[The Weekly Q&A]

Influential Las Vegas chef Michael Mina is ready to showcase his culinary roots

Michael Mina at Stripsteak at Mandalay Bay.
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Michael Mina is inarguably one of the quintessential chefs of Las Vegas. His first Strip endeavor was Aqua, the spectacular seafood restaurant transplanted from San Francisco that opened with Bellagio in 1998 and eventually transformed into today’s eponymous eatery. Since then, he’s created the Mina Group and its impressive national portfolio, including current Las Vegas highlights Bardot Brasserie, International Smoke and Stripsteak.

Mina has been a full-time Vegas resident for a little over three years now after essentially creating a new headquarters for his team in Southern Nevada. “Everybody wanted to come to Las Vegas,” he says. “It just made a lot of sense, and I’ve always loved it here. And after you move here, you realize you can travel less because everyone you’re on the phone with knows you’re in Las Vegas and they say, ‘Oh, we’ll come to you.’”

It also makes it easier for Mina and company to open the doors at two new Strip restaurants, Orla at Mandalay Bay and Bourbon Steak at Four Seasons, both of which should be serving it up before the Super Bowl.

You were part of a very special dinner event last month celebrating the 25th year of Bellagio. What was that experience like for you?

It was breathtaking, just like Bellagio has been for 25 years. The event and the whole weekend were amazing, just being together with [chefs] Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] and Julian [Serrano] … It was one of those moments in your career that you knew, when they happened, that they were special, and then you get to sit back and have them as memories. I knew then Bellagio would have the biggest effect on my career and now I have so many amazing memories.

Bellagio didn’t just change Las Vegas, it changed the world and the whole face of gaming in a lot of ways. The food and beverage had a lot to do with that, the way it elevated food in casinos. All of a sudden, other hotels said, “We really need to partner with chefs as well,” and a lot of that started in Las Vegas because of Bellagio. It’s been great for us as chefs and great for the industry. And then my restaurant, Michael Mina, which started as Aqua—to be able to walk your parents into Bellagio and have your name on the restaurant, that’s really special.

You did some early consulting on some off-Strip restaurant projects in recent years, but are there any plans to expand with a Mina Group venue out in the neighborhoods?

We’ve definitely thought about it as we’ve lived here longer and started to say to each other, “Maybe we should do something in our neighborhood.” But right now we’re just focused on the two openings on the Strip and highlighting everything we have now in Las Vegas.

Anyone who is a fan of your restaurants is super excited about Orla. How did this concept come together?

I have always loved this cuisine. I’m Egyptian; my father is from Alexandria and my mother is from Cairo. Growing up, I ate a lot of food I thought was Middle Eastern that was actually Greek. There are a lot of crossover dishes that are almost identical, just different spices, and they have one name in the Middle East and another name in Greece. I have always been extremely passionate about Mediterranean food but earlier in my career, I never did it, because the timing wasn’t right and I didn’t want to be labeled.

The first time I really was able to even put my toes in the water was at Seablue [formerly at MGM Grand] and we had a really fun time with that restaurant. After that, I started working more and more in creating this concept that takes from my roots and traditions, a little bit of my journey, and being able to modernize it and put my influence on certain dishes. It all evolved and then before the pandemic, at Michael Mina San Francisco, we did a high-end version of this as a tasting menu, and that was so much fun. … Ultimately MGM came to me and said, “Do you have an interest in this space?” and it was exactly what I’ve been waiting for and wanting to do.

Mediterranean food is definitely having a moment. How will the Orla experience distinguish itself?

I think when you start to introduce the spices in this cuisine, there’s a certain feel that goes along with that, about sharing. That informed the way the room is designed, the vibe you want and everything else. For us it’s being able to say we’re really bringing this to life, putting that approachability into the food but doing it with amazing product, amazing technique, spices from all around the world, a restaurant with high energy. The menu lays out around 20 mezzes so it’s very shareable, then you have a pasta, grain and rice section, then the fish market and wood charcoal-grilled meats, and then all the sides and some really fun, Middle Eastern desserts.

You’re also going to be opening Bourbon Steak at the former Charlie Palmer Steak space.

We have Bourbon Steaks in other premier cities and this will be the first one for us in Vegas, and the first Bourbon Steak supper club. I’ve always loved that space for its accessibility, coming off the Strip and pulling up to the Four Seasons, how it’s private, and it’s a restaurant that attracts locals. We’re creating a menu that moves Bourbon Steak forward and it’ll have great live music, a really good atmosphere with a lot of layers, indoor and outdoor, and beautiful tableside presentations so we can do some fun, theatrical stuff.

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Tags: Dining, Q+A, Food
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Brock Radke

Brock Radke is an award-winning writer and columnist who currently occupies the role of managing editor at Las Vegas Weekly ...

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