“On the West Coast especially, Asian restaurants are often integrated in upscale shopping centers,” said MGM Resorts International’s Josef Wagner, vice president of food and beverage for Park MGM and Bellagio Las Vegas. “Consumers want that experience when they travel.”
At AAA Five Diamond ARIA Resort & Casino, MGM transformed an all-important breakfast venue into an outpost of fabled Taiwanese dumpling and noodle house Din Tai Fung.
“We would not have even considered this five years ago,” noted Wagner. “Our investment was in direct response to the shift in market demand.”
The Din Tai Fung legend dates to 1927, when near-penniless 20- year-old Chinese refugee Bing-Yi Yang landed in Taiwan. In 1958, he opened his own wholesale cooking oil business. When that enterprise faded in the early 70’s, Yang and his wife shifted to making Xiao Long Bao, or steamed pork soup dumplings. Keeping the business name, Din Tai Fung became a global phenomenon, earning a Michelin star in Hong Kong and is now expanding to 160 locations worldwide.
Watching the show kitchen action up-close, where chefs hand-fold 10,000-plus dumplings daily, is an absorbing prelude to the bamboo basket bounty ahead. Prepare to gush over the earthy Truffle & Kurobuta Pork bun, spicy Jidori Chicken Wontons, Chocolate and Mochi dessert bun, and more.
ARIA is also home to Lemongrass, the Strip’s only high-end Thai restaurant, and Blossom, serving wide-ranging Chinese dishes.
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto brings his “no rules” approach to Morimoto Las Vegas inside MGM Grand, with starters like the sturgeon caviar-topped toro (tuna belly) tartare boxed with six condiments including guacamole, nori paste and wasabi.
Accompanied by sake and champagne pairings, other theatrical twists include the Hawaiian tuna pizza drizzled with anchovy aioli; Yaki Chashu Bop, kakuni pork on rice cooked tableside in a hot stone bowl; and flaming Fiery Chocolate Tart dessert.
Roy Choi also fearlessly eschews the rules. From the rarified climes of NYC’s Le Bernardin and the Beverly Hills Hilton, the South Korean-born, CIA-trained chef hit the streets of Los Angeles in a rented truck selling Korean short-rib tacos to clubgoers and other customers. His roving Kogi BBQ was a Twitter-propelled smash, earning Choi cult status as the “godfather” of the food truck movement.
Chronicled in his New York Times bestseller L.A. Son, Choi’s story garnered widespread attention. Actor-director Jon Favreau based his movie Chef on Choi, with whom he co-hosts The Chef Show on Netflix.
In 2018, Choi expanded his LA restaurant and catering enterprise to Vegas with Best Friend at Park MGM. The party begins in the Liquor Store, a pulsing Koreatown-inspired bodega homage stacked with merch and incorporating a bar serving boozy slushies. In the middle sits the high-ceilinged dining room, backed by the open kitchen and its prime chef’s table.
LA references abound, from vibrant street scenes on the walls to the live DJ’d soundtrack. Servers in adidas track suits enhance the hip-hop vibe, while the hanging plants are a nod to Choi’s former Commissary restaurant at LA’s Line Hotel.