Restaurant Alizé dining room
updated 9/12/2006 1:18:43 PM ET 2006-09-12T17:18:43

A number of celebrity chefs are cooking in Vegas, awakening us to the opinion that Vegas's rep for lackluster restaurants is no longer deserved.

Best Restaurant to Blow Your Money On: You could lighten your wallet at the craps table -- and why not? -- or you could spend that same amount, and take a lot longer doing so, exalting in the culinary work being done at Alex Strada's (tel. 702/770-9966) and Paul Bartolotta's (tel. 702/770-9966) eponymous places in Wynn Las Vegas, and Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys (tel. 877/632-9200) at Mandalay Place. Meals come dear at all three places, but each is turning out works of edible art, from three different inspired sources of creation. To us, this is what Vegas indulgence is all about, and the memories make us much happier than our losses at the table.

Best All Around: Given our druthers, we are hard-pressed to choose between Alizé (tel. 702/951-7000), at the top of the Palms, where nearly flawless dishes often compete with the sparkling view for sheer delight, and Rosemary's Restaurant (tel. 702/869-2251), a 20-minute drive off the Strip and worth twice as much effort, for some Southern-influenced cooking. Each of these may well put the work of those many high-profile chefs, so prominently featured all over town, to shame. Lastly, though, speaking of high-profile chefs, we have just sworn allegiance to Thomas Keller's Bouchon (tel. 702/414-6200), in The Venetian's expansion, Venezia. Keller may be the best chef in America, and while this is simply his take on classic bistro food, you should never underestimate the joys of simple food precisely prepared. We also never ever turn down a chance to eat what Julian Serrano is making over at Picasso (tel. 702/693-7223).

Best Inexpensive Meal: The beautiful, fresh, monster submarine sandwiches at Capriotti's (tel. 702/474-0229). They roast their own beef and turkey on the premises and assemble it (or cold cuts, or even vegetables) into delicious well-stuffed submarine sandwiches, ranging in size from 9 to 20 inches, and none of them over $10. We never leave town without one . . . or two.

Best Buffet: On the Strip, it's the Paris, Le Village Buffet (tel. 888/266-5687), where the stations break from standard form by adhering to regional French food specialties (from places such as Provence, Alsace, and Burgundy) and the results are much better than average. Though not cheap, this is a reasonable substitute for an even more costly fancy meal. If you want something a little more traditional buffet -- as in, one not devoted to one particular cuisine -- Wynn Las Vegas (tel. 702/770-3340) is terrific all the way, even through the usual buffet weakness, dessert. The Palms Festival Market Buffet (tel. 702/942-7777) offers the best of the more budget-oriented options, with an array of Middle Eastern goodies and some eccentric additions to the ubiquitous carving stations. Downtown, the Main Street Station Garden Court, 200 N. Main St. (tel. 702/387-1896), has an incredible buffet: all live-action stations (where the food is made in front of you, sometimes to order); wood-fired brick-oven pizzas; fresh, lovely salsas and guacamole in the Mexican section; and better-than-average desserts.

Best Sunday Champagne Brunch: Head for Bally's, at Mid-Strip, where the lavish Sterling Sunday Brunch (tel. 702/967-7999) features tables dressed with linen and silver. The buffet itself has everything from caviar and lobster to sushi and sashimi, plus fancy entrees that include the likes of roast duckling with black-currant and blueberry sauce.

Best Group Budget Meal Deal: Capriotti's again -- a large sandwich can feed two with leftovers, for about $5 each. Or split a bowl of soup at the Grand Wok and Sushi Bar (tel. 702/891-7777), in the MGM. This pan-Asian restaurant offers a variety of soups in such generous portions that four people can make a decent meal out of one serving.

Best Bistro: We ate nearly the entire menu at Bouchon (tel. 702/414-6200), from Thomas Keller, in The Venetian, and didn't find a misstep, just what you might expect from one of the most critically lauded chefs in the country. But don't overlook Mon Ami Gabi (tel. 702/944-4224), in the Paris Las Vegas hotel. Offering lovely, reasonably priced bistro fare (steak and pommes frites, onion soup), it's also a charming spot.

Best Restaurant Interiors: The designers ran amok in the restaurants of Mandalay Bay. At Aureole (tel. 877/632-1766), a four-story wine tower requires that a pretty young thing be hauled up in a harness a la Peter Pan to fetch your chosen vintage. The post-Communist party decor at Red Square (tel. 702/632-7407) is topped only by the fire-and-water walls at neighboring rumjungle (tel. 702/632-7408). And then there is the futuristic fantasy of Mix (tel. 877-632-1766), on top of THEhotel, where stunning sky-high views of the Strip compete with a giant beaded curtain made of hand-blown glass balls, to say nothing of silver "pods" in lieu of booths.

Best Spot for a Romantic Dinner: Alizé, at the top of the Palms, has windows on three sides of the dining room, with no other buildings around for many blocks. You get an unobstructed view of all of Vegas, the desert, and the mountains from every part of the restaurant, not just the window seats. Seriously, aren't you in the mood already?

Best Spot for a Celebration: Let's face it, no one parties like the Red Party, so head to Red Square, in Mandalay Bay, where you can have caviar and vodka in the ultimate capitalist revenge. If you have deep pockets, get a table atop the stairwell at Mix, and watch the Strip twinkle below.

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Best Free Show at Dinner: Daniel Boulard Brasserie (tel. 702/770-9966) at Wynn Las Vegas provides front-and-center seating of the strange yet compelling Lake of Dreams show. And then there is the vista offered by the restaurants in Bellagio (Picasso, Le Cirque, Olives, and Circo), which are grouped to take advantage of the view of the dancing water fountains.

Best Wine List: It's a competitive market in Vegas for such a title, and with sommeliers switching around, it's hard to guarantee any wine list will retain its quality. Still, you can't go wrong at Mandalay Bay's Aureole (tel. 877/632-1766), which has the largest collection of Austrian wines outside of that country, among other surprises.

Best Beer List: Rosemary's Restaurant' (tel. 702/869-2251) offers "beer pairings" suggestions with most of its menu options, and includes some curious and fun brands, including fruity Belgian numbers.

Best View: Mix and Alizé win with their floor-to-ceiling window views, but there is something to be said for seeing all of Vegas from the revolving Top of the World (tel. 702/380-7711), 106 stories off the ground in the Stratosphere Casino Hotel & Tower.

Best Eclectic: Many celebrity-chef or other high-profile restaurants in Vegas are disappointments because said chef isn't in the kitchen. But Charlie Palmer's Aureole (tel. 877/632-1766), in Mandalay Bay, hits all the right gourmet notes with its clever, sophisticated cuisine.

Best Italian: You won't find anything more authentic outside of Italy than at Bartolotta, at Wynn Las Vegas. Given that the chef has his fish flown in daily from the Mediterranean, this also wins "best seafood." For Tuscan cuisine at slightly less dear prices, Circo (tel. 702/693-8150), in Bellagio, is terrific.

Best Deli: Wars are fought over less, so all you New Yorkers can square off between Stage Deli (tel. 702/893-4045), in Caesars, or Carnegie Deli (tel. 702/791-7310), in The Mirage. The rest of us will find out mouths too packed with pastrami to weigh in.

Best New Orleans Cuisine: Emeril's Delmonico Steakhouse (tel. 702/631-1000), in The Venetian, brings the celebrity chef's "Bam!" cuisine to the other side of the Mississippi, and we are glad, while we are perhaps even gladder that Commander's Palace has an outlet in Aladdin.

Best Red Meat: Lawry's The Prime Rib, 4043 Howard Hughes Pkwy. (tel. 702/893-2223), has such good prime rib it's hard to imagine ever having any better. If you want cuts other than prime rib, Charlie Palmer's (tel. 702/632-5120), in the Four Seasons, has some of the best steaks in town, though the more budget-conscious might want to either split the enormous cuts or try the justly popular Austins Steakhouse (tel. 702/631-1033).

And since we have strayed from the subject of wine to other parts of the liquor world, Isla has an impressive tequila collection. Then there is Shibuya, in the MGM Grand, which has the largest sake list of any restaurant in the country.

Best Restaurant Booze

We could have said "best wine cellars," but that felt too exclusive -- what if you don't want to swish and swirl, but do shots? The point is, Vegas is increasingly an oeniphile's delight, but other parts of the alcohol spectrum have not been neglected in the process. Some of the following is silly, meant as show-off, one-for-the-record books, as much as anything else, but even in those cases, there is a serious wine person behind the glitz, doing very good work.

Alizé has the largest "large format" collection, as in larger than a standard 750 bottle, so think magnum, double magnum, and so on. Wynn Las Vegas has on site a 90,000-bottle central storage for their wine -- that's in addition to storage in individual restaurants. The four-story wine cellar at Aureole, from which choices are plucked by comely lasses hauled up and down by harnesses, is surely the most dramatic in town. Nifty little electronic gadgets containing all the choices, with recommendations for pairing just a flick of a button away, only add to the fun. Bartolotta has an all-Italian wine list -- an extremely daring move in wine circles.

A master sommelier can be found at Picasso, and a third at Delmonico Steakhouse. And one more works magic at Alex, while still another, while now Alex's front of house manager, was originally sommelier at Chef Strada's Renoir restaurant, where he came up with the welcome idea of offering a specially priced 1-ounce pairing of Chateau D'Yquem with foie gras.

The Grand Award of Excellence, from Wine Spectator magazine, was created especially for Valentino restaurant -- the one in Los Angeles admittedly, but obviously there must be sibling benefits. Rosemary's caters not to a tourist crowd, but a connoisseur crowd, and their list reflects it. But just for fun, they also offer beer pairings!

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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  1. Welcome to Las Vegas

    The Bellagio's fountain show entertains visitors nightly. In the background is Bally's Las Vegas, left, and Paris Las Vegas, which has a 50-story Eiffel Tower replica in front. Over 37.5 million people visit Las Vegas each year. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Located in downtown Las Vegas, this exciting pedestrian promenade is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world. (Brian Jones / Las Vegas News Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Looking for Lady Luck

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  4. Dunking Elvis

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  5. Grand casinos

    Lights from passing vehicles are seen in front of the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Poker face

    Jamie Gold, right, of California and Paul Wasicka of Colorado go head-to-head on the final table of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino on Aug. 11, 2006, in Las Vegas. Gold outlasted more than 8,700 other poker players to win the top prize of $12 million. Wasicka won just over $6.1 million for finishing second. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glitz and glamour

    A Canon display is seen inside the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is the nation's top business travel destination, with easy airline access, numerous hotel rooms, low rates, plentiful convention facilities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options. (Karl Polverino / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Over-the-top entertainment

    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on June 27, 2006, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A New York minute

    The New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recreates the Manhattan skyline, complete with replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Entertainment mecca

    Kenny Chesney performs "Out Last Night" at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 5, 2009. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tying the knot

    From left, Elvis Presley impersonator Norm Jones plays guitar as Bruce Barnett of Virginia Beach, Va., escorts his daughter Gayle to her wedding ceremony at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Graceland is the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas and offers ceremonies with or without Elvis impersonators. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    The $25 million, newly redesigned volcano display in front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino features 150 choreographed FireShooters sending fireballs more than 12 feet in the air and a custom soundtrack created by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Mirage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A night on the Strip

    Hotels and casinos line the Las Vegas Strip. From thrilling roller coasters to erupting volcanos to art museums, Las Vegas' many attractions appeal to people of all ages and interests. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fight night

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  15. Day at the races

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  16. Fabulous shopping

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  17. Stunning shows

    Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (Joan Marcus / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A slice of Italy

    Visitors take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Get into the groove

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  20. Let’s get this party started

    Party goers gather for the grand opening of LAX Nightclub Las Vegas in 2007. (Chris Weeks / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big laughs

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  22. A kingly stay

    The Excalibur Hotel and Casino features a castle motif with newly refurbished hotel rooms. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A dancing fountain

    Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of The Bellagio's fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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