Remember when Las Vegas casinos were synonymous with cheap rooms, cheap buffets and cheap everything else—anything to get you to spend at the tables? Times change, business models change—Las Vegas is now popular for so many other reasons than gaming, long gone are the days when the non-gamers could sneak into town for a budget break.
Yes, these days, anyone wanting to hang around on the ever-flashier Las Vegas Strip is going to pay a pretty penny. Hotels are rarely the screaming bargain they once were—particularly when you pile on the ridiculous resort fees that have become so commonplace in the city, in some cases doubling your nightly spend. Some hotels even have the gall to charge for parking on top of the fee—yes, even for hotel guests. You can still get great drink deals and there are a fair few happy hours, but nowadays, you’ll often have to hunt. Ditto for all that great dining you’ve been told so much about in the past decade, or so—don’t be shocked if you spend as much here for a meal as in London or New York or Paris. In fact, for the amount of money you end up frittering away here in one weekend, you might as well have just gone to London or New York or Paris.
Of course, it’s not all bad news—the Strip may seem more expensive than ever, but over the last year or so, almost like an olive branch to the budget-conscious, the cheap eats scene on the Strip has been all but transformed, with a group of new offerings that’s leaving cheapskates spoiled for choice. From proper ramen to artisanal pizza by the slice, legit tacos to very good Indian food, it’s all here—you just need to know where to look. Here, twelve top stops where you can eat for $10 or less.
Alvin Cailan’s now-legendary market stall in downtown Los Angeles recently debuted at the Cosmopolitan, where you’ll pay the same reasonable prices for some of the fanciest breakfast sandwiches in existence—just $8 for the wildly popular Fairfax, piled high with avocado and bacon, $10 for a coddled egg served atop a pillow of whipped potato and sprinkled with grey sea salt and fresh chives. Served with toasted baguette, it’s a dreamy sort of start to the day that everyone should taste at least once. Don’t show up hangry—most times, there will be a line.
3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#2 Tacos el Gordo
Late nights on the North Strip belong to this Tijuana transplant, a haven for all-hours cheap tacos and piles of French fries topped with sizzling carne asada, along with pretty much every fixin’ behind the counter. The fries are, as you’d expect, ridiculous, you can even go hardcore and make a meal of tongue and tripe, but the tacos de adobada—beauteous marinated pork shaved right off the trompa served practically dripping with cool avocado crema—are perhaps the ultimate cheap eat on the Strip and a steal at $2.25.
3049 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#3 Ramen Katanaya
Things are slowly getting better, but for a while, this was one of the brighter lights in the rather dreadful Grand Bazaar flea market, squatting permanently in the plaza over in front of Bally’s. A San Francisco import, this miniature spot serves up one of the meanest, cheapest bowls of ramen you’ll find anywhere near the Strip. Connoisseurs will undoubtedly have had better and the wait at peak times can be a problem, but look at it this way—you’re spending as little as $9 or so for actual real food, just steps from the dancing fountains of Lake Como. Pretty cool, right?
3635 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
While it doesn’t enjoy a ton of name recognition outside of the Southern California ‘burbs and you have to walk past some very good food to get there (see #7), let’s hope this cheerful addition to MGM’s The Park (the glorified footpath between New York, New York and Monte Carlo) is here to stay. They’re famous for their chicken and waffle sandwich ($9.25)—and you do need to try it, if this is your first visit—but really, everything they do is top-notch, from housemade sodas to better-than-Chick-Fil-A waffle fries ($2.95), thick, Midwest-style frozen custard ($3.25) and some very good breakfast sandwiches. They’ve even got salads and a kids menu. Honestly, if you’re staying nearby, you may find that one visit isn’t enough.
3782 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#5 Urban Turban
There’s so much good food news out of the LINQ these days, it’s hard to know where to begin— after a bumpy start for the project, the lively street of shops and restaurants leading back from the boulevard to the High Roller wheel is about to become essential, adding to the mix Los Angeles legend Canter’s Deli, what’s soon to become the busiest In-N-Out Burger in the world (just a guess) and a high-end chippy by Gordon Ramsey. Not that you should wait to stop by, there’s already plenty to eat here—start, however, at the least flashy option, a new outpost of a popular Indian joint on Paradise Road, serving up $8.99 plates of butter chicken and other well-executed favorites.
3545 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#6 The Juice Standard
Clean eaters dragged to Vegas by their degenerate significant others or best pals will be delighted to find a wealth of opportunities to spend $15 (or similar) on a thing juice and even more on other good-for-you luxuries at a growing number of casinos jumping on the health train. This remarkably un-Vegas counter at the Cosmopolitan, neighboring the soon-to-come Momofuku and Milk Bar locations, specializes in the sort of food you’d find in the bougiest California breakfast joints—things on toasts for $8, a chia seed pudding for $7 and, of course, juices.
3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#7 Shake Shack
For those who never stop being on a budget, the arrival of this better-than-fast-food joint, becoming a staple in so many cities now, has been a dream come true. Even when you splurge, it’s easy to get out the door here for less than $15. If you’ve never tried it, order the Smoke Shack, a properly-cooked, high quality burger topped with bacon, spicy red peppers, melty cheese and Shack sauce. At $6.69, it’s kind of the best.
3790 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#8 Yard House
So it’s not the most unusual pick—you probably have, by now, a Yard House back where you live. But for a sit-down lunch with a beer under $15, this is a great trick to have up your sleeve, particularly when traveling with a group of budget-minded buds. Offered from 11-5 every day at $9.85, you get your choice of a half sandwich (turkey melt, grilled pastrami, roast beef dip or turkey club) or pizza with a soup or salad—choices include the kale Caesar, clam chowder, French onion soup and more. Bring Grandma, she’ll love it.
3545 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#9 Luke’s Lobster
An East Coast smash hit has landed in the handsomely renovated forecourt of the Strip’s “normal” shopping mall, just across the street from Treasure Island, Wynn and Palazzo. The signature item isn’t close to a cheap eat at $17, but the $9.95 rolls filled with plump, quality shrimp are a very decent buy; so is the creamy New England clam chowder for $9.
3200 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
#10 Five50 at Aria
Of all the expensive pies on the Strip, the ones you’ll get at Shawn McClain’s casual spot buried inside Aria, land of the overpriced everything, are perhaps some of the best, marrying the super-fashionable artisanal style with good, old-fashioned New York folditude. Best of all, you don’t need to sit down to try them—there’s a takeout counter at the front. It might be the costliest slice you’ve had in a while at $5.50, but it’s really good.
3730 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Booking a trip? If you’re looking for the cheapest airfares to Las Vegas, start your search at CheapFlights, or compare multiple sites at once with BookingBuddy. Don’t forget that bundling your flight and hotel together can save you a lot of money; give it a try at either Orbitz or Expedia—both are great places to start a simple airfare search, too. If you’re just after the best Las Vegas hotel deals, start your search at Hotels.com or Priceline, where you can save up to 60 percent on any given night by taking advantage of their Express Deals feature. (This simple tool has probably saved us—no joke—thousands of dollars over the years.) Don’t forget, you can also cross-reference a ton of hotel user reviews with the best rates available from more than 200 web sites at TripAdvisor. If you need a rental car, begin your search by swinging wide to get a sense of the market—a site like Booking Buddy lets you check pretty much every site worth knowing in just a couple of clicks.