The 2015 World Series of Poker is just days away and with thousands of poker players flocking to Las Vegas – some of the very first time – BLUFF has brought in an expert of sorts to help with the guide to the best places for a poker player to eat. In this BLUFF 2015 WSOP Countdown piece, Poker pro Jimmy Fricke, who runs a foodie blog over at JimmyEatsVegas.com, gives the lowdown on all the places poker players are going to need, no matter the situation.
I don’t know what it is about poker players, but as a group we tend to be more receptive towards eating nice meals than other groups of people. It probably has to do with dealing with large sums of money fluctuating rapidly, but in any case during the World Series of Poker it seems to be a month straight of gambling, grief, and grub. A lot of people have told me they really don’t like Vegas because they don’t like it during the WSOP. This saddens me, mostly because I think Vegas has a ton to offer and I spend as little time on the strip as necessary. If you’re going to spend time at the WSOP this year, do yourself a favor and rent a car or spend a bit on cab fare and check out these amazing local places. Trust me, I’m a fat guy.
BEST PRE-TOURNAMENT MEAL
I’ve played a lot of tournaments in the past ten years and almost all of them still give me a few butterflies in my stomach. Considering the bathroom situation I also don’t like to eat too heavy a meal before playing. A light meal is best and I don’t want to be too far from the tournament in case things run too late, so for this I would recommend Thai Style Noodle House. It’s super cheap, very tasty and pretty fast. Also good if you want something light for dinner break, since I’ve been there many times with a group of 8-10 people and the bill was almost never more than $120 for the whole table. If you feel like getting sushi near the Rio instead, Umiya is a 3 minute cab ride away for a very solid AYCE sushi place that is just over $20 for lunch. My mom always told me fish is brain food, but when eaten in the quantities that I like to, I should watch my mercury levels.
BEST DINNER BREAK MEAL
I won’t lie, I think people will be legitimately pissed at me for spilling the beans on a few of these places.
There are a bunch of places close to the Rio that are great food. The key for dinner break is something relatively quick, still somewhat light but definitely filling. Seven hours of play can definitely build up an appetite. And if you’re going to be playing almost every day like I am, you want something that’s not super expensive because it tends to add up as time goes on. For those reasons, I think Rollin Smoke is a great place to go to. It’s only a few minutes away via Industrial behind the Rio, very cheap, filling and really delicious. BBQ is a very tricky subject with very few places to go to in Vegas. It’s a faster than average meal as well, so on a 90-minute dinner break you’ll easily have 20 minutes leftover to day dream about finishing the day as chipleader.
Another option is Tofu Hut. Granted, this may not be the best place if it’s busy but if you can get seated quickly then Tofu Hut is definitely a fast option that is sure to please even the most picky of eaters. Don’t let the name fool you, Tofu Hut is famous for being one of the highest quality Korean BBQ places in town and is also an AYCE treat with dinner for only $17. If you can, have someone with the day off get a table for you before arriving.
If Tofu Hut turns you away, you’ll be right on Spring Mountain Road which makes it a quick trip to many great places. Ichiza is a Japanese grill restaurant that frequently changes its menu to what’s new and tasty. It’s pretty cheap as well and definitely a place to go if you want to be more adventurous and try some stuff you haven’t had before.
BEST END OF DAY MEAL
Making it through the day of a poker tournament is always a great feeling and that usually means you want to relax somewhere and have a leisurely meal. It’s usually around 1 or 2 AM so this limits the options somewhat, but this is the perfect time to check out what is my favorite restaurant in town, Chada Thai & Wine. Chada is an institution in town now, being the place that distinguishing patrons choose over the more popular option, Lotus of Siam. I think it’s almost a strictly better restaurant and end up eating here probably 10 times over the course of the series. The menu can be intimidating if you’ve never been there before, so check out the items I recommend in my review (or just look around for me when you get there because I’m probably already in the building).
BEST DAY OFF MEAL
Well, you busted the $1,500 yesterday and don’t feel like firing another bullet today. Time to grind a little cash and have a nice relaxing meal. Chada is still one of the best options (avoid the smug 1-2 AM crowd who just made it through day 1, though) but I think the best usage of this day off is probably traveling to a restaurant you won’t get to try too often. DW Bistro is an amazing spot for lunch, dinner or, if it’s Sunday, brunch. It’s Jamaican-New Mexican fusion food which pretty much makes it completely unique as far as I know. Some of their plates are massive piles of food and it’s very hard not to eat it all. If you can only make one trip here, try to make it for brunch. The line is out the door but it’s worth every minute you spend waiting.
BEST CELEBRATORY MEAL
Hey, you did it! All those end of day Chada meals paid off. You won X dollars and now you want to spend X-Y dollars on a meal commemorating the fact that X is a pretty big number. Vegas is catered towards people not paying attention to how much money they just won so your options are pretty open. This is maybe the only category that I would say casino restaurants are great for, so a great strip steakhouse like Delmonico should definitely be considered. Floyd Mayweather is actually a massive fan of Musashi Japanese Steakhouse and so am I, though I am not a fan of Floyd Mayweather. If white tablecloth fine dining is more your speed, a trip to E at Jaleo is a pretty awesome experience but Picasso is dollar for dollar maybe the best fine dining restaurant in town. Wherever you choose, set a place for me.
BEST GRIEF STRICKEN MEAL
Nice going, moron. You skipped Chada the night before and bubbled the final table. It’s 9 PM, you won $20k but it feels like you lost a quarter million. Now all you want is a beer and something comforting. Lemme tell you a secret: Cornish Pasty Company is an up and coming little hotspot that is a perfect example of a Gastropub that does it right. They close at midnight, making it slightly early for a lot of Vegas places but in general this is one of the coolest little hangout spots in town. They have a sick beer menu and their Cornish Pasties (which are indescribable to most Americans) have a ton of variety and certainly do not lack on flavor. If you’re looking for comfort food, you’ve found it. Great even if you aren’t having the worst day of your summer.
BEST “DON’T LEAVE TOWN WITHOUT TRYING IT” MEAL
Kabuto. They deserve all the money. Kabuto is the best sushi in the city by a pretty large margin and the quality is worth approximately double the price. I’ve done a pretty indepth review and could go on for hours about how good it is, but there really isn’t anything other than to say there is no better place in town if you want to impress someone. This is almost the quintessential place to show someone who thinks that Vegas food is all about celebrity chefs and knockoff casino joints. Seriously, this restaurant could be in any of the other categories that it applies to so just MAKE SURE YOU TRY THIS PLACE.
I’d be remiss without talking about a few other great places that need to be tried. Oyster Bar at Palace Station is absolutely amazing if you can ever get seated. Going for lunch is probably your best option, because showing up on a Sunday night at 4 AM is still possibly a 1-2 hour wait. If you want something spicy, savory, and delicious though there are few better places.
I hear about best burger places a lot and I always have to recommend Bachi Burger first and foremost. Slightly cheaper and definitely better than strip options, it’s a place that seldom disappoints those looking for a legit burger.
I have a serious soft spot for Mundo. It’s an upscale Mexican restaurant that has persnickity hours but if you enjoy latin flavors it’s probably one of the best places to go if you want something in between casual and fine dining.
There are many other restaurants out there, too many to name, that everyone should try this summer. My goal is to make it so people get away from the strip and start thinking about strip malls instead. Most of these places are in very unassuming places with meals that are rarely over $30 or $40 and many under $20. The more you visit them, the more other places will sprout up. Vegas is a great city that feels like a small town if you visit the right places.
Trust the fat man.