Sunday, April 15, 2012

Taking the Kids to Vegas? Really? Part 4: Where to Eat

This is the fourth in the series "Taking the Kids to Vegas?  Really?"
Part 1:  Intro and Helpful Hints
Part 2:  What to Do
Part 3:  Where to Stay
Part 4:  This page
Part 5:  Deals and finagles 
Part 6:  Slot clubs and positive-expectation promos 

Vegas No Longer Equals Cheap Eats

The $8.99 lobster dinner and $1 chuck wagon buffet are things of the past.    The Strip is no longer the domain of cheap eats intended to lure gamblers into the casino.  Nowadays, restaurants are bona fide profit centers, in some places generating more income than the casino.  

It is easy to spend a fortune on food in Las Vegas, although you don't have to.  Generally speaking, the more time you spend eating in restaurants on the strip, the more money you will spend on food.  

In addition to steering your business away from the Strip, another very fruitful tactic for saving money on food is through the use of coupons.  I will cover this in Part 5 of the series.

How to Decide Where to Eat

If you have been following this blog, you are probably expecting a snarky and/or mildly irritating rant on where not to eat, followed by a few suggestions.  In this case, I'm going to take a lighter-handed approach and not tell you where not to eat.

In fact, I'm not going to go into too much specific detail about where to eat beyond some general impressions on pricing and quality, although I will cite a few of my personal favorites at the bottom.  More useful to you will be some guidelines on how to choose where to eat.  This is because there are literally thousands of restaurants that you can eat at with kids, and most of them are probably perfectly fine.  The ones that I particularly like you may not necessarily like.

Some people go to Vegas with $1000 to spend on food in 2 days.  For those people, help yourselves to whatever you fancy.  I'm not one of you.  I have $1000, but I don't want to spend it in 2 days on food.  If I did, I would feel like I wasted it and there is nothing delicious enough to make me feel like I got good value for my money.  I also don't want to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting in line if I can avoid it.

Some of the older non-premium casinos still offer graveyard specials; however, when traveling with kids, a $2.99 steak and eggs at 4:30 a.m. may not be realistic.  Here are some basics for saving money in Vegas:

  • Eat away from the strip, in casino and/or non-casino restaurants
  • If possible, eat at least one meal a day, such as breakfast, in your hotel room
  • Use coupons - more on this in a later post

Web Guides

I've used several guidebooks and/or tourist web guides for traveling and each one seems to list about five to ten restaurants in a given city.  When you actually get to that city, you realize that there are hundreds of restaurants and the guidebook writer couldn't possibly have tried even a small fraction of them.  So a guide is not really that useful.

What is better is references from local residents and/or experienced guests.  For that, I suggest the following web sites:
  • Las Vegas Advisor:  This is the most authoritative resource for any visitor to Las Vegas, and they sell a useful coupon book (more on that later).  It has a good filtering tool for its extensive list of restaurants.  Most of them are in casinos but not all of them.  People can add reviews; some are pretty reliable, especially those from Westie.  (except his reviews of my favorite places, below)
  • Yelp: download their app to your phone which will use your GPS to give you ideas in the area you are in at any moment.  Just like in your town, reviews are candid and often detailed.  You can filter for restaurants that have been tagged as kid-friendly and/or by price range.
  •  Useful coupons, including some at a few casinos.  Mostly ethnic restaurants.  See more on this in the next post in the series.
A little off-topic but a fun read nonetheless:
  • Las Vegas on 25c per Day:  The folks who started - at one time one of the best guides to Vegas - wrote this guide for the tightwad visitor.  Use this guide with caution; there may not be too many kid-friendly places, but it does have some interesting ideas.  (Note: The writers all have day jobs, and one of them sadly passed away at a young age.  The other writers have since sold to another company who has pretty much gutted it and it is now a front for expedia or some other hotel reseller.  The new owner has removed all critical and/or otherwise useful reviews.)



Off-strip buffets are a safe bet with kids, especially for breakfast and lunch on weekdays.  Most of them don't have much particularly fancy or exotic during breakfast or lunch, although many of them have various theme nights for dinner.  They will set you back approximately $7 for breakfast and $10  for lunch Monday through Friday, including non-alcoholic beverages.  Some, but not all, have lower prices for kids; most give a discount to slot club members.  If you don't already have a card, have one person sign up while the others are waiting in line.

In most cases, off-strip buffets usually have good salad bars, edible meats, and mediocre fish.  If you focus on deep fried foods, enjoy it while you are eating because you might not afterwards.

Orleans and South Point buffets are usually good, and a good value.  Lots of stations but usually nothing too exotic, except perhaps during crawfish night at the Orleans.

Stations are hit and miss; I've had excellent food at the Sunset Station and downright awful food at the Texas Station.

Silverton has high quality food and is fairly extensive; we have enjoyed it several times and found it to be a good value.  They have some items that are more interesting or unusual than the above buffets; it runs a bit higher in price and quality than the above buffets also.  They sometimes run crazy cheap specials (e.g. dinner for $4), but where there is honey, there are flies: hordes of people chase deals and the waits can be absurdly long (i.e. multiple hours).  Call ahead to ask.  They do have lots of coupons around so look for that instead.  For their Polynesian theme night dinner they roast a whole pig.

M is slightly more expensive but has a very good reputation although I haven't been there.  I've also heard good things about the Rampart buffet at JW Marriott, and they take coupons (although on some days they may only be cost-effective if you are in a group of 3 or more adults).

Etiquette note: it is customary to leave a tip for your waiter or waitress, who serves drinks and clears plates.  However I don't know if there is a customary amount.  I usually try to stay in the 15% range, depending on how demanding I have been.


If you are going to a strip buffet, it may as well be a good one.  Avoid the lower-end buffets - particularly the Excalibur, which has the reputation of being among the worst in town.  Waiting in line for it gives you the vague impression of being herded into an abattoir.  The mid-priced buffets are probably fine, but  they won't knock your socks off.  Like most things, they are not going to be as good a value as the off-strip buffets.  

During busy hours, especially weekend brunch and dinner, the wait for a table can be long, often two hours or more.  You can probably get a shorter wait by eating early, say starting dinner by 5:30 pm and brunch before 9:00 am.

If you want something special, we have almost never had a bad experience at the Bellagio.  It is expensive, but still a good value for a splurge for lunch on weekdays. We like the Bellagio because it is full of items we never otherwise order off a menu, so we can sample foods we may not ever have had before.  You can probably find kids something they will like (pizza, etc) but they won't always have macaroni and cheese or hamburgers.  (When they do, they will probably be made with gruyere cheese and kobe beef, respectively, and you definitely should try them.) 

If you have kids under 3 years old (or kids who can pass for under 3), they can eat for free, but over 4 pay full price.  For this reason, think carefully before bringing the kids.  Paying $20-30  if they will only eat a bowl of spaghetti is worthy of a pause for reflection.   

I said almost:  the only time we went to the Bellagio buffet and later regretted it was when we had the flu.  We paid for a $16 breakfast and realized we weren't hungry.  Our fault, not theirs.

Attention couples: If you don't have kids and there is a long line, try walking up to the bar for immediate seating.  There are about 8 seats on a space-available basis, and you pay the bartender instead of the cashier.  I think you need to be 21 to eat at the bar but I'm not sure about that.

Other people we know have touted the Wynn and the Cosmopolitan buffets, although we have not tried them.  For a while the Planet Hollywood (nee Aladdin) buffet was highly recommended for its Asian and Middle Eastern offerings; we get those kinds of foods fairly regularly at home so they were not such a big deal for us.  Paris and Rio used to have good reputations but they seem to have declined.

Coffee Shops

Almost every casino has a coffee shop.  By "coffee shop" I don't mean a cafe like Starbucks.   I mean it in the pre-1990s sense:  a full-service casual restaurant that serves American food and is open 24 hours per day, or at least for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  These are usually a good bet for family dining.  They typically have children's menus and are used to serving kids, even on the strip.  The quality standard of coffee shops in Vegas is generally high, and they are usually a pretty good value, at least relative to any other food source in a casino.  Prices more or less vary with gambling limits and perceived prestige of the casino; center strip have high prices and off-strip and second-tier casino prices tend to have lower-priced coffee shops.

Food Court

Really?  You came to Vegas so you could feel like you are at your local Galleria?  Well, knock yourself out.  I'm sure they have Junior's happy meal at not-so-happy prices.

Non-Casino Restaurants

Are there any places not in casinos worth visiting?  Thought you'd never ask.  Las Vegas is about 25% immigrants and has some great restaurants representing cuisine from all over the U.S. and the world.  Here are some of our favorites where kids are very welcome:

  • Harrie's Bagelmania
  • Chang's (dim sum)
  • Weiss' Deli


  1. I totally agree about Vegas not being cheap for buffets. One option I love is the Buffet of Buffets by Caesars. The price keeps going up- currently $45 if you have a Total Rewards card. You get unlimited access to any Caesars Buffet (IP, Caesars, Flamingo, Planet H'wood, Rio, Bally's, Paris) for 24 hours. I think it's a good value if you go for a late dinner, breakfast, lunch, and early dinner.

    Definitely the best buffet by far is at Planet Hollywood. It's called Spice Market. I also like the Paris Buffet. Caesars' is disappointingly small for the flagship property. They're all about equal for breakfast, but I like Flamingo with a window seat to watch the flamingos.

  2. It's certainly a good deal if you are staying mid-strip and plan to eat at least 2 buffets a day, and you like the Harrah/Caesars buffet options. In our case, we stay off the strip, and for the four of us it would be $180, which is our food budget for the better part of a week in Vegas. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to bring our kids to a buffet that is more than about $7, because they don't eat more than a little spaghetti or maybe a cheese sandwich, plus juice and ice cream.

    The spice market has good food and I know several people who love it. It's especially a good deal when grouped with the deal you were talking about, plus you can go to Paris also, which is said to be pretty good.

  3. Also, when I was in my 20s I'm sure I would have been delighted to eat at multiple buffets in a day, but lately I have found that one buffet in a single day is about as much as I can handle.

    Do you think Caesars would sell more of them if they called it "Smorgasbord of Smorgasbords"? I don't.

  4. First time reader! NICE!! Hey what's a "total reward card"??

    1. It's the slot club for the Caesars/Harrahs-owned casinos. I read once that 28% of U.S. resident adults are members. You can join it for free and get discounts such as the one mentioned above.


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