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Las Vegas's High-Wattage Eats

Amid the bright lights of Las Vegas, find fabulous fare to rival any dining destination.

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  • Maine lobster served at Jasmine at Bellagio, image
    Photo caption
    Maine lobster may grace the brunch menu of Jasmine at Bellagio.
  • Tea Lounge at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas offers a view of the Strip, image
    Photo caption
    The Tea Lounge offers a view of the Strip.

Eating out is a form of entertainment, and no place blurs the line between dining and theater quite like Las Vegas, which boasts the highest concentration of celebrity chefs per capita of any city in the United States. Yet despite all the headline names, bright lights, and lavish menus, dining in Vegas isn’t only about dazzle.

“It’s a culinary epicenter on par with any major food city,” says chef and TV personality Richard Sandoval. “No matter your palate or your price range, the choices here will keep you busy for months.”

A good area to start grazing is downtown, a resurgent district that feels a little like the Strip unplugged: quieter but full of character, and home to such hot spots as Sandoval’s new place, the Commissary Latin Kitchen (richardsandoval.com/commissary), a casual-chic counter-service restaurant across from the Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. True to his reputation for border crossing, Sandoval has put together a menu ranging from Baja-style fish tacos to Texas-size bacon burgers. His rotisserie chicken is a beautiful bird, its fire-bronzed skin rubbed with cayenne and cumin, among other spices. But the real must-try is the carnitas torta, a mountainous sandwich piled with roast pork, pickled onions, and habanero mustard. Wash it down with a chile-chocolate milk shake, a Happy Days drink with an exotic kick.

A bit closer to the hubbub, in the spectacular Cosmopolitan hotel on the Strip, China Poblano (chinapoblano.com) from acclaimed chef José Andrés makes good on its name, celebrating Chinese and Mexican cuisine. The festive space, adorned with Asian and Latin artwork, relies on a pair of open kitchens. In one, pork-and-hominy pozole simmers on a stove while fresh corn masa cooks on griddles. In the other, bamboo steamers brim with lamb pot stickers and delicate dim sum in translucent wrappers, including scallop siu mai and har gau filled with pork belly and shrimp.

A few miles from the glitz, in a low-slung shopping plaza, stands Raku (raku-grill.com), beloved by local chefs and restaurateurs. They come from their own joints for the delights of this tiny izakaya, a traditional Japanese bar and grill. Charcoal-kissed skewers rank among the stunners (try the Kobe beef, smacked with wasabi), as does udon noodle soup with foie gras and egg custard. Sushi? Sorry. Think sublime sashimi instead. There’s also silken house-made tofu, which you dress tableside with homebrewed soy sauce and green-tea salt.

Philosophical question: If you visit Vegas but don’t binge at a buffet, have you really been there? Of the all-you-can-eat options, none doles out more decadence than the Sunday brunch of Jasmine at Bellagio (bellagio.com/restaurants/jasmine.aspx). Pick your pleasure: lobster profiteroles or Peking duck, blueberry-stuffed French toast or fresh-shucked oysters. The raw bar is so tall you have to crane your neck to see the top. The brimming prime rib–carving station would make Marie Antoinette blush. The graceful dining room overlooks the hotel’s famous dancing fountains, but don’t let that distract you from the dessert spread, which features its own fountains of white and dark chocolate fondue.

Diet starts Monday. But decompression comes sooner in the tranquil Tea Lounge at Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas (mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas), a plush, well-appointed space on the hotel’s 23rd floor. A Zen antidote to sensory overload, its afternoon service pairs soothing loose-leaf teas with currant scones, finger sandwiches of smoked salmon, and other classic accompaniments. Through the lounge’s picture windows, a view of the Vegas skyline plays out as spectacle. You’ve had your meal. Now enjoy the show.

Photography courtesy of Mandarin Oriental (Tea Lounge); MGM Resorts International (Maine lobster)

This article was first published in November 2014. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.