Category Archive for Las Vegas

Las Vegas’ hippest & most creative restaurants! Best Friend by Roy Choi, Block 16 food hall, Lago fountain view, Skyfall bar.

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“Live life in full bloom” — yasss to this motto! During my time in Las Vegas, I got inspired by the fabulous art exhibits and restaurants at Park MGM hotels, which I’ll show you in this post.

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Read on to see how I “lived deliciously” at Sin City’s most creative restaurants… such as by eating truffle pizza with a patio view of the Bellagio fountain and “Eiffel Tower!” (Photography by Joey Wong.)

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I first visited the Bellagio in the 90s, and remember that it was “the” hotel of the time. 25 years after opening, the Bellagio remains one of the most artistic and luxe destinations on the Strip — thanks to its revamped amenities and intriguing works of art found throughout the hotel. 

nick cave soundsuit Gallery of Fine Art bellagio hotel museum

The Bellagio is known for its Conservatory, an elegant glass dome filled with plants and flowers. For a special occasion, you can rent the Garden Table and dine while surrounded by botanical art.

The Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art also brings in works by BIPOC and international artists, curated around a theme. Above is Nick Cave’s Soundsuit, a wearable sculpture that emit sounds when someone wears it and dances (the artist first made one in response to the 1991 beating of Rodney King).

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Become part of the picture by gazing into Michelangelo Pistoletto’s eight-panel Color and Light mirror painting. Wearing an eyeballs puff dress by Sourpuss Clothing.

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The Park MGM hotel group has some of the most outstanding celebrity chef restaurants in Las Vegas — including Roy Choi’s Best Friend. I had heard rave reviews of the LA chef’s Korean-Mexican fusion menu.

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From the moment I saw the vibrant design — neon lights, bright yellow accents — I knew I was in for a dinner to remember.

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Roy Choi’s Best Friend is a love letter to his childhood in LA. The restaurant looks like a funky convenience / liquor store, much like the ones run by his family when he was growing up.

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The staff wore street style, and the check in counter fit with the theme — a nice departure from the formality of most fine dining places.

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We were seated at the special booth adjacent to the kitchen, so that we could watch the team at work. And look who came to say hi… Chef Roy Choi! (Perhaps you recognize him from his appearances on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, something we have in common.)

best friend korean bulgogi barbeque beef short ribs

Roy Choi first made waves with his Korean street food truck, Kogi. Best Friend serves these creations and other grilled delights, like bone-in kalbi or BBQ beef short ribs that come apart in your mouth.

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You can order Korean favorites for the table to share, like banchan (small dishes of vegetable appetizers) and house-made kimchi. The hamachi aguachile was a citrus delight.

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The sunny menu is filled with snapshots of Roy Choi as a child, and with his high school friends. Try the slushies and “dranks” like this fresh watermelon cocktail with sesame-infused tequila.

best friend roy choi korean fine dining grill bbq

In addition to signature barbequed beef dishes — like bulgogi-marinated prime ribeye — Best Friend has “umami” seafood options like yuzu shrimp and uni dynamite rice (with salmon roe, sriracha, and yuzu. It was one of my favs).

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If you splurge on only one restaurant in Las Vegas, make it this one from our new best friend, Roy Choi!

vdara hotel room window view suites

In the 90s, Las Vegas was all about kitschy themed hotels. Now, you can stay in a sleek, designer suite like ours at Vdara Hotel. The stylish rooms are enormous and come with a spa-like bathroom, living room with a work station, kitchen, and picture window views of the City Center.

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Vdara is perfectly located by the Strip, and quick walk to the fashionable Cosmopolitan Hotel. Las Vegas’ dining options can be on the pricy side, so I was eager to chow down at Cosmo’s Block 16 Urban Food Hall. The elevated food court includes Bāng Bar by Momofuku, and Portland sandwich shop Lardo (I’m still salivating over their grilled cheese with beef rib burnt ends!)

tekka bar hand roll sake restaurant block 16

Block 16 is home to local Japanese favorite Tekka Bar. Sit at the counter and sip on sake, while watching the chefs prepare hand rolls.

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Tekka’s hand rolls are stuffed with the freshest spicy tuna, blue crab, yellowtail, salmon, lobster, and more.

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Don’t leave Block 16 without ordering the freshly-baked cinnamon roll at District Donuts, a New Orleans institution. Joey and I still talk about the perfection of the warm, spiced interior and bruleed icing… I’d fly back to Vegas just for another bite!

Lago by Julian Serrano patio Bellagio fountain show view

For an “only in Vegas” experience, reserve a table on the patio for lunch at The Bellagio Hotel’s Lago. The elegant Italian restaurant overlooks the Paris Hotel’s Eiffel Tower and balloon, and Bellagio’s dancing fountains show (the water spurts in patterns and moves to the sound of music).

las vegas  Italian Restaurant lago bellagio hotel food

Chef Julian Serrano offers a fresh, coastal Italian menu at Lago. The heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad was full of flavor, and this is one of the best salmon and hamachi crudos I’ve ever had (the citrus and seaweed crunch were on point).

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When in Sin City, you might as well indulge in pizzetta with black truffle shavings!

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Lago’s desserts — like a classic olive oil cake with roasted grapes and rosemary gelato — are a sweet finish.

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You know I love the 1980s and 1990s (the height of civilization before The Collapse)… so I felt right at home at Retro by Voltaggio, the newest restaurant at Mandalay Bay.

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True to its name, Retro fills its enormous space with nostalgic toys and doo-dads from millennial childhoods. (I had the Lite Brite, and played Uno with my cousins!)

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My mom’s giant brick cellphone from the early 90s remains my favorite cellular device to date.

Retro is the vision of brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio. Both are celeb chefs, and Michael is the winner of Top Chef season 6.

Retro by Voltaggio restaurant spaghetti o noodles

The Voltaggio brothers based their menu on the Americana fare they ate growing up. For example — SpaghettiOs get a glow-up, but still come out of a can!

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The dishes include deconstructed versions of snack foods, and creative combos like this cheesecake and crème brûlée in one. (All photos by Joey Wong.)

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For drinks with the best views over Vegas, drop in on Skyfall at the Delano. The 64th floor bar looks over the Luxor pyramid and other lit-up landmarks.

Skyfall Panoramic Bar & Lounge food menu alain ducasse cocktails

We were impressed with the Tour of the Sky craft cocktail flight, which incorporated unexpected ingredients like beer. Perfectly paired with French / Italian cuisine from celebrated chef Alain Ducasse (his restaurant Rivea is next door).

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The creamy lobster risotto, tender steak and warm chocolate souffle at Skyfall were to die for.

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Thank you to Vdara Hotel and the Park MGM team for the taste of your impressive art and dining experiences.

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A few final snaps from Las Vegas… Akhob by James Turrell was closed for renos so we couldn’t visit the art exhibit, but we were able to see his public light installation at The Shops at Crystals.

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Kawaii fans, Vegas has a Hello Kitty Cafe…

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And here’s the Mantis sculpture outside the Downtown Container Park. For more Sin City alternative travel tips, check out all my Las Vegas posts here.

Did you realize Las Vegas had such fabulous art exhibitions and restaurants? Which of the dishes featured in this post would you most like to try?


Filed Under Las Vegas

Fabulous Las Vegas sign! Escape It: Jason Egan horror escape room review, Cemetery Pulp oddities Goth shop, Transfix art.

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Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada! Couldn’t resist mugging for a photo at the classic sign, which was erected in 1959.

Photographer Joey Wong and I were here to report on how Sin City has become a wonderland of interactive and immersive art…

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… which includes experiences like Escape It, a next-level escape room that makes you feel as if you’re a character in the clown horror movie and novel!

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I wrote about Vegas’ grandiose multisensory art attractions for the new issue of TravelAge West magazine, out now in print and online here with photos by Joey Wong. Read on for a more in-depth, personal look at our interactive adventures in Sin City.

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Jason Egan’s Las Vegas escape rooms have been elevating the genre by dropping you into fully immersive worlds of horror. His latest big-budget production, Escape It, is possibly the world’s largest with 16 rooms spread over 31,000 square feet. (The gigantic space also exhibits props from the Warner Bros hit movie, including Pennywise’s costume!)

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The exit game is based on It, the diabolical horror novel by Stephen King and its 2017 film adaptation. As a fan, I was impressed by the level of care and detail that went into the design starting from the moment you arrive. Escape It takes place in what looks like a plaza in the town of Derry (where the clown ran rampage), complete with the movie theater, Paul Bunyan sign, and Public Works building.

Outfit deets: Dress is by Sourpuss Clothing, backpack by Cyberdog, platform Goth sandals Anthony Wang, sunglasses DMY by DMY Billy.

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Even the check-in process is immersive: we felt as if we were sewer-search volunteers getting oriented, and the staff never broke the fourth wall. They even claimed to not see a red balloon behind the counter, much like the experience of the children in It (only they could see the blood and horrors).

(The venue displayed official memorabilia from the WB movie, including the paper boat that little Georgie floated to the sewers, leading to his death.)

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As I write in my new TravelAge West magazine piece: “Jason Egan started his career in his teens as a Nebraska haunted house creator. When he moved to Las Vegas, he combined his flair for the macabre with the escape room format.” 

inside 29 neibolt house it haunted home

“His team built detailed, multi-sensory sets based on Stephen King’s It, including foggy sewers and a soil path that winds through foliage to a decrepit house.”

(He kindly let us take some photos inside as media — as you can see, the Neibolt house design and lighting are chilling.)

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Beware of the clowns, as you solve puzzles that unlock new clues and doors! Joey and I are escape room veterans, and we were dazzled by the creativity of the puzzle designs. Escape It pulls out all the stops when it comes to cinematic effects, and uses terrific actors to guide or scare you throughout.

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Players will get goosebumps from the innovative frights: a slaughterhouse gives off a meaty scent, and a panel bursts open to reveal the killer clown Pennywise!

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If you survive to the end, you can continue the journey with Jason Egan’s other Las Vegas horror escape rooms themed after The Blair Witch Project, Saw, and It Chapter Two.

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After surviving the clown attacks, we played arcade games and posed with movie memorabilia — including these original doors marked Not Scary At All, Scary, Very Scary! You can also pick up merch like a kawaii Pennywise plush.

Escape It was a frightful delight, and I mean it when I say it’s the the best escape room / horror experience I’ve had to date. I can’t wait to come back to Vegas to descend into Jason Egan’s other worlds of horror (make sure you reserve tickets in advance, as spots sell out fast).

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Sin City has plenty of other attractions for those with a Gothic disposition. We stopped by Cemetery Pulp, an oddities store that brings “all that is weird, nerdy and off the wall to the people of Las Vegas.”

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We were greeted warmly by the owner, who is always delighted to tell the stories behind the vast collections of dark / Goth homewares, craft items, books, and other spooky ‘tings.

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Cemetery Pulp is a Goth’s dream shop (or nightmare?). There’s even a Dracula coffin for photo ops!

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You’ll find many devilish handcrafted treasures, like this wood inverted cross coffin container.

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How about a passport to Satanistan? It features the goat head in a pentagram logo (you can read about the origins of the symbol in my new The Little Book of Satanism!)

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Las Vegas has become home to leading alternative conventions like the Body Art Expo for tattoos, extreme body mods, and suspension. The city also hosts leading music festivals like Sick New World (nu metal, alt-rock) and Cruel World (classic Goth, New Wave and punk).

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Vegas’ kitschy-weird vibe makes it a fab destination for travelers like me.

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Cemetery Pulp has shelves of animal taxidermy, skulls, and wet specimens in jars. That’s a pig stump with a tattoo on it!

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This oddity shop truly puts the cult in culture. Shop til you drop at Cemetery Pulp, and say hi to the team for me.

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After dark, you can experience yet another massive, fully immersive attraction — Transfix at Resorts World. The touring exhibition lights up the city with 50 gargantuan “participatory works” spread over 200,000 square feet. 

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You’re encouraged to engage with large-scale kinetic, sound, and light installations that respond to your body — like these helixes that glow as you move.

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Many of the installations have an alien meets Burning Man vibe, and hit all the senses (this dragon-bus emitted neon lights and thumping EDM music). 

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Great balls of fire! At Transfix, many of the works morph as you play with them, like a digital wall that creates unique patterns based on your dancing.

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Love how everything is bigger in Las Vegas.

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Transfix is a dazzling playground of immersive art — check it out at Resorts World hotel.

The Lock Las Vegas Hidden Bar Speakeasy

Finally, let’s have a nightcap at an immersive bar: The Cabinet of Curiosities. Located at Horseshoe Vegas, it feels like a Victorian adventurer’s lair with hundreds of bizarre curios from around the world.

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Try a mezcal and chartreuse craft cocktail at The Cabinet, and then see if you can unlock the entrance to a second hidden speakeasy called The Lock. (You might have to crack the code to a safe, and do some crawling!)

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Did you know that you could find Gothic / horror / interactive experiences like these in Las Vegas?

For more tips, see my travel writing for TravelAge West online here and in the print magazine. And thank you for reading my newest book with Simon & Schuster, The Little Book of Satanism!