Living in Las Vegas definitely has its food perks. Aside from a strip full of renowned chef restaurants, a cultural mix of grocery stores and a Le Cordon Bleu campus, this town knows how to throw food parties.
Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d has been held on the strip for seven years. The Vegas Wine & Food Festival is celebrating its fourth annual all-star weekend in October. And the World Food Championships is coming back to Las Vegas for its second year Nov. 7-10.
I had the privilege of participating in the WFC last year. Professional chefs and home cooks battled it out on the strip to prepare their best dishes for a cast of celebrity judges, such as Travel Channel’s Adam Richman, Food Network’s Ben Vaughn and Vegas’ own Robin Leach.
This year’s competition is going to be even more thrilling because it’s actually in Las Vegas. Confused? Don’t be. It’s a common misconception. The Las Vegas strip is not in Las Vegas. It’s county land. True Las Vegas is in downtown, and the city and private businesses have spent billions to revitalize the area.
It’s still laced with the vintage charm of glowing neon signs, Elvis impersonators and showgirls, but it’s also a really hip art district with free concerts, the best Vegas souvenirs you’ll find and fantastic restaurants.
I’m really excited that WFC is downtown this year. The energy and the vibe that’s going to come from visitors as contestants prepare their signature dishes will be unmatched. The thrill of people ziplining overhead and millions of lightbulbs dancing on the canopy while the spray paint artist gathers crowds will intensify the world’s greatest food competition.
Being a local competitor, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about where to stay, where to shop, how to get around, so I’m developing a Local’s Guide to the WFC, to help answer those questions.
While developing the guide, I chose to stop by the hotels to check them out in person. (Being local, I haven’t ever stayed downtown.) Some gave me personal tours of their rooms and others just gave me a key and sent me up the elevator.
The decision of where to stay was no contest.
The Golden Nugget has earned the AAA Four Diamond Award consecutively since 1977. Winning that award doesn’t come easy. They recently invested $350 million to enhance the property for guests, and they love showing off the hotel’s beauty and details. They provided me with an hour-long tour of their entire property.
The first stop was an amazing suite. The walls were draped with scarlet damask wallpaper. There was a large room with a king bed and white patent leather throw pillows and a separate entertaining area with a wet bar. Both areas had bathrooms. If that’s not quite your style, they also have more subdued suites and even a retro or spa suite. Luxe options are plentiful at the Golden Nugget.
The suite was the only open room available the day I stopped by. The hotel was fully booked and the pool (with a waterslide that travels through a shark tank) was packed with people enjoying the last few days of summer.
That didn’t stop the GN from showing me around. Nope. We hopped on the elevator, picked lucky # 7 and found a room that was being cleaned to prep for the next guest. This time, I saw a standard room. The canopy over the bed reminded me of Versailles and the finishes were exquisite. It surpassed every other “standard” room I had seen at the other properties.
Back on the elevator to the hotel’s newest tower – the Rush Tower. Although there was a common theme of elegant marble, rich wallpaper and subtle art, the tone casually transitioned from traditional to contemporary. I was shown another room in the process of being cleaned and was still impressed. These rooms had a hip feel to them. They only come in Kings though, so anyone planning to double up will need to pick the Carson or Gold Tower.
While I was extremely impressed with the rooms and had already decided the Golden Nugget was the place to stay, the tour wasn’t over. Throughout the casino there are multiple vignette areas where you can mingle with small groups but still be part of the action.
If drinking is not your thing, the hotel has a spa that offers everything from massages to mani-pedis to haircuts. There is also a fitness center with cardio equipment and weights. Access to the fitness center is $20 extra per day.
I’ve been going on and on and I didn’t even mention the food yet. The Golden Nugget is actually owned by billionaire restaurateur Tilman Fertitta. You probably know his other brand better, Landry’s. The chain owns and operates more than 450 properties around the world. A few of his notable chains like Chart House and Michelin recommended Vic & Anthony’s and Grotto are located right inside the casino, along with two, YES TWO, and the only two Starbucks on Fremont Street.
I hope to have my Local’s Guide to the WFC published soon. In the meantime, if you have questions about Vegas, don’t hesitate to ask.