By Nikki Neu
Sometimes we have to make hard sacrifices.
Going to the gym instead of watching TV. Battling through a child’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Forgoing a great sale at Saks to make your car payment.
Times are tough, but one sacrifice you shouldn’t have to make is good food for less money. Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it can’t be good.
In Vegas, you can have your steak and eat it too. Maybe you hit the tables too hard, maybe you are on a budget, or maybe you need to grab a bite on the way to a show. Whatever the reason, there are a variety of inexpensive, convenient dining options you should know about.
From an authentic Mexican taco place to a Venezuelan arepas stand to an Indian restaurant — you can eat in Vegas for a fraction of what it would cost you in a fine dining restaurant down the street.
Check out a popular taco place right on the Las Vegas Strip. Not just any taco joint — this place is the real deal. A huge spitfire with fresh carved spicy pork, carne asada and a fresh radish bar. Now we’re talking.
At Tacos El Gordo, located just north of Encore, you won’t find a hostess or a sommelier. At this quick-service restaurant, placing your order is part of the fun. Go through each line and be assertive with your ordering. For the tacos de cabeza (head tacos), go to line one. For tacos de lengua (tacos made with tongue meat), line two and so on.
Don’t be afraid to try something new, especially the more exotic cuts of meat.
“I was a little scared to try the taco de cabeza, but it’s actually pretty good,” says Tasha Owens, a Virginia native, while trying Tacos El Gordo for the first time.
Most tacos only cost $2, so try the tripe taco and wash it down with Horchata (cinnamon rice milk.)
Next door to Tacos El Gordo, the Shish Kabob House is open until 3 a.m. and serves a variety of Mediterranean cuisine. At this brightly-colored restaurant, you can order anything from a fluffy, whipped babaganoush ($4.95) to a lamb kabob dinner ($9.95.) Almost all of the entrée plates come with a side item and are under $10.
Though Tacos El Gordo and Shish Kabob House have tables in the restaurant and nice-sized patios outdoors, it’s not necessary to have a full restaurant. In fact, it’s not necessary to have a restaurant at all.
Just north of the Stratosphere hotel lies a small, but mighty culinary force. I Heart Arepas is a tiny stand, just large enough for two people to carefully cook in.
“[Arepas] are basically just sandwiches boiled down to the best parts — slow-cooked, super-tender meat and chewy, delicious bread,” said Sarah Feldberg, editor of Las Vegas Weekly.
Feldberg fell in love with the food while living in south Florida and has been scouring Vegas for arepas ever since.
“The arepas are hearty, inexpensive and satisfying — prepared fresh right inside the kiosk. My only complaint is when they sell out,” said Feldberg.
Though the stand is usually well equipped, sometimes toward the end of the evening they do sell out — and it’s not a surprise. I Heart Arepas is so good, a city bus driver makes a quick, unscheduled pit-stop there for his nightly fix.
“I Heart Arepas is the kind of business you just want to see succeed. It’s owned by a local guy who’s spent years working in restaurants on the Strip, and he’s finally taking a big risk on a business that serves his native food,” says Feldberg.
The arepas come with fillings like spicy pepper beef, chicken and garlic shrimp. These sandwiches look small, but they are deceivingly filling, so for $3 – $4 each, you get your money’s worth.
The ultimate cheap eat might be pizza. It’s inexpensive, portable and hits the spot.
Oddly enough, two excellent and inexpensive pizzerias are making their mark in Vegas — and they’re both inside hotels.
Pellegrino’s Pizza and Deli is delicious. It’s in the Tropicana’s South Beach Market place, nestled between a Starbucks and an ice cream stand.
“It’s really a food court. The pizzeria is my part,” says Carla Pellegrino, executive chef of Pellegrino’s Pizza and Deli and Bacio by Carla Pellegrino, both at the Tropicana.
At the quick-service pizzeria, you can walk up to the counter to grab a slice or a whole pie to take back to your room. A slice of pizza is $4, while an 18-inch pie runs $24, but is well worth it.
“It’s nothing fancy. The pizza’s very good though because the dough is high quality. All the pizzas, the sauces, it’s mine,” says Pellegrino.
If you’re looking for a slice of New York-style heaven, head to the Cosmopolitan. Amidst the crowd of restaurants on the third floor lies Secret Pizza, a place that you could easily walk by. Don’t. If you do, turn right back around and down the long, record-clad hallway. Once past the pinball machine, proudly exclaim, “one slice of cheese, please!” You won’t be disappointed.
Most slices of pizza go for $3, specialty pizzas with extra toppings are slightly more.
The place has a few stools and a counter where you can sprinkle your slice with extra Parmesan cheese and wash down your pizza with a beer.
If you want to sit and stay awhile when you dine, you’re in luck. There are a few affordable sit-down restaurants in Vegas that serve great quality food.
The Upper Deck Grill is located inside the Calloway Golf Centeron the Las Vegas Strip, but whether you’re a golfer or not, you have to try this place. The menu is a bite of Americana done right. Oversized salads and large sandwiches with sweet potato fries comprise most of the menu.
One of the best menu items is a cheddar, Swiss and Gorgonzola grilled cheese on sourdough bread. For only $4.80, gobble this sandwich down with sweet potato fries.
Other menu items include bargains like hot dogs ($3 – $4,) but almost every menu item is under $10. Generous portions, good quality food and a great view of the golf course make this place a great deal.
Tamba is centrally located in the Hawaiian Marketplace (across from City Center.) If you weren’t paying attention, you could miss the second-story restaurant. But if you’re looking for authentic Indian cuisine, seek it out.
Tamba’s menu is extensive, but highlights include the chicken Korma and their fresh tandoori-baked Naan bread. Most of the dishes at Tamba are served family-style, so you could feed a family of four for under $50.
If you’re looking to venture off the Las Vegas Strip, you don’t have to go far. Vegas’ Chinatown offers lots of affordable eats, but few have olive oil fried chicken.
Located on Spring Mountain Road, Bazic is an Asian fusion restaurant known for their fried chicken. Unconventional as this may seem, their fried chicken is perfectly crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. The chicken is priced at $9 for five pieces or $18 for 10 pieces. The 10-piece serving could feed four or five people, which makes it an economical family meal.
As a bonus, the restaurant features three-foot tall towers of beer for your table and graffiti art-adorned walls.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to sing “Eternal Flame” in one of the private karaoke rooms.
Quick-service restaurants with affordable food are in full bloom around the Las Vegas Strip.
“You gotta do a little bit of everything. I’d definitely do a fancy meal, but there’s so much to do in Vegas that you gotta grab a bite on the run and keep it going,” says Nathan Burton, star of Nathan Burton Comedy Magic at Flamingo Las Vegas.
Whether it’s a late-night craving or a daytime hunger you need to satisfy, these are some of Vegas’ stellar cheap eats.