Eating cheaply in Las Vegas

Top 10 tips for cheap eats

Vegas is designed to get your money, even when you're eating.  The easily-to-find food is expensive, and the cheaper food is often hidden away.  So here are some tips to take the pain out of Vegas food prices.

1. Bring snack food with you

Even if you prefer to eat out when in Vegas, you can still save by bringing your own snacks. Like everything else, snacks are pricey in Vegas.  At some gift shops a banana costs over $2.00.  A freakin' banana!  So pack your suitcase full of bananas, oranges, apples, dried fruit, cereal, bread, peanut butter, energy bars, baby carrots, and any other kind of snack food you like.

2. Cook your own food

I always travel with a $15 hot plate and a small pot.  I can easily make rice, cook potatoes and other vegetables, or heat up any canned food or frozen vegetables.  I've saved several hundred dollars this way in my travels.  You probably don't want to do this all the time, but saving money on any meal means it's easier to eat out the next time you do.

This has other advantages for me.  I prefer to eat healthy, organic, and vegetarian.  Those concepts are pretty alien on the Las Vegas Strip.  Any bread or rice you find on the strip is gonna be white.  I don't like paying more for inferior food.  So cooking my own lets me eat exactly what I want.  As I'm writing this in my Vegas room, I'm eating organic broccoli and organic beans, go me!

Now, promise me you will keep your hot plate far away from hanging towels and that you'll unplug it completely every time you leave the room.  I don't want one of my readers burning down a hotel by accident.  Hot plates are dangerous, so please be extra, extra safe with them.

3. Buy groceries

There aren't any grocery stores really close to the strip, but there are some pretty big drugstores with food sections, and real grocery stores are a short (and cheap) bus ride away.  Conveniently, everything listed below is open 24/7 unless otherwise noted. Here's what we've got:

SOUTH STRIP (Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, NY/NY, MGM, Tropicana)

  • Walgreens (drugstore) [Just north of MGM, across from NY/NY] They have lots of food, including a frozen section, and fresh bananas, apples, and oranges. There's also a CVS next to the Monte Carlo, but their food selection is much weaker (and no fresh fruit).
  • Albertsons (large grocery) [3 miles east of the Strip on Tropicana & Eastern] Get on the #201 bus on Tropicana (between Excalibur and NY/NY, or between Tropicana & MGM). It runs about every 15 minutes and the trip takes less than 20. See the bus page for fare info. and Albertson's info.

MID-STRIP (Planet Hollywood, Paris, Bally's, Bellagio, Caesar's, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Mirage, Venetian, Treasure Island, Wynn)

  • Albertsons (large grocery) [2 miles east of the Strip on Flamingo & Maryland Parkway] Get on the #202 bus on Flamingo (between Caesar's & Bellagio, or between Bill's & Bally's). It runs about every 15 minutes and the trip takes about 15.

NORTH STRIP (Riviera, Circus Circus, Sahara, Stratosphere)

  • Smith's (large grocery) [1 mile east of the Strip on Sahara & Maryland Parkway] It's only a 20-minute walk, but you can also get on the #204 bus on Sahara Ave. (on the north side of the former Sahara hotel). It runs about every 25 minutes and the trip takes about 5.

SPECIAL BUS & GROCERY STORE TIPS

  • If you already got a Day Pass for the Strip Deuce or SDX bus, it works on all the other buses too, so you can ride for free.
  • See our bus page for more about the buses.
  • You could take a cab (~$10 each way) but that would obviate the point of trying to save money on food.
  • For each bus listed above, the bus goes straight from the Strip to the grocery store. Whoo-hoo!
  • At Albertson's and Smith's, get a free shopper's card when you're there because that gives you big discounts on many of the products.

4. Buy food instead of gambling

Most people lose when they gamble.  That's not surprising, because the odds are stacked against you.  So if you don't gamble, you'll have a lot more money for food, even at expensive Strip prices.

5. Use comp credit

I know I probably didn't talk you out of gambling, because gambling is why most people come to Vegas.  Luckily, if you do gamble, the casino will rebate some of your losses back to you in the form of meals, show tickets, and discounted rooms.  These are known as comps. Now, do not play just to get comps!  That's like spending a dollar to save a quarter.  It's cheaper to pay your own way on your meals than to lose a lot of money just to get a "free" meal.  Comps make sense only when you're gambling anyway.  And if you are gambling anyway, you should definitely ask for the rebates you've earned.

If you do gamble, it's important to play the games with the best odds so you lose less money. The less money you lose, the more you have to spend on food and everything else.

Don't play

  • Slot machines
  • Video poker
    (unless you're an expert)
  • Roulette
  • Modern/Novelty table games

Do play

  • Craps (Pass Line and Odds Bets only)
  • Blackjack (using our crash course strategy)
  • Baccarat (bet on banker or player, not on Tie)

You get less comps by playing the better games because you lose less money, but that's to your advantage.  Again, you don't want to lose more than necessary just to get a "free" meal.  For example, for four hours of play:


Slots, 25˘ x3
Craps, $5

Est. Loss

$89
$16

Est. Comps earned

$28
$5

Net loss

$62
$11

Slots get you more comps for sure, but only because you're losing more.   If you play craps instead you'll save $51/hr. on average. In fact, your savings from playing craps instead of slots could let you buy a couple of buffets and not even have to worry about comps.

For more on this topic check out my page on how to get casino comps.

 

6. Use coupons

Coupons abound in Las Vegas, especially 2-for-1 coupons. Unfortunately they change frequently so I can't give you a big list here, but I can give you some general tips.

First, most casinos give you a coupon book when you sign up for a Player's Card.  The Player's Card is free, so there's no reason not get it.  Also, just by signing up for the card, you may get offers in the mail later for free or discounted rooms.  Just look for the Player's Club desk in any casino to sign up.

Second, you can get the Pocketbook of Values coupon book from the Las Vegas Advisor.  You'll have to pay $37 for it, but it's well worth it. It has a fistful of formidable coupons for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

Finally, there's the big Entertainment coupon book.  It's aimed at locals, not tourists, so most of the offerings aren't near the Strip, but there's still enough to easily make it worth the cost.  The cover price is $35 but it comes out around November each year and by February it can be had for $15 or so on their website, or at stores like Barnes & Noble.  Here's a partial list of 2-for-1's coupons from an earlier version of that book, on or close to the Strip:

On the Strip

  • Tamba Indian Cuisine (in the Hawaiian Marketplace across from the Monte Carlo)
  • La Italian Kitchen (inside the Venetian)
  • Great Wraps (in Fashion Show Mall)
  • Nestle Toll House Café (2-for-1 smoothie; in the Miracle Mile Shops inside Planet Hollywood)
  • Auntie Anne's Pretzels (in Fashion Show Mall, Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile shops, and the airport)

Near the Strip

  • Boston Pizza (They deliver to downtown and the Strip, but not to the Wynn; or dine in: 1507 Las Vegas Blvd S.; 1/2 mile North of Stratosphere)
  • Rainbow's End Natural Foods (1100 E. Sahara; 1.5 miles E. of the Strip; grocery store with an attached sit-down café)
  • India Palace (505 E. Twain [same as Sands Ave.]; 1 mile E. of Strip)
  • Shalimar Indian (3900 Paradise; 1 mile East of the Strip)
  • Gandhi India's Cuisine (4080 Paradise; 1 mile East of the Strip)
  • Cottage Café (4647 Paradise; 1 mile E. of Strip; open until midnight; Ethiopian; Vegetarian Combo has about seven different items and is a lot of food!)

 

7. Food Courts

There are several mall-type food courts on the Strip with budget-priced eats in these places:

North Strip

  • Riviera
  • Fashion Show Mall

Mid-Strip

  • Venetian
  • Caesar's*

South Strip

  • Monte Carlo
  • New York, NY
  • Showcase Mall
    (across from NY NY, next to GameWorks)
*The Cypress Street Marketplace is more of a cross between a cafeteria & a buffet than a food court: You choose your items from a variiety of different stations, and pay for each item you take at the end.

 

8. Cheapest Buffets

On the Strip, the cheapest dinner buffets are Circus Circus ($15) and Riveria ($17).  The Las Vegas Advisor has a list of all hotels' buffet prices.

 

9. CheapoVegas list

CheapoVegas was one of the inspirations for Vegas Click, and they're still going strong. They have a pretty extensive list of all the casino restaurants and how much they cost.

 

10. Forage from room service trays

Put your hunter-gatherer skills to use! On the way to and from my room I frequently find leftover food trays in the hallways with items that are nearly completely unmolested. Last night I found some toast, hash browns, ketchup bottles, celery sticks (still completely encased in plastic wrap), 95% of a waffle, and a completely full, huge carafe of orange juice. Staff doesn't care at all -- while I was scoring the waffle, the woman who had come to take the cart away said, "Don't forget the syrup!" and handed me a couple small bottles that I'd overlooked. I'm not worried about germs because I would be willing to kiss most attractive random strangers I ran into, which is probably 10,000 times riskier than the careful selections I make from discarded room service trays. Plus, foraging is a kind of recycling! I hate seeing food go to waste. Which brings me to the next item...

A nod to "777 Cheap Eats in Vegas"

In 2003 Wendy Tucker published the book "777 Cheap Eats in Vegas".  Unfortunately she never came out with a new edition, so by now it's pretty dated.  Before she retired it, she did post the entire contents online.  Interestingly, Ms. Tucker and I enjoyed a free dinner together courtesy of a comp that I got, allowing both of us to live up to our reputations for being cheapskates.

 


Last Update: January 2012

 

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Gambling Problem?
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.

Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.