By E.C. Gladstone
Gourmet burgers are hot everywhere you turn these days. But the top restaurants of our Las Vegas hotels may be the most competitive anywhere in trying to create the finest formula. Rating them (for flavor, texture, and presentation) proved serious business — several perfectly good (and popular!) choices didn’t make my cut, and to be fair, differences from one number to the next were often minute. For the record, numbers one through three below are all absolutely excellent in their own right, the next five all very satisfying, and the final ones I’d happily eat every day (if my doctor would let me). Most are $12-$19 dollars unless otherwise noted. In my opinion, medium-rare cooking is strongly recommended.
10. Wolfgang Puck Solara, Palazzo
When I began this odyssey a few months ago, I accidentally had a chance to try the burger at Solara, Palazzo’s poolside café, and was shocked to experience a flavorful but tenderly toothy thick patty, cooked with just enough char and covered with thin melted cheese, onions browned to oblivion (virtually remoulade), crisp sweet pickles, lettuce and a beefy tomato slice on a soft, sweet egg-glazed seeded bun. Not a thing wrong with it. If a pool burger can be this good, anything at a more serious venue certainly needs to top it.
9. Serendipity 3, Caesars Palace
While I mostly tested standard burgers, the “ABC burger” here (100% American Kobe, they say) comes with a nice combination of avocado, brie and caramelized onions within a sweet challah bread roll, Solid and satisfying, accompanied by nicely crisped sweet potato fries.
8. N9ne, Palms
This Kobe burger has a heft as well as a presentation that matches its $25 price. Thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, aged Vermont cheddar, blood red tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, coleslaw, and thick fries cooked and stacked by hand all come standard on the platter. The juicy burger certainly doesn’t lack for flavor—in fact, the manly combination of woody char and smothered onions nearly overwhelms. Ask for the housemade BBQ sauce and ketchup on the side.
7. BOA Steakhouse, Forum Shops at Caesars Palace
Kobe burgers (really American Wagyu/Angus) are everywhere, but are mostly hype, not showing the meat quality significantly over Prime Angus. BOA’s grilled Kobe burger does: a wonderfully juicy tenderloin patty on a grilled brioche bun with some nice cheese options (provolone, white cheddar, Camembert). The fries here are crisp with solid real potato flavor, served with basil aioli mayo.
6. The Country Club, Wynn
Made of twice-ground filet with available sirloin trimmings, this burger has a subtle spice in its char and a handmade feel to its light texture. Paper-thin red onions, housemade garlic dill pickle and smoky chipotle sauce on the side show nice attention to detail. The crunchy Cajun-seasoned fries are among myfavorites.
5. Striphouse, Planet Hollywood
This 10 oz. burger is an off-menu semi-secret; you have to ask for it. A classically perfect ground round of chuck, brisket and shoulder cuts, thick, juicy, with a thin crispy char, on an almost-sweet sesame seeded bun, with your choice of toppings (I found the roasted red peppers a perfect complement).
4. Bradley Ogden, Caesars Palace
Combining ribeye, New York strip, kobe trimmings and some chuck (ground daily, and never quite the same twice), this is a pure and genuine coarse-ground patty, light, juicy and just slightly crisp, which comes on a soft fluffy toasted bun with sharp sweet housemade dill pickle chips that are definitely part of the attraction. The bleu cheese on top is overpowering, though.
3. Simon At Palms Place
Kerry Simon takes some credit for setting off this gourmet burger frenzy with his 2005 winning entry in Iron Chef America. It’s still available off-menu (i.e. you have to ask) but he’s also added a more classic style Certified Natural Angus burger, mostly of chuck (as it should be) with some dry-aged prime tenderloin trimmings added for flavor. The patty is juicy and beefy with a moderate char, good texture–just a little sloppy–on a grilled sesame seed bun with long pickle slices, paper thin red onion, bibb lettuce and secret sauce hiding underneath; Practically perfect in every way. Tuscan fries, coated with dried basil, oregano, sea salt and cracked pepper are cooked to an aromatically seductive crunch. Love ‘em.
2. Mesa Grill, Caesars Palace
Boasting the fledgling BFB (Bobby Flay Burger) chain and even a “Burgers Fries and Shakes” cookbook, Bobby Flay has flung himself into the burger battles with both fists. While I’ve never been a strong fan of Mesa overall, with this burger, he’s bringing it on. An almost baseball-like hand shaped charcoal grilled patty, sits under two melted cheeses, grill-smothered Vidalia onion tomato and leaf lettuce on—surprisingly—an untoasted, fairly bland bun. Unlike others, here everything augments the juicy, smoky burger—nothing overwhelms. His pressed Cuban burger is a sloppy misstep, but it comes with fantastic Belgian-style adobo fries that are a must have (get them instead of the “Southewestern fries” with the Mesa Burger), and request their chipotle lime ketchup on the side.
1. RM Seafood, Mandalay Place
Scoff at the idea of a seafood restaurant having the best burger, but Executive Chef Adam Sobel came from Bradley Ogden’s kitchen—and has frankly bettered that boastful beef. This is a juicy all-natural Niman Ranch patty cooked with just a slight char, firm in texture but light enough to fall apart. On the standard butter-toasted sesame seed bun, topped with shredded lettuce, melted cheddar, onions smothered until almost compote, and a perfect heirloom tomato slice. The only fault here is sloppiness—and for some, that’s a plus.
Very Honorable Mention: Casino Snack Bar, Binion’s
At this rare, enduring downtown Vegas stalwart, seasoned pros in whites and paper hats still serve you with a gruff but efficient smile. The Binion burger, advertised as fresh ground daily, is a perfect juicy patty on a soft but rustic bun, served with ample fresh slices of red tomato, white onion and iceberg lettuce, some classic deli potato salad and a small mound of sweet pickle chips. At around 5 bucks, I think it’s impossible to beat for the price — and a threat to several more than twice as much.
Iron Chef: Simon At Palms Place — Kerry Simon’s Iron Chef America-winning burger is available by request: It’s an elegant almost fall-apart patty built of chuck, with New York scraps to add tenderness, caramelized onion, thyme, dark beer and celery leaf in the patty, served with melted aged cheddar and a tomato slice on toasted brioche, and accompanied by a vanilla milkshake and Tuscan-seasoned fries. Elegant and complex.
Truffle Patty Melt: Society, Wynn — Chef Kim Canteenwalla (who assisted Simon on Iron Chef) takes a double-ground CAB sirloin and brisket patty and grills it with black truffles, white truffle oil and five-cheese truffle cream sauce on the crustless sourdough bread, then adds caramelized Vidalia onions and gruyere cheese. The enveloping aromatic result is greasy but gorgeous, nothing less than sex on a plate.
Le Burger: L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon, MGM Grand — Robuchon’s pair of mini-burgers — to call them “sliders” would be an insult — look small for $32. But these tiny, gorgeous creations are loaded with so much rich flavor and buttery texture that you may have a hard time finishing! Made of Wagyu tenderloin and hangarsteak, cooked just until they are dripping with juice, placed on delicate seeded egg brioche with seared foie gras, a bell pepper confit, baby onion and watercress, and served with a small cone of lightly fried crinkle cut potatoes and a ginger gastrique. You’ll get an amusé bouche too.
Original NY DB Burger: Daniel Boulud Brasserie, Wynn — Imported from Boulud’s New York locale, this baseball-thick burger (also$32) is 9 ounces of ground sirloin wrapped around braised short ribs, foie gras & black truffles, on a crusty Parmesan bun with frisee and tomato confit. Rich and juicy but not heavy, the tartness of the short ribs and foie gras dominates a very fresh taste. Not quite the singular experience of the above three, but still very very good.
Kobe Sliders, CUT by Wolfgang Puck, Palazzo —Most Kobe burgers promote texture over flavor, but these bites (four to an order) have very big beefy taste, accented by the acidic sweetness of the house sauce, housemade pickle and cheese. Not as elegant as L’Atelier’s, (in fact, kind of sloppy) but very tasty. Thick cut natural fries are hot and crispy, though oversalted.
As many foodies know, Chef Hubert Keller (who runs Burger Bar as well) also offers a $5000 Fleur burger at Fleur De Lys (Mandalay Bay) which features Kobe beef, black truffles and foie gras and comes with 1995 Chateau Petrus and complimentary stemware. No, I didn’t get to try it.
Related Orbitz resources:
- Las Vegas hotels
- The best of downtown Vegas: Restaurants and bars
- Las Vegas’ top 10 Italian restaurants
Veteran entertainment and travel writer E. C. Gladstone writes regularly for Las Vegas Magazine and the Las Vegas Weekly, also interviewing top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for other local and national publications and websites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.