In Las Vegas, trends come and go like Southern California 20-somethings on weekend benders. Among the fads that have thrived and then dived were the kid-friendly trend (remember the pirate ship at Treasure Island or the lion exhibit at MGM?), and the Broadway musical trend ("The Lion King," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jersey Boys" all had Strip homes at the same time).
There is one trend, however, that started more than two decades ago and shows no signs of abating: the celebrity chef. In 1992 Wolfgang Puck opened Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, the first high-end, celebrity-chef backed restaurant on the Strip, which at the time was still dominated by buffets and more familiar fare.
Today, Las Vegas is a foodie destination. Spago proved there was a market in Vegas for exceptional, if pricey, food. Food tourists will find offerings from such culinary luminaries as Joel Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali.
The trend is only continuing, with a fresh injection of top culinary talent slated to debut in Las Vegas this year. After bringing his Momofuku concept to top dining cities like New York, Sydney and Washington, James Beard Foundation Award winner David Chang will open a new installment of the restaurant at the Cosmopolitan by the end of the year.
Award-winning chef David Chang is opening a branch of his acclaimed Momofuku restaurant at the Cosmopolitan. Photo Credit: Gabriele Stabile
"Iron Chef" star Masaharu Morimoto is opening a restaurant at MGM Grand this fall. Robert Irvine, the host and dining guru from Food Network's "Restaurant Impossible," recently rappelled down the Tropicana in order to promote his restaurant slated to open next year.
Las Vegas caters to tourists, and is never too cool to give the visiting masses what they want. With the rise in popularity of cooking shows, celebrity chefs and experiential dining, more people in general are interested in destination restaurants.
Surveys of Vegas visitors back up the idea that tourists are increasingly willing to spend a little extra for a special meal. From 2010 to 2015 the average Las Vegas visitor boosted their budget for food and drink by 14%, according to annual surveys conducted by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Gambling budgets also shot up during that period (by 24%), but budgets for shopping remained flat.
The resorts on the Strip are constantly reinventing (and remodeling) themselves, and the latest makeovers have carved plenty of room for marquee chefs. When Caesars Entertainment converted Bill's Gambling Hall into the Cromwell, one of the centerpieces was Giada De Laurentiis' first restaurant. With a complete makeover of the Monte Carlo scheduled to begin at the end of 2016, you can be sure that MGM Resorts will be looking to keep up with the trend by recruiting some celebrity chefs who have yet to leave their mark on the Las Vegas dining scene.