry-aged beef, aged cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, mustard aioli, and stuffed between a brioche bun toasted with foie gras butter. It's served with duck fat fries and bourbon ketchup.
Best new tourist attraction
Did you know Nevada was the first state to execute prisoners using lethal gas? The latest exhibit from the museum dedicated to the rich history of organized crime in Las Vegas is the execution chair from the state's gas chamber, which saw a parade of convicts meet their ultimate fate between 1951 and 1983. That's when Nevada officially switched from cyanide to lethal injection.
Best new dinner with a view
The restaurant formerly known as Mix shut down over the summer and has reemerged as Rivea, with fresh and simple food inspired by the rivieras of France and Italy. The good news is that it still has the incredible view of the Strip from the 64th floor of the Delano tower. And in even better news, there's more than 1,300 options on the wine reserve list.
Best new brunch with a view
It's easy to find an awesome brunch in Las Vegas, but few come with this kind of scenery. So if you're going to order an eggplant Parmesan Benedict or shredded salmon salad, you might as well sit at a table that overlooks the iconic Bellagio fountains. Stay indoors and check out the view through floor-to-ceiling windows, or enjoy the waterfront breeze from the outdoor patio.
Best new workout
Forget yoga. This Australian exercise concept has expanded into the Western Hemisphere by opening its first US location in Las Vegas. The high-intensity workouts are based on primal animal movements, which means you'll be running around like a gorilla and burning up to 800 calories in just a half-an-hour. And when you burn more calories, you can drink more beer. It’s a win/win.
Best new BBQ spot
After first opening up at the Downtown Container Park, Big Ern's now has an official casino location. In addition to an expanded menu, there's also a big red barn set up on the floor, to add a little Vegas kitschiness to their Southern barbecue menu.
Best new coffeehouse drink
The baristas share the profits in each drink they personally design, so there's definitely some incentive to come up with intriguing new stuff. The Grasshopper (made by Tyler, if you're keeping track) is made with a matcha farmed from south Japan and blended with organic mint and chocolate. It kind of tastes like a green tea chocolate cake and is more addictive than a Pumpkin Spice Latte from that one place...
Best new Italian dish
In what might be the best twist on a Thanksgiving flavor profile you'll find anywhere in Las Vegas, the butternut squash gnocchi is served with turkey infused parmesan butter, turkey confit, pickled cranberries, dried homemade stuffing crumbles, and topped with crispy brussels sprouts (as well as gold flakes for good measure). It's a prime example of how Chef Michael LaPlaca has given the restaurant formerly known as Onda new life, while offering a few unexpected surprises with every menu update.
Best new take on a buffet
Forget what you think you know about old-school Vegas buffets, where you slop as much junk on your plate as possible in between bites of stale sushi. The Buffet at Wynn has a new look -- and a new chef -- with more than a hundred new dishes, including Frank Sinatra's family recipe for spaghetti and meatballs and a tasty peking duck. Stations include Mexican street tacos, sushi, crab legs, prime rib, and crepes prepared to order. Around the corner from the chocolate fountain is an impressive lineup of pastries and gelato for dessert. If you want a little more privacy, you can throw a party in the private dining room that's now been added next door.
Best new mixology program
Opening up alongside sister restaurant Rivea (both share the same awesome view), Skyfall takes its boozing a step further with the drink menu broken down into subheadings like "Effervescent" for champagne and cider cocktails and "Martini Education" for exploring different ways a traditional martini can take shape. There’s also an old fashioned cocktail set up for any bottle of aged spirit, custom mixers like fresh lemon juice with honey syrup, and exclusive spirits like Chareau Aloe liqueur. Order something other than a vodka cranberry this time around, you’ll thank us later.
Best new Chinese restaurant on the Strip
The menu features a fusion of Asian and Western culture that reflects Hong Kong's long history as a British colony (before being handed back to China less than 20 years ago). The result is a deep and diverse selection of food representing a number of regions, from ham & egg sandwiches to Macau-style roasted pork belly.
Best new app for Vegas
It's on Me (info)
This Las Vegas-based app has technically been around for about two years, but it really caught on in 2015 by bringing in hundreds of new partners. The service eliminates the need for gift cards and allows you to buy drinks, food, a round of golf, and all sorts of local Vegas stuff for anybody with a cell phone. Whether it's a bacon wrapped matzo ball from Andiron, Mob Museum tickets, or a bottle of wine at Ferraro's, it's a quick and efficient way to get on somebody's good side with just a few clicks.
Best re-use of an old space
Nearly two years after breakfast-and-bagel spot Bread & Butter shut its doors, CRAFTkitchen is putting the location to good use, open 7am-3pm seven days a week. Chef Jaret Blinn is a one-man-show, baking pastries overnight and serving up dishes like a pulled turkey eggs Benedict for breakfast and a chorizo sausage shepherd's pie for lunch.
Best new tour
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours (info)
On the Strip
Only have one night in Vegas and can't decide on a restaurant? Go with the "Savors of the Strip" restaurant crawl from Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. Here's how it works: a tour guide will take your group for a walk down Las Vegas Boulevard while ducking in-and-out of a diverse selection of truly awesome spots like Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmo for Greek, Bardot at the Aria for French, and Yusho at the Monte Carlo for Asian. With each stop, you’ll get prompt seating at the best tables with one signature dish after another dropped in front of you. The idea of a food crawl is nothing new, but these guys are pros.
Best new grab-and-go lunch
Head through the mall, walk outside by the Strip, and turn the corner next to some place named Starbucks... That's where you'll find a cozy seafood shack ready to hand over delicious lobster rolls made with a sustainable tender catch from Maine. Add a bowl of the clam chowder or lobster bisque to your order and you'll definitely make your coworkers jealous when you return to the cubicle.
Best new canned beer
There's a growing segment of beer connoisseurs that believe some craft brews taste better coming from a can. Count the team from Bad Beat Brewing among them. Their new line of cans includes the Ringer pilsner, Bluffing Isn’t Weiss Hefeweizen, and Hoppy Times IPA. It's one of the reasons the brewery has been a growing favorite amongst since it opened less than two years ago.
Best new breakfast
Sometimes you just need a good skillet-served breakfast after a long night at the downtown bars. Drag yourself off the curb and into the MTO Cafe for their tri-tip and eggs: a six-ounce espresso-rubbed tri-tip steak with three scrambled eggs, veggies, and hash browns along with a little toast. It's plenty of protein to start the day... even if you need some coffee on the side to actually wake you up.
Best new table-side presentations
The recently opened Carbone has a New York supper club vibe that specializes in traditional Italian favorites, but also features even more fun than stuff like the bone-in Veal Parmesan and Lobster Ravioli. The table-side Caesar salad is nothing new in Vegas, but Carbone may have it perfected better than anyone else. Also, the squash agrodolce is in a class of its own as a side dish, with buttery acorn squash and mascarpone topped with pumpkin seeds. Finish the night off with the bananas flambe -- basically, a mini-bonfire right before your eyes.
Best new Henderson restaurant
It's only open for breakfast and lunch, but the brand new Kitchen Table is offering an ambitious menu that is both challenging and inviting with a perfectly prepared Monte Cristo, tostadas made with pork from a suckling pig, freshly smoked bacon on the patio, and seared foie gras on your choice of pancakes, waffles, French toast, or biscuits. Pop up dinners are planned once a month, giving you no excuse not to check out a place eager to compete with the heavyweights on the Strip.
Best bar renovation
Around since 1976 as a favorite dive bar for blues fans, The Sand Dollar has been in need of a makeover for quite some time. It reopened over the summer with a fresh new look, live music four to five nights a week, and food trucks taking up the real estate in the parking lot. Musicians like Muddy Waters and Mick Jagger have stopped by over the years, so try to soak in some of the history in between games of pool on their new table.
Best improved menu
The Double Barrel is doubling down on what it does best: BBQ. With oversized smoke and wood burning grills to infuse bold flavors into the dishes (both old and new), you’ll get meat smothered in the restaurant's own "Vegas" sauce and custom dry rub. You can't go wrong with the ribs or brisket with sweet potato fries on the side, but the pulled pork sliders taste just right with a little melted cheddar cheese on top.
Best new casino bar combo
Center Bar & Parlor Lounge
Mirage Center Bar
Taking up space where the old poker room used to be, the Mirage is hoping this two-for-one combo will help relax and recharge thirsty mouths in between trips to the slot machines on the casino floor. And by "relax and recharge"... we mean load them up with an impressive selection of modern cocktails from Chicago mixologist Liz Pearce. While the Center Bar has an energy that's perfect for people watching (if you're into that sort of thing), the Parlor Lounge will take things down a notch with comfy seating and live piano music in the background.
Best new lunch off strip
Artisanal Foods CafeEast Valley
Not satisfied with merely being a retail outlet and food supply company, Artisanal Foods decided to move down the road into a bigger space, expand its operations, and open a cafe. The chef in the kitchen is Johnny Church -- formerly of MTO Cafe -- who is quickly winning over fans with a tight but creative menu where lionfish ceviche is served on crispy wasabi leaves, and organic chicken thigh meat is pressed together and served with mushroom bread pudding. With only 12 seats available in the dining area, online reservations are recommended. Go with the chef's tasting... you'll be in good hands, and you won't have to trouble yourself with the whole “thinking” thing.
Best new spot for sweets
In a town already overloaded with nearly as much macarons as gelato, you really have to do something right to stand out. So Le Macaron not only has all the bases covered with flavors ranging from basil white chocolate to rose petal and Madagascar black vanilla, but also keeps a bottle of champagne on ice and ready to go. Enjoy both sweets and sips on a bridge that spans across the Grand Canal from inside the store and overlooks the famous gondoliers from the Venetian.
Best new boozy coffee drink
The drink is Have a Cigar and its name doubles as your instructions for what to do when it's finished. This adults-only tribute to mobster Bugsy Siegel is made with Zaya 12-year rum, espresso, Monin vanilla, and a dash of Angostura aromatic bitters with a sweetened dollop of cream on top.
Best new food challenge
The "Rock Out With Your Guac Out Challenge" is truly an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is... with a four-and-a-half pound burrito stuffed with carne asada steak, pico de gallo, onions, green chilies, cheddar cheese, french fries (yeah, french fries!), and, just to make it healthy, lettuce. It's also drenched in sour cream and guacamole for good measure. Buy it for $45 but if you can finish it off in 20 minutes or less... it's completely free.