Vacation - ah how I love vacations....

The family and I just returned from Las Vegas where we lounged by the pool, won some cash and explored the city's food offerings. Some of our friends were able to come with us as well - George, Tate and Moose. Tate and Moose were no strangers to Vegas - they rented a car and proceeded to travel all over the city playing slots and blackjack. Moose in particular had a yen for single deck black jack - had I say, because after an hour at a table in the 4 Queens, he had no love from the single deck and came away much poorer. Fortunately, he enjoyed more luck over at Binion's.

So what did Annie, George and I do the whole time Tate and Moose were gambling? Buying stupid crap for the folks back home. Plus eating of course. Vegas does have a lot of high end eating joints, but sometimes walking on the cheap side has its benefits too.

The first item of note is the staple of the American fast food - the hamburger. A good hamburger is a wonder and a joy. Greasy fried meat topped with lettuce and tomato on a soft roll - ah yes - heaven for the tired traveler.

Two places I would recommend for burgers in Vegas. The first is from a chain- In and Out Burger. I had never been to one before. Moose insisted that I try one. His theory is the more people making your food in the kitchen - the better the food would be. And that is how it worked out. Take your average McDonald's, they have what - maybe 6 - 7 people working the floor during rush. They pre-cook burgers and hold them until needed. It means that they can use less people to serve the same amount of food. In and Out Burger - big difference. We went to the big store off of Flamingo at about 8pm Vegas time. The place was packed. However, thanks to their stripped down menu (burgers, fries, soda and shakes) the ordering goes like this.

"I would like a double double, fries and a chocolate shake."
"Yes please"

That easy. And reasonably priced as well, so even if the blackjack table ate your cash, you can still afford to get a great burger. Next I watched the kitchen make our food - nothing is made until you order it. That means the burgers are put on the grill when your ticket comes up. That means to fries are cooked right then. And to make sure this happens, I counted about a dozen folks back in the kitchen making the food. 12 cooks. Amazing. The food came pretty darned fast for being as busy as they were - and I really enjoyed everything.

My hubby was so jealous that he didn't get to go we had to make a special trip to pick him up a bag. I was almost tempted to stop by Jack in the Box to snag an empty bag and fill it up with the In and Out Burgers. Just the screw with him mostly - as he claims that Jack in the Box is run by Beelzebub himself. However, I was too tired to really mess with his head and he was able to enjoy his food in peace.

(The one thing I will mention is that tomatoes were banned in Vegas at the time we were there - a salmonella outbreak had been traced to them. Another reason to grow your own folks!)

The second burger of note was at the snack bar at Binion's. The reason I specifically state the snack bar just off the main gambling hall is that the burger there is only $5.50 each as opposed to $7.50 in the restaurants. Same burger - fancier venue. The whole idea of the snack bar is to get your feed on ASAP and then back to the gaming tables. I like to believe that Benny Binion thought of that - being as hardcore about gambling as he was.

Binion's grinds all their meat fresh everyday - or so proclaims the signs strewn about the casino floor. The burger is then fried on a griddle 'til it is well done, served on a roll with all the fixin's with a spoonful of pretty good potato salad - ie it tasted like potatoes and not preservatives. I would equate the type of berger to those served at Steak and Shake. No rare meat to be had - but still I thought it was a great meal while I was wandering through downtown.

While we were Downtown, we had to try one of the more famous cheap eats - the Golden Gate's Shrimp Cocktail. When I first went to Vegas - this was way before they made the downtown area "family friendly" - the cocktails were only $.99 each. But inflation hits even Vegas, so the cocktail is now $1.99 each - still a great deal. And if you are really desperate to save that extra buck, just join the slot club and you can get the treat at it's pre-inflation price of $.99. Here is the cocktail in all it's glory!

The evil inside a deep fried twinkie!

The last thing we did before we left Freemont Street for the El Cortez (another old school casino downtown) was to walk over Mermaids - a slots only place with a snack bar. For us, their claim to fame is the deep fried Twinkies and Oreos. Yeah - we decided that we had to have them. Man - it was enough to cause me to slip into a diabetic coma and yet, it had a strange quality that makes me still crave them even now. I opted for the Twinkies as did Moose and George, while Tate went for the Oreos. Annie, being more sensible than rest of the group just watched us with the same fascination that one watches the freak show at the circus.

So while I was out running around with the gang, the hubby - who has a rule that he never bets on anything that can't talk - put some money down on the Lakers/Celtics game. Later that night, we were about $400 richer thanks to the fact the Lakers didn't make the spread. Very nice.

That meant that we got to play with our "mad cash". We splurged by going to the Mac King show at Harrah's - I love Mac. I've seen his show quite a few times and I still have a lot of fun every time I go. At $25 a head, it is still a great deal compared to some of the big night time shows that charge $75 - $125 per ticket.

The last thing we ate before leaving Vegas was Thai. We ended up at a little Thai place just down the way from the hotel. How did we discover it you ask? There in lies a tale...It was our last morning in Vegas. None of us really wanted to eat the breakfast buffet at the hotel one more time - but what to eat? Tate, Moose and George wanted Thai - something hot and spicy to wake them up and motivate them to the airport.

Ok- that was the easy part...now the hard part - where do we eat Thai? It was decided that we had seen some Thai places just down the road from the hotel earlier in the week and that we should try one of them. So as we drove up and down Sahara Ave., we started to dicker over where we should go. Moose, who was driving, said "We are stopping here." and pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall.

Located next to a shop that sold assless chaps was an establishment that simply said "Thai Restaurant". We were in Vegas - why not gamble?!

Well folks we hit the jackpot. Some of the best Thai food any of us had ever had. The lunch deal went like this - they had a bunch of dishes on the steam table. All were nice and fresh as they had just opened. You could get 2 different dishes plus rice for $6 or 3 different dishes plus rice for $8.

I had a hot and sour soup with lots of greens and pork (it lived up to its name), a stir-fried ground chicken dish kinda like the stuff I make at home with pork (only theirs was much better) and a fishball and bamboo shoot dish (very mild). The other guys ended up getting dishes like hot beef coconut curry, a pork dish with eggplant which was wickedly hot and good - I can't even remember it all. On top of that we ended up ordering Thai coffee and tea. With tip, all six of us ate for about $70.

The "Thai Restaurant" is the reason I have a love/hate relationship with eating out in other cities. The reason I love it is pretty obvious - who doesn't love eating out a great restaurants? The hate part - I get cravings for the food I can't get here in Columbus. So far this year, I've added top notch Carolina Que to my list and now this really great Thai place on Sahara Blvd in Vegas. Next time I go to Vegas, I am definitely going to have to hit a jackpot so that I can retire and spend my life traveling to all my favorite places to eat!