Growing up in an Italian-Greek family, native Chicagoan Donald Contursi fondly remembers his grandmother’s red sauce-driven Sunday suppers and other home cooking.
“Italian culinary traditions are heart and soul for me,” said the founder of group gastronomic go-to Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, who first worked at hometown Italian restaurants and pizzerias. In Vegas, his successful run as a server included working at The Venetian’s LAVO Italian Restaurant.
Famed for its one-pound meatball, this large group-capable restaurant is one of many inviting Italian dining experiences around town.
“I feel right at home here,” Contursi said. “Accessible and convivial, Italian cuisine is the ideal icebreaker for group dining. If you can’t bond over a plate of Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, there’s just no hope!”
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No worries there. Las Vegas and Italian food are practiced dance partners, and like a forkful of pasta, the destination positively swirls with Italian cuisine. Ci vediamo presto, or see you soon, at these event-ready old school classics, resort ristorantes and world-class pizzerias.
Secondi to None
Food is the essence of Italian social life. As the saying goes, Chi mangia da solo si strozza (“He who eats alone chokes”). Breathe easy—Italian group dining options abound on the Strip.
At the relaunched SAHARA Las Vegas, Bella Bistro serves Italian-influenced American contemporary fare and rentals including partial 100-person buyouts and 250-capacity receptions.
Sinatra and its private Chairman’s Room will have you crooning at Wynn Las Vegas, along with other on-location restaurants Costa Di Mare and Italian icon Cipriani.
Treasure Island’s Phil's Italian Steak House, named after owner Phil Ruffin, serves steak, seafood and Italian classics like veal marsala, with private dining for 40.
Photo: One-pound meatball at LAVO Las Vegas; Credit: The Venetian
Inspiration for The Venetian Las Vegas, which opened in 1999 on the former Sands site, reportedly came from owner Sheldon Adelson’s wife Miriam during their Venice honeymoon. “If you can bring the romantic atmosphere of Venice with all the luxuries that can only be found in Las Vegas,” she said, “then it can be a winner.”
Along with recreating Venetian landmarks including the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Campanile, the resort and sibling The Palazzo maintain Vegas’ largest resort restaurant collection, more than one-quarter of which are Italian. Along with LAVO, group venues include Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano and Venetian-inspired Canaletto, with five private rooms overlooking the replica Grand Canal.
Following his Roman-influenced “cabana” concepts in Atlanta, Dallas and Palo Alto, developer Jay Sarno revolutionized Las Vegas in 1966 with Caesars Palace, where dining venues today include a sibling of imperial New York City restaurant Rao’s.
While getting a table at the 1896 original in East Harlem is next to impossible, Rao’s Las Vegas offers event space, an outdoor patio and replica of the landmark’s 12-table dining room. Menu highlights include the pan-seared veal chop with hot and sweet cherry peppers. Located in the Forum Shops at Caesars, Carmine’s is another renowned New York City import.
Photo: Scarpetta at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas interio; Credit: Ogara Bissell
Named after fare la scarpetta (“make the little shoe”), the Italian tradition of soaking up the last of the sauce with a tear of bread, Scarpetta Italian Restaurant at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves up classics like spaghetti tomato and basil.
New York-inspired Carbone’s at ARIA Las Vegas offers two private rooms for 40 guests and is renowned for showy tableside service, paying homage to mid-20th century Italian-American restaurants.
At Mediterranean-inspired Park MGM, Eataly Las Vegas entices groups with Chef’s Table classes, tastings and events, and fine dining at Manzo (“beef”), a grill and bar inspired by the Italian macelleria, or butcher shop.
More Mangiare Off-Strip and Downtown
Piero's Italian Cuisine is a 1982 classic across from the Las Vegas Convention Center hosting 20 to 225-capacity events.
In 2018, James Beard winning Philadelphia chef-restaurateur Marc Vetri brought Vetri Cucina to the 56th floor of Palms Casino Resort.
Count Risotto di Mare is among the handmade “Pasta Della Casa” at the D Las Vegas’s Andiamo Italian Steakhouse by Joe Vicari, along with award-winning wines and private dining.
South Point groups can dive into homemade gnocchi, fresh Italian seafood and other specialties at Don Vito’s.
Translated as “rich plate, I dive in it,” Italians say piatto ricco, mi ci ficco for the inviting pleasure of eating. Such is the experience at Westgate Las Vegas’ Fresco Italiano, where Michelin-trained Executive Chef Steve Young’s revamped menu elevates classics like the vitello alla parmigiana (bone-in veal chop).
Home is Where the Heart Is
For Vegas-born James Trees, Italian food is a true family affair. Growing up, his hard-working mother could not always make dinner, so Trees routinely ate pasta and other comfort food with his Italian best friend Alfio’s family. Later, Trees’ great-aunt Esther funded his CIA education, and then willed him the money to open his first restaurant.
She invested wisely.
His Roman trattoria-inspired Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District is an Italian soul food sensation. Earning a 2020 James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Southwest, Trees’ training under masters including Michael Mina, Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay shines through in his wondrous cacio e pepe pasta and other from-scratch delights. Featured on Contursi’s Arts District Lip Smacking Tour, the restaurant hosts private events and provides offsite catering.
Since 1985, Gino and Rosalba Ferraro have invited guests to “Eat, drink and enjoy yourself” over family-inspired Southern Italian cuisine at Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar.
(Photo: Gino and Rosalba Ferraro; Credit: Chris Wessling)
This group go-to across from the future Virgin Hotels Las Vegas offers award-winning Taste & Learn food and wine events, and versatile indoor/outdoor venues for up to 120 guests, 300-person buyouts included. Ferraro’s received Italy’s prestigious Leccio d’Oro award in 2020 as best foreign restaurant for its wine collection.
An Italian food proverb holds that A tavola non si invecchia, or “at the table with good friends and family you do not become old.”
Just ask Maria Perry, matriarch of Vegas’ oldest Italian restaurant, Bootlegger Italian Bistro. Turning 102 this March, Perry still oversees the sauce for the 24-hour restaurant’s spaghetti and meatballs and other dishes. Dating to 1949 and in its current South Strip location since 1972, Bootlegger’s features live entertainment and event-hosting for 20 to 250 people.
Respect the Slice: The Best Spots for Pizza in Las Vegas
“For one week every year, the center of the known pizza universe isn't Naples, Italy or New York (or even Chicago); it's Las Vegas, when the International Pizza Expo rolls into town.” So began CBS Sunday Morning’s May 2019 coverage of the global pizza industry’s largest show, which is scheduled to return in March 2021.
Star attendees include 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani.
After attending his first Pizza Expo at age 20, the native Californian “fell in love” with Vegas and returns every year. In 2013, he brought his event-capable Pizza Rock concept to Downtown Las Vegas. His multi-brand empire includes another Pizza Rock and Slice House at Green River Ranch in Henderson, and Little Tony’s in Palace Casino.
(Tony Gemignani; Credit: Tony Gemignani Restaurant Group)
“I always felt that Vegas could use better pizza, especially Downtown,” Gemignani said. “There’s been a real renaissance since. Vegas now has practically every style, from Neapolitan and Detroit to Grandma and Roman.”
Following his mantra of “Respect the Craft” and immersion in regional styles, the master pizzaiolo believes that each bite “should take you through a journey.”
Trust Gemignani as your guide. Naples, Italy made him official U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza, a title held by only two other people in the world. He is also the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli’s first U.S. Master Instructor and certifies chefs globally as proprietor of the International School of Pizza.
Other hot slices include:
- Buffalo, New York native Chris Palmieri’s South Strip Naked City Pizza.
- Evel Knievel-inspired Evel Pie, a Fremont East go-to for the rattlesnake sausage slice, cold beer and rocking vibe.
- A Suprema slice at the Plaza’s Hotel’s Pop-Up Pizza.
Photo: The Secret Pizza hallway; Credit: Courtesy of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
And no Las Vegas experience is complete without a late-night slice of excellent Secret Pizza at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Follow the hallway with vinyl album covers—have fun finding it!
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