Las Vegas is home to dozens of celebrity chefs and award-winning restaurants, so perhaps it's no surprise that visitors interested in culinary experiences find the city to be an ideal destination for taste bud travel.
Certainly dining at one of the many restaurants in Las Vegas can be a rewarding experience in and of itself, but an increasing number of culinary events, themed meals and food-related festivals give travelers an opportunity to learn about the food and beverages they enjoy, meet the chefs they admire and experience the foodie scene in Las Vegas in an entirely different way.
"There's a natural curiosity about food in Vegas," said Susan Stapleton, editor of Eater Las Vegas. "We have so many outstanding restaurants in Vegas that these events become a great way to sample a variety of restaurants or get up close and personal with some of the culinary luminaries who have restaurants here."
Some of the most popular events, such as Vegas Uncork'd, become the focus of travel planning for visitors. Arguably Las Vegas' biggest culinary event, Vegas Uncork'd is being held May 8 to 11 this year, and for four days, more than 20 events highlight the best of Las Vegas' culinary scene. The roster of chefs reads like a red carpet focused on cooking: Bobby Flay, Joel Robuchon, Julian Serrano, Guy Savoy, Michael Mina and Thomas Keller will be among the dozens of big-name chefs on hand this year.
Of the events held in conjunction with Vegas Uncork'd, the Grand Tasting on May 9 is perhaps the granddaddy of them all, featuring more than 50 chefs and 100 wines and spirits from around the world.
"Vegas Uncork'd is the big culinary event, especially the Grand Tasting," Stapleton said. "So many restaurants and chefs are involved that it gives you a great opportunity to meet the chefs and sample their foods. In no way should you attempt a diet at that time."
Other multiday culinary events include UNLVino (set for April 9 to 12 this year), a fundraiser for the University of Nevada Las Vegas' college of hotel administration that generally focuses on food-and-beverage pairing; and the Food & Wine All-Star Weekend (held in October), which tends to focus on culinary offerings at the MGM International properties. Many of the festivals sell tickets for individual events, and some sell packages for those who want to attend many of the culinary offerings.
Additionally, events such as Las Vegas' Life Is Beautiful festival incorporate culinary talent into the festival offerings. Countless other culinary events are held in the course of a single day, making them even more popular for travelers who just happen upon them during their trips. The Great Vegas Festival of Beer, for example, is being held April 26 and will feature more than 80 breweries serving more than 250 beers.
Foodie events at many of the city's hotels provide another way to experience what Vegas' culinary greats have to offer. Bellagio's Epicurean Epicenter series, for example, pairs food prepared by one of the on-site chefs with wines from a single winery. Guests learn about both the food and beverages over the course of the evening. At the Pub at Monte Carlo, Gus' Beers and Bites Series offers patrons the chance to enjoy multicourse meals paired with a selection of beers. At Pierre Gagnaire's Twist at Mandarin Oriental, a wine dinner series features themed experiences such as the Taste of the Senses. This dinner will be served with dimmed lights and dark plates and glasses, so guests have to trust senses other than sight to guide them through what they're eating.
May and October tend to be particularly popular months for culinary events in Las Vegas. For visitors who have their sights set on specific food experiences, check event schedules and buy tickets in advance, as many of these events sell out.