With constant innovation, boundless imagination and immense talent driving the hospitality sector in Las Vegas, it's no wonder the city is still the envy of other destinations. This year's collection of Best Bets vividly illustrates why that sentiment remains true.
Best Kept Secret Off-Strip: The M Resort
Only 10 minutes from the center of the Strip, but a world away in terms of ambience, the M Resort exudes a serenity that belies its proximity to the nexus of the action. Guests here enjoy spacious, modern accommodations set amidst beautiful interior design while dining at the novel Jayde Fuzion, featuring unlimited Asian dishes for a set price, and locals' favorite Studio B Buffet, where unlimited beer, wine, specialty coffees and cordials are complimentary. And with midweek rates starting as low as $125 (including resort fees), this secret oasis has now been outed.
Best New Restaurant: Morimoto Las Vegas
The Fiery Salty Caramel Chocolate Tart at Moriomoto Las Vegas.
Just when we thought that the Las Vegas dining landscape couldn't possibly accommodate yet another celebrity chef restaurant, along came Morimoto Las Vegas, the original Iron Chef's eponymous Japanese eatery at the MGM Grand. The venue deserves notice as the year's best newcomer, largely due to Masaharu Morimoto's skill at elevating every dish into a delicious work of art. Particularly impressive is the chef's sashimi platter, an almost-too-beautiful-to-eat assortment of delicacies served over a bowl of ice. And in a flaming finish, Morimoto's signature Fiery Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart -- which involves a melting chocolate sphere -- oozes decadence.
Best Room Refresh: Planet Hollywood
An Ultra Boulevard Suite at Planet Hollywood.
As Caesars Entertainment put the final touches on a top-to-bottom, $100 million remodel of all 2,500 rooms and suites at its Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino property last year, the design team opted to introduce some fun and sexy features that lend credence to the "ultra" moniker applied to the refreshed accommodations. With bright pops of color and some edgy artwork, the standard rooms are modern, comfortable and stylish. But the sexy, suspended birdcage sofa -- available in select Ultra Boulevard Suites -- ups the cool factor substantially at the mid-Strip property.
Best New Show: Circus 1903
Elastic dislocationist Senayet Assefa Amara performs in CIRCUS 1903 at Paris Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Ethan Miller
Occupying a unique nexus of circus and theater, Circus 1903, now playing at the Paris Las Vegas, is a nostalgic throwback to an early 20th Century circus -- just with modern-day production values. Introduced perfectly with clever patter by ringmaster Willy Whipsnade, the acts exceed expectations, especially the supple Elastic Dislocationist and the life-size elephant puppets. It's a credit to the producers that the creative and lovingly produced homage to an earlier-generation circus that none of us actually remember can generate such warm waves of nostalgia.
Best Gourmet Bite: Lucky Dragon
Roasted Duck Bao at Lucky Dragon's Bao Now. Photo Credit: David Yeskel
When the Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino opened just off-Strip in late 2016 with a mission to cater primarily to Asian guests, I fully expected its full-service restaurants to feature some of the top Chinese and pan-Asian cuisine in the city. And while those outlets deliver according to expectation, it's the casual and unassuming Bao Now, a grab-and-go eatery on the casino floor, that steals the thunder with an outstanding gourmet Chinese offering. The Roasted Duck Bao, available by request only and made to order with copious amounts of duck meat, hoisin sauce and scallions, is a rich find at only $8 for 3 pieces.
Best Club Lounge: Prestige at the Palazzo
While the nation's major hotel chains feature variations of club lounges catering to their loyalty program high-flyers, Las Vegas' casino/resorts typically elevate their club offerings to a more luxurious level. And while the private, prosecco check-in and reserved pool chairs for guests staying at the Prestige at the Palazzo are very nice, it's the lounge itself, designed to accommodate casino high rollers, VIPs and those who want to live like them (for an extra $120 per night), that impressively defines the experience. Featuring a robust hot-and-cold breakfast, all-day snacks and evening cocktails served with heavy hors d'oeuvres, the posh Prestige lounge is best in class in a city with cutthroat luxury competition.
Best Family Accommodations on the Strip: The Signature at MGM Grand
Although a select few nongaming, nonsmoking, all-suite properties on the Strip are a good fit for families, the Signature at MGM Grand possesses those attributes plus something more: a secure, secluded environment. The three condotel towers, located just behind the MGM Grand and connected via an air-conditioned walkway, are reached via gated entry. Each One-Bedroom Balcony Suite (950 square feet) is connected to a Deluxe Suite (550 square feet) via a lockable entryway and feature full kitchens or kitchenettes. And the property's free valet parking -- now a rarity on the Vegas Strip -- is an added bonus.
Best Gluten-Free Dining Experience: Fleur by Hubert Keller
The grilled octopus dish at Fleur by Hubert Keller at the Mandalay Bay.
While travelers with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance make up a relatively small percentage of the general population, the overwhelming number of guests now dining gluten-free as a lifestyle choice are actually driving restaurants to cater to this dietary need. Many chefs, however, cop out with boring offerings that meet the basic need, like grilled chicken breast, but don't slake the desire. Thankfully, Fleur by Hubert Keller at the Mandalay Bay offers an on-request, gluten-free menu that satisfies even jaded foodies with complex and delicious dishes like wagyu beef carpaccio lyonnaise and grilled octopus with housemade chorizo and hearts of palm.
Best Classic Italian: Rao's Las Vegas
Veal parmesan at Rao's Las Vegas. Photo Credit: David Yeskel
Sometimes the simplest things make the biggest impression. At Rao's Las Vegas, the Caesars Palace outpost of the exclusive and venerable Harlem eatery, improving classic dishes is the mantra and the mission. With a mixture of beef and pork, Rao's meatball is first sauteed in olive oil to preserve moisture, then baked and topped with homemade marinara. The veal parmesan is taken up a notch here, too, featuring a pounded, bone-in veal chop, rather than the thin cutlet typically used elsewhere. Ultimately, both of these classic Italian favorites achieve a delectable wow factor with a mixture of old-world style and innovative preparation.
Best Show Refresh: The Beatles Love
Even the wildly-successful Cirque du Soleil, with seven shows on the Vegas Strip, must refresh its ecosystem regularly to combat viewer fatigue and reliably fill seats. And a recent reimagining of The Beatles Love at the Mirage has achieved just that. Featuring new acts, a remixed soundtrack and infrastructure upgrades that added moving video monitors and LED lighting, this ode to the Fab Four has now been significantly enhanced in terms of production quality. And while the spectacular Cirque-unique acrobatics still thrill, the dreamlike choreography that accompanies slower ballads like "Something" is simply beautiful.
David Yeskel has been producing an annual "Las Vegas' Best Bets" for Travel Weekly since 2003.