Las Vegas is famous for its food specials. There was a time you could get a complete steak dinner for $2. Those days may be gone, but overall, the cost of dining in Las Vegas is still better than in many parts of the country. How long has it been since you’ve really had a blast? Is Las Vegas on your list of fun places to go? Learn what the locals know about having a good time on a budget. Their Staycation just may be your dream! Since there is a major difference between catching a bite to eat and fine dining, or finding a drink and clubbing, we will be looking at these subtitles: Breakfast Lunch and Snacks, All You Can Eat Buffets, Restaurant Dining, Where to Get Cheap Drinks, andNightclubs and Lounges With No Cover Charge.
Eat and Drink For Less
Free Comps are anything but free. The casino management will be glad to give you a meal, pay for your room, or get you some show tickets. All you have to do is win or lose a lot of money. They rate you by how long you gamble, and how much you gamble. You have to sign up for their slot club or their table games club, insert your Player’s Card into the machine or ask to be rated at the tables. Then after four hours you will likely qualify for some kind of Comp. After four hours of gambling, you will also have likely spent more than the Comps were worth!
Just the same, many of the specials require a Player’s Club Card. It’s not required that you use the card, only that you have one. And naturally, every casino has its own club. Fortunately, several of the clubs share an owner, and will honor cards from their affiliates. Club Cards are free, but for those of you who consider the Club Card thing just a little too much of a hassle, I will point out which specials require a card, and which ones don’t.
Locals also tend to frequent their neighborhood casinos rather than the touristy ones; and the neighborhood prices are lower across the board. But when you come to Las Vegas on vacation you’re not expected to spend an hour crossing town to find an obscure place to eat, so this list will focus on places within a mile of The Strip, and on Freemont Street (downtown.) If you were to do an exhaustive internet search you could find many of the same deals listed here, they do all advertise, but this will simplify matters for you. There is no way for me to cover all of the choices, as there are hundreds; and the establishments are not under my control, so they may change their specials; but this is where I’d go for specials on a regular basis. I hope you enjoy the variety and the prices.
Breakfast, Lunch and Snacks
Starting out the day, there are breakfast buffets in most casinos, some pricier than others. The Station Casinos tend to have better breakfast food at lower prices when compared to the big name casinos. Assuming you’d rather save the buffet for later in the day, here are a couple of alternatives that won’t wreck your wallet.
Early Breakfast is also known as the Graveyard Special, and there are quite a few choices for this one. As long as you’re done partying before 6 a.m. here are a few of the best places to catch a bite.
At The Burger Joint inside the Flamingo, between midnight and 6 a.m. they serve a Ribeye steak and eggs for $5.99, or a Burger and fries for $2.00. No matter what time you go, expect a 20 minute wait. They always cook the steak to a medium temperature without asking, and they throw in some hashbrowns and toast. If you go for the burger, the fries are fabulous if you like them steak cut and crispy. (In the center of The Strip by Flamingo Road.)
About a mile off The Strip to the west on Tropicana Avenue, the Orleans serves Steak and eggs with toast and hash browns for $3.99 at the Courtyard Café, between midnight and 6 a.m. Service is a little faster than at The Burger Joint above, and the steak is cheaper – but not a Ribeye. If you’re not in a steak mood, the Courtyard Café is one of the few remaining places to have a lot of graveyard breakfast choices for fabulous prices between $1.99 and $2.99. The Courtyard Café also has Asian and Pacific food on their menu at very reasonable prices.
SPOTLIGHT: Ellis Island Casino & Brewery
Don’t be put off by the outside appearance. This place is almost always busy because it draws both tourists and locals. Also plan to wait for a table, and service can be slow if you want to eat at traditional times. Fortunately, you can get a deal here at any time, 24 hours a day. And like the sign says, this is also a brewery, so you have the opportunity to try one of their several microbrews, or even their own root beer if you prefer. Next to the restaurant you’ll find the bar, which is a local’s favorite for karaoke. Ellis Island is located behind Bally’s on Koval Lane, by Flamingo Road.
For an early traditional breakfast (Two scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy and bacon or sausage,) Ellis Island only charges $1.95 between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. for the special.
Later in the morning, or at night before crashing, you might consider New Yorksteak and eggs for $3.45 at Ellis Island. They serve breakfast between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.
In the 24 Hour Restaurant, [yes, that is what they actually call it,] you can also get a 10-ounce Steak Dinner for $6.99. The steak comes with green beans, potato, bread, and a Beer. Overall the meal is very tasty and may be the best value meal in town. This special is not always in the menu, but if you ask for it, it is always available.
Inside Tip:Down town every casino has specials on the marquis. These specials are sometimes for specific time frames, and are not always up to date – but usually good deals – so verify the price when ordering!
Lunch timemay require a sandwich special. One of the best deals is the $1.25 Hotdog, at the Gold Coast. It is available between 10 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. at the Sports Book – look for a vender’s cart. Expect a Chicago Style Beef Hotdog with the works. You don’t have to place any bets to take advantage of the Hotdog Vender, and there are usually plenty of seats with monitors everywhere for viewing the races or the games while enjoying your dog. (On Flamingo road, about a mile west of The Strip.)
If you’d rather not leave The Strip, O’sheas Casino in the middle of The Strip between the Imperial Palace and the Flamingo serves a Hot dog with a Beer for $3.00, 24 hours a day. For more information on Q’sheas Casino, read further down under Where to Get Cheap Drinks.
Downtown for lunch with a big appetite, Uncle Joes’s Pizza has one of the better deals. $3 will get you two oversized slices of Pizza and a Soda. Uncle Joe’s is a small authentic NY style pizza house; so expect a traditional crunchy crust, good sauce, plenty of cheese, and laid back friendly but not too fast service. (On Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard.)
Another choice would be to pick up a Hot dog and a Coke for $2.95 in the Fremont Club at the Lanai Express. Lanai Express is known for its reasonably priced Chinese dishes served cafeteria style, so you don’t have to wait for your meal. American food like Hamburgers, Hotdogs, and Shrimp Cocktail will give you more choices than you’d usually find at a Chinese place; so there’s something for everybody, even those who don’t want the Hotdog deal. (The Fremont Club is in the center of the Fremont Street Experience.)
SPOTLIGHT: Mermaids Casino and Lounge
Famous for vintage slots rather than glitz, this place is a funhouse for those who are not looking for quiet, high-end class. The brassy waitresses cater to the drinkers, slot players, drinkers, socializers, drinkers, eaters and drinkers. If you end up spending much time here, the waitresses will even remember what you like to drink; you’ll notice a personal touch. The strings of welcome beads you discover around your neck tend to be financed by the nickel slots, and the treats here are unique. Mermaids is between the Golden Gate and the Golden Nugget on Freemont Street, downtown.
Snacksat Mermaids Casino and Lounge include the 99 cent Fried Twinky. They also have Fried Oreos and a Chocolate Covered Banana on a stick. If that’s too radical, you can also get a Nathan’s hot dog for 99 cents at the Snack Bar.
Snacks in Las Vegas have traditionally included a Shrimp Cocktail Special. I believe that tradition started at the Golden Gate downtown on Fremont Street over forty years ago. Sometime their menu changes faster than their Marquis, so remember to verify the price. Nowadays just about everyone has some form of Shrimp Cocktail Special priced between 99 cents and $2.99, so look around for it, both downtown, and in many of the smaller casinos on The Strip.
All You Can Eat Buffets
If anywhere is famous for their buffets, it’s Las Vegas! Almost every casino has one, so we’ll only focus on a few of my favorites that have personality. There was a day when buffets represented the best deal in town. They are still a great deal for what you get; but with the Las Vegas transition into a family destination, the cost of food has gone up across the board to reflect the lack of gambling by minors.
In general, the lower priced buffets will charge an extra $5 for all you can eat crab legs and shrimp on Seafood Night (usually Friday), whereas the higher priced buffets will serve seafood every night. Another thing to note is that buffets generally charge the same price for Sunday Brunch as for their regular evening Dinner. Most buffets also present an assortment of Asian food in addition to any other international cuisine.
Breakfast buffets will run from $4 to as much as $10 less than the regular Dinner price. And Lunch buffets will usually cost between $3 and $7 less than Dinner. The listed price for the following buffets will be the regular Dinner amount unless noted otherwise.
Located at Main Street Station, this international buffet is likely the best choice in the downtown area. The selection of Asian dishes is respectable here. Garden Court Buffet only charges $10.99 on most nights, and a Buy1 Get 1 coupon is usually available online. Their Friday Seafood Buffet runs $5 more, on Thursday they have a Filet Mignon & Scampi Buffet for only $3 more, and a T-Bone Buffet on Tuesday for $3 more. Dinner starts at 4 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. This has been one of my favorite places to eat downtown, for years. I also have to remember to save room for the deserts here. (Just one block north of the Fremont Street Experience on Main Street, and connected to the California Hotel by an over-the-street walkway.)
Le Village Buffet
I’m a sucker for French cuisine, and this buffet is probably my very favorite, anywhere in town. At Paris, Le Village Buffet only serves food from the different regions of France; it is not a world buffet. If the $24.99 price is too steep, you might consider going in for late lunch, which is served until 3:30 p.m. By arriving around 3 p.m. and casually enjoying a two hour meal with someone special, you will just be finishing around 5 p.m., and you will only have paid $17.99 a piece for a fabulous meal that would run north of $49 in any other city. Le Village Buffet serves the same selections for lunch as they do for dinner, except for the choices in shellfish, and they don’t close down between Lunch and Dinner. Be sure to find the made-to-order crapes for desert! The line at Le Village is always long, so plan for that too. (On The Strip across from the Bellagio, near Flamingo Road.)
French Market Buffet
If you are looking for more of a bargain, while still in The Strip area, the French Market Buffet is inside the Orleans. Don’t let the name fool you; for $13.99 you can enjoy this multi-national all you can eat treat between 4 and 9 p.m. Lunch is about half the price; but they clear the dining room between meals here, so you can’t stay through into dinner. They also offer Friday Seafood for $5 more, and Wednesday Steak for $2 more. This is another locals hang out, so the lines can get long; but they usually move pretty quickly, except on Senior Tuesdays when the lines seem to grow beyond expectation. (About a mile west of The Strip on Tropicana Avenue.)
Most casinos also offer specials of some sort in their 24 hour cafés. Some specials are always available, and other specials are not on the menu, but are available by specific request! Here are a few of the many specials, starting with the Downtown area.
SPOTLIGHT: The California Hotel
The California Hotel seems like it could be renamed the Hawaiian Hotel, as they specialize in Pacific Island specialties. For example, this is one of the few places to find Spam on a menu. And their best lunch is in a place called Aloha Specialties. For cheap drinks The California offers Heineken and Corona for $2 in all of their casino bars, 24 hours a day. Located at Ogden and Main Street, it is one block north of Fremont St, and behind the Las Vegas Club. The California Hotel is also connected to Main Street Station by an over-the-street walkway.
Located inside the California, Aloha Specialties has an assortment of cash specials available between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Chicken Super Bowl for $2.85 is served over rice with either gravy or teriyaki sauce. You can enjoy a Hamburger with macaroni salad for $2.85, a Chicken Tofu Saimin Noodles or a Loco Moco for $4.75. Loco Moco is a bowl of rice with fried egg and a hamburger patty drenched in gravy. Or a Large Saimin Noodles dish for $5. The Market Street Café offers a Prime Rib Special for $7.95. The Prime Rib is served between 4 and 11 p.m. and comes with soup or salad, potato, vegetable, and a desert! Reservations are recommended at Pasta Pirate which is more than just a pasta house. They are offering what is likely the classiest dinner deal in town! Steak and Lobster Tail with a choice of pasta, potato or rice, plus a saladand a glass of Wine for only $16.
Four Queens is part of the Fremont Street Experience. Inside Four Queens, Magnolia’s Veranda offers a Prime Rib Dinner between 4 p.m. and midnight for $9.95. The special comes with soup or salad, choice of potato, vegetable of the day, and a roll.
Player’s Card holders get a $2 discount on the special. Magnolia’s also runs a Buy 1 Get 1 offer on line as part of the Fremont Street Experience. This 24 hour café is upstairs and overlooks the casino, so if you’d rather more of a restaurant feel, ask to be seated in the back room. (Located between Fitzgerald’s and the Golden Nugget.)
In The Strip area, most of the deals are a few blocks away. This is their bribe to get you off The Strip.
Bougainvillea Café, at Terrible’s Casino & Hotel offers two specials that are not on the menu; you have to ask your server for them specifically. The Half-Chicken Dinner is $5.99 and the T-bone Steak Dinner is $9.99. You can also find many other selections priced between $4.99 and $6.99. Located upstairs in the Mezzanine level, this 24 hour café has Mexican, Chinese and American selections. The Chinese food is better than you get in most casino buffets, and there is nothing terrible about these values! And for an even better deal, look for their Buy 1 Get 1 offers. Bougainvillea is also famous for their very large portions, so come hungry; you’ll find the food is better than it needs to be for the price. So if you’ve been down on your luck and want some good food for less, this is the spot. (On Paradise Road, about a mile east of The Strip, by Flamingo Road. Only a block away, the Hard Rock Hotel is within walking distance.)
Mr Lucky’s 24/7
The café at the Hard Rock Hotel offers a Gambler’s Special for $7.77 that is not on the menu. This is a Steak with three grilled Shrimp, salad, and a choice of broccoli or potato. The Gambler’s Special is available 24 hours a day, but you do have to remember to ask for it specifically. Mr Lucky’s 24/7 has large comfortable tables, generous portions, good service, reasonably short lines, and a nice selection of beer. (On Paradise Road, about a mile east of The Strip, by Harmon Avenue.)
Where to Get Cheap Drinks
First a little note of caution; the “free drinks” in the casinos for gamblers are not all that free. If you can stay on your budget while alcohol happy, go for it. But the casinos have found that alcohol happy gamblers spend much more than sober ones!
Many of the restaurants in Las Vegas offer Happy Hour Specials; often a two drinks for the price of one type of thing.
On The Strip, O’sheas Casino offers Domestic Draft Brews for $2. I’ve seen Beer Pong played here, and this is the only place I’ve ever seen Casino Backgammon. The crowd tends to be under thirty, and everything here is on the cheap. Try to imagine a Frat House Party with the Sorority Girls in attendance. O’sheas Casino is tucked in between the Imperial Palace and the Flamingo.
Benny’s Bullpen in Binion’s Horseshoe serves Miller Lite, Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort for $2. Next to the Sports Book, Benny’s Bullpen is a more comfortable place to kick back with a few drinks while watching your game. Benny’s Bullpen also runs a $10 Pizza and Pitcher special… best with friends. (Downtown in the middle of the Fremont Street Experience.)
If you prefer cheap mixed drinks, The Plaza serves Well Drinks for $2.50 all the time. The Plaza was once a fabulous new casino, but that was eons ago. Nowadays they tend to attract the cheapskates and low-life’s. To make this work for you just remember to generously tip your waitress and smile; she won’t be expecting it, so you’re likely to get better service than anyone else. If you’re looking for glitz, this is the wrong place; if not, the Sports Book may be the best place to hang out. The Plaza is on the Main Street side of The Fremont Street Experience.
Nightclubs and Lounges With No Cover Charge
Locals have free access almost everywhere, and most of the time. Seeing that sign can really irritate you if you happen to be from out of town. Ladies also get treated special at many of the Las Vegas clubs; on Ladies’ Night the drinks are often free until 11 p.m. – for ladies only.
Although the drinks may not be free for most of us, here are some of the clubs that usually have no cover charge – so you can regulate your expenses according to what you drink while dancing and having a blast.
Caramel Bar & Loungeat the Bellagio is a hybrid high energy dance club and smooth intimate ultra lounge combination. Chocolate oversized leather furniture under warm caramel lighting, accented by a marble topped center island, creates a warm and inviting ambience that delivers both comfort and sophistication. The dance floor is animated by local DJs turning Hip-hop and Top 40 hits. And a light appetizer menu is available between 5 and 9 p.m. to compliment the full service bar. Since proper club attire is required, bling is not out of place here. You’ll find that this is the perfect place to kick back with friends, or spend some intimate time with someone special.
Cleopatra’s Barge Nightclub atCaesar’s Palace has reinvented itself to attract a younger crowd than in the past. Cleopatra’s Barge has a floating dance floor with DJs turning R&B and Classic Rock hits through the night. This Egyptian themed dance club is served by a full bar, with tables scattered across the “dry land” and a few more tables “on deck” that are usually reserved. If you’re looking for a quiet romantic spot, this may not be it; but if you just want to have fun, this is the place for you.
Mist Bar & Loungeat Treasure Island is a fusion of two ideas. On the one hand Mist is very similar to the Caramel Bar & Lounge, just a little darker and bit more intimate. With Persian rugs, dark leather lounge style couches, warm ambient overhead panels, candle lit coffee tables, and potted plants, against dark burgundy walls, Mist is the perfect hotspot to mingle with close friends or unwind with a little romance in mind. DJs spin a tasteful blend of Hip-hop, Rock, and the popular current hits at a volume that allows a comfortable mixture of conversational privacy, intimacy, and people watching. On the other hand, Mist also sports an oversized plasma TV for game night and a few beers with the guys. This is like partying in a larger version of your own truly cool living room!
Level 107 Lounge, (formerly the Romance Lounge,) at the Stratosphere, located on the north end of the fabulous Las Vegas Strip, features the most spectacular views in town. Level 107 Lounge sits on a circular balcony high up in the Stratosphere Tower. Low lights and a deep red décor combined with great cocktails and incredible breathtaking views, make this a great place to unwind or to create a most memorable experience. Level 107 also overlooks the restaurant which makes appetizers available. Live music by Afterglow between 9 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. is a plus on Wednesday through Saturday nights. Afterglow has a unique sound that combines Jazz, Pop, and Contemporary music.
SPOTLIGHT: The Silverton Hotel
The Silverton Hotel is worth a mention here. It is no where near anything on the Las Vegas Strip, but if you just happen to have some extra time on the way in or out of Las Vegas from the Los Angeles direction, or if you simply want to get out of the traffic if your timing allows, there are several deals here. They have no choice but to bribe you since they are so out of the way from Las Vegas proper. Although, they do have easy freeway access at Highway 15 and Blue Diamond Road!
The Silverton Hotel has an aquarium as their major attraction. This is no ordinary aquarium as you can expect to see mermaids in addition to 4,000 tropical fish (including three species of stingray and three species of shark.) The room sized curved acrylic tank is located by the bar, and the mermaids put on a 15 minute show every half hour throughout the afternoon and evenings on Thursday through Sunday. During the day, everyday, you can also watch the sharks and stingrays being fed in the afternoon at 1:30 and 4:30 or in the evening at 7:30 p.m. There are also a few creatively lit small jellyfish aquariums in the bar.
At the bar they serve Miller Genuine Draft for $1, and the show is free. While you’re there, the Sundance Grill serves a sirloin steak, golden fried shrimp, soup or salad, and your choice of baked potato, rice, or fries for only $12.99.
Have a Lot of Fun for Less
With these tips it is possible to eat for under $20 a day, and still get as much as you want.
A few things to remember though: Most of the Las Vegas employees get paid next to nothing, and actually live off of their tips. Typical tips start at $1 to $2. If you happen to be a winner, you might tip a little more; you’ll be surprised at the increased quality of service when you do. So please remember to appreciate the service, especially when it is excellent.
For further savings and to avoid tipping situations, here are a few suggestions:
Avoid Room Service! Room Service always includes additional charges and requires a tip for your server. Most all of the hotels have a 24 hour Café that will cost you much less. Also refer to the deals mentioned above.
Watch Your Beverages! Soft Drink and Bottled Water prices are designed to make up for the food deals in Las Vegas. Beverage prices tend to run $4 and $5 a piece. So if you want water, just ask for a glass of water, (it’s free and it taste good here.) Wine is more affordable by the bottle than for a few glasses. And brewed Coffee or Tea tends to be priced more normally.