I have a list of ‘burgers to try’ in the notes section of my phone that has been slowly growing, I have no idea where most of them came from. Many are recommendations from readers, while some are from articles in local papers touting the ‘best unknown burger’ or something like that. PJ Clarke’s is one such place. I didn’t remember where the suggestion came from walking in, but our waitress reminded us that the Las Vegas Weekly had claimed theirs the ‘best burger in Las Vegas.’ Do I agree?
The answer is no. The burger is definitely good, but in no way is it the ‘best’, and I really hate claims like this. I won’t get into too much of the history of the restaurant, which dates back to 1884 in New York. You can read about it on their site without me having to repeat it. As for the Vegas location, it’s located in the evil Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace. I say evil because if you are a local and have ever tried to park there you surely haven’t forgotten that awful experience. And to top it off, the restaurant is located at the Las Vegas Blvd end so you have to walk completely across the mall to get there through lumbering tourists and smelly fountains.
I don’t know anything about the NYC locations, but I’m sure the Vegas one mimics them a bit. The walls are covered with all sorts of Vegas and NYC sites and stars, and the red leather banquettes are classically styled and detailed nicely. It’s not a loud, crazy pub environment, but a good place to go with 10-15 people and have a fun time at a large table.
For a place that supposedly has the “Cadillac of burgers”, the burger section is pretty minimal and far down on the menu. You aren’t presented with many options for your 100% Black Angus burger, just a series of cheeses, and a few additional options for a fee like bacon, Béarnaise sauce, a fried egg, etc. There is only one pre-configured burger on the menu, predictably titled “The Cadillac”, which has smoked country bacon and American cheese. Sides are a-la-carte, so I was asked if I wanted regular or sweet potato fries with it. Of course I went with the regular to keep this meal as consistent as possible with others.
The burger came out with a nice buttery, grilled brioche bun, two thick pieces of bacon, a thin but tasty pickle slice, tomatoes and far too much lettuce. It wasn’t until after I assembled my burger and picked it up did I notice a full slice of an onion hiding below. Our waitress later explained that back in the day the first restaurant in New York served their food on paper plates and this was a way to keep the juices from the burger sogging up the plate. Nice touch of tradition, but kind of odd.
The burger was tastier than I anticipated at first bite; it was juicy, the bun had good flavor, and the cheese was melted. The meat on its own was ok, it had kind of the generic meat flavor that comes with your standard Angus and could have maybe used a little seasoning. I ordered medium rare, but it was a bit too grey in the middle compared to my friend’s that was more pink than mine for only being ordered medium. The burger dripped some juice during the first few bites and stopped maybe halfway through, but luckily didn’t really dry out the burger as I got to the end. One thing that I found odd during the meal was that I kept hitting weird pockets of saltiness as I took bites. Initially I thought it might be from the bacon, but I think it was just the meat as my friend didn’t have bacon on his and made the same salt comment.
The bun was well proportioned to the meat, I found that I had just enough of both. The bacon was slightly undercooked and didn’t quite have that crunch I’d hope for, but was still very flavorful and fit well. As I said the cheese was melted which is still not always easy for some places, but might have contributed to a bit of the saltiness. The fries might have been a tiny bit undercooked, but had good flavor until they got cold which happened sort of quickly. They had that good ‘natural’ flavor that I like, much better than what is attempted in a similar style at somewhere like Five Guys.
Now for the bad… I have to say the overall price of the meal was a little high due to the fact that my a-la-carte fries were $6.60!! I’m fine with the $14.60 burger based on the strip location and even what was presented to me, but the fry price is a bit out of hand, and pushes the burger past $20 which I think is a bit high. The service was great; I think we had two different managers come by our table and ask if everything was ok. And our waitress Justina was extremely friendly, knew a great deal about the history of the restaurant, and also provided us with our onion explanation. All that being said, I think $21 is a bit much for a burger, unless maybe it really was the ‘best burger in Vegas.’ I personally hate going to the strip these days, but if you don’t mind or already find yourself at Caesar’s, the overall restaurant, service and food are worth it if you’re willing to cough up a bit too much money to sample what is supposedly the best in town. As we already know, there are worse places on the strip…