January 2018

Convention District: Culinary Connections

by Jeff Heilman

Peppermill restaurant and lounge

Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge | Peppermill Casinos

As the ongoing $1.4 billion redevelopment of the Las Vegas Convention Center District heads into the expansion phase, the north end of the Strip and broad surrounding area stands to gain more cohesion as a distinct destination. Other projects, including Steve Wynn’s $1.6 billion Paradise Park and his just-announced plans for a 2,000-3,000-room hotel on the vacant 38-acre former New Frontier site across from his existing resorts—plus the $4 billion Resorts World Las Vegas, and always looming redevelopment of the Fontainebleau site—would add further grand-scale dimension to a landscape currently defined by vast, disconnected empty spaces.

Yet, the North Strip does not want for character and appeal—including its dining scene. 

Adjacent to the convention center and one block from the Strip, Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino’s culinary legacy dates to its 1969 origins as The International, then the largest hotel in the world. Debuting with a souvenir menu dedicated to opening headliner Barbra Streisand, a selection of globally inspired restaurants, and even daily rotating international menus at its coffee shop, the legendary resort also introduced the famed Japanese hibachi chain Benihana to Vegas.  

Offering private dining space, Benihana sizzles on today as one of 15-plus F&B outlets at the Westgate. The restaurant forms part of an Asian quartet housed within a two-story complex at the resort overseen by Chef de Cuisine Masato Shiga, which includes Bar Sake & Robata Grill, Rikki Tiki Sushi and Silk Road Asian Bistro. With a new oyster bar concept on the way, Shiga, along with Aaron Losch, director of culinary operations, and two fellow Westgate chefs were featured on the cover of last month’s Las Vegas Magazine. Other venues include Edge Steakhouse, Sid’s Cafe, Fresco Italiano and the International Bar.  

Delegates hungry for vintage Vegas have a collection of free-standing classic venues, such as the Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge. Open 24/7, this campy 1972 heirloom just north of the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore resorts is pure Vegas kitsch, complete with pink and purple lighting, fireside lounge and generous portions. On Convention Center Drive, Piero’s Italian Cuisine (1982) specializes in private dining, banquets and catering, with eight rooms for up to 170 guests. On West Sahara Avenue near the Strip, the Golden Steer Steakhouse celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Once frequented by Elvis and the Rat Pack (and a personal favorite of Chris Meyer, vice president of global business sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority), this old-school treasure offers two private rooms for 42 and 16 people, respectively.  

Nearby, the fabled Sahara (1952-2011) was relaunched in 2014 as SLS Las Vegas, with its 289-room Lux Tower becoming Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ first W hotel in Vegas in 2015. Last May the 1,327-room SLS Las Vegas was sold to the Meruelo Group, owners of Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort and Casino. 

With future development plans for the resort as yet unannounced, SLS remains a haute dining draw with Bazaar Meat, one of several Vegas concepts from star Spanish chef Jose Andres. Featuring two private dining rooms, this whimsical carnivore’s lair is on the Ultimate Steakhouse Tour, the latest curated VIP dining experience from planner-favorite Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. 

“Our success with groups continues to evolve, with our ability to accommodate up to 250 guests on three concurrent programs,” said the tour company’s founder and CEO, Donald Contursi, who recognized Bazaar Meat with “Best Steakhouse in Las Vegas” honors at Lip Smacking’s inaugural year-end award show in December. Along with Jean Georges Steakhouse at ARIA Las Vegas and SW Steakhouse at Wynn Las Vegas, Bazaar Meat is one of only three Vegas restaurants serving authentic Kobe beef.

Another perennial “Best of Las Vegas” honoree is THE Steak House. Located inside MGM Resorts International’s northernmost resort, Circus Circus Las Vegas (50 this year), this surprising gem is renowned for its reasonably priced mesquite-grilled steaks, prime rib and lobster.

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