LAS VEGAS — Depending on your motivation, appetite, price point and more, Las Vegas is probably no different than any other place — you can eat really well, or you can eat really poorly.
Factor in the crush of CES crowds, and the tendency to go for what’s easy starts to creep in. But easy, while perhaps not synonymous with healthy, doesn’t have to taste bad — especially late at night in a city where other vices have impacted your ability to know any better.
Our GeekWire crew spent five days in Las Vegas and never really found the time for what might be considered a proper meal accompanied by a waiter or even a cloth napkin. But that doesn’t mean the four of us went hungry. And in the process of eating out for every meal, we learned a thing or two about fast food hamburgers and who does it best among a handful of not-so-giant chains.
The good news for geeks in Seattle is that a clear winner emerged in the form of Shake Shack, a New York-based burger and beer joint that is coming to South Lake Union sometime in the middle of 2018.
While it won’t have a fake New York City skyline looming over its planned location on Westlake Avenue, Shake Shack will have Amazon’s sprawling campus and many thousands of workers to feed and feed off of. And that’s good news for Amazonians, based on what we tasted during a walk to the New York-New York hotel and casino this week.
The cheeseburgers and signature crinkle cut fries were fresher tasting, hotter, juicier and more flavorful than anything we sampled from the other hipster burger joints that we entered in our pseudo competition: In-N-Out Burger and White Castle. Add in the ability to get a craft beer and Shake Shack ran away with the prize (regardless of how many beers preceded the one with dinner).
In-N-Out, located on the Linq Promenade near Harrah’s and the Flamingo, puts on a great show with its Vegas-style neon glowing in the night. “Quality you can taste,” is the chain’s popular slogan, and new Seattleites who have migrated from points south (California) would no doubt welcome the chain’s arrival, if that ever happens — even in a city that has the beloved Dick’s Drive-In chain.
But as much as I’ve liked In-N-Out on previous travels to Southern California, it lost out, in my opinion, this time around to Shake Shack.
White Castle, the old school Midwest / Mid-Atlantic chain was a very late stop one night and one that I remembered for mostly all the wrong reasons into the next day. The cute little square burgers just didn’t hit the spot, and I feel like I can still taste the onions that accompanied them. It finished third to the other two chains.
Here’s what my colleagues had to say about this CES culinary journey:
Taylor Soper: “Shake Shack felt a bit more gourmet than In-N-Out — higher quality beef, added bacon, better fries. However, I really enjoyed my Double-Double from In-N-Out. Shake Shack gets the slight nod for me. White Castle was definitely last place; I didn’t think it was much tastier than something from McDonald’s or Burger King.”
Nat Levy: “I think the burger crawl was my idea, and if it was, I apologize to everyone. That said, of the three prominent burger makers we checked out, Shake Shack was the clear winner for me. A few things beyond the food stood out, including a well-designed, if a little over the top storefront in a prominent spot at NY-NY and the ability to buy beer. From a burger standpoint, Shake Shack’s offerings felt fresher, and the fries were by far the best of the three joints. I’m looking forward to thinking about going to Shake Shack all the time when it opens in Seattle but eventually backing out because I don’t want to deal with the traffic.”
Kevin Lisota: “I definitely didn’t set out to have this many burgers at CES. My favorite was actually the one I had at the Wynn hotel without the team. It was a bit pricey at $17 and completely messy, but very juicy and stacked high with onion rings and BBQ sauce. I’d say Shake Shack came in a close second. I’m a sucker for bacon cheesburgers, and Shake Shack will likely be added to my rotations. But the one I’d really like to see is Super Duper Burger from San Francisco.”
Elsewhere on the menu
Beyond fast food burgers, we did eat a few other things at places that served other types of food. For instance, we didn’t even get out of the airport in Seattle before Lisota loaded up on loaded tater tots. Way to lay down that base for the week, Kev.
Lunch during CES was almost always free sandwiches provided in the various media rooms. Soper even ate a Lunchables snack box from Walgreens one day and subsisted throughout another day on nothing but a granola bar from Whole Foods.
I had a slice of cheese at a pizzeria in New York-New York that successfully transported me in just a few bites to the streets of that great city. There is really nothing better than a New York slice, even it it’s in a casino 2,500 miles away.
In the Venetian, a craft beer and food joint called Black Tap served up a great crispy chicken sandwich, fried mozzarella and cool atmosphere at the bar.
At the Pepcom Digital Experience, the theme was football tailgating, and Levy in particular was wowed by tiny hoagies that fit in the palm of his hand. The reporter, who managed to coin the phrase, “I’m not not hungry” at one point during CES, was always talking about buffets we never made it to. And he even appeared ready to take a bite out of a foam taco during a stop by Soper at a Taco Bell with a bar in it on the Vegas Strip.
At an event hosted by Chinese tech giant Baidu, the world’s prettiest little sandwiches and desserts were served up at the Mandarin Oriental.
On our way out of town, airport food again provided a base for a sleepy flight back to Seattle, with a place called PGA Tour Grill actually coming through with some tasty items including fish tacos and a salmon burger.
But we’ll remember Shake Shack the most for hitting the spot on one particular night, and we look forward to the ability to have it do that again in Seattle later this year.