The Dynamic Culinary Scene in Nevada Is a Treat for Groups
Balla Italian Soul spread, Las Vegas. Credit: Bronson Loftin
For groups seeking ever-changing experiences, the dynamic culinary scene in Las Vegas shakes it up and keeps it fresh while continually raising the bar. Dining diversity also figures in Reno’s broad-based strategy to expand its visitor appeal beyond gaming. In spectacular Lake Tahoe, where the pristine cobalt-blue waters of North America’s largest alpine lake are framed by the Sierra Nevada mountain range and endless skies, venturesome chefs create plates equal to the scenery. Farther afield, Northern Nevada is a gold mine of traditional Basque cuisine.
In the words of Travel Nevada, Silver State food and drink “pair well with everything,” making for a movable feast for groups.
Recipes for Success in Las Vegas
Las Vegas embraces the value of reinvesting big dollars to stay ahead in a big way. Since 2020, advancing a perennial trend, the destination has committed some $9 billion to major projects such as the West Hall expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Another $5.5 billion in planned developments are ahead, including the MSG Sphere, now charting above the $2 billion mark.
“To stay competitive and maintain our No. 1 spot, we strive to innovate forward by listening to our customers and anticipating their needs,” said Lisa Messina, chief sales officer for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, by phone from the IMEX America 2022 show floor. “The world always pays attention to what Vegas does next.”
That includes the sensational global dining scene. For first-time and serial group customers alike, the mix of long-time anchors and exciting new entries means unique and different menu options for every visit and occasion.
Innovation is the watchword at 3,500-room Resorts World Las Vegas, where conventioneers have 350,000 square feet of flexible space along with fast underground transport in Tesla cars to the Las Vegas Convention District via an onsite Vegas Loop passenger station. On the culinary front, Crossroads Kitchen Las Vegas is an inventive plant-based fine dining concept that originated in West Hollywood in 2013 before expanding here in May 2022.
Featuring huge prints of rock stars, the spacious dining room is the stage for Chef Tal Ronnen’s all-vegan Italian-Mediterranean menu. Delicious highlights include the chestnut foie gras, stuffed zucchini blossoms and truffle mushroom Bianca pizza. In-demand group venues include the ornate 20-capacity Private Dining Room and 75-capacity Wine Room. Buyouts include 125 seated and 250 standing.
Celebrating 70 candles this year, SAHARA Las Vegas was the sixth resort to open on the Strip in 1952.
Balancing tradition with modern appeal, new investments include a stylish makeover of the conferencing wing and Balla Italian Soul. Chef Shawn McClain, a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Midwest in 2006, turns up the flavor with regional Italian sizzlers such as crispy stuffed peppers with spicy fennel sausage and lemon aioli, Roman-style pizzas and homemade pastas. The bright Strip-facing dining room seats 120, with an intimate 12-person private dining room.
In October, owner Penn Entertainment announced plans for a new 384-room hotel tower at off-Strip M Resort Spa & Casino in Henderson. “The addition of a second tower will benefit from the strong demand in the Henderson locals market, while providing additional capacity for the group business that is drawn to our market-leading resort and amenities, including our highly successful partnership with the Las Vegas Raiders,” Penn CEO Jay Snowden told CDC Gaming Reports.
Bringing the total key count to 774, the $206 million project is slated for completion in 2025. In the meantime, M Resort groups have a full menu of F&B options, from Anthony's Prime Steak & Seafood and the Raiders Tavern & Grill to 16, the top-floor rooftop bar featuring panoramic views of the Strip and surrounding Valley.
Inviting options in the City of Henderson itself include the Water Street District, which features diverse restaurants, breweries and distilleries. Scheduled for this December, event-capable Echo & Rig Butcher and Steakhouse expands to Henderson’s mixed-use District at Green Valley Ranch.
Since winning the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, beloved local figure Saipin Chutima has wowed Vegas with her traditional Northern Thai dishes at Lotus of Siam. In November, she opened her third restaurant at off-Strip Red Rock Casino Resort Spa.
Back on the Strip, The Bedford by Martha Stewart, the food and lifestyle celeb’s homage to her historic farmhouse and French cooking, is a hit at Paris Las Vegas. At Treasure Island Las Vegas, authentic Texas saloon and dance hall culture of Gilley’s BBQ is the setting for getting your cowboy and cowgirl on at boot scootin’ private events.
Two unique Israeli concepts are coming to Venetian Las Vegas, with another launching at Wynn Las Vegas. Heralded as a founding father of modern Israeli cuisine, Eyal Shani is scheduled to expand his global Miznon (street food) and HaSalon (more upscale) brands to the Venetian this winter and early 2023, respectively. Another Israeli culinary guardian, New Orleans-based Alon Shaya, returns to Vegas, where he began his career in 1991, with a modern Mediterranean-meets-Middle Eastern concept at Wynn late next year.
Reno’s Restaurants Rise to the Occasion
Outside and inside of its gaming resort collection, “The Biggest Little City in the World” stands tall in the kitchen and at the table.
Born and raised in an Italian-Greek family in Boston, Mark Estee is one of Northern Nevada’s biggest names in the culinary scene. In 2013, he was a James Beard Best Chef: West semi-finalist for Campo, which was credited at the time for putting Reno on the culinary map.
Today, his five-concept Local Food Group collection includes Liberty Food and Wine Exchange. Offering two private rooms and catering, this inviting downtown restaurant serves hand-crafted, shareable plates including meat and cheese platters cured and prepared in the onsite Liberty Artisan Meats butcher shop.
Located along the Riverwalk overlooking the Truckee River, Smith and River is among downtown’s newer restaurants. With a 10-year background in local catering and event planning, owners Colin and MaryBeth Smith opened their American Bistro-style concept in 2022. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating and is available for corporate events.
Beaujolais Bistro offers an authentic taste of France with daily menu changes based on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients.
The only resort directly connected to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, 824-room Atlantis Casino Resort Spa offers 50,000 square feet of versatile space, including the 14,000-plus-square-foot Grand Ballroom. Impressive, too, is the AAA Four-Diamond property’s restaurant collection. A standout includes Atlantis Steakhouse.
Voted the Best Overall Steakhouse in the Reno Tahoe area by OpenTable diners, this contemporary classic is for wet-aged cuts of Allen Brothers beef from Chicago, great martinis and a 330-plus strong wine menu, with private dining for groups of 15-50 people.
According to Travel Nevada, the Silver State is home to 136 buffets. Nearly half (72) are in Vegas; one of the best elsewhere is Atlantis’ restaurant-style Toucan Charlie’s Buffet & Grille. Following a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2016, the 16,000-square-foot venue features diverse cuisines, extensive wine selection and popular Dessert Station.
Originated in 1971 as the Peppermill Coffee Shop and Lounge before evolving into a gaming resort, Peppermill Reno maintains its culinary standing with five-star concepts Bimini Steakhouse, Romanza, and CHI. Combining traditional and contemporary Asian dishes, the expansive menu is complemented by the enveloping ambiance of Asian artwork, tapestries and statues.
Comprising the interconnected Eldorado Resort Casino, Circus Circus Reno and Silver Legacy Resort & Casino, The ROW Reno includes nationally recognized La Strada in its diverse dining portfolio.
Opened in 1982 at the Eldorado, this famed Northern Italian flagship is best known for its mushroom ravioli. Swirled in porcini cream sauce, the dish was recognized on Food Network's 2019 list of the “Best Pastas in the Country.” Pasta, fresh-made in the upstairs shop, drives the menu, with other highlights including the spicy penne arrabbitata and risotto mare e monti ("sea and mountains”) with red Argentinean shrimp, asparagus and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Tantalizing Lake Tahoe
Ivano Centemeri, who was brought over from Italy in 1995 by late Eldorado founder Don Carano to serve as executive chef for La Strada, is now vice president and executive chef of Northern Nevada for Caesars Entertainment. Upholding the Carano family’s tradition of “Food is Our Frank Sinatra,” Centemeri’s master touch extends to Sapori Italian Kitchen at group favorite Harrah's Lake Tahoe.
Opened last winter in the former buffet on the resort’s top floor, Sapori (“flavors” in Italian) features the signature mushroom ravioli and other authentic Italian dishes from the Carano family recipe book. The panoramic mountain and South Shore are equal to the culinary artistry at the 200-seat perch, which flexibly hosts special events and groups of all sizes.
Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen headlines the restaurants at Harveys Lake Tahoe. Overseen by 30-year veteran Executive Chef Lonny Huot, dining options at scenic 154-room Edgewood Tahoe Resort in North Lake Tahoe include The Bistro Edgewood, offering a 30-capacity private room with patio access.
The Basque Culinary Roots in Nevada
First attracted by the California Gold Rush of 1848, the Basque people of north-central Spain and southwestern France, one of Europe’s oldest ethnic groups, began emigrating en masse to Nevada in 1859 following the discovery of silver in present-day Virginia City. Known as the Comstock Lode, it was the first major silver ore strike in the U.S. and was central in the birth of the Silver State. As skilled ranchers, the Basque arrivals shifted to sheepherding, providing vital wool and meat for the miners.
Centered in Reno, Elko, Winnemucca and Gardnerville, the rich Basque culture is best experienced at restaurants like Louis’ Basque Corner in Reno. Opened in 1967 by Louis Erreguible, a WWII veteran, and his wife Lorraine in an update of a 1906 hotel, this Nevada icon is for American West Basque cuisine served traditional family style. Specialties include sweetbreads sirloin steak and roast leg of lamb, with banqueting space for 125 people. Plus, Picon Punch, or the “Basque cocktail.” Originated in 1837 as a bitter aperitif by Gaëtan Picon, an Italian serving in the French army, Nevada’s unofficial state drink evolved into a potent punch in early Basque boarding houses and restaurants. In the words of the late Louis Erreguible, “The first two are the Picon. The third is the Punch.”
Another Old World event-capable Basque treasure is The Star Hotel in Elko, a major destination for mining and outdoor adventure. Opened in 1910 as an 11-room hotel for sheepherders, this storied venue is a group must for steak and afaria, or Basque-style dinners. As the traditional Basque greeting goes, “Ongi Etorri!” or “Welcome Outsiders!”