The Las Vegas hospitality sector didn’t just survive the pandemic, it came roaring back in 2023 with new and upgraded products designed to lure ever more visitors to the city’s accommodations, food-and-beverage outlets, casinos, shows, and attractions. And because there were so many outstanding products spawned by the continuous innovation that defined the Las Vegas tourism sector this past year, this story will run in two parts (read Part I here).
Best New Attraction - Sphere
Just when we thought that we’d seen the biggest, baddest, coolest (fill in the blank) in Vegas, something new came along that’s bigger, badder, and yes, cooler. That something is now evidently Sphere, the impossibly large, hard-to-miss orb taking up a massive amount of real estate just east of the Strip, and it may be a while before it’s dethroned as “the next big thing.” Hyperbole always plays a major part in a new entertainment product’s introduction. Still, the world’s largest spherical building may be the rare example of an opening living up to its hype. Sphere is a wonder to behold, from the outer “exosphere” display to the inside arena, especially when viewing “Postcard From Earth,” an immersive experience that can best be described as IMAX on steroids.
Best Grab ‘n Go Food - Miznon at The Venetian
When time is tight and you need a quality bite, fast-food options in Vegas don’t provide satisfaction, and service at traditional restaurants is too relaxed. That in-between niche, however, with quality items available to-go or via quick counter service, is the domain of Miznon at the Venetian. With a menu focused on easy-to-carry/easy-to-eat stuffed pita bread, Miznon is chef Eyal Shani’s tribute to Israeli street food. Go for the juicy Lamb Kebab in a freshly baked, delicious pita, stuffed with grilled tomato, onion pickles, tahini, and spicy green peppers. And what to do with a little extra pita? Give it a dip into what I consider the best hummus west of Tel Aviv.
Best Casino for Low Rollers - Downtown Grand
Let’s face it, casino gaming has always been a losing proposition for gamblers, but the fairly recent imposition of downgraded odds at Strip casinos - like a 6:5 payoff on a natural Blackjack (previously 3:2) and the addition of a triple zero on roulette wheels - was a veritable gut punch for players. Thankfully, there is now an oasis in the desert at the Downtown Grand, where the property’s new “Downtown Deal” helps ease the pain while evening the odds. Low-rollers at the Fremont Street-adjacent property now enjoy $1 Blackjack, $5 craps with 10x odds, and what may be the best bargain in Vegas: $2 for a Nathan’s hot dog and PBR draft beer, available in the casino from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m, every day.
Best Lunch Value - Julian Serrano Tapas Prix-Fixe Lunch at ARIA Las Vegas
Lunch bargains, once ubiquitous on the Las Vegas Strip, are now exceedingly rare. But inside luxe ARIA, the three-course prix-fixe lunch at Julian Serrano Tapas is a mid-day gourmet indulgence for the mere price of $39. Diners start with a choice of 6 appetizers, including oysters on the half shell or chicken croquetas; mains follow, with highlights being shrimp in garlic sauce or the chef’s iconic paella Valencia. And for dessert, nothing beats the homemade churros, served with spicy hot chocolate. An equivalent dinner here would cost about three times the lunch price, making this prix-fixe deal an attractive - and delicious - value proposition, available only from 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m., Mon. through Wed.