Nevada, specifically Las Vegas, is famous its nightlife and gambling, with casinos and alcohol available at every turn. However, it’s not a party without food, and you’d be foolish to miss out on classic Nevada fare while visiting the state.
While the Silver State lacks an official meal or drink, you can find these 8 signature dishes, listed in no particular order, in many of Nevada’s best-known towns and cities.
While the origins of the shrimp cocktail are unclear, what’s certain is that it eventually made its home in Nevada. In the 1950s, the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas added the dish to its menu for just 50 cents. It quickly became famous, drawing customers who were looking for more unique fare than what was traditionally available in the desert city.
Shortly after, the dish began popping up in casinos and restaurants throughout the state. Las Vegas alone eats 22 million pounds of shrimp every year. While Nevada doesn’t have a state food, some have suggested the shrimp cocktail as a good option, given the dish’s popularity and prevalence.
Served in cocktail glasses as a nod to Prohibitation-era dishes, the sauce often includes some combination of hot sauce, lemon, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and a tomato base. You can find this dish throughout Vegas, including its original home, the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
Chateaubriand is a type of beef tenderloin that, like a shrimp cocktail, became popular in Nevada in the 1950s. Depending on who you ask, Chateaubriand can either refer to the method of cooking or the cut of the steak.
Typically cooked while sandwiched better lesser cuts, the center-cut tenderloin is removed before served with with mushrooms, onions, goat cheese, and/or a wine sauce. A French-originating dish that took Nevada by storm in the mid-twentieth century, you can find Chateaubriand in many restaurants.
However, those looking for the most authentic versions of the dish should head to Basque-run establishments that are foundthroughout the state. Many of them are attached to boardinghouses, where some Basque sheepherders continue to live today.
Basque influence can be found in more than just Chateaubriand. Within many Basque hotels and boardinghouses are small bars, serving up simple, classic drinks to lodgers. If you find yourself at such an establishment, be sure to try Picon punch, a cocktail that typically includes bitter liqueur, brandy, grenadine, and club soda.
It’s so classically Nevadan that for many years, state legislators tried (and failed) to make it the state drink. Known for being bitter and strong, many don’t enjoy it on their first go. However, it’s said to be an acquired taste, and once you’ve tried it a few times, you may just find yourself hooked.
You can find Picon punch all throughout the state, but you may find that it tastes different from one city to the next. Many areas have their own recipes for the punch– some include gin instead of brandy, and others use different ratios of grenadine to liqueur.
If you find yourself in a hotel in Vegas, you almost certainly have easy access to a buffet. Some of the bigger hotels and casinos have buffets that feed thousands of guests each day. It’s true that most cities in the United States have all-you-can-eat establishments, but Las Vegas has more than 60.
Becoming a staple in the 1940s, legend has it that a hungry gambler asked a chef to prepare him some cheese and cold cuts that he could eat while he played. Other patrons took notice, and soon tables filled with cold foods appeared in casinos, allowing gamblers to eat without taking much of a break from betting.
A common sentiment regarding buffet restaurants is that they sacrifice quality for quantity. But don’t let that stop you as many restaurants in Vegas are challenging that narrative. Some of the most popular buffets in the city are run by highly regarded chefs who produce top-quality food for their patrons.
Guests can now enjoy fancy buffet offerings like chocolate fountains, made-to-order crepes, and homemade pizza stations. Some of the most popular buffets in Las Vegas include the Wicked Spoon inside The Cosmopolitan, the Bellagio Buffet, and the Excalibur Buffet.
Nevada is the driest state in the nation, with the lowest average rainfall each year. It’s also one of the most sparsely populated states. Much of the land in Nevada is farmland, but its mountainous desert terrain makes it difficult to grow many crops.
Most of the crops grown in Nevada are grains of some kind, including alfalfa, barley, and wheat. However, intermediate-day onions, which are quite large, with a sweet taste, grow surprisingly well in the hot, dry desert. The crops cover around 3,000 acres of Nevada land.
Nevada isn’t the top producer of onions in the nation by any measure (some sources rank them in the top 10), but onions are one of the top commodities in the state. Because Nevada produces so much of the crop, many restaurants offer onion rings as appetizers. A popular dish anywhere you go, the greasy snack tastes even better when the onions are locally grown.
Before Las Vegas became the bustling, lively metropolis it is today, it was known as the “Atomic City.” In the 1950s, the United States was in the early stages of atomic bomb testing, and one major testing site was just 65 miles outside of Las Vegas.
Worried about the impact the testing would have on tourism, the city turned it into a gimmick: casinos posted calendars of testing dates, “bomb parties” lasted all night long, and the Atomic Cocktail was born. A mix of vodka, cognac, sherry, and Champagne, the cocktail is described as flavorful to drink with a definite kick.
You can find it at several bars in Las Vegas, namely Atomic Liquors. The shop on Fremont Street is Vegas’s first liquor store, now complete with a kitchen and bar.
Enormous Cocktails To Go
Walking down The Strip in Vegas, you’re almost sure to see tourists with gigantic plastic cups in their hands. Liquor laws are not as strict in Nevada as in many other states, so most bars offer cocktails to-go.
Open container laws differ from street to street in the city, because The Strip is under county jurisdiction, while other roads are subject to the laws of the City of Las Vegas. However, in general, if you purchase a drink from a bar, restaurant, or casino, and would like to take it with you, you need only transfer it to a plastic cup.
Las Vegas is full of excellent cocktail bars, and the ability to take your drink to-go means you don’t have to miss out on any of them. Perhaps even more unique to Vegas, however, is the prevalence of truly massive cocktail servings. Not all bars offer extra-large drinks, but those that do can be found all along The Strip.
Giant cocktails come in sizes ranging from “Yards,” at around 44 ounces, to 100-ounce monsters that are probably best when shared. Many of them are frozen, making them perfect for trekking down The Strip on hot desert afternoons.
These days, many restaurants in Las Vegas are overseen by celebrity chefs who make it their mission to serve up gourmet food to gamblers and hotel guests. Back when the city was first getting started, however, cheap prime rib was the go-to for casino patrons who didn’t want to spend all their betting money on dinner.
While they used to be sold for $1.50 a rack in the 1940s, you won’t be able to order great steak for that price anymore. Nevertheless, you can certainly find excellent, slow-roasted prime rib (and other cuts of meat) all throughout the city. From elegant rooftop restaurants that overlook The Strip to vintage basement diners, you won’t have to look long to find a delicious, hearty meal in Sin City.
Like many states in the American West, Nevada’s culinary landscape doesn’t fit neatly into one category. Many traditions and dishes in the state come from working-class immigrants, while others were shaped by the tourism industry. No matter where they come from, though, Nevada has certainly made its own version of them.
If you’re planning a trip to the Silver State, don’t miss out on all the iconic foods and drinks the area has to offer.