Eating the Road: No One Knows Vegas Better than Our New Columnist, Zeke Quezada
Trying to rediscover itself, Las Vegas lost its way.
Somehow,Vegas picked up the wrong map and found itself at a fork in the the road: to the left was 99-cent shrimp cocktails and $4 buffets; to the right, fine dining, big checks, and even bigger bottles of wine.
Las Vegas turned right.
Sin City let go of what made it so attractive to the budget traveler, its core market, embracing instead the one variable it had shunned for so long: luxury.Celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse raced in, built new homes, and changed the neighborhood. Local chefs were chased out of casinos like squatters, their restaurants razed and rebuilt as McMansions for heavy hitters such as Thomas Keller, Charlie Palmer and Joel Robuchon. Like any town in transition, you could still find $1 beers and tiny shrimp, but Vegas was rebranding itself as a fine-dining destination.
Say what you want about Las Vegas, but the city does one thing well: Change. There’s no other place on earth that can reinvent itself so fully, so quickly, so compellingly. Dumpy, smokey hotels are long gone, replaced with grandiose resorts and high energy nightlife. Cirque du Soleil instead of cabaret. And just as the town cleaned itself up and put on fancy clothes, so did the restaurant scene. With the entrance of famed chefs, dining in Las Vegas became relevant again.
Then the economy stumbled upon that same fork in the road. And turned left.
But change is sweeping through again. While Vegas still touts its famous chefs and fine-diining pioneers like André Rochat, the chef of both Andre’s and Alize, and Rick Moonen, whose seafood restaurant at the Mandalay Bay Hotel emphasizes sustainable fishing practices (no one before gave seafood on a menu–in the desert–a second thought)–the buzz in town is over the up-and-coming chefs, the ones just beginning to make a name for themselves.
These are chefs like Kim Canteenwalla at Society Cafe, who’s taking classic American dishes and transforming them from ordinary to extraordinary. And chef Jet Tila, at Encore Las Vegas, whose inventive Asian cuisine is a mash-up of Aian cuisines with a touch of rebellious culinary adventure, all based on his family’s experiences living in Thailand, China, and West Los Angeles.
Do you get excited about eating good food?
It might be time for you to get excited about eating in Las Vegas..again.
Zeke Quezada is the Guide to Las Vegas Travel for About.com and Las Vegas Editor for EscapeHatchDallas. He has been crawling through the Las Vegas restaurant scene since he was in his teens and learned to throw dice on Fremont Street. If it’s on the Las Vegas strip, Zeke has swam, slept, eaten, drank or lounged there.