March 25, 2010

Where's the (Vegas) Beef?

Sometimes, even on vacation, you just want a tasty burger.  During my last couple of trips to Vegas, I've finally been able to try two burger joints (In-N-Out Burger and The Burger Bar) that had previously eluded my best eating efforts.  Having checked those two spots off the list, I can now offer my tourist's guide to Vegas burgers.

In-N-Out Burger—The franchise closest to the Strip is at 4888 Dean Martin Drive, which is essentially a couple minutes drive west on Tropicana from New York New York.  Set your expectations dial on "greasy spoon" and you'll enjoy the experience.  I had the double cheeseburger "Animal Style" (mustard-grilled patties, extra spread, and grilled onions).  It was a juicy, greasy, satisfying burger.  The fries were a little undercooked and underwhelming, even under a blanket of cheese and grilled onions.  Overall, a good meal, but I can't say that I get the cult-like devotion many people have for this chain (similar to the cult of White Castle).  I think Smashburger and Culver's offer significantly tastier burgers for chains.  But at 2:00 a.m., In-N-Out is a solid Vegas option, particularly for those who may have had a drink or ten.

Margaritaville—Located on the Strip as part of the Flamingo complex, Margaritaville offers decent but not special burgers at decent but not special prices.  But the burgers are plenty tasty when combined with a margarita or three.  Also try the appetizers: the nachos are huge, while the crab/shrimp/mushroom cheese dip is particularly decadent (but not for the Lipitor crowd).

The Burger Bar—The original "upscale" burger restaurant by acclaimed French chef Hubert Keller*, The Burger Bar is located in the Mandalay Place shops between Mandalay Bay and Luxor.  You can get Black Angus, grass-fed, or Kobe beef burgers, as well as bison, ostrich, turkey, or veggie burgers.  Then, you can pick a chef's selection of toppings, or build your own burger, selecting from normal toppings like mushrooms, cheese, and bacon, or going more daring (and expensive) with foie gras, truffles, or caviar.  You can also get a variety of amazingly tasty housemade sauces in lieu of the standard mustard and ketchup, and a variety of fresh baked buns are offered for all burgers.  The sweet potato fries and thick cut onion rings were exceptional.  Order one of the dessert "burgers" or milkshakes to satisfy your sweet tooth. The vibe is a "classy" sports bar/pub, and there are plenty of interesting beers on tap and in bottle, as well as some house specialty drinks.  Service was friendly and fairly quick.  Altogether a highly satisfying dining experience.  Be prepared to spend $25-$35 per person (including an alcoholic beverage), but it is worth the price.

BLT Burger—The "BLT" stands for "Bistro Laurent Tourondel" after another acclaimed chef with a chain of eateries.  BLT Burger is located in Mirage, just down the hall from the entrance next to the Caesars Forum shops, near the sports book and poker room.  Again, you can choose from a number of base burgers (Angus, Kobe, lamb, turkey, chicken, salmon, and veggie), but the toppings are significantly more limited, as are the bun and drink selections.  The sweet potato fries are excellent, and the jalapeno poppers are the best I've ever had—large peppers filled with a smoky chipotle cheese, sided with a spicy-sweet salsa.  Huge milkshakes are available, with or without your favorite booze or liqueur.  Ambience is contemporary/trendy bistro, and the servers wear t-shirts with a variety of humorous sayings, such as "Tip waiters, not cows."  Again, a meal will run $25-$35 per person (including an alcoholic beverage), and again, definitely worth the price.

Le Burger Brasserie—This is what a French sports bar would look like, if the French had real sports.  Located on the walkway between Paris and Bally's, Le Burger Brasserie offers Angus beef, Kobe beef, chicken, turkey, veggie, and lamb burgers (I highly recommend the lamb burger), in a variety of chef-selected versions, or in a build-your-own mode.  There is a good variety of toppings; I suggest trying prosciutto or pancetta in lieu of basic bacon, while goat cheese and pesto add an interesting twist.  You also can select from a number of fresh-baked bun styles.  The sides are rather pedestrian, but the thick fries are a solid choice and plenty to accompany a very generously-sized burger.  Ambience is upscale sports bar, including provocatively clad waitresses (for those into such things).  There is a full bar with daily drink specials (2-for-1 drinks during certain hours, and cheap buckets of beer).  A meal will run a little cheaper than the other two upscale places, more on the order of $20-$25 per person (including an alcoholic beverage).

Although I enjoyed all of these places and would recommend all of them, based on a combination of food quality, location, and price, it's not surprising I have eaten most often at Le Burger Brasserie.  But if you are looking to impress, the culinary creativity at The Burger Bar is a notch above the rest.

* The significant other was reviewing the menu and asked me, "Why is there a Helen Keller burger?"  This occurred while we were both stone sober.  'Nuff said.


  1. Grange, you owe it to yourself to check out Bradley Ogden's lounge for their price fix steakburger. Best I've had in Vegas, and maybe anywhere. John Curtas, Vegas' resident food critic, has rated it as the best in Vegas. For $30 it's a three course meal with a pretty decent caesar salad too.

  2. IMO - the debate between which is better, Burger Bar or Burger Brasserie is one of those epic struggles worthy of a Homeric Ode. You just can't go wrong either way. BLT is also good, but in my mind falls a notch below those others.
    A group of friends and I did a survey of burger offerings around town recently. Another good choice is the Palm Burger at the Palm in the Forum Shops. Also, if you can go waaaay off Strip try a bar called Kilroy's.

    In-N-Out started as a small Southern California chain. 15 years ago they had relatively few locations and it was not unusual for folks from the dorm to drive 45 minutes for an In-N-Out run (of course in So Cal a 45 minute drive for anything is pretty commonplace). I think it's really about the fresh ingredients they use. For example, I would say that less than an hour before they were in your belly your fries were actually still an entire potato. They just slice em up on the back counter and drop them in oil. They do taste a little different then garden variety fast food fries, but I think that's cause they are more simply and freshly prepared.

  3. @ Michael: Bradley Ogden is now on my list of places to try. Apparently, his restaurant was cited for "Best Burger of the Year" (2009) by food critic Alan Richman of GQ magazine. Also, as an Iowan and a bleu cheese lover, his Maytag bleu cheese souffle' sounds amazing.

    @ Glenn: The food at In-N-Out was certainly tasty, I just didn't find anything overly special about it that justifies or explains its cult status. I know, I just signed up for dozens of angry flaming rebuttals ...

  4. No flaming rebuttal here - I think some of it is kind of a cultural thing. If you grew up in the 80s in SoCal, In-N-Out was a big deal. There are probably plenty of places in other parts of the country that cause people who were born near them to reach a cult like frenzy that would produce a "meh" from me.

    But I am glad to see you went animal style. An advanced move for sure.

  5. Nice post, Grange. I am adding Burger Brasserie and the Ogden spot to my list of places to visit next time I am in Vegas. I can't wait.