New Vegas, which is to say the amped-up theme park strip that’s captured Middle America’s heart since the ‘90s, has its merits. I like fun, so I stayed in the Palazzo, home to gondolas that will ferry you beneath a Barneys New York store and past commedia dell'arte performers across from Mario Batali’s Otto. And there’s steak. A lot of steak. In the Palazzo/Venetian complex alone, there are five steakhouses. I even ate at one, Wolfgang Puck’s Cut. It was the most expensive meal of the entire mini-vacation.
But my heart will always belong to downtown (which is technically uptown from the strip), the old Las Vegas they’re trying to revitalize with electric light shows on ceiling canopies beaming Queen and Kiss on the hour and stages blaring Aerosmith cover bands. There are panhandlers, wheelchairs, women in their 20s who look two decades older, dolled-up in satin Playboy Bunny suits, luring tourists to take photos with them for a fee.
This was my great-grandma’s Vegas when she lived there in the middle of last century. I’m half-convinced she’s haunting (this is the only context where I want to see that adjective–I've seen a lot of big names use haunting to describe food and that will never seem right) the Four Queens, her old favorite, because it was the only casino where I won any money: $18 on an antiques roadshow-themed (lowercase because it was just Antiques Roadshow-esque) slot machine and $35 on caveman keno. Plus, $5.25 cocktails when the Venetian’s standard well drinks were $11? You could buy a lot of prime rib with that winnings-to-savings ratio. Grandma Weaver knew best.
Yes, prime rib rules downtown Vegas. Every casino has a bargain prime rib special. Corn-fed? Grass-fed? Dry-aged? Wagyu? Who cares? It’s meat, it’s cheap and probably comes with a baked potato and a pile of frozen vegetables. I certainly only captured a fraction of these advertised specials. $7.95 seems to be the going rate.
One more day in town, and there would be no doubt that we would've sampled Binion's bargain chopped steak.
Pescavores need cheap eats too.
Beef-avoiders might also enjoy Pasta Pirate, announced in barely-readable-from-a-distance neon. Huh, they serve crab rangoon (my favorite junk food) for a penny more than the average price of a downtown prime rib.