GREAT DEALS IN VEGAS DINING.

One of the most frequent complaints we hear from Vegas visitors is about restaurants: sure, there’s incredible dining here—if you can afford it. But if you don’t go to the very best places, everything else is overpriced and mediocre, right? Well, no. There are actually a lot of cheap eating options that don’t suck. But we’ll admit, they aren’t always the easiest to find. That’s why we’re here for you.

Ask most people in Vegas about a cheap place to eat, and they’re going to send you in one of four directions: Buffets, Food Courts, Happy Hours, and Burger Joints (we mean the nicer ones, not McD’s). We’ll be covering all of those in separate articles soon enough, but first we want to talk about a few favorites that are totally great places which won’t violate your wallet.

by E.C. Gladstone for JackColton.com.

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Julian Serrano – Aria

The award-winning and world-renowned chef of Bellagio’s super-fancy Picasso created this open-walled Spanish-designed café as a mod tribute to his home country’s casual cooking. So the menu offers a huge selection of familiar and exotic small plates (including nearly a dozen vegetarian ones) mostly between $10-16, and the paellas which serve at least two people go for $40-50. Open lunch to late night. Hit it up before Haze or after Liquid pool.

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La Cave – Wynn

The Wynn’s dark wine bar (also one of our favorite sexy scenes LINK) looks like it’s going to be expensive. But here’s the shocker: it’s actually one of the cheapest places to eat at the resort, as long as you don’t over-order. Creative flatbreads for two range from $13-16, nice salads and small plates start under $10, or you can split a $33 cheese and charcuterie board and just hang out over a couple glasses or cocktails. Prime place to pre-party before Surrender, XS, Tryst, or after the Encore Beach Club (open for lunch, too).

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Simon – Palms Place

You’d think the namesake restaurant of a celebrity chef would be pricey, but Kerry Simon’s all-day restaurant, sushi bar and lounge can be totally cheap, even for dinner, if you pay attention to the first half of the menu. Salads, starters, pizzas and sandwiches are all well priced and sharable, and the cute servers aren’t going to judge if that’s all you get (believe us, that’s how they eat). The tuna dynamite here is a sure thing, and the burgers are some of the very best in town, at any price. And the eye candy on the pool deck it overlooks is a free bonus.

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KJ Dim Sum and Seafood – Rio

These days, it isn’t hard to find good Chinese food in Vegas, if you’re willing to go off-Strip to Spring Mountain Blvd. But inside the casinos it can be less reliable. Luckily the Rio got the hint and convinced local KJ Kitchen to open a second location, with an eye on competing directly against next door Gold Coast’s revered Ping Pang Pong. PPP is still a good call, but KJ really trumps them for freshness, a nicer room, and even a bit of variety. Shanghai soup dumplings, ground shrimp and pork with greens, and egg custard cups are all must-haves. There’s no way you’ll spend more than $20 per person here unless you go totally totally overboard. Go here after the party pool, or even an early club night (they’re open until 2 AM).

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Serendipity 3 – Caesars Palace

Yes, Serendipity 3–spun off the New York City spot–looks a bit touristy and kiddish, but there’s a reason people are actually willing to wait for tables here: It’s cheap, and it’s good. Just about everything hovers around $15, and most everything is so huge it has to be shared. Yeah, we know there are other places with ‘huge” food that get a lot of attention, but we’re not sending you there. We’re sending you here. And you’ll thank us. ABC Burger, Summer Bries, the massive Vegas Strip Steak sandwich, and Forbidden Broadway sundae are all go-tos. Get the balsamic strawberry cream waffles or fried eggs benedict for breakfast and you’ll remember it all day long. Tip: Serendipity 3 is located directly on The Strip in front of Caesars Palace.

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Jean-Phillipe Patisserie – Bellagio and Aria

World class patissier Jean-Phillipe Maurier’s two cafes are not just destinations for fancy French pastries. They also make gelato, sweet and savory crepes, chocolates, espresso drinks, jams and preserves. Daily-made sandwiches and salads hover around $10, definitely a good call for a healthy-ish quick bite. Between the two, I’d lean towards the Aria location (better seating, and open daily from 6 AM to midnight), but if you’re in or near Bellagio, go there.

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Slice of Vegas – Mandalay Place

Ironically, we’re not recommending Slice for their pizza slices (which are a little expensive, to be honest) but for nearly everything else this casual Italian restaurant/bar serves for lunch and dinner. For $10-15, their 12” pizzas are a total deal (the “Ten Meat” is beyond decadent, Il Mangino and 4Cheese Truffle are also both great), likewise the $13 pasta bowls, and for something lighter, Romelia’s salad is a large portion house specialty. Good beer selection too, and big enough to bring a group without worrying.

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Red Velvet Café – Fashion Show Mall

Plunked into the cleavage between the mall’s central escalators, this little salad, wrap and dessert spot may not look like it will change your life. But if you’re vegetarian/vegan or traveling with one, it may well save yours. Red Velvet is one of very few places on the Strip where you can get good, fresh Veggie options under $10, including many vegan desserts that even a carnivore could love (like the namesake one). They open for breakfast (big egg white muffins, made to order) before the rest of the mall, making it actually a really mellow morning hang.

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Earl of Sandwich – Planet Hollywood and Palms

If you’re a fan or Quiznos or similar counters, this small chain is actually better and (at least on the Strip) cheaper, making hot deli sandwiches to order with a bit of creative quality and flair. Soup’s good too, and it’s open 24 hours. Seriously are you going to get anything else decent under $10 at 3 AM? The answer is No.

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Secret/Nameless Pizza – The Cosmopolitan

Whatever you call it (there’s no official name) the pizza counter hidden at the end of a long hallway on the Cosmopolitan’s level three restaurant center might be the very best dining deal on the Strip. And not just because it’s cheap (pizza slices and beers both start around the $4.50 mark) but because it’s also GOOD. And open until 3 AM. They will let you sample the toppings—many made in house—before you decide, too. I like the white pizza as well as the standard red sauce. Got a crowd? Just order a whole pizza, they’re around $22, and apparently no one minds if you eat them outside in the rotunda.

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GOING DOWNTOWN?

Let us give you three good calls on Fremont Street….

Downtown: Island Sushi & Hawaiian Grill, located in the Plaza Hotel; Binion’s Snack Bar located at Binion’s (it’s nothing to look at but the food is solid), Café Cortez at El Cortez, open 24 hours (get the matzoh ball soup. No, really).

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