LAS VEGAS — No doubt about it. The top of the Vegas food chain is the domain of high rollers. But here's a secret: You don't have to spend big to eat big in this town. You can sample Guy Savoy's legendary artichoke truffle soup for just a few dollars, or take in the million-dollar view at Mix for the price of a cocktail. Stray off the Strip and head to the places the famous chefs hit when they're off duty -- including one of the country's best Thai restaurants. Here's a weekend's worth of fine dining for the every roller:
In a nondescript mall just east of the Strip, Lotus of Siam serves up the best northern Thai food on the West Coast and probably in the country. For the price of a bowl of soup at some of the Strip's top restaurants, you can feast on Thai dishes from the tremendously talented chef and owner, Saipin Chutima. Go straight to her a la carte menu and don't miss the northern-style sausage with basil, green papaya salad or steamed catfish in lotus leaf. The wine list is remarkable too: heavy on Austrian Rieslings and German Gewurztraminers, and put together by the sommeliers in town who love this place.
Lotus of Siam, 953 E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas; (702) 735-3033; www.saipinchutima.com. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; for dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Main dishes, $8.95 to $22.95; most less than $15.
For a cup of espresso made short and strong, with a proper crema, head to the new Espressamente Illy coffee bar, the first of many to come in the U.S. from premier Italian coffee roaster Illy. The vibe is smart and urban (that's why so many vacationing Europeans make this their morning coffee spot). The morning pastries could be better, but if you require the jump-start of a truly ferocious latte, an extra shot of espresso is just a buck.
Espressamente Illy, Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; (702) 869-2233. Open 6 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Espresso drinks, $3.50 to $5.50.
For just $16, you can savor a cocktail and the million-dollar view of the Strip from the 64th-floor balcony of Mix Lounge. At Mix Restaurant next door, gourmands are paying big bucks for a lesser view and, OK, Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse's worldly menu. Every night at the Lounge, a different DJ stirs up a musical mix. The cocktail of the moment? Violet, a mix of Absolut raspberry vodka, Hpnotiq, Chambord and pineapple juice.
Mix Lounge, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; (702) 632-9500; mandalayplace.com/dining/mixlounge .aspx. Open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Cocktails, $16. No cover before 10 p.m.; after 10 p.m., it's $10 Sunday through Tuesday, $12 Wednesday and Thursday, $20 Friday and Saturday.
Next door to the more formal Louis's Las Vegas is South Carolina chef Louis Osteen's rowdy and fun Fish Camp, where you can get a bowl of his low-country shrimp and okra gumbo along with a New Orleans oyster po' boy, a shrimp burger with jalapeno tartar sauce or a sirloin burger with Benton's fine bacon and extra sharp white cheddar. I wouldn't say no, either, to some hush puppies or sweet potato fries with a glass of bourbon from Zelda's Bourbon Bar, which stocks more than 48. Live music on the weekends.
Fish Camp, Town Square, 6605 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Building N, Las Vegas; www.louislasvegas.com; (702) 463-3000. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sandwiches, $12.50 to $16.50.
Could this be Paris? Not technically, but Thomas Keller's oyster bar at his French bistro Bouchon in the Venetian puts you there in spirit. Sit down at the zinc bar with a loved one, order a glass of Sancerre and a petit plateau with pristinely fresh oysters, clams, mussels, half a lobster and shrimp. It's the best seafood platter this side of the Seine.
Bouchon, Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino, Venezia Tower, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; (702) 414-6200; www.bouchonbistro.com. Oyster bar open midday to 11 p.m. daily. Petit plateau, $58.
French chef Hubert Keller of San Francisco's posh Fleur de Lys is getting into burgers in a big way at his Burger Bar in Vegas. His basic burger is $8, which includes tomatoes, onions, lettuce and pickles. But this isn't just any beef: It's corn-fed Hereford beef from Ridgefield Farms in Washington state's Yakima Valley -- and it's fresh-ground to order. He's also got a Colorado lamb burger and a pricier American Kobe beef version from Snake River Farms in Idaho. Choose your bread, pile on the additional toppings and voila! A custom-built gourmet burger. Desserts are all burgers too, including, yikes, a peanut butter and jelly burger.