Enter one of Las Vegas' hottest restaurants without a reservation. Glide past the host stand, settle into a seat at the best table and have a cocktail. Be served signature dishes within moments. As you're savoring the meal, receive the chef at your table for a full explanation of the food's origin and preparation. Walk out the door, leaving other diners awed. Repeat.
That's the culinary experience offered by Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. Guests have a choice of tours, each guided by a local expert over two and a half hours to sample plates from several (usually four) restaurants.
After enjoying the best of one, the group (typically no more than about 10 people) walks to the next, learning tips and trivia from the guide along the way. A surprise stop for a great view, a look at an interesting piece of artwork or an anecdote about local history makes each tour unique.
In addition to short strolls on the Strip and explorations of downtown Las Vegas, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours recently introduced a tour of the city's vibrant Arts District. Guests can discover eclectic clothing boutiques, antique shops, theaters and art galleries between stops at the dining tables.
The itinerary includes Esther's Kitchen, featuring seasonal Italian cuisine from James Trees, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who has worked for Gordon Ramsay, Eric Ripert, Ray Garcia and Michael Mina; Jammyland, where former New Yorkers Danielle Crouch and Allan Katz serve up modern Caribbean fare in a converted garage with a patio and murals; and Cornish Pasty Co., where Englishman Dean Thomas serves pies from recipes that originated in the 1200s and other classic British desserts.
The new Arts District tour is $125 per person. Guests can add a beverage package ($50) for a preselected signature cocktail at each stop.
"We have a ton of repeat guests, and every time they come to Las Vegas they want to do a different Lip Smacking tour," said Donald Contursi, a food and beverage industry veteran who launched the company in 2015. "All these new restaurants that are happening there, they're packed every night. If you're in the know, you know [about a restaurant such as Esther's Kitchen]. But if you're visiting, you're overwhelmed by all the restaurants — how do you choose? I was thinking it would be great to put together an experience in the Arts District because there's a lot happening."
Contursi, who began hosting tours with two guests every couple of days, now averages more than three tours daily. There are five Lip Smacking Foodie Tours guides, including three full-timers. The company hosts an average of 1,000 guests each month, nearly double last year's numbers, he said.
"We get foodies, we get people who are from small towns who are intimidated by some of these restaurants, menus and prices," Contursi said. "They go with us, and they feel a warm welcome, with no pretension looking at a wine list and picking out what kind of bottled water they want. Each restaurant has a 35-minute window to wow our guests, so they all put their best food forward. When each restaurant does that, the guest has the ultimate experience."
Javier’s at the Aria is on Lip Smacking Foodie Tours’ Afternoon Culinary Adventures outing.
Among the other Las Vegas Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which can accommodate individuals, couples, families, small and intermediate parties and corporate outings of up to 250:
- Afternoon Culinary Adventures: A more casual introduction to Las Vegas through signature eats.
- Lip Smacking Boozy Brunch: Three of Vegas' best brunches all in one morning.
- Savors of the Strip: Glamorous seating in the evening's prime time.
- Downtown Lip Smacking Tour: Visits to unique chef-driven restaurants in an area experiencing a rebirth. Participants must be 21 or older.
- Vegas Sights Worldly Bites: Global flavors are spotlighted.
- Ultimate Steakhouse Tour: Visits to prestigious steakhouses for the best American prime and Japanese wagyu.
The restaurant Therapy is featured on the Downtown Lip Smacking Tour.
In June, Lip Smacking Foodie Tours became a preferred partner member of Virtuoso. Travel advisors receive a 12% commission for booking its tours.
Earlier this year at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, Contursi promoted his company to travel advisors looking to add value for their clients. He hosted 150 advisors from Travel Experts, Travel Edge and Largay Travel.
"Hotel rooms, plane reservations and top restaurant recommendations: Those are the three most important things any traveler needs," Contursi said. "But travel agents for the most part offer only the first two.
"That's where we at Lip Smacking Foodie Tours can lend a big helping hand," he continued. "We pay a 12% commission to travel advisors who book with us. We are proud to be the only commissionable dining experience in Las Vegas."
Tours range from $125 per person to $799 (for the four-hour Steakhouse Tour). For an additional fee, guests can ride down the Strip in an open-air, pink Jeep Wrangler or hover over the Strip at night in a helicopter.
In addition to Las Vegas, the company has also offered tours this year in Seattle and St. Louis and in San Jose and Santa Monica, Calif.