Emeril Lagasse is the most famous chef in Las Vegas who gets the least publicity and attention. He’s been a part of the Strip’s fantastic dining landscape since before it was fantastic, and his four local restaurants are genre leaders; Delmonico is easily one of the city’s elite steakhouses, and the southern-inspired Table 10 at Palazzo is an overlooked gem and personal favorite.
Emeril’s a total pro. He knows switching things up is the only way to stay competitive, which is why he just completed renovations on his first Vegas restaurant, the almost 20-year-old Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at MGM Grand. The exterior gate design is gone, and the entire space is opened up with extra seating and an expanded raw bar. The menu maintains classics like seafood and Andouille sausage gumbo ($10) and New Orleans-style “barbecue” shrimp ($15), but there are tons of new dishes to match the new decor, compliments of veteran chef Heath Cicerelli.
This is the best lunch in the building, and it’s a big building. Start with that gumbo, or clam chowder, or a beautiful sweet corn bisque with Maine lobster ($16), then move into the chef’s seafood salad ($27), a magnificent meal of Creole-boiled shrimp, lobster and blue crab meat mingling with lettuce, egg, piquillo pepper, crisp radishes and cucumbers and green goddess dressing.
Kick it up a notch (sorry, had to) at dinner with a couple appetizers you might order because they’re weird but you should order because they’re delicious. Crystal-fried frog legs ($15) are like chicken wings only better, served with celery slaw and a velvety buttermilk dressing, and alligator meatballs ($15) are well-spiced and satisfying with a Creole mustard sauce. If you prefer sweet and cool to wild and wacky, Alaskan king crab remoulade ($20) is utter bliss.
The Fish House still feels classic but also offers dishes you wouldn’t expect from Emeril, like charred Spanish octopus with cucumber salad in sun-dried tomato vinaigrette ($19) and mussels steamed in a coconut-peanut green curry ($14) with Thai chilies and ginger. You wouldn’t notice these carefully crafted flavor shifts unless you’ve paid attention to this restaurant over the years, and you probably haven’t.
That’s the tricky thing about the Strip. Just because it isn’t the hot new thing anymore doesn’t mean the kitchen isn’t pushing out some hot new things, like bay scallop ceviche with serrano chilies, or fresh basil-spinach fettuccine with crab, clams and mussels in white wine and lemon verbena oil ($42). You come in expecting oysters and étouffée—and Emeril’s banana pie, because it’s the best—and leave with your mind blown, wondering why you haven’t revisited this place every year. Fortunately, the Fish House isn’t going anywhere.
Emeril's New Orleans Fish House MGM Grand, 702-891-7374. Daily, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.