The best Vegas, from cheap meals to shopping deals


Destination best of lists tally landmarks, restaurants and attractions. But Las Vegas occupies its own quirky niche, with many unique categories that include numerous competing qualifiers.

" Best luxury hotel value on the Strip: Ballys Las Vegas. Though often overshadowed by bigger and glitzier properties on the Strip, Ballys is noteworthy for its spacious accommodations, efficient service, prime location and reasonable rates.

Standard guest rooms, at 450 square feet, are furnished attractively and comfortably and are easily reached via a short walk from the lobby. Visitors seeking extra service and amenities stay in club rooms on the 22nd floor, home of Ballys 22nd Club, where a concierge lounge and other amenities await.

The efficient valet parking staff delivers cars in five minutes or less, rare in Vegas. And in a town full of themed hotels, its refreshing to find a property where the theme is the hotel itself, and the professional service staff knows it.  Midweek nightly rates start at $69.

" Best 99-cent food item: Shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino downtown. Despite the proliferation of 99-cent shrimp cocktails in Vegas, this granddaddy of them all, still served in a classic tulip glass, remains king. The shrimp are piled high and topped with cocktail sauce thats got the perfect zing. Two packs of crackers are included. Dont dare ask for more.

Although the realm of under-$1 food items is ever-expanding, buyers are advised to beware of certain cardio-nightmare options, such as the deep-fried Twinkies across the street at Mermaids.

" Best new-concept buffet: Dishes, at TI. Taking buffet dining to new heights is the latest rage in Las Vegas, where the gap between quantity and quality is narrowing rapidly. The latest, and most innovative to date, is Dishes at TI, where diners in the intimate, well-designed room feast on made-to-order pastas, custom-plated sushi and freshly prepared meats and side dishes. 

Small-batch preparation keeps the food fresh and tasty, while rolling carts deliver chili tableside. The dessert station features atypical buffet items, including creme brulee, fresh cotton candy and mini chocolate souffles. Another Las Vegas buffet first: A doughnut-making machine pops out irresistibly warm, calorie-dense diet-busters.  Dinner, priced at $20 on weekdays and $26 weekends, is a relative bargain.

" Best quickie-wedding chapel: Little White Wedding Chapel. Lovebirds plying the Strip between Sahara Boulevard and downtown may be confused by the bewildering, and seemingly endless, array of wedding chapels, each offering its own perfect package. The Little White Wedding Chapel, however, has been the preferred place to tie the knot for celebrities and regular folks alike since 1946. 

The array of wedding packages includes the simple ceremony ($40), the Bikers Special ($100) and the Tribute to Elvis Pink Cadillac Package ($275). In an especially big hurry? The drive-through Tunnel of Vows is the perfect solution. 

And, while the sign out front boasts that Michael Jordan and Joan Collins were married here, it wasnt to one another. 

" Best bargain shopping: Bijoux Terner Luxury at $10. This retailer offers trendy fashion at low prices. While the jewelry, scarves, belts and shawls offer good value, its the handbags and watches that distinguish Bijoux Terner. Designer-imposter styles range from casual to dressy and will impress even a discerning eye. 

Locations are at TI, New York New York, MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, Excalibur, Luxor, Rio, Ballys, Flamingo and McCarran Airport.

" Best shopping mall with fake sky: Caesars Forum Shops. Nowhere else but Las Vegas could this category even exist -- with multiple contenders, too. Maybe its the extra humidity introduced by all the fountains and water features. But somehow, at dusk in this 21st century version of the Roman Forum, the outdoor feel is palpable. 

The shops and restaurants that line the marble way, led by a massive FAO Schwarz toy store and Wolfgang Pucks Chinois Las Vegas, seem to buzz with a vibrancy befitting Caesars empire.

" Best free show: The Sirens of TI. Despite the demise of the family marketing craze that swept this town in the mid-1990s, some still held out slight hope for its survival. The last vestige of that failed hope, Treasure Island, finally succumbed in 2003, when it became simply TI, taking on a new, sexy allure.

And the pirate battle out front, long among the top-rated Vegas free shows, has turned into sirens (replacing steely British sailors) vs. pirates. Scantily clad babes spouting double-entendres dominate the action, but the fire and explosions still burn hot.

" Best Bugsy Seigel memorial: An unobtrusive plaque in the garden of the Flamingo Hotel. This simple memorial, seldom mentioned in tour books and set inconspicuously in the garden, may be the only instance of understatement in all of Las Vegas.

Its also the only entry in this category.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].


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