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Dining

Burgers vs. pizza: Which food rules in Las Vegas?

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Executive chef Richard Camarota cuts a pizza at FIVE50 Pizza Bar on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 inside Aria at CityCenter in Las Vegas.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Mario Batali just opened his first burger joint, B&B Burger & Beer, at Venetian. Gordon Ramsay beat Batali by a year when the Hell’s Kitchen star debuted his BurGR at Planet Hollywood. They’re not the first celebrity chefs to focus on burgers, fries and shakes on the Las Vegas Strip, and they won’t be the last—Bobby’s Burger Palace by Bobby Flay is coming to Crystals later this year.

Gordon Ramsay hosts a tour at Gordon Ramsay BurGR in Planet Hollywood on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

Gordon Ramsay hosts a tour at Gordon Ramsay BurGR in Planet Hollywood on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

It seems simple American hamburgers are the hot food trend that just won’t go away. Though Las Vegas’ dining scene is more vast than the casino resorts that light up Las Vegas boulevard, there’s no question the Strip defines the scene, and whatever pops up there will likely spread throughout the rest of the Vegas Valley. Burgers have always been big. Whether tourists are making their regular pilgrimages to In-N-Out or returning to Hubert Keller’s genre-defining Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, this classic meal is inherently associated with eating in Las Vegas. Most casinos make sure they have a specifically burger-centric option on premises, from Cosmopolitan’s Holsteins to the Rio’s BK Whopper Bar, an upgraded Burger King spin-off. Fancy shopping malls need beef on buns, too, like Stripburger at Fashion Show and the new Ketchup Premium Burger Bar at Miracle Mile. The two most-famous burger joints in the country not in Las Vegas will both be here by year’s end—Shake Shack and Umami Burger.

The Gotham at Five50 Pizza Bar is worth a taste.

We are, without a doubt, burger crazy. But is that our top trend? Perhaps pizza is where it’s at.

Last year’s opening of Five50 Pizza Bar at Aria, the first-ever casual restaurant from acclaimed chef Shawn McClain, marked a tipping point. Vegas casinos need pizza now. Cosmopolitan opened in late 2010 with two high-quality pizza experiences at D.O.C.G. and the “secret” pizzeria. Wolfgang Puck opened a French bistro on the Strip a year earlier then quickly converted it to his Pizzeria & Cucina restaurant. In about a year’s time, Mandalay Place has added Slice of Vegas, MGM Grand has added Project Pie, and Grimaldi’s has landed at both Palazzo and Fashion Show. Treasure Island dumped its Italian restaurant but kept the pizza with Francesco’s. And in 2014, the Strip will get Flour & Barley at the Linq, Pin Up Pizza at Planet Hollywood, and two of Southern California’s 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzerias, near New York-New York and at the new SLS. That’s a lot of pie.

The growing nationwide popularity of different styles (like traditional Neapolitan) and the diversification of fast-casual pizza companies may be overtaking the long-dominant burger-slinging biz. Throughout Las Vegas, pizza was huge in 2013. At least three pizza shops opened in our buzzing Downtown. When one of them, Radio City, vacated its neighborhood spot at Tivoli Village, a new one, Pizza Lounge, took its place. New create-your-own concepts like Custom Built and Novecento found and fed local audiences, and one of our most popular pizzerias, Settebello, opened a second, larger location in the west-side suburbs.

Bobby Flay will be the next celeb chef to open a burger joint on the Las Vegas Strip.

Bobby Flay will be the next celeb chef to open a burger joint on the Las Vegas Strip.

Both pizza and burgers work well as casual restaurants or slightly upscaled, both have relatively adjustable price points and both foods are flexible enough to accommodate more expansive menus. But if you think burgers are bigger in Vegas, consider this: Another explosive recent trend is the Strip gastropub, featuring lots of beer and comfortable bar food. Todd English P.U.B. kicked it off at Crystals four years ago, followed by Public House at Venetian, a different Public House at Luxor, Culinary Dropout at Hard Rock, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars, Pub 1842 at MGM Grand and Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay. All these friendly, fun and festive eateries prominently feature burgers on their varied menus.

In Las Vegas, the gastropub concept is a way to offer a burger joint without being limited to just a burger joint. And by the way, before he opened a new branch of his Scarpetta in Las Vegas, celebrity chef Scott Conant said he was inspired by the success of Todd English’s pub to split his space at Cosmopolitan in order to open two restaurants. He wanted to do his own casual concept, D.O.C.G. That would be a point for pizza.

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Brock Radke is Las Vegas Weekly's food editor and author of the Strip-focused column The Incidental Tourist. He has written ...

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