When most visitors come to Las Vegas, they stay on or near the strip and assume that’s where all the good eats are to be found, even the best of the cheap food in Vegas.
But you know what they say about assuming…
Jimmy Fricke, a poker player and food blogger, is quick to set people straight.
“I don’t think it’s possible to have a good meal on the strip for less than $40 or $50,” he says. “That’s just too expensive if you’re talking about lunch — at a burger place.”
While there is wonderful fine dining to be had at some of the casinos — some have been around forever and will always be good — he says if that’s not what you’re looking for, your search should begin in a cab or an Uber to take you away from the glitz.
“I think this is one of the best cities in America for value. There are tons of places where you can get really good stuff and places where you can get cheap stuff, but to get both in the same place is just phenomenal,” Fricke says.
“When you’re talking about pure value, I pretty much never go to the strip. Almost all of my favourite restaurants here are in $#!%* strip malls.”
Good AND cheap? That’s music to a visitor’s ear. After all, you’re here to gamble, so why burn through your budget at an overpriced buffet?
After moving to Las Vegas in 2008, Fricke quickly learned if he was going to find the best cheap food in Vegas, he was going to have to find them himself.
He grew tired of online review sites where anyone could post — including those associated with a restaurant — and many reviews amounted to little more than a complaint about sushi that tasted too fishy.
As for the magazines that dot the strip, published by every company that owns a casino, he found their reviews of casino restaurants to be of little use as well, as they all said the same thing and not surprisingly, only had good things to say.
“That’s not who I want telling me where to eat food,” he says.
So, he launched his own blog of restaurants reviews: Jimmy Eats Vegas and also hosts a food MeetUp group several times a month that’s always in search of the best cheap food in Vegas.
“I wanted to give actual recommendations to places that aren’t going to get any press what so ever because they don’t have those casino connections.”
As he says, “Trust the fat guy.”
His tip? There’s something to be said for tried and true. Most of the new restaurants on the strip are catering to the club crowd — and he’s not a fan.
“I can name 80 per cent of the items on the menu before I walk in. That’s not a good thing; they’re just phoning it in.”
There was a time when Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay was one of his favourites. “They were fantastic,” Fricke says.
But a few years ago things were changed up. The restaurant is now known as Fleur and serves tapas.
“The new incarnation is just such a sell out to the club crowd. It’s tiny portions and the prices barely went down. It’s frustrating.”
So where does he send people for cheap food in Vegas?
“I rave about Chada to everyone who visits Vegas. It’s cheap, it’s open late, it’s absolutely incredibly delicious, the service is friendly and fast.”
It’s easily one of his most visited restaurants. And for the record: “When I die, I want to drown in Tom Kha Gai,” he says.
As for Kabuto, it’s in a bad strip mall — albeit on the upscale end — and offers a very accurate presentation of traditional Edomae style sushi. Get the largest omakase on your first visit here and order several pieces of O-Toro — and you won’t be disappointed.
“They’re so special. I’ve had so many friends tell me, fresh off trips to Japan, it’s as good or better than most places they’ve been in Japan.”
Fricke says what makes Vegas food so good is that city is the country’s new melting pot. People are coming from all over the new world — and regardless of where people originate, we all share a love of food, so they start a restaurant.
“For a long time New York was seen as the cosmopolitan city where people went to make a better life. Now it’s Vegas. We have so many good restaurants it’s incredible. Our Asia Town is cheap eats central.”
Other recommendations on his site include:
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Steak
“My heart still belongs to Delmonico. The service here is really something else. I’ve never gone and had a bad experience, even once showing up looking damn near homeless 10 minutes before closing and they treated us like kings. The house special is the bone-in ribeye and I can’t say I blame you for ordering it.”
“If you feel like going to an old school location instead of one in the new resorts, check out the Golden Steer on Sahara. It’s one of the few really old places left and it has the added benefit of having a grandfathered in open flame license. So if you fancy a bit of danger along with the stink of 60-year-old cigars with your steak, this would be the place to go. (In all seriousness, it’s a pretty awesome place.)”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Pizza
“If you have a car and want some really incredible authentic Neapolitan pizza, (Settebello) is the only game in town. They have an extensive beer menu and have paired some of their favourites with their pizza slices.”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Korean
“Korean BBQ is a popular thing in Vegas, and my personal favourite of the many restaurants is Tofu Hut. An inexplicable name, because I’m not sure they serve Tofu there. But since they’re open to 2 a.m., have an all you can eat option for only $16, and have amazing boneless short ribs, they could call themselves Feces Hut and I would still go there.” Besides, “it’s usually good news when you have to wait half an hour to get seated at 11 p.m. on a weekday.”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Italian
“There are a bunch of hole in the wall Italian places in town but I’m going to go ahead and say that going to CarneVino at the Palazzo is going to please most people. It’s more expensive than most other choices in this, but if you’re going to go out for a nice meal might as well make sure it’s the best one you can get. It’s a steakhouse that also serves amazing authentic pasta.”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: BBQ
It took a while for good barbecue to come to Vegas, but it seems to have arrived and has made the best cheap food in Vegas list. “Rollin Smoke …Make sure you order the burnt ends. It’s off menu, but they’ll be happy to oblige.”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Indian
“Mint Indian Bistro is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., with lunch being a buffet. Their buffet might actually be the best value for lunch in town at $13; the variety and overall quality of food is amazing for a buffet and it probably has to do with new food coming out every minute or two due to the volume of food being eaten. For this review, I went for dinner. But the buffet is probably in my top 3 best values in Vegas.”
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Pasty
Firstly, no, it’s not missing an ‘r’. But a pasty is a kind of handheld pastry, which Fricke explains was something miners used to eat with a crimped edge so they could eat it and throw away the edge without having to clean their hands back in the day. The Cornish Pasty Co makes more than 50 types of pies, all with unique fillings and sauces. “They’re delicious and they cost next to nothing. They also have a selection of old English beers. I’d totally recommend this to anyone looking for cheap, late night eats.” Bonus: It’s next to Fremont Street.
The Best Cheap Food In Vegas: Seafood
For those times when you are at a casino and hungry at night, you’re in luck. Every casino in town has an oyster bar with cheap oysters and seafood on offer once the sun goes down. For some inexplicable reason, the oyster bar at Palace Station is heads and tails above the others, particularly with what they call their pan roasts. As it turns out, the name has nothing to do with what they are, which is “a big bowl of spicy seafood, tomato, and cream stew with a big scoop of rice on top.” Fricke says it’s hard to describe how satisfying and comforting it is without having experienced it. He also doesn’t know why it’s so good, but “their recipe is so famous, people are begging them to sell it.” There are only 15 seats at the bar, so even at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, there can be a two-hour wait to claim one of them. It’s not the cheapest option in town at about $70 for two people, but if you’re patient and can get a seat, Fricke says it’s definitely worth the wait — and the money. “You leave stuffed. I’d say it’s close to a must try. You get your money’s worth.”
Go Where the Locals Go
The key to good eating in Sin City, like anywhere, is to go where the locals go to eat. And suffice to say, for the most part, you’re not going to find them on the strip.
“The traffic is terrible. Vegas is a huge spread out city and there are so many good places. Everyone here works in the service industry or knows someone who does, so they’re happy to spend a night out, as it supports the local town,” Fricke says.
He says for $100 bucks, you can take an Uber, or a Lyft, have a meal for two with drinks at a great restaurant — something you can’t find at the big casinos.
“You’re getting a way better meal, but you’re also supporting the people who need the attention and need the business — people who really, really care and are trying to do a great job.”