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Las Vegas’ culinary war continues to escalate with fresh entrants from Los Angeles, New York and much farther east.
When Roy Choi opens Best Friend — his first eatery outside L.A. — at Park MGM on Dec. 28 (it bows unofficially nine days earlier), it will be “a remixed and remastered collection of the evolution of our Los Angeles — its food, its music, its culture,” says the chef behind Kogi trucks and A-Frame. “It’s Koreatown in a capsule.” The spot will be fronted by a “liquor store” serving boozy slushies and a handful of guests each night will be treated to a real in-the-kitchen chef’s table.
“I hope it’s fun, first and foremost. I want it to make everyone smile as they walk through,” Choi says. “The liquor store is going to be bustling and busy. There is going to be eye candy everywhere, good music playing, great bar snacks, Kogi tacos and hot dogs and slushies flowing. We have this 32 oz. Big Gulp cup with the handle and the red top — the flavors will be strawberry mango, or lemon-lime.”
Adjacent to Best Friend, L.A. nightlife maestros Jonnie and Mark Houston (Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, Black Rabbit Rose and the carnival-themed, politics-tinged Madame Siam Sideshow Emporium) are likewise set to make their first impact outside L.A.: On the Record (enter through a real record store) opens Dec. 28, with Shepard Fairey as its inaugural artist collaborator.
Vegas’ 40,000-square-foot Eataly also is set to open at Park MGM, on Dec. 27, featuring the food emporium’s first-ever 12-seat Aperol Spritz and Negroni bar, L’Aperitivo Bar, at its entrance. There will also be sit-down restaurants brimming with pasta and pizza, plus fast-casual counters with Italian street food, a hand-pulled mozzarella bar, and coffee, gelato and cannoli stations. (Park MGM, formerly the Monte Carlo, and its hotel-in-hotel NoMad Las Vegas is a partnership between MGM Resorts and boutique hotel group Sydell Group.)
Also new this fall, the first western-U.S. Cipriani, a favorite of Jennifer Lopez and A-Rod, Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio, opened at Wynn Plaza — a luxury shopping, wellness and dining enclave fronting the Wynn and Encore resorts. The spot’s upstairs neighbor is longtime L.A. favorite Urth Caffé, bringing Spanish lattes to the desert.
Over at Palazzo, Asian restaurant Mott 32 makes its U.S. debut Dec. 24, joining locations in Vancouver and Hong Kong. The space will be a convergence of New York industrialism, classic Chinese design and flashes of Vegas eccentricity with neon signs and a dining table made from a vintage roulette wheel. The food presents Hong Kong delicacies in a cosmopolitan, modern way — signatures include crispy triple-cooked Wagyu beef short rib, barbecue Pluma Iberico pork with Yellow Mountain honey and South Australian lobster har gow.
Electra Cocktail Club recently joined Dorsey and Rosina to complete Venetian/Palazzo’s cocktail bar trio (all with drink menus by Sam Ross of New York’s Attaboy). Electra focuses on rums, agricoles and mezcals and features a 40-foot digital display — the highest resolution in Las Vegas — with original art made of 70 million pixels and more than one billion colors.
Just off the Strip, Palms Casino is seeing a resurgence thanks to a $690 million redo and what is now arguably Vegas’ top art collection with names such as Murakami and Warhol. On Nov. 19, acclaimed Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri, who cooked at Jimmy Kimmel’s 2018 Oscar party, debuted Vetri Cucina on the 56th floor.
And on Dec. 13, prolific TV chef Michael Symon cuts the ribbon on his first Vegas spot, Mabel’s BBQ, a spinoff of the Cleveland original. The James Beard Award and Iron Chef winner is packing the location with fun thanks to a back patio with games, a custom food truck and a first-of-its kind “Meat-easy” called Sara’s. Also debuting at the Palms in early 2019: Hong Kong-born, Michelin-starred dim sum spot Tim Ho Wan, which recently opened its second New York City location, and seafood with a Latin flair at Shark from Bobby Flay.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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