In some cities, spring means welcome thaws, melting snow and the first bursts of green beginning to surface. In Las Vegas, spring brings neither April showers nor May flowers, but it arrives with arguably something better: food festivals.
The city's calendar is packed with upcoming events celebrating all things delicious and fermented, from boozy benefits to celebrity-chef tastings to beer festivals where the ales flow (very) freely. While the city is always a destination for culinary-minded travelers, these events elevate the town's food obsession to another level, and visitors should certainly take advantage.
• The best-known event is likely Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appetit, May 10 to 13, an annual homage to the Strip's culinary scene that brings dozens of famous chefs to Las Vegas Boulevard for intimate dinners and decadent dine-arounds. This year's lineup includes a Master Series dinner at Gordon Ramsay's new Hell's Kitchen restaurant hosted by the foul-mouthed Brit himself, the first Steak & Eggs Breakfast at Wolfgang Puck's Cut, a cocktail class with the master bartenders of Rosina and the Dorsey at the Palazzo and the Women's Power Lunch, a panel discussion of notable female chefs and restaurateurs paired with a meal cooked by a team of women and wines from female winemakers.
The centerpiece of the weekend is the Grand Tasting on May 11, when the 5-acre Garden of the Gods pool complex at Caesars Palace welcomes 2,500 eager eaters to sample bites from more than 50 restaurants and pours of 100 wines and spirits.
"I'm still blown away every year by the Grand Tasting," said Bon Appetit editor in chief Adam Rapoport. "I've been there at noon and there are people hanging at the pool, sunbathing and drinking, and at 7 p.m., it's been transformed into a foodie wonderland. All the best chefs in Las Vegas are there. At that scale, it's the sort of thing that only Vegas can pull off, and it's just very impressive."
Rapoport sees Uncork'd as a perfect excuse for a trip to Las Vegas and a way to give structure to a weekend between hitting the tables, relaxing poolside or playing a few rounds of golf. Catch brunch with Giada de Laurentiis at her restaurant or a gourmet picnic at the Park, then enjoy everything else the city has to offer.
• And Uncork'd isn't the only good excuse for a Vegas visit on the immediate calendar. The annual Nightclub & Bar Show will roll into town March 26 to 28 with alcohol samples and industry tech as well as evening parties up and down the Strip and a special ham and bourbon tasting at the Otheroom at Caesars Palace.
The Great Vegas Festival of Beer, a four-block beer garden with 100 breweries represented. Photo Credit: Fred Morledge
• April 6 and 7 will bring the Great Vegas Festival of Beer, now in its eighth year and highlighted by an afternoon event that turns four blocks of downtown Las Vegas into a beer garden. With more than 400 craft beers from 100 breweries, including locals like CraftHaus and Joseph James and out-of-towners like Boulevard and Unibroue, it's a drinker's delight and a chance to try unusual beers not readily available on restaurant taps. The ticket price includes unlimited tastings, best accompanied by some snacks purchased from the gastropub area.
Naked Fish’s Sushi at UNLVino, which this year will feature small plates from 50 restaurants.
• On April 14, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' William F. Harrah College of Hospitality celebrates its 50th birthday with UNLVino, an annual event dedicated to raising money for scholarships and tasting plenty of wine.
"This is our 44th year of UNLVino," said College of Hospitality dean Stowe Shoemaker, who noted that the party is also the culmination of coursework for students enrolled in the college's UNLVino class. "Students are right in the mix from the very beginning. They do the marketing, they're concerned with the auction items, menu development, food preparation. It's exciting and it's stressful at the same time. It's a realistic view of our business."
While past editions have included multiple events over the course of a weekend, for the college's 50th anniversary, the school decided to focus on one blowout bash. Held at the Keep Memory Alive Center at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and in partnership with Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits, UNLVino 2018 will feature small plates from 50 restaurants and 50 unique pairings, including Champagne, spirits and sake.
And that ticket price goes to a good cause: scholarships for College of Hospitality students. "If you like coming to Las Vegas and you like visiting casinos and staying in hotels, someone has to take care of you. And where do you learn to do that? At UNLV," said Shoemaker.
• On April 15 and 16, the Vegas Food Expo sets up at the Westgate, showcasing small food and beverage producers with an eye toward catching the attention of retailers and restaurants.
• Rounding out the event lineup is the Great American Foodie Fest, a food truck stampede at Sunset Station April 26 and 27.
Try Truck-N-Yaki for teppanyaki burritos, Fukuburger for American classics with a Japanese twist or Waffle Love for fresh, steaming waffles topped with lemon curd, Nutella or fruit and whipped cream.
Then maybe consider a salad.