Ah, Las Vegas! Where dreams are born, slots will fly, and empty stomachs do not fare well. The American traditions of gambling and eating are now inexorably yoked, but they did not begin as obvious partners. Like much built in the city, Vegas’ innovative spirit paved the way for restaurants to live in harmony with casinos, giving guests and patrons even more reason to stay longer.
Yet the road to such gastro-masterpieces was not easily accomplished. The city itself, though a beautiful beacon, resides in a desert with precious room for arable land. It did not initially have the cachet of a New York or Paris to lure the top gourmet chefs. Casinos balked at offering food, believing gamblers would spend less time at the tables. Vegas’ timeline is full of resistance on its way to becoming what is now a beloved place to set together fork and knife.
How did one city manage to overcome a lack of natural agriculture and market itself as a true culinary hotspot? Read the infographic below to learn more about Las Vegas’ transformation from a cheap chuck-wagon stop to a world-class institution that demonstrates the best the globe has to offer our palates.
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Las Vegas, in particular its well-sought Strip, has long captivated visitors with promises of show-stopping entertainment, but it has a treasured history of culinary enchantment, too. How did a desert city grow into a mecca for all the world’s best flavors?
Buffets: The Original Crowdpleaser
An El Rancho Vegas employee created the American buffet in 1945.
They offered an all-night, all-you-can-eat board of sandwiches and hot options to entice gamblers to stay longer.
The concept is based on the Swedish smorgasbord.
The Swedes created the idea of a long table of hot and cold dishes to welcome guests and travelers.
These buffets, or “chuck wagons,” were incredibly popular in the 1940s-50s.
For just a few dollars, you could enjoy endless cold cuts, appetizers, salads, desserts, and, “relishes galore.”
The World’s Fare
Gourmet restaurants began to emerge in Vegas in the early 1960s.
Many followed classic French menus, or they focused on seafood, Polynesian, Japanese, Mexican, or Italian cuisine.
Casino showrooms offered upscale, banquet-style dinners.
Typical menus included lobster tail and prime rib, served by skilled waiters during performances.
Coffee shops also attracted visitors during this period.
Popular for low prices, these shops also offered ethnic fares, like borscht, matzo ball soup, ox tongue, and chicken livers.
The Richest Variety
Modern tastes are as varied as the buildings of Las Vegas.
Diners flock to classic French cuisine (Guy Savoy, Bouchon) and upscale modern (Sage, Cut) to phenomenal Asian (Raku, Kabuto) and even classic pizzas (Metro, Naked City).
Vegas consumes more than 60,000 pounds of shrimp daily, more than the rest of the U.S. combined.
The Buffet at ARIA annually cracks about 100,000 pounds of crab legs.
The famous Bacchanal Buffet serves more than 400 types of food to 3,500 guests daily.
Burger Brasserie at Paris Las Vegas offers a $777 Burger. It’s Kobe beef topped with Maine lobster.