Las Vegas’s favorite new food trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The Rio Hotel & Casino replaced its Carnival World Buffet with the Canteen Food Hall — a collection of six restaurants that opened on Friday, January 19. It follows the Aria’s move to replace a buffet with a food hall and it marks the first in a series of renovations coming to the off-Strip resort.
The Canteen’s most exciting restaurant is Tender Crush, a New York-style chicken tender spot from the founders of Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer. The tight menu of super tender and crunchy chicken strips is available in a variety of flavors, each seasoned with hot chili oil Nashville chicken-style and dusted with seasonings. There’s a Korean-style tender seasoned with a hot kimchee dry rub, a Thai-style one with Szechuan peppers and fresh cilantro, and a spread of dips includes a bird pepper fermented hot sauce with a nice touch of heat. The menu also has boozy and non-alcoholic slushies topped with frozen custard and an impressive blueberry lemon doughnut, served warm.
The creators of Tekka Bar, a sushi and hand roll counter in the Block 16 Urban Food Hall inside the Cosmopolitan, introduce Nama Nama, with made-to-order hand rolls, cut rolls, poke bowls, nitro matcha, and sake on-the-go. Chef Alex Resnick, who has worked alongside the likes of Jose Andres and Ray Garcia, is debuting Attaboy Burgers with a straightforward menu of just four burgers and a root beer float — with root beer courtesy of Big Dog’s Brewing Company. South Philadelphia’s cheesesteak chain, Tony Luke’s, makes its West Coast debut with sandwiches like the chicken cheesesteak and the roast pork Italian with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. Southland Burrito Co. offers Sonoran-style burritos, like the Tejano, made with brisket barbacoa. And Shogun Ramen, which currently serves piping-hot bowls of umami-rich ramen both on Blue Diamond Road in Las Vegas and on Eastern Avenue in Henderson, opens a third location inside the food hall.
In 2019, Dreamscape Companies bought the Rio building from Caesars Entertainment and immediately leased it back to Caesars. In October of 2023, Dreamscape officially took over operations at the property. “Our first order of business was to get more people back to work, open things, and give our guests somewhere to eat and drink and have fun,” says Patrick Hoefler, vice president of food and beverage for the Rio. The Canteen is located near the entrance, on part of the buffet’s former footprint. “The buffet is obviously a very popular thing,” says Hoefler. “They can tend to be a little bit general and the food is, okay. And so here, you’ll get an individual experience versus a buffet, which is just kind of a long line of food.” He says that other new happenings to look forward at the Rio to include a Starbucks location opening in the middle of the casino on February 5 and a completely redone pool area launching the first week of March.
Last winter, the Aria Resort and Casino replaced its buffet with the Proper Eats food hall and the Fremont Hotel and Casino downtown converted parking space into a food hall — though that one includes some staples of more familiar food courts. The Durango Casino in southwest Las Vegas debuted the Eat Your Heart Out food hall and the Fontainebleau Las Vegas introduced the Promenade food hall in December. Even the mixed-use campus, the Uncommons, got in on the food hall action when it opened this year.
While Las Vegas still boasts more than a dozen buffets — many of which are very good — it appears that food halls, which can offer big chef names, brand recognition, and the opportunity for diverse dining options in one space, have a stronghold.