Bar Bites Beyond: Las Vegas

While spending a week in “sin city” made us fairly wary for a number of reasons, one of my primary concerns was the availability of great, gluten free food. But! As luck would have it, my fears slipped away within mere hours of arrival. Day or night, breakfast or a snack, this city knows how to handle those of us who need to eat gluten free while betting against the odds of winning big in Las Vegas. I must admit, we didn’t spend a single penny on gambling (no win or loss). So, in my mind, we won!

For our trip, we stayed at the MGM Grand and had a lot of luck with the restaurants right in the hotel! I’m pretty sure Vegas has food for every single tastebud, so if those I share below aren’t up your alley, then I am quite confident there are plenty of others that will work for you. We may not need to ever go back to this glittering town, but at least we know that if we do, then at the very least, we will be extremely well fed!

 The Bellagio and its famous fountain display. Choreographed to music, no less! 

The Bellagio and its famous fountain display. Choreographed to music, no less! 

As always, please alert your server or bartender to your dietary needs before ordering. This is something I do every time we go out, no matter if we’ve been going someplace for years or it’s a brand new dining experience. Safety first!

This guide is organized with restaurants first, ordered alphabetically (titles are linked to their website), and then a brief list of activities you may enjoy if you travel out West in the future. Or, maybe you live nearby and haven’t been to these wonderful places yet! 

Restaurants: All Day Everyday

Avenue Cafe

Our first stop every morning, this large cafe offered a big menu and lots of options for breakfast and lunch. While we always came during the morning rush, service was quick, friendly, and our food arrived hot. In terms of gluten free selections, menu items were marked “gf” and our server was often knowledgeable about whether specific items could be made gluten free.

My favorite aspect was that gluten free toast was always available and it was even written as a choice on the menu. A rare sight! I ordered an omelette every day, literally, with a varied set of veggies and cheese. It came with GF toast and potatoes. Quite delicious and extremely filling, I have a feeling the omelette was at least 3 eggs! On a couple occasions I ordered sausage (pork one day, chicken another) as well which was pretty good. Seth tried a few of their sandwiches and even had pancakes once (not GF) and was equally pleased. Breakfast success all around! 

This low key breakfast spot in the hotel was a great resource for easy, reliable, and safe morning food and lots of coffee (of course). And while they did have an extensive “breakfast cocktail” list, we abstained. But looking back, some of their bloody Mary’s did sound good. ;) Next time!

Harvest by Roy Ellamar

While the majority of nights we stayed in the hotel for dinner (so many options), on one night we ventured down the Strip and headed to The Bellagio which is a beautiful hotel a little under a mile away from where we stayed. If you visit Vegas, I’d recommend Bellagio as it’s a bit more centrally located and more “glitz and glam” overall. The hotel’s lobby is awesome with some pretty cool sculptures, art work, floral arrangements, and world’s largest chocolate fountain. No. Joke. 

 Here’s that fountain! 

Here’s that fountain! 

For our dinner that evening, we chose to go to Harvest, which was located a short walk away from the Bellagio lobby and had a menu that looked promising in terms of varied GF options ( I hoped) and overall a cool place to relax for the evening. The size of these Vegas hotels astounded me. Huge mazes filled with everything you could need plus entertainment of all kinds. Luckily, we found this restaurant fairly easily as most of them are just open to the hallways with no official “walls” to close them off from any other part of the hotel. Decor is the distinguishing factor! And gigantic signs. 

In regard to the food we selected, it was really good! I had a Harvest Salad which was filled with beautiful greens and other colorful veggies, and then ordered the lobster risotto for dinner. Seth selected the salmon for dinner and absolutely loved it. Oddly enough, I found myself ordering seafood much of the week despite being in the desert. Maybe it was symbolic of missing home and New England? Maybe I just really love lobster risotto? Whatever the case may be, I had chosen well because everything was quite good. 

A final note on Harvest: while we did enjoy our meal, I was not that confident in the allergy awareness of the bartenders. They seemed skeptical at best about knowing which items were safe, so they confirmed my order with the manager and chef to report it would be fine for me to eat. I appreciate the effort, but I think it may be in their best interest to read up a bit on gluten allergies (or all allergies) so as to better help their customers. I would recommend the restaurant because we liked our meals, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on the servers knowing too much about allergies if we were to return in the future. Luck of the draw, I suppose? ;) 

Have you had enough of my Las Vegas gambling jokes? No? Oh, good. Keep reading!  

Hecho en Vegas

If you follow along on Instagram, then you know how much we love tacos, nachos, and all things Mexican, so to say we were excited by this next spot would be an understatement! A menu that’s approximately 90% gluten free plus staff that were very knowledgeable about allergies. We were good to go!

We visited this in-hotel spot for dinner on two separate occasions and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. Colorfully decorated with an extensive seating area and bar, this restaurant had groups, couples, and friends gathering in it every night.

Opting for bar seats, as always, we were greeted by a very friendly bartender and presented with a giant, multi-page drink list. During our second visit to this spot, we opted in for cocktails. I chose a basic mojito and Seth had a beer. While our choices were pretty tame, others nearby were having massive margaritas (with beer bottles protruding from them) and other, more-flashy beverages. Live it up, everyone!

Food-wise, I was beyond ecstatic. I learned that their house-made corn tortilla chips were gluten free and also free from cross-contamination. What a thrill! And a rarity, let’s be honest. So, I did what anyone would do in this exciting situation: I ordered the largest nachos ever. And then after those were gone (I ate almost all of it. But Seth had some too, don’t worry!) I ordered more chips to try out their salsas. Delicious! 

Gluttony: Vegas Edition, should have been the name of our dinner that night. Because even after nachos that were piled high with all of the necessities, plus some chips and salsa, I ordered the enchiladas (the order came with three: beef, cheese, chicken) that were labeled gluten free, too. The chicken was my favorite, if you’re wondering. What? I couldn’t help myself. I also couldn’t finish my meal. It was all so good, so deliciously satisfying, and so beautifully gluten free.

To enjoy a Mexican food feast without worrying one chip’s worth if my food was safe was a pure joy. No gambling required! This was such a welcome feeling of relaxation during a week that wasn’t entirely sightseeing and Vegas-y (read: we were there for work). This place was the most home-y of them all. I almost wish we had taken some of those nachos to-go. Almost. ;)

Morimoto Las Vegas

Are you an Iron Chef fan? Have you ever been one? If the answer is yes in any form, then you must luxuriate in the experience of dining at Morimoto, also located at the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas. 

Seth and I ate here toward the beginning of the trip and to this day, I wish we had gone back a second time. The atmosphere was luxe, but at the same time the crowd was varied enough so that you didn’t need to be too dressed up. I wore all black. As I think I did for most dinners that week. Easy travel uniform for evening, right? 

Our server was one of the most enthusiastic people I had ever encountered at a restaurant and I kind of think he may be better off in a more Disney-ish setting. However, he knew the menu well and was extremely helpful when it came to addressing my dietary needs so I’ll give him a pass on his loud voice and intensity to which he addressed the sake offerings. For the record, we skipped sake and tried a couple of the cocktails on the menu. Per usual, mine was an interpretation of a spicy margarita, which was delightful! 

Since we had luxuriated with a drink and an appetizer at another restaurant prior to our reservation time, we did not go overboard on ordering this time around. We did, however, order some of the most delicious food of the entire week. I’d like to have it all again, now.  

Of note: portion sizes, though flavorful and scrumptious, were not large. And they were expensive. Be prepared to relax your wallet and just enjoy the setting and food. You’ll be better off in the long run, I think. ;)

In regard to the food, I took photos of mine, and well, we just forgot to take ones of Seth’s meal. I’m sorry! It was all incredible, I promise you.

I started with the Laksa Noodle Soup that I state to be one of my favorite soups of all-time. Truly. And it was gluten free! I’m sold when it comes to coconut milk, red curry, noodles, and pork, and this bowl had all of that and more! I couldn’t eat it fast enough, clearly, because my entrèe arrived before I finished. I was trying to savor every sip!  

For dinner, I selected one of the “surf and turf” options so that I could sample some of the famous wagyu beef as well as raw tuna; I also ordered the duck confit fried rice topped with a fried egg.  Wise move! While quite lady-like in portion size, (is that a horrible thing to say? I’ll be blunt instead: the meal was small) my main course was absurdly delicious. So yummy that I ate the surf-side of the plate too quickly, regretting my speed immediately. And so I kept the majority of the rice to serve as my “dessert.” That happens to me often around delicious food. If you have suggestions for how I could slow down for the sake of yum, then let me know. Thanks. 

And then, while I was still trying to finish that soup, cooling off too quickly as well, I dove into the three-ounce portion (yes, that’s the actual amount) of heavenly wagyu. I was a little more careful with the meat and tried to really savor all four bites. Man, was that good! I loved it.

I completely forgot to offer a bite to Seth who was engrossed in his own meal. I think. I was too focused on my own. 😬 That happens sometimes when we are out (or even at home) - so thrilled with how amazing the food is on our plates that we forget to share. And sometimes speak. Whoops!

But, don’t worry, as soon as those three ounces of wagyu were eaten, I turned my focus to him and promptly stated my extreme satisfaction with the meal (a gigantic smile and a sad face since my food was gone) and his encouragement to go to this restaurant during  our trip. This was a fantastic meal! I would definitely return since we had terrific luck at every turn of the evening. I guess you can win big in Vegas without hitting the slots? ;)

craftsteak by Tom Colicchio

Upon finding great food while traveling, I often tend to enjoy repeats. As in, once we find a spot that has delicious food and an inviting atmosphere, we usually go back during the same trip. And that was most certainly the case with this restaurant, craftsteak. Located within the hotel and away from the casino, this restaurant featured a fantastic menu and lively bar scene, which was de riguer each time we stopped in.

For the record, we ate there three times during our trip! Maybe it was the very gluten free menu, or maybe it was the friendly bartender who welcomed us East-Coasters with ease, but each time I found myself more relaxed than anywhere else we ate. Well, almost as relaxed. That Mexican place did have those nachos... ;)

In regard to selecting a drink, be prepared to make an investment while enjoying your evening. Glasses of wine and cocktails run the gamut from average-city-pricing to omg-they-cannot-be-serious. But yes, yes they are serious and if you’re in it to be fancier than you’ve ever been, take a gander through the wine binder (literally) and peruse the listings of bottles from all over the world.

Wine bottle pricing ranged from Birthday-level celebration to sell your house and then buy the bottle. No joke. But! That’s Vegas apparently and our minds were mystified by the prices of everything, daily. And we live in Boston! Enough about my wine-ing. Just get a glass of the Pinot Noir and you’ll be set (and not broke). Trust me.

Moving on to dinner!

While I was attempting some form of normalcy during this trip out west, I definitely wanted to splurge here and there on my dinner selections. Eggs in the morning, salads at lunch, and then a bigger meal in the evening. And at craftsteak, this was easily possible by the fact that everything on the menu was available as single-serving or family-style (except the steaks and entrees). This meant that Seth and I could easily share two, single-serve salads (they were big!) and get a great portion for each of us, and then still order a few dishes to share at dinner.

If that sounds like a lot of food then you’re partially right: yes, we ordered more than necessary during one of the visits. But it was primarily salads, veggies, and side dishes (being cost effective) since those were most appealing to us at the time. The single-serve sizing worked really well for us since we like to try a lot of foods at new restaurants, and even more when they’re so easily gluten free.

Standout dishes amongst our three visits to craftsteak included the warm frisée salad, the fennel salad, the unbelievably yummy lobster bisque (so Boston of me), vinaigrette fries, roasted fingerling potatoes, and the bone-in T-bone steak (we splurged and split it on our last night in Vegas).

While I’m not sure if we will head back to this part of the Southwest any time soon, I do have fond memories of this fun restaurant, the great service, and the delicious meals we enjoyed throughout the week.

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill

On our first day in Las Vegas, we arrived slightly bleary-eyed from travel, and very hungry. We checked in, put our luggage away, and immediately went on the hunt for some lunch around the hotel. Thankfully, this easy restaurant was a short walk through the (massive) gambling area and had bar seats at the ready.

A gluten free menu was available and much to my surprise, a handful of the dishes on the regular one could be made gluten free as well! It always helps to ask your server about additional options since many times (I have found) the gluten free menu is not nearly as extensive as it should be. Example: items that are naturally gluten free (meat, chicken, most salads, rice-based meals) aren’t always on GF menus for some strange reason, so it’s always worth it to ask if you see something you’d like to eat, but want to confirm it to be safe. A bit of an obvious statement, but you never know until you ask, right?

Joyfully, I had a delicious Greek salad with grilled shrimp (omg yum), and because I was happy to be off the plane, and Las Vegas was already taking hold of my decision-making-ability, I ordered a gluten free pizza (chicken, basil pesto, veggies), as well! When in Rome, right? Or, Vegas. Whatever. I was starving and have no self control when safe pizza is available (see also: tortilla chips). I assume this happens to many of you when faced with a delicious dish that’s not always available to us gluten-free-folk.

If you’re wondering, Seth had a massive turkey club sandwich that looked delicious, which he confirmed. Alas, no GF bread, so that section was off limits. But I was thrilled with my salad and awesome GF pizza. I was really impressed with the crust!

As the week wore on, we actually had lunch here a second time and I literally ordered the exact same meal. I know that’s kind of boring, given the number of options, but I really enjoyed that pizza and have been trying to stay on the salad-train (with protein) during the daylight hours. I ordered the pizza again because Vegas. And I really love basil pesto. :) Balance, right?

 Overly excited to have CA plates on our rental.  

Overly excited to have CA plates on our rental.  

Acitivities: Beyond the Poker Table  

If you find yourself in the Southwest and prefer to avoid the casinos like we did, then you may enjoy my list of suggested activities below. We drove around a lot on the two days we didn’t have to work, and got to see some beautiful sights and incredible natural beauty in the Southwestern United States. Enjoy!  

Hoover Dam (Nevada)

Take a drive to this man-made wonder of the world and take in the sights along the way. What I found most hilarious (that’s just me though) is that we parked in Arizona, and then walked to Nevada to see it! Granted, the parking lot was maybe 50-75 yards away from the Dam, but it was funny nonetheless.

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Tours are available and there is a cute gift shop as well as a cafe. I stocked up on postcards and a couple small items for my suitcase. I’ll never forget the expanse of blue sky  and bright sun while we were there. It was fantastic and warm! In January! 😲

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 This sign was gigantic!  

This sign was gigantic!  

Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

Another short drive from Las Vegas, this beautiful park has scenery like no other (that I’ve seen at least) and is one of the most serene places I’ve ever been. Pay your entry fee via envelope at the small collection box in the parking lot, and then explore all around this gorgeous land.  

There are marked trails for hiking which lead you all around to see some of the best features. We did the Elephant Rock trail, and yes, we saw Elephant Rock! Quite stunning. Next time, I’d like to go and hike the Fire Wave trail which is longer and has an even more breathtaking sight. 

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Death Valley National Park (California)

A highlight of the week! We rented a car and drove to California which is something I had always hoped to do in my life (we will return! CA is huge!).  Under two hours from Las Vegas, with some impressive scenery and sights along the way, I never could quite comprehend the sheer size of the area until we drove on and on without seeing a single structure, person, animal, bug, or anything. That’s the desert! 

This place was awesome and I have to just let the photos speak for themselves. Death Valley is quite something! It felt like we were on another planet. A very cool place to go, in my opinion. Luckily, it was a joyous 65-degrees while we were there, but we read that temps can soar over 100 during the summer. Maybe keep the trip planned for winter?  :)

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Badwater Basin (California)

Amidst Death Valley we specifically went to Badwater Basin which is hundreds of feet below sea level and is a vast expanse surrounded by mountains. Once again, a space so incredibly serene and deserted (literally) I could only stop and look around in awe. Of course, this is a tourist destination so there were a handful of others near us exploring as well, but it still felt like we were the only people for miles and miles and miles. 

Check out a few photos below of this incredible area and once again, that big blue sky. Unreal! 

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 While some may say that a trip to Las Vegas is for gambling and seeing some cool shows, which is superb for some (we did eat very well!), I adored renting a car and getting away from the city for two of our days. Making it all the way to California - all the way on the other side of the country -  and seeing some pretty incredible natural beauty was just as much, if not more, of a win for me. ;)

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