It’s easy to root for Guy Fieri to fail with the new Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar in the Quad. He is, after all, a cartoon character mascot for the fist-bumping crowd. His multitude of frat-friendly catchphrases will make any adult guest cringe. Yet despite all of that, in 2012, Forbes estimated his annual income at $8 million, just a million less than the considerably more talented Bobby Flay. And let’s face it, every food writer in America is jealous of Pete Wells’ hysterically bitter takedown of Fieri’s Times Square restaurant in The New York Times. If you’re a foodie and a hater, Guy is the guy to hate.
Personally, I don’t have an ax to grind with the UNLV grad, despite being turned off by his persona. Being larger than life on TV is no easy task, as witnessed by the countless imitators who have fallen by the wayside over the years. (As someone who’s thrown his own hat in the food TV ring, I can attest that it’s a hell of a lot harder than Fieri makes it look.) And Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has put a spotlight on at least two of my favorite local restaurants, Forte and Naked City Pizza.
So I’m happy to report that the TV star’s new local joint is a lot better than you might expect.
The menu here is the kind of fare you’d expect to see on Fieri’s show. There are four types of wings, four styles of street tacos, five burgers and four other sandwiches. Among the desserts, you’ll find a fried ice cream sundae and a massive half cheesecake topped with potato chips, pretzels and hot fudge.
I got my first taste of the food during a grand-opening media event, where the owner was treating the public to slider-size versions of his award-winning mac-and-cheese bacon burger. Sure, it sounds ridiculous to top a burger with macaroni and cheese, but it was actually pretty good.
Over the course of my next two visits, the best dish I’ve had has been the Southern Smothered Chili Bowl. The slightly sweet chili is delicious in itself, but made even better by sour cream, scallions and a layer of sweet cornbread. It doesn’t pack much of a kick, however, so you may want to ask for hot sauce. The chicken tacos are also very good, as are the Vegas Fries, topped with blue cheese and just a touch of Buffalo sauce, accompanied by a blue cheese/wasabi sauce. While the sandwiches come with a combination of four different cuts of fries, the Vegas Fries are exclusively a cut called Sidewinder that I’ve never seen before. Finally, I really enjoyed a S’mores Monte Cristo sandwich for dessert.
I’ve also had a few dishes that somewhat disappointed. While my General Tso’s-style chicken wings were nicely lollipopped and perfectly cooked, the sauce was too sweet and fruity. A Greek salad was pretty boring, and an otherwise tasty Cajun sandwich—made with blackened chicken, andouille, cheddar and hot sauce—was a little dry.
More troubling, however, was the Mayor of Flavortown Burger, topped with pastrami, Swiss caraway slaw, pickles and onion straws that one of my guests ordered medium-rare, but which arrived medium-well. I was later told that all of the smashed burgers are prepared that way—which is fine, but something that guests should be informed of when they order. Another disappointment was a cheese-and-sausage fondue that coagulated so quickly my pepperoni-wrapped breadsticks snapped in half every time I tried to dip them. Hopefully those are kinks that will be worked out in time.
While service was generally good on both visits, I could live without all of the Fieri catchphrases the servers are encouraged to use. Of course, I’m sure die-hard Fieri fans will find that—and everything else about the joint—to be “money.”
Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar
In the Quad, 702-731-3311. Open for lunch and dinner daily 10 a.m.ñ2 a.m. Dinner for two $35-$75.