In December 2022, Proper Eats Food Hall opened in ARIA Resort & Casino, bringing an eclectic collection of 10 quick-casual dining options, a welcoming circular bar and a hidden speakeasy to the space that once housed the resort’s buffet. It was the third modern-day food hall to open on a three-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard in less than five years.
Like the iconic Las Vegas buffets, these trendy, new food halls are convenient options for hungry guests craving quality and variety in a casual setting. In fact, it was the evolution of buffets into bigger and better experiences that created the void food halls are filling. And each offers a distinct, only-in-Vegas dining experience.
Long Live the Las Vegas Buffet
Buffets are as ingrained in Las Vegas’ DNA as feathered showgirls, neon lights and Wayne Newton. And teams of talented chefs work hard to make sure the Strip’s top buffets offer unparalleled dining experiences. There may be no place on Earth that allows guests unlimited access to as many different cuisines prepared by master chefs for a fixed price. As a result, they remain dining destinations for many visitors.
The Evolution of the Buffet
By most accounts, Las Vegas buffets were born in 1946 when Beldon Katleman put out some cold cuts and a few hot dishes at the El Rancho Vegas in an effort to keep guests in the casino through the late-night hours. The price for his all-you-can-eat Chuck Wagon Buffet: a mere $1. And while buffet offerings evolved and expanded over the next few decades, the stereotypical Las Vegas buffet remained a quick, casual and inexpensive experience through the 1980s.
In 1993, the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino ushered in the era of “super buffets” with its 200-item Carnival World Buffet. Five years later, Bellagio upped expectations again with a gourmet buffet designed to complement its groundbreaking restaurant collection. Other casinos followed their lead with their own cornucopias of increasingly upscale dishes. Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino added a seafood buffet experience. Sterling Brunch at Horseshoe Las Vegas rolled out French Champagne, lobster tails and caviar. And the opening of Wynn Las Vegas brought a gourmet buffet so extravagant, diners gladly waited in line for hours to experience it.
The Modern Era
As celebrity chefs scrambled to plant their flags on the Las Vegas Boulevard, buffets kept pace by growing larger and more diverse, finding new ways to remain relevant. The opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas brought the game-changing Wicked Spoon Buffet, with smaller personal portions designed to reduce waste. And when Caesars Palace opened the Bacchanal Buffet in 2012, with its nine show kitchens and nearly 500 dishes, it made international headlines as a new gold standard for what a buffet could be.
Modern buffets remain a perfect choice for parties that can’t agree on what they want to eat. They’re lavish feasts that allow guests to sample as many new dishes as they like, without worrying about the price tag. And nothing can replicate the visceral thrill of piling your tray high with massive portions of your favorite dishes.
Enter the Food Hall
In 2018, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas introduced its Block 16 Urban Food Hall as a perfect choice for budget-conscious travelers seeking a variety of quick, inexpensive food they can’t get at home. Instead of the predictable fast-food chains that dominate traditional food courts, they asked top chefs across the country to create grab-and-go versions of their critically acclaimed dishes.
- Bāng Bar by Momofuku, headed up by chef David Chang, dishes up fresh flatbread sandwiches and rice bowls.
- District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew. Serves over 100 different donut varieties; various expresso and coffee options; and savory choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Hattie B’s Hot Chicken: Long before the hot chicken craze swept the country, Block 16 Urban Food Hall had Nashville’s famed Hattie B’s.
- Ghost Donkey hails from New York and offers its tequila and Mexican cuisine in a speakeasy behind an unmarked door.
- Lardo: a recreation of fine-dining veteran and cookbook author chef Rick Gencarelli’s Portland sandwich shop.
- Tekka Bar: Handroll & Sake, a Vegas-born Japanese spot with counter-side and made-to-order rolls, plus eclectic sake.
A Trend Is Born
When Resorts World Las Vegas opened in 2021, Famous Foods Street Eats was one of its star attractions, channeling the energy of Southeast Asia’s street markets and hawker stands by importing vendors from those markets.
- Ah Chun Shandong Dumpling, Hong Kong’s Michelin-recognized eatery for its dumplings and hand-crafted noodle dishes.
- Geylang Claypot Rice, a Singaporean option offering Michelin Plate-winning rice dishes.
- Googgle Man Char Kuey Teow, dishing up renowned Malaysian spicy noodles.
- Boon Tong Kee serves traditional Singaporean Hainanese chicken.
- Pepita’s Kitchen, samples of Lechon from Manilla’s chef to the stars and “Lechon Diva” Dedet de la Fuente.
- Ten Suns Braised Beef offers samples of Bangkok’s Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognized family-run Thai beef noodle shop of the same name.
They sit alongside a variety of homegrown concepts, some of which channel the energies of Asia, while others are purely American creations:
- Famous Pho serves three versions of the Vietnamese noodle broth pho.
- Fuhu Shack, Peking duck from the nearby Zouk Group restaurant, FUHU.
- Harajuku Ramen, choose from its signature ramen or a build-your-own experience.
- Nori Bar, a selection of nigiri sushi, hand rolls and sashimi.
- Blood Brothers, Texas-style BBQ with some Chinese and Vietnamese twists.
- Burger Barn, burgers ranging from traditional to Asian themed.
- Kuru Kuru Pa Yakitori, a concept by superstar DJ Steve Aoki, serves Japanese-inspired cuisine.
- Sweet Eats, gourmet pastries and sweets from around the world.
- Streetbird Las Vegas, led by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, serves Nashville-style hot chicken.
Famous Foods Street Eats simplifies the ordering process by allowing a party to order from as many concepts as they like using a single kiosk. It brings in DJs for entertainment. And visitors “in the know” will find a speakeasy called Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den behind a hidden doorway in what appears to be a bodega. For those who want a traditional sit-down restaurant, Cha Chaan Teng is a full-service, dine-in experience offering multiple Asian cuisines.
ARIA Gets Proper
Like the food halls that came before it, ARIA Resort and Casino’s Proper Eats Food Hall mixes homegrown concepts with brands developed elsewhere.
- Seoul Bird, the first U.S. outpost of celebrity chef Judy Joo’s Korean fried chicken restaurant.
- Shalom Y’all, a Portland-based Mediterranean restaurant famous for its shawarmas and grilled kebabs.
- Wexler Deli, LA’s famed sandwich shop serving classic Jewish deli food.
- Egghead, a breakfast staple with delicious egg-centric sandwiches brought from New York-based TAO Group Hospitality.
- Laughing Buddha Ramen, a local Vegas hot spot with an emphasis on traditional Japanese fare.
- Lola’s Burgers, a classic burger shop with hand-crafted recipes dating back to 1964.
- Pizzaoki, producer and DJ Steve Aoki offers hand-tossed, New York-style pizza.
- Temaki Bar, nigiri sushi and hand rolls with an emphasis on sustainability.
Since speakeasies seem to have become a food hall necessity, Proper Eats Food Hall hides the lush Easy’s Cocktail Lounge and its mind-blowing specialty cocktails behind the Easy Donuts stall. But it also has a large bar area, known as Proper Bar, right out in the open.
For those who crave the energy Downtown Las Vegas, the Food Hall at Fremont Hotel and Casino offers a spacious and relaxing spot just steps from the hustle and bustle of the Fremont Street Experience. Whether you’re craving a known and familiar national brand, a celebrated restaurant from another market making its first foray into Las Vegas, or a touch of homegrown flavor, it’s got you covered. Start with a pair of dependable anchors: doughnuts and coffee from Dunkin’ and burgers and fries from Steak ’n Shake. But don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper for something exciting and new.
- Huey Magoo’s, the first location in the western United States to offer signature grilled and hand-breaded chicken tenders, sandwiches and wraps.
- Roli Roti, the first brick-and-mortar outpost from the popular Bay Area food truck fleet, offering free-range rotisserie chicken and slow-roasted porchetta on plates and sandwiches.
- Craft Kitchen, a breakfast and lunch spot that was born in nearby Henderson, serving waffles, fried chicken, tacos and more, with locally roasted, freshly ground coffee.
- Tomo Noodles, Japanese, Hawaiian and Chinese influences can be found in the noodles, fried rice and poke nachos of this San Clemente, California, import.
The Local Hot Spot
The success of casino food halls inspired celebrity chef Michael Mina, and several of his veteran chefs and executives, to try out the concept in the ’burbs. The Sundry is a massive communal dining facility located within the UnCommons project in the Southwest Valley on Durango Drive near I-215. While Mina isn’t personally represented, he convinced some of California’s top chefs to open their first Las Vegas outposts here. They’re joined by some of Las Vegas’ top homegrown talent and a handful of brand-new experiences.
Most of The Sundry’s offerings are served within the main hall, with guests ordering from as many restaurants as they like using an app and having it all delivered to their seat.
- Bar Oysterette, seafood towers, a rotating selection of oysters, and a collection of domestic and imported hams.
- BarZotto, Cal-Italian cuisine from San Francisco’s Marko Sotto and chef Nicholas Pallone.
- Dhaba Ji, Indian food and low-intervention wines from the team behind San Francisco’s Michelin-recognized Bibi Ji.
- Diane’s Bloody Mary Bar, Michael Mina’s wife Diane offers Bloody Mary’s from a vintage Airstream.
- Easy Slider, Angus patties made on the griddle with shaved onions and served on potato rolls.
- Kavos Coastal Greek Grill, seafood plates from the team behind the Las Vegas quick-casual chain, Meraki.
- Kowbird, Oakland’s award-winning barbecue pit master Matt Horn brings fried chicken sandwiches and tenders.
- Lamill Coffee, award-winning specialty coffee from LA.
- Petite Peso, modern Filipino cuisine by Los Angeles’ Tiffany Tanaka and Robert Villanueva.
- Saint Honoré, Vegas-born couture doughnuts.
- Smitten Ice Cream, San Francisco’s Robyn Sue Fisher creates ice cream before your eyes in just 90 seconds.
- SoulBelly BBQ, Top Chef alumnus Bruce Kalman recreates the barbecue at his Arts District shop.
- The Happy Hoagie, gourmet sandwiches from Mina Group veteran, Eric Perlin.
The Sundry also goes above and beyond the standard food hall model by offering two traditional sit-down experiences. Those who prefer a slightly more formal option can choose from the sushi of San Francisco-based chef Shotaro “Sho” Kamio at Mizunara, or the casual Mexican fare of award-winning Los Angeles chef Ray Garcia.
It’s impossible to predict the future, especially in a town like Las Vegas that’s always reinventing itself. For now, food halls and buffets are peacefully coexisting in Las Vegas, each providing its own experience. For visitors, that simply means more dining options across the board.
Al Mancini has been reporting on the Las Vegas food scene for over 20 years, for over a dozen local and national publications. In 2022, he launched the Neon Feast mobile app and website, where more than 50 of Las Vegas’ top chefs, restaurant owners, critics, journalists and influencers share their restaurant recommendations in over 100 different categories. Download the Neon Feast app for free or visit NeonFeast.com.