Viva Las Vegas!

Las Vegas’s official motto is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” but I was there for a few days in December, and you wouldn’t expect me to keep secrets about where I dined, would you? I’m thrilled to report that the Strip is filled with an ever-expanding array of gluten-free options. Here are some of of the places I enjoyed:

Mon Ami Gabi: This Parisian-style bistro is directly across the Strip from the Bellagio’s fountains, so you get a spectacular show every half-hour. The gluten-free menu was just as impressive to me, and I ate at the restaurant twice: once for dinner (with decadently cheesy French onion soup and lovely steak frites) and once for lunch (for a savory burger with a gluten-free bun… and more frites). Every gluten-free guest is automatically served warm GF bread, which was a delight (that was something Mon Ami Gabi didn’t offer the last time I was in Vegas, in 2009). In Paris Resort & Casino [address] 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-944-4224.

Border Grill: Located at the south end of the Strip, this restaurant also offers a separate gluten-free menu. The dishes are on the heavy side, but you didn’t come to Vegas for health reasons, did you? The queso fundido was served up as a starter, but it almost made an entire meal, with its gooey mix of melted manchego, panela, asadero, and Oaxacan string cheeses, served with chorizo and roasted poblano peppers. Don’t ask me how, but I still found room for the Kobe beef tacos, too. In Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino [address] 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-632-7403.

Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare: Located at the Wynn, this was a break-the-bank kind of meal, but the incredible fish is worth it (the “catch of the day” is literally flown in fresh each day). On the phone, I was told there was a gluten-free menu, but I was disappointed when I first saw it, because what I saw was a small booklet with all of 10 dishes listed inside. However, that turned out to be simply a list of the plates that are naturally gluten-free, and the chef was happy to modify almost anything on the menu to make it celiac-safe. The restaurant overlooks a private lagoon, making for an exceptionally romantic setting, too. In Wynn Las Vegas [address] 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-770-3463.

Aria Buffet: I’m a little afraid of buffets, to tell you the truth. There’s so often a risk of accidental cross-contamination — all it takes is for a careless guest to use the same serving tongs on a mix of gluten-full and gluten-free different dishes to ruin the latter ones. That’s why the Aria was such a pleasant surprise. I was there for brunch, and the fresh omelette station was a welcome find. Overall, the buffet was well organized, so that fruit salad was far away from cereals, lessening the risk of cross-contamination. Located in the Aria [address] 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 877-230-2742.

P.F. Chang’s: I’m still wishing a P.F. Chang’s would open in Manhattan. The restaurant has an Asian-inspired gluten-free menu with plenty of choice for starters and mains, and two options for dessert: rich chocolate mousse or a dark-chocolate-and-raspberry cake. Located in Planet Hollywood [address] 3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-836-0955.

Maggiano’s Little Italy: My first time dining here, and I loved it. Gluten-free guests automatically get a visit from a sous-chef at their table, so their (many) options are clearly pointed out. I’m officially a fan of the “Rigatoni D” (with chicken, caramelized onions, mushrooms and a marsala cream sauce). Located in Fashion Show Mall [address] 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-220-4185

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I have book news: my debut novel, The Damage Done, is now out in paperback in the U.S. and Canada! You can see its beautiful new cover, watch a video interview with me about the book, and enter a contest for a signed copy.

My second novel, The Next One to Fall, will be released on Valentine’s Day 2012. It’s a murder mystery set in Peru, and it’s already getting wonderful reviews. There’s a special contest for people who pre-order the book, and for every copy that is ordered before the release date, I’m donating a dollar to Heifer. I’m also planning a book tour that will take me back to Houston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and that will introduce me to Austin, Denver, and San Diego. Hope to see you while I’m on the road!

Celiac-Aware Chains in Las Vegas

While I was in Las Vegas last November, I was struck by the number of options that are now available to the gluten-intolerant. Almost every restaurant I contacted was able to accommodate me. Some, like Mon Ami Gabi (in Paris) and Border Grill (in Mandalay Bay), had dedicated gluten-free menus. Others, such as Bradley Ogden (in Caesar’s Palace) and Michael Mina (in Bellagio) were incredibly helpful and aware, and willing to make almost anything on the menu in a celiac-safe version. But those weren’t the only restaurants where I could dine safely. There were the chain restaurants, too.

One of the best things about the increasing popularity of the gluten-free diet is that it’s becoming more affordable. That’s not to say that specialty groceries have come down in price, but when a fast-food chain like Chipotle offers gluten-free options, it makes it possible for a gluten-intolerant person to get a quick meal out without paying a premium for it. The chains hit a variety of price points, but, speaking generally, they’re affordable and accessible to most people.

Here are some of the spots you’ll find on the Strip.

  • Chipotle: There’s isn’t a dedicated menu, but there’s information about eating gluten-free — and about common allergens — on the website. Several locations, including the one at Harrah’s [address] 3475 Las Vegas Blvd. South [tel] 702-836-0804 [web]
  • Maggiano’s Little Italy: There’s gluten-free pasta available and many dishes are gluten-free or require just a little modification to be safe. Located in Fashion Show Mall [address] 3200 Las Vegas Blvd South [tel] 702-220-4185 [web]
  • Outback Steakhouse: There’s a lot more than steak on this gluten-free menu, but I’m partial to the flourless brownie. Located in the Coke Bottle on the Strip [address] 3785 Las Vegas Blvd South, 4th Floor [tel] 702-220-4185 [web]
  • P.F. Chang’s: I wish that there were one of these in Manhattan. The restaurant has an Asian-inspired gluten-free menu with plenty of choice, and a delicious dark chocolate and raspberry cake for dessert. Located in Planet Hollywood [address] 3667 Las Vegas Boulevard South [tel] 702-836-0955 [web]

There are other chains to consider, such as Pei Wei Asian Diner, which has a gluten-free menu but not a location on the Strip. For more ideas about where to eat in Las Vegas, visit Celiac Handbook and Gluten-Free Maps.

Memorable Moments in Las Vegas

After I return from a trip, I find that certain memories fade while others actually become brighter over time. My time in Las Vegas last November is a perfect example: I couldn’t tell you what day I visited a particular casino, because those windowless rooms were hard to distinguish from one another after a while. But that makes the memory of the day I visited the Hoover Dam stand out even more.

The Hoover Dam is 30 miles southeast of Vegas, and it’s impossible to overstate how important it is to the entire southwestern corner of the country. It’s also hard to believe how gorgeous it is: while the dam was constructed between 1931 and 1936 to control the mighty Colorado River and generate hydroelectric power, its builders created a beautiful monument as well. The concrete dam and buildings have a distinct Art Deco appearance, enhanced by decoration using motifs of the region’s Native American tribes.

There’s a fascinating museum on the site, which explains everything from the complicated politics of building the dam to the engineering of the structure. (I have little understanding of engineering, but the description of the workings of the concrete arch-gravity dam — in which gravity and the design of the horizontal arch work together to carry the water load — were well-explained.) When you walk to the middle of the dam, you straddle the border between Nevada and Arizona, and depending on what time of year you visit, a single step can put you into a different time zone. There’s also a very touching memorial on the site, dedicated to the many workers who died while constructing the dam. “They died to make the desert bloom,” reads the large plaque in their honor.

Another memory that stands out from that trip is dinner at the Border Grill, which is located at Mandalay Bay. When I called them to ask if they’d be able to accommodate me, I discovered that they have a separate gluten-free menu. (This fact isn’t mentioned on the restaurant’s website; the original Border Grill restaurant in Santa Monica doesn’t have a separate gluten-free menu, though they can accommodate celiac diners, too). It turned out that I had plenty of choice. For a starter, I had the queso fundido, a deliciously gooey mix of melted manchego, panela, asadero, and Oaxacan string cheeses, served with chorizo and roasted poblano peppers. My main course was the most memorable: I had the Kobe beef tacos, which were spicy from being marinated with guajillo chiles but also sweet with the addition of pineapple salsa. Whenever I go back to Las Vegas, I know which two spots I’ll want to hit first.

Border Grill Las Vegas [address] In Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV [tel] 702-632-7403 [fax] 702-632-6945 [web]

Border Grill Santa Monica [address] 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, CA [tel] 310-451-1655 [fax] 310-394-2049 [web]

San Francisco Food, Las Vegas Style


Las Vegas has been called many things, but I like to think of it as the world’s biggest theme park. Where else could you visit a pyramid with a Sphinx in front, soar to the top of a scale version of the Eiffel Tower, and take a Venetian-style gondola ride in one afternoon? There are representations of New York City and Monaco, hints of Southeast Asian colonial style (at Mandalay Bay), and scenes of ancient Roman decadence (at Caesar’s Palace, of course). But there’s one great city that doesn’t figure into the design of any of the resorts, and yet dominates Las Vegas’s haute culinary scene: San Francisco.

Having visited the City by the Bay in the spring of 2008 — and discovering places such as Fish & Farm, Le Colonial, Millennium, and Regalito Rosticeria — I’d already experienced some great gluten-free cooking. But while I was aware that many Vegas restaurants are outposts of New York spots (including some that are known for their gluten-free-friendliness, such as Smith & Wollensky and Dos Caminos), I had no idea that San Francisco chefs had taken the city by storm.

One of the highlights of my visit to Vegas was dinner at Bradley Ogden’s eponymous restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. It sits on the edge of the casino, but it’s a world apart. Caesar’s Palace was one of my favorite gambling spots (not that I’m a high roller — slot machines like Gold Fish are more my speed). While the casino’s got sweeping ceilings, over-the top decorations and plenty of distractions, it’s also filled with smoke, noise, and bright lights (like every casino on the Strip).

The Bradley Ogden restaurant is an oasis of clean lines, neutral tones, and serene quiet. (Like all indoor Las Vegas restaurants, it is smoke-free.) From the start, the incredibly charming server, Alexis, made it clear that I could have most of the items on the menu, since everything is made from scratch on-site and the kitchen would be happy to make whatever modifications necessary for a gluten-free meal. I ended up ordering from the prix fixe menu, which offered three courses for $59. I had a Caesar salad to start, followed by pork loin for my main dish and ice cream for dessert. The food was simply incredible, and the service was sublime.

What really amazed me was that the thoughtfulness didn’t end with that night. Before I ordered, I talked with the server about why I often can’t get a gluten-free Caesar salad (it’s not just an issue of holding the croutons; many chefs use a Worcestershire sauce that contains wheat in the dressing). When I filled in the comment card at the end of the evening, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the meal and the attentive service. The next day, I received an e-mail from the restaurant, giving me their recipe for a perfect Caesar salad. Now that’s what I call service.

Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s Palace [address] 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas NV 89109 [tel] 877-346-4642 [web] or

Vegas, Baby, Vegas — for the Gluten-Free


I just got back from Las Vegas, my first trip there since my celiac diagnosis. The city is just as crazy as I remembered it, but also more glamorous and grown-up. It still feels like an amusement park for adults when you stroll along the Strip, complete with roller coasters and other rides (at New York New York, the Sahara, and the Stratosphere), high-powered shows (Cirque du Soleil now has five productions playing there, with a new one — “Viva Elvis” opening soon), and a party-till-you drop atmosphere.

It’s also got a startlingly good food scene. I say startlingly because when I last visited Vegas, more than seven years ago, it seemed to be all about all-you-can-eat buffets. I remember towering portions of fried food, which were served up everywhere. There were upscale restaurants run by well-known chefs, but the few I tried seemed stuck on fried food, too (not that I was complaining about gourmet crab cakes back then, but they wouldn’t suit my diet now).

My memories of my first trip to Vegas made me trepidatious about what I’d find on the food front this time around. I was aware that it’s possible to dine gluten-free in Las Vegas, thanks to the terrific report that Gluten-Free Guidebook reader Elena wrote for this site last year. (Elena is a member of the Bi-State Celiac Support Group, which serves St. Louis, Missouri, and Belleville, Illinois.) But I was torn between wanting to dine safely at some of the great spots Elena identified, and a desire to find new and different places to write about.

Mostly, I chose unfamiliar spots, and over the next few weeks, you’ll read about them (and overall, they get rave reviews). But first, let me tell you about the one Elena suggested. She mentioned hearing that the French bistro Mon Ami Gabi, located in the Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino, was food-allergy-friendly, though she hadn’t eaten there. When I called to make a reservation, I mentioned that I was on a gluten-free diet, and asked if that would be a problem. They assured me that it wouldn’t be at all.

What I didn’t realize, until I was seated at a table there, was that Mon Ami Gabi now has a separate gluten-free menu. The one that I was given in Vegas is different from the one that is online for the restaurant’s other locations (there was no gluten-free bread, and the list of desserts was limited to one flavor of ice cream that particular night), but the list of appetizers and entrees was impressive. I had the savory-sweet endive, roasted pear and blue cheese salad to start and a satisfying plate of seared sea scallops with spinach and whipped cauliflower to follow. I also enjoyed the restaurant’s French Martini, a mix of vodka and champagne with chambord and pineapple. It seemed only fitting to toast a restaurant that takes such good care of its gluten-free guests — and a city that now offers them plenty of options.

Mon Ami Gabi [address] Paris Las Vegas Resort & Casino, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV 89109 [tel] 702-944-4224 [web]; there are also locations in Chicago, Oakbrook IL, Bethesda MD, and Reston VA.

Reader Report: Gluten-Free Las Vegas

I haven’t visited Las Vegas since being diagnosed with celiac disease, but fortunately one of the Gluten-Free Guidebook’s readers has. Elena is a member of the Bi-State Celiac Support Group, which serves St. Louis, Missouri, and Belleville, Illinois. She spent some time in Las Vegas earlier this year, and this is what she had to say about what she found there. Thanks so much for sharing this, Elena!


I had dinner at Le Provencal in Paris. I talked to the manager before entering (I didn’t have a reservation) — apparently they get the gluten-free request a lot. The server had several options for me and I chose seafood, which was very good. I felt confident there. If you catch them at the right time there are singing waiters performing.

I had brunch at Pinot Brasserie in the Venetian. The server was unfamiliar with gluten-free, but I gave him my Triumph Dining card and he went back and spoke to the chef. It appeared the chef was aware because the server came back quickly with some options for me. I had the steak and eggs and it was wonderful.

My favorite restaurant of the weekend was Tao in the Venetian. My friends really wanted to go there but I was apprehensive, because the only gluten-free Las Vegas review I could find on the internet was a very negative one about this place. So, not to let my friends down, I called the restaurant and talked to a chef. He assured me that they had many choices for me. He also told me to use the word “allergy” when I talked to my server. That seems to be the trigger word. I made a reservation (which is necessary) and they noted on the reservation that I was gluten-free. When I got there, the waiter brought out a list of gluten-free options (the list also mentioned alterations to make menu items gluten-free). On a side note, he also had a list of common allergens (wheat, soy, egg, fish, etc) and the available menu choices. The waiter took the time to answer my questions and made sure I was taken care of. It seems they have a really good system there. Who knows, maybe it went into effect after the previously mentioned bad review. The food was outstanding!

I didn’t go to Mon Ami Gabi in Paris, but I went there before I was diagnosed and that was another top-notch restaurant. It is listed in the Triumph Dining Restaurant Guide as a place that is accommodating. (The guide states you must use the word “allergy” to get what you need there.)

The day we spent walking the Strip and checking out the new hotels was the most difficult in terms of finding something to eat. We went to the Miracle Mile shopping center for lunch, but I couldn’t eat at Cheeseburger Vegas or Blondies. They both told me straight up that they wouldn’t be able to figure anything out… everything uses the same grill, burger meat has wheat in it, etc. That day we ended up having lunch at P.F. Chang’s.