Desert Companion

Why we should be called Burger City

Does Las Vegas have an official food? It does now: The hamburger. Here’s why

Many months ago, way before the popular food truck he created with his friend Robert “Mags” Magsalin blossomed into the kind of fresh, hip Hollywood eatery where Jim Carrey would pop in on opening night, Colin Fukunaga was talking a little smack. If you’ve met Colin — if you’ve ever checked out the goods from the Fukuburger truck, he’s always around — this comes as no surprise. It’s always good-natured smack-talking, and this occasion was no different.

He was talking about taking over the world. He was excited about the success of his super-hyped Japanese burgermobile. But he was most jacked up about the potential of Fukuburger to achieve the opposite of traditional Vegas restaurant success. All the great restaurants here started somewhere else and then came to the Strip, he explained — loudly — and it’s about time something started in Las Vegas and expanded outward.

And now it has. Fukuburger L.A. opened in October. And while Colin, Mags and their team have proven it’s possible to take local food to the next level, all I can think about is how good their burgers are: perfectly medium rare every time, beefy juices commingling with furikake and teriyaki, fried egg adding that extra rich flavor bomb. Theirs is one of the best burgers in Vegas, which is why it’s in L.A. And it’s another tasty reason why Vegas is the best place to eat a burger. It’s our official food.

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No one can question that our city is one of the world's greatest — and most unique — dining destinations. But there's no regional cuisine in the desert. There's no signature American food item categorically linked to Las Vegas in the manner of the Philly cheesesteak, the soul food of the South, Texas barbecue or the Chicago/New York hot dog/pizza ... whatever. You get the point.

But we are in the age of the burger. It's been the most popular of American meals pretty much forever, an icon on a sesame seed bun. These days it’s celebrated in every way, from TV shows and blogs dedicated to finding the best, most bad-ass burger, to celebrity chefs crafting a namesake ground beefwich. Every restaurant has a burger, and it’s probably pretty good. Fancy French restaurants have burgers, and they’re amazing. What other foodstuff is simply reduced in size and called an appetizer?

This is where Vegas comes in. We have the greatest variety available here, a burgerverse unto itself. That’s because, like Colin pointed out, everybody comes to Vegas. It took me a while to realize that not every city in the United States has Normal, Illinois’ Steak ‘n' Shake; Washington, D.C.’s Five Guys; San Antonio’s Fuddruckers; and California’s In-N-Out, Tommy’s, Fatburger and Farmer Boys.

This is an all-encompassing selection, and it’s only the casual burger beginnings. All burgers, all the time, all the prime beef and toppings you can think of — this is the way of the fancy Vegas burger joint, one of which can be found in just about every casino on the Strip. At Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, you can add black truffles or foie gras. At BLT at Mirage, each burger is a blend of short rib, brisket, chuck and sirloin. At Holsteins at The Cosmopolitan, the beef is dry-aged. At KGB at Harrah’s, there’s a burger modeled after a Cobb salad. At Burger Joint at the Flamingo, the Burning Love burger has cayenne-peppered bacon, jalapeños and pepper jack cheese — unless you want to make it a Scorcher and add ghost pepper sauce. Why would you do that?

Then there are our fine-dining masterpieces, like the famous ground steak burger at Bradley Ogden (Caesars Palace) or the legendary prime hamburger at Delmonico Steakhouse (Venetian). Have you had the burger at RM Seafood? It’s incredible — and they serve fish here! Please tell me you’ve tasted the Comme Ça burger at our Restaurant of the Year. It could have been the burger of the year, easily.

Are there too many delicious burgers in Las Vegas? Yes, more than any other city, and we are willing to bet on it. And we have secret weapons, too, in our homegrown burgers. One day soon, no visitor’s whirlwind Vegas experience will be complete without grabbing a bite at Fukuburger, or perhaps the refined mini-burgers of their food truck family from Slidin’ Thru. There are astounding Asian flavors at Henderson’s Bachi Burger. There’s every topping in the book at Create Burger on West Lake Mead, and piles of pastrami or slathered chipotle sauce at Sammy’s L.A. Pastrami & Burgers. And you can't get more local than the beautifully greasy, ground-fresh-daily diner burger at Binion’s.

We are burger city. Embrace it. In the most American of cities — in food trucks, fine restaurants and familiar chains — we represent the most American of meals like nowhere else. All in the middle of the desert. It’s unlikely and a little crazy — like Vegas itself.

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