I visit Vegas a few times each year for work, but always find time to play. Still, I have to balance things. I've walked all the properties and taken in the sites. I've been impressed with the ever-growing focus on art, entertainment, food, style, etc. I love the Bellagio Fountains and Freemont's cheese.
But I'm bothered by the divide. The town seems to be dividing into camps they covet: Big Spenders or little spenders. Little room for those between.
For example, I recently had a 5 day work-related conference at the Mirage. Stayed at TI. Since they are connected, I didn't rent a car and was thus pretty much confined to that corner of the strip. I did venture over to Wynn and Venetian as well, but the conference agenda kept us near home base most of the time, yet that didn't matter. I'm in town often, so I've already seen pretty much every property and when there for work, efficiency and budget friendly prices are what I seek for most meals.
That said, I really found there were few "middle ground" dining options. I can expense an occasional pricey meal, but my company's bean counters raise flags when they look at a hefty daily meal tab.
The cheapest meal I had was a BLT at Canter's in TI, for around $7. It was tasty and not the "over the top" type of sandwich one often gets in NY Deli style places (I don't need to ingest 3 lbs of corned beef, thanks - nor do I have a fridge to take leftovers and make it a multi-meal investment).
I stood in line forever and got my order to go, then sat with a bunch of limo/taxi drivers who thought the speed of "to go" service was horrible. I agreed. The whole operation was strange. You had to stand in a long line before seeing the menu, then try and choose from a wide range of offerings that seemed foreign to most Vegas vacationers (I lived in LA for 8 year and have been to the original place many times so I was somewhat familiar - but still hesitant). I can see how it's a unique experience for them, but for me (the biz traveler) and the taxi/limo guys, we wanted to get our chow and leave.
The second cheapest meal at TI (not counting Krispy Kreme, which I won't factor), was Kahunaville. By cheap I mean under $10. They had much to offer but I'm a grazer, not a stuffer, so I was content with the appetizer sized quesadilla. Nothing special. Nor did I expect more.. this place is best known for crazy drinks and those who pour them. It's a fun place for cocktails, but not a chow destination.
Beyond that, at these two properties, I found little to get excited about in the "just eat" category. They both have o.k. lunch buffets, ranging from $15-20 + tax/tip. Nice as in overall offerings. But nothing stood out. Both had pizza ovens, but the pizza was nothing special. Both had Sushi bars, but they offered California rolls or a cooked shrimp on a rice roll type fare. The chinese station offered things like steamed dumplings or standard orange chicken-type dishes. The concept was inviting, but the experience was nothing more than Panda Express meets SouperSalad. You can stuff yourself, but it tastes like you should have spent $6 for the meal.
Both the Mirage and TI's better reviewed restaurants had no lunch service. So at minimum, it's going to cost $15 for lunch and a drink (+tax/tip). Dinner is a whole new subject. TI's Italian and Mexican offerings will run at least $20 at dinner (not including drinks). I don't care who is paying, but $17 for 2 greasy tacos, rice and beans is B.S. The same for 5 raviolis or a pasta bowl that anyone with cooking skills could create for just a few bucks. I can appreciate that there was some effort put into the before metioned tacos, but I've had equally tasty fare for $2 a pop on a corner stand in Los Angeles.
And here's my point... I love to eat out. I love to try things I can't make at home. I'll gladly pay for the pleasure of not having to have 23 spices in the house in order to make one Indian dish. So why do these and other places make us pay above market for what is simply average? Captive audience, I assume. That's why water is $3 a bottle. I'll pay extra for a lobster dish, but unless you are a nutty vacationer hyped up on blowing money, why pay big bucks for a burger?
After 3 days of buffets I though I found refuge in a hard to find corner of the Mirage known as the noodle bar. Asian food. Usually light and tasty. And budget friendly. Still, I was led to a $15 entree that could have passed for two meals if I had a fridge in the room. It eas good, but again the same question - why not cater to the will of the people/
Why doesn't some smart casino exec entice LOS to move there? It would be a huge draw.