Slide into a booth at a three-meal casino coffee shop and there’s a good chance you’ll find classic Chinese-American food on the menu. We’re talking sweet and sour pork, peppery beef and broccoli, wonton soup, the works.
How did this anomaly originate? It’s a safe assumption that casinos near the Strip began offering Chinese cuisine to satisfy Asian gamblers, utilizing versatile kitchens if there wasn’t a noodle shop on property. Back before Coast Casinos were operated by Boyd Gaming, it was standard practice. Before Ping Pang Pong became one of the city’s best Chinese restaurants at the Gold Coast, the cozy Monterey Room was serving pot stickers and egg foo young alongside chicken fried steak and BLTs.
The saga continues today at Café Siena at Suncoast, Coronado Café at South Point, Café Cortez at El Cortez and the Palms’ 24 Seven Café, which has Fortunes, a restaurant within a restaurant. (Don’t expect Fortunes to be around for long, though, since the Palms is about to open proper Chinese restaurant Lao Sze Chuan a few steps away.)
These casinos, like the newest ones to incorporate Chinese food into a more American menu, are off the Strip and scattered around the Valley, so it’s clearly not tourist appetites that are fueling this phenomenon. Downtown Grand recently shuttered the short-lived Red Mansion eatery but moved its Northern Chinese noodle dishes, dumplings and soups to the menu at the casino’s modern diner-bistro S+O. Don’t be surprised to see crispy beef with carrots and Sichuan fish in spicy garlic sauce available between burgers and breakfast burritos.
The coffee shop at Fiesta Henderson used to serve Chinese dishes before the restaurant was converted to a Denny’s years ago. After Station Casinos returned it to Café Fiesta, regular diners started asking when fried rice and chow mein would be back on the menu. “They weren’t just asking for it; they were saying how good it was before,” room chef Charles Snyder says. “There’s also not a lot of Chinese restaurants in this area.”
The restaurant just re-installed a wok station to accommodate the return of an extensive Chinese menu, and brought in former China Spice chef Andy Vu to train the staff on the finer points of walnut shrimp, Mongolian beef and other in-demand dishes. “When we started we had to train on the wok station at the buffet until installation was complete,” Vu says.
Now things are as they should be, with a neighborhood casino on the outskirts of town offering delicious Chinese food from its coffee shop. Perfectly normal Vegas.