Giada's must-see Las Vegas attractions

Food Network host and chef Giada De Laurentiis recommends some of her favorite Las Vegas attractions -- and they're off the Strip.

Posted: Aug 15, 2018 4:41 AM
Updated: Aug 15, 2018 5:05 AM

Giada De Laurentiis knows a thing or two about putting on a show.

Since the Italian-born chef debuted on the Food Network in 2002, she has hosted numerous cooking and travel-themed shows, including Emmy Award-winning programs "Everyday Italian" and "Giada at Home."

So while De Laurentiis lives and grew up in Los Angeles, opening her first restaurant in Las Vegas was a natural choice.

"The whole idea was I come from television, that's how people know me. And Las Vegas is about a show. I mean people ... come here to be entertained," she says.

The restaurant, Giada, opened in 2014. Located on the second floor of The Cromwell casino and boutique hotel, it boasts huge windows that open right onto the Strip with prime views of the Bellagio fountains.

The space features photos of De Laurentiis and her family and references a few of the scores of films produced by her late grandfather, Dino De Laurentiis.

The chef's saying, "I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything," is cut out in silhouette in the dining room's chandeliers.

She puts a California spin on her Italian cuisine. Lemon spaghetti (that's pronounced "spah-geh-tee") with jumbo shrimp is a signature dish.

De Laurentiis recently opened a quick-serve restaurant, Pronto by Giada, across the street at Caesars Palace.

She admits that she's spent a lot more time in Sin City than she ever imagined.

In the mid-1990s, things were a little wilder. De Laurentiis remembers a trip to Vegas when the Hard Rock casino opened and pool parties were "all the rage."

"I don't think I slept for the entire weekend," she says. "That's the one thing I remember about the whole weekend is that I never went to my room."

These days, she's likely to come to town with her 10-year-old daughter, Jade. De Laurentiis is not a gambler, so she spends her free time discovering some of the city's intriguing, less visited spots.

A desert surprise

Glitz and gambling lure a lot of Las Vegas' visitors, but the city's desert surroundings are jaw-dropping in their own right.

And 10 miles south of the city, eye-catching splashes of Day-Glo color have been added to the landscape's natural beauty.

Seven Magic Mountains, an outdoor art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, features "very colorful rocks that are sort of piled up on top of each other that I think make a pretty spectacular Instagram moment," De Laurentiis says.

The installation -- made up of seven 30- to 35-foot-tall pillars of locally sourced boulders painted in an array of blazing colors -- plays on the intersection of natural and artificial.

Located in Henderson, Nevada, Seven Magic Mountains was conceived as a temporary installation, but it's been extended through at least the end of 2018. Its producers (Art Production Fund and Nevada Museum of Art) are working on a longer-term plan.

The shocking yellows and pinks and oranges are especially vivid as the light shifts in the golden hour before sunset. Visiting the site off I-15 is free.

Neon lights

De Laurentiis also recommends a visit to the downtown Neon Museum, which chronicles one of Sin City's most dazzling and defining features.

"It's really cool because it's history of when this town started and how things have changed," she says.

With more than 600 artifacts, the museum is home to some of the world's greatest neon signs, which caught on in a big way in Vegas in the 1930s.

In the outdoor exhibition space known as the Neon Boneyard, hundreds of signs -- from spots including the Stardust and Sahara casinos -- are illuminated at night with ground lighting.

Only a dozen signs are electrified, with more expected to be in working order by the start of 2019, including the 80-foot-tall Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign.

In the outdoor North Gallery, another collection of relics comes to life in the sound and light show Brilliant!, which features dancing lights and iconic Las Vegas performers projected onto signs from the Golden Nugget, the Liberace Museum and more.

Day and evening tours are offered. Tickets are available online.

Eye-popping views

De Laurentiis' daughter Jade is a big fan of Vegas from the air.

"One of the many things that my daughter loves is the helicopter ride over the Strip at night, which is quite fantastic. It definitely is an adrenaline rush," De Laurentiis says.

Sundance Helicopters and Maverick Helicopters both offer evening flights over the city.

The High Roller at The LINQ Promenade delivers great views a little closer to the ground. At 550 feet above the Strip, it's the world's highest observation wheel, and there are multiple ways to experience it.

"You can do cocktails on the High Roller, which I think is really fun. I've done yoga on the High Roller as well," De Laurentiis says.

Dining done right

The Las Vegas Strip is lined with big-name eateries like De Laurentiis' own. For a tremendous fine dining experience, she's a fan of Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace.

"He has an artichoke soup with truffles that is -- I dream about it. That's how good it is," she says.

There are also delicious options away from the casino hubbub.

Lotus of Siam is the first restaurant De Laurentiis visited off the Strip during construction of her restaurant at The Cromwell.

"The line was out the door. People wait for a long time to get in there. It is Thai food, and it is phenomenal," she says.

Chef Saipin Chutima's extensive menu features nuanced northern Thai specialties including khao soi.

"My mother has been making it forever. It's a lot different than a regular curry" with different types of herbs and spices, said her daughter and restaurant manager Penny Chutima.

Lotus of Siam is also known for an impressive list of German Riesling wines, which pair nicely with spicy Thai food.

The first time De Laurentiis visited, the eatery was located in a strip mall off E. Sahara Avenue. Late last year, Lotus of Siam opened a new location on E. Flamingo Road after the ceiling at the original spot caved in after heavy rains.

The Chutima family plans to reopen the original restaurant after renovations are complete. The word is definitely out about this spot, so a second location is a gift to diners.

"People do know about it in this town," De Laurentiis says. "But if you want some great Thai food off the Strip at a really great price, go to Lotus of Siam."

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