In addition to overcoming its reputation for cheap buffets, 99-cent shrimp cocktails and ubiquitous prime rib specials to become a global culinary destination, Las Vegas is sprouting more options for vegans and those interested in exploring a plant-based cuisine.
Since 2016, when she founded Vegans, Baby, a dining guide and business dedicated to making vegan dining more approachable, Diana Edelman has seen the quantity and quality of vegan dishes on the Strip increase substantially. Rather than plating perfunctory dishes such as salads and steamed vegetables, many restaurants are creating more sophisticated choices and even offering vegan tasting menus.
“It’s consistently ranked one of the top-10 cities in the nation for vegan options,” Edelman said. “So it’s come a long way. If you are vegan and planning a trip to Las Vegas, you will be fine finding food.”
What’s driving the vegan trend?
The diet is becoming more mainstream, with as many as 6% of U.S. consumers saying they are vegan, according to ReportBuying.com. That’s creating demand in Las Vegas and other cities, Edelman said. More ready-made, plant-based products (such as Beyond Burger or Impossible Meat) are available, and amid the pandemic, more diners are recognizing the diet’s health and environmental benefits.
“Obviously, it’s a very healthy diet if you’re eating whole, plant foods,” she said. “People are just a lot more interested in consuming a plant-based diet and much more conscious of what they’re putting into their body these days.
Restaurants that offer vegan entrees have the edge when large groups decide where to go.
“When you go out to eat, if there’s someone who’s vegan in the group, you’re going to have to go where they can eat,” Edelman said. “And so restaurants are very much recognizing that now and adapting to that and working to make their restaurant the one people choose.”
She is finding that more chefs are not just begrudgingly working to please a relatively small amount of diners but are actually embracing the challenge.
“The chefs I work with are always very excited to get creative in the kitchen,” Edelman said. “For a lot of chefs, it’s a challenge because they’re learning or re-creating textures and flavors and creating dishes that would appeal to people who aren’t vegan but also to people who are vegan. It’s not your basic big potato with some vegan butter on it or a salad or a plate of sauteed or steamed veggies.”
Edelman and others frequently credit Steve Wynn, who said he turned to a vegan diet in 2010, as an early advocate who required restaurants in Wynn and Encore to have vegan and vegetarian options. The Venetian, Aria and Cosmopolitan have also been vegan-friendly resorts, she said.
New vegan dishes at the Venetian
Many restaurants at the Venetian celebrated Vegan Month in November by introducing elevated vegan dishes. In addition to its popular Shanghainese soup dumplings (minced “pork” and tofu) and smoked “cod,” Mott 32 diners can order vegan versions of Peking duck, crispy eel and sweet and sour pork.
Brara Osteria also caters to the plant-based palate with a new four-course Chef’s Go Vegan Tasting Menu that includes spiced polenta with roasted mushrooms; cauliflower with nardello peppers and capers; and eggplant with roasted tomatoes and Tuscan kale pesto.
The Truth & Tonic Wellness Cafe’s caramelized cauliflower frittata. The restaurant in Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian is exclusively vegan. Photo Credit: Canyon Ranch and Spa at Venetian
“Vegans are often forgotten, so we created a new menu that is plant-based -- full of flavor -- using the freshest seasonal ingredients with an artistic presentation,” said Angelo Auriana, executive chef and co-owner. “We have even gotten positive reviews from our regular meat-eating clientele.”
Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer’s menu includes the Vegan Nashville Hot, a breaded portobello topped with hot sauce and served with coleslaw and pickles on a vegan potato roll. Bouchon’s has the Vegan Chop, grain and mushrooms in the shape of a chop and served with seasonal vegetables. And Truth & Tonic Wellness Cafe (in Canyon Ranch Spa) at the Venetian is an exclusively vegan restaurant.
Other vegan havens
Slice of Vegas and Hussong’s Cantina in Mandalay Bay have commendable vegan menus, and Edelman lauded L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand. She also cited Tacotarian (several locations), Evel Pie, VegeNation and PublicUs downtown for their vegan options.
Among the memorable vegan dishes Edelman cites: Aria’s Catch serves a crispy cauliflower with spicy vegan mayo. Its vegan pistachio cheesecake with a coconut sorbet and black cherries is “just luscious,” she said.
Barry’s Downtown Prime at Circa Resort & Casino has a vegan meatloaf that is “absolutely divine. … They [also] had a creamy roasted tomato soup with fresh basil, roasted garlic and a crostini that was so cozy and delicious.”
Edelman advises visitors to call ahead to restaurants to make sure vegan options remain since the pandemic continues to limit some menus.
Vegans, Baby is sponsoring its annual Vegan Dining Month in January to promote vegan restaurants and encourage nonvegan restaurants to join the trend. Restaurants around the city create either a special dish or menu for the month. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of those dishes goes to the Churchill Foundation, a nonprofit that rescues adoptable animals from local shelters. Visit VegansBaby.com for details for the event and other recommendations.
“It was designed to capture those people who are dipping their toes into vegan food and to also keep the vegan community engaged to have more options,” Edelman said.