Las Vegas is easily one of the most indulgent restaurant cities in the world. If you can foot the big bill, there’s no style of cuisine unavailable and no limits to the epicurean adventures that await.
But what if you’re the type of eater who prefers a challenge to an adventure? And what if you don’t want to pay for your meal? The city has more than its share of extreme eating challenges and decadent dishes ready to test your gastronomic mettle, many of which are yours for free — if you can eat 15 sliders, for example, as is the case at neighborhood favorite Born and Raised and its popular “Bar Gamble.” Take it or leave it, that’s one tasty test.
Not all of these designer dishes are based on downing massive quantities of food in a few minutes. Chef Rick Moonen’s whimsical “Tasting Game” at RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay allows you to sample 16 types of house-made ice cream and guess the flavor, a much less perilous feast (unless you hate garlic ice cream). And not all of these challenges offer a discount or a prize; some are just delicious meal mountains you need to see, and attack, to believe. Las Vegas truly has something for every appetite, even the most intense.
Extreme dish: 24-layer chocolate cake
The hands-down best-seller at the Strip House at Planet Hollywood is a dessert, and that’s saying something considering this is a popular steakhouse on the Strip. The famed 24-layer cake is made of 12 rich slabs of coffee and cocoa-powder batter baked to moist perfection, 11 layers of creamy chocolate custard, and one final coat of shiny chocolate ganache. The finished cake weighs more than 20 pounds, but the skyscraping slice you’ll attack with your tablemates is only a couple of pounds and said to feed four to six. Once you get that first bite, you may be less likely to share. This treat has inspired its own food challenge, a little game we like to call: How many chocolate layers can you fit on one forkful?
• Cost: $15
• Where: Strip House at Planet Hollywood, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: Strip House
Challenge: Rick's Tasting Game
Likely the smartest and most delightful food challenge in Las Vegas, chef Rick Moonen’s spin offers a dessert platter of 16 small scoops of ice cream and sorbet that you don’t have to devour, just identify. Name each flavor and your Tasting Game is on the house, but that hasn’t happened often because the flavors stray from standards like chocolate and vanilla. Think Irish coffee, honeydew, bananas foster, garlic, and just about anything this creative kitchen can dream up. It’s frustrating in the most delicious way. The sweet and savory flavors are constantly changing, adding to the mystery. Over its 12 years in Las Vegas, RM Seafood has built a strong following of tourists and locals, and there are quite a few regulars who return to the restaurant as often as possible in search of a victory over the sweet little scoops. How talented is your palate?
• Prize if you prevail: You get to eat 16 flavors of ice cream and sorbet for free.
• Price if you fail: $18
• Where: RM Seafood at Mandalay Place, 3930 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: RM Seafood
Challenge: Phozilla Challenge
Clocking in at 9 pounds, Phozilla boasts a gallon of broth, 2 pounds of noodles and more than 2 pounds of beef or chicken. You must consume it within
33 minutes and 12 seconds, the initial record set when the challenge started in 1987. Phozilla resembles regular pho the same way Godzilla resembles an iguana. The components are the same, just much, much bigger. Still, Mia Ha, who along with her husband owns Pho 87, said the monster dish began as a cheap and easy way for Ha’s parents to feed a large family. “My family has 10 brothers and sisters, and we ate a lot of pho,” Ha said. “And we wondered if other people could eat it, because all my brothers can eat Phozilla already.” Aside from the time limit, there’s only one rule: You can’t be a competitive eater.
• Prize if you prevail The meal is free.
• Price if you fail: $50
• Where: Pho 87, 3620 S. Jones Blvd.
• Website: Phozilla
Extreme dish: 15-inch slices
“We thought it would have a street-food appeal that worked for the Las Vegas ‘go big’ mentality,” Eric Vaughn, director of culinary operations for Planet Hollywood, said of Pin-Up Pizza’s 15-inch slice. The flavor is up to you: cheese, pepperoni, sausage, margherita, chicken and spinach, mushroom and pancetta or “meat” pizza. Pin-Up sells on average 1,000 15-inchers each day, a task requiring extra effort. “Each pizza starts with a dough ball that is over 8 pounds,” Vaughn said. “We use about 25 tons of mozzarella cheese a year.” The large pizzas also require special peels, the oversized spatulas used to pull pies in and out of ovens. The wood warps when exposed to heat, Vaughn said, so the restaurant literally burned through them when it first opened. “Eventually,” he said, “we found someone who could make one that would last that wasn’t so heavy that no one could lift it.”
• Cost: $7 ($6 for plain cheese)
• Where: Pin-Up Pizza, Planet Hollywood, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: Pin-Up Pizza
Challenge: The Bar Gamble
Ever wish you could eat all 15 sliders at Born and Raised? The Bar Gamble dares you, and raises you a healthy bowl of “anchor” fries covered in cheddar and jack cheeses, Buffalo hot sauce and bleu cheese dressing. Executive chef Aaron Raeder said it costs about $50 for the restaurant to build the Gamble, but customers who lose are out $75. “The owner said, ‘If you’re going to call it a gamble, let’s make it a real gamble.’ ” The challenge attracts all types, including tourists, local bros trying to outdo each other, and even some pros. “We’ve had some competitive eaters come in, and they’ve all completed it,” Raeder said. “One was actually a woman who took first place in Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. It’s not too big a challenge for them. For the regular customer, there’s a 90 percent failure rate.” If you succeed, the food is free, and you get a T-shirt.
• Cost: $75
• Where: Born and Raised, 7260 S. Cimarron Road (Las Vegas), 10050 S. Eastern Ave. (Henderson)
• Website: Born and Raised
Extreme dish: 42-ounce Porterhouse Contadina
Eating at Carmine’s kinda feels like a food challenge since the family-style portions are so huge and satisfying.
The king of the menu is this juicy mega-steak served with roasted potatoes, onions, peppers and sausage. The price adjusts depending on the number in your army.
• Where: Carmine’s at the Forum Shops at Caesars, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: Carmine's
Challenge: 18-Inch Monster Burrito Challenge
You have 20 minutes to eat Rockhouse’s 4-pound burrito filled with carne asada, pico de gallo, sautéed onions, green chilies, cheddar cheese, fries and lettuce and topped with sour cream and guacamole. Win and you get it for free with a tee. Lose, and you’re out $45.
• Where: Rockhouse at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and Palazzo, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Extreme dish: Pork tenderloin Benedict
Hammered pork tenderloin with tomato, spinach, roasted red pepper cream and a topping of two basted eggs. Hash House A Go Go’s Pork Tenderloin Benedict may not be the star of the menu, but it is a crowd favorite. “It’s one of those dishes that doesn’t get all the attention like the chicken and waffles does, but we sell a ton of them,” said marketing director Brannon Rees. That’s because, Rees said, the dish is a Midwest staple. “Lots of Midwesterners have grown up eating hand-hammered pork tenderloin. ...The customer comes in and they all have their preferences: with or without pickles, without ketchup and mustard, whatever. And they tell us the story of how or why they like it, and how it reminds them of what they ate when they were growing up.”
• Cost: $16.99
• Multiple locations: Rio, 3700 W. Flamingo Road; Linq, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. South; Plaza, 1 S. Main St.; 6800 W. Sahara Ave. and 555 N. Stephanie St.
• Website: Hash House A Go Go
Extreme dish: 10-egg omelet
One of Las Vegas’ restaurant icons, the Peppermill, serves these plate-sized breakfasts ($13.95-$15.95) around the clock with hash browns and toast, a muffin or bagel. Consider the Maserati, loaded with cheese and covered in Italian meat sauce, or the Marco Pollo with chicken, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes.
• Where: Peppermill, 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: Peppermill
Extreme dish: Godzilla Sushi Platter
Sake Rok’s outstanding sushi selection is both Godzilla-sized (five specialty rolls or 40 pieces of sashimi) and Godzilla-served — it comes to your table with everyone’s favorite city-destroying, smoke-breathing lizard as a caddy. Talk about presentation.
• Where: Sake Rok at the Park, 3786 Las Vegas Blvd. South,
• Website: Sake Rok
Extreme dish: Woody Allen Sandwich
Now that the original Carnegie Deli in NYC has closed, you’ll have to stick to the Vegas version to get this pastrami and corned beef goliath, around 3 pounds of meat stacked between outmatched-yet-delicious rye bread. Pass the mustard, please.
• Where: Carnegie Deli at the Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South
• Website: Mirage
Challenge: The No. 13 Challenge
Chicago is a big city filled with big food, like deep-dish pizza and hot dogs piled high with vegetables and condiments. If there’s a signature sandwich of the Second City — the Philly cheesesteak of Chicago, if you will — it’s the Italian beef. Las Vegas’ Chicago-style café, Windy City Beefs-N-Dogs, has created the ultimate Italian beef, adding plump, spicy pork sausage to the mix with plenty of savory jus and vinegary hot giardinera, all tucked into a crusty roll. And, oh yeah, it weighs 7.5 pounds. If you can eat it all by yourself in 30 minutes, you will have conquered the meat mountain formerly (and appropriately) known as the Sears Tower Challenge. Of course, you could order a regular No. 13 and get the same sandwich in a much more reasonable size, but that won’t get you on the Windy City Wall of Fame.
• Prize if you prevail: The meal is free, plus you get a T-shirt and your photo on the Wall.
• Price if you fail: $50
• Where: Windy City Beefs-N-Dogs, 7500 W. Lake Mead Blvd., Suite 10
• Website: Windy City Beefs-N-Dogs
Extreme dish: Triple Gut Buster
Rollin Smoke’s ginormous sandwich was recently featured on Food Network’s “Ginormous Food.” It costs $175, and you have to call ahead to order. It layers coleslaw, french fries, onion strings, burnt ends, barbecue pork and hot links on brioche bread. It’s available only at the original location.
• Where: Rollin Smoke, 3185 S. Highland Drive
• Website: Rollin Smoke
Challenge-ish: Buffet of Buffets 24-Hour Pass
The standard lineup of five buffets at Caesars Entertainment properties is extreme. You won’t win anything for devouring your way through them, but this is a badge of honor for any all-you-can-eat aficionado. The basic pass is $59.99 per person Sunday through Thursday, and $74.99 on weekends and holidays.
• Website: Buffet of Buffets
Extreme dish: 24-scoop King Kong Sundae
Got a dozen friends with whom you don’t mind sharing dessert? Sugar Factory offers a $100 landslide of ice cream covered with fudge, caramel, strawberry sauce, bananas, marshmallows, Reese’s Pieces, chocolate chip cookies, crushed waffle cones, gummy bears, white chocolate strawberry shavings, toasted walnuts, whipped cream, giant lollipops and ... sparklers.
• Where: Sugar Factory, Fashion Show mall, 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Challenge: Inferno Curry Challenge
Now that it has a second location in Spring Valley, Mint Indian Bistro’s reputation as a local favorite continues to grow. But the old joint just east of the Strip may still be best known for this ridiculously spicy dish. The fire is fueled by the ghost pepper, one of the hottest chilies in the world, but the Mint kitchen turned up the heat recently by adding Carolina Reaper and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion chilies. There’s no time limit and it’s not an unusually large portion, but the dish is so intense that challengers must sign a waiver before attempting to consume it. This one is for extreme eaters only.
• Prize if you prevail: A spot on the restaurant’s Wall of Flame, a $50 gift card and entry into a drawing for complimentary dinner entrées for a year (one per month, 12 total).
• Price if you fail: $19.99-$22.99 (depending on if you order with vegetables, chicken thigh or boneless lamb — not that you’ll taste the difference with all that heat)
• Try it: Mint Indian Bistro, 730 E. Flamingo Road
• Website: Mint Bistro