“I really love the old Vegas stuff,” says Kimmel. Steakhouses, throwback casinos, magic shows—you name it, he's there. “Every time I go to Las Vegas, oh my God, there's six things I wanted to do that I didn't get to." Perhaps it's no surprise the late-night host even has his own comedy joint in the city (Jimmy Kimmel's Comedy Club Las Vegas), offering him the perfect excuse to return regularly.
Ahead of Super Bowl LVIII, which takes place at Allegiant Stadium on Sunday, February 11, we hopped on the phone with Kimmel to hear all about his favorite parts of Las Vegas. From the Chinese restaurant he beelines to whenever he lands, to the weird watering holes and offbeat shows he's most fond of—consider this a true insider's guide to Vegas, baby.
Where's the first place you go when you land in Las Vegas?
There's a Chinese restaurant inside Caesar's Palace, where I usually stay, called Beijing Noodle Number 9. That's a good lunch spot. Good Chinese food is harder to get in Los Angeles than you might think, but there's a lot of great Chinese restaurants in Vegas. Especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, which is Chinatown. There's a lavish Chinese restaurant in my old neighborhood that has a Michelin star, Wing Lei, which is pretty crazy because I used to deliver pizzas in the area around it.
What are your favorite spots to grab a bite to eat—bonus points if they're off the Strip.
Everything's kind of near the Strip, but if you're not on the Strip, you're not on the Strip. There's a chef from Philadelphia named Marc Vetri. I ate at his restaurant in Philly, and it was some of the best Italian food I've ever had; he has a restaurant at the Red Rock, called Osteria Fiorella.
There are also a couple classic places in Vegas, like the Golden Steer. It's 65 years old, a classic steak house where the caesar salad is made at the table. The Rat Pack used to go there, like for real—a lot of places will tell you that The Rat Pack used to visit, but this is a place they actually went.
Downtown Las Vegas is really great, too. It's kind of hip and very different [now] from when I grew up. There's a Container Park, with buildings made out of the shipping containers, and Esther's Kitchen has very good American food. The most famous pizza place in Vegas is Metro Pizza, and there are a bunch of locations, but I think the one on Tropicana is the original. And, you know, the original location of anything is always the best one.
For a really great breakfast, go to the Pepper Mill [on the Strip]. It was the kind of place in the 70s where you'd catch your neighbor cheating on his wife, that kind of thing.
What are some local spots to grab a drink and hear music?
The Sand Dollar Lounge, in my old neighborhood, is a live blues music place. There's a famous punk rock rock club called the Double Down Saloon. And The Golden Tiki is very kitschy, if you want to get a drink that's got 11 pineapples in it, that's the place to go.
What are the weirdest spots in Vegas?
Everything is weird in Vegas. Like Omega Mart [by Meow Wolf], which is a visual experience, and then they have AREA15 which has all different kinds of AI and VR, and you can zip line. It's hard to explain.
A lot of the oddness comes in the form of entertainment, too. Cook E. Jarr was always a great one-man-show kind of deal. The Pinball Hall of Fame is just a million pinball machines, that's really fun—especially if you're looking to put your quarters in something other than the slot machine. There's a place where you can drive a bulldozer or excavator. The Neon Museum has all the old neon signs from Vegas laying around on display and it's a really neat thing to do. A great comedian named Luenell does a show at my comedy club every Monday night—she's very funny and very dirty.
Oh, and Circus Circus is one of the weirdest places on earth. It's a whole circus inside a casino. There are acrobats and Midway Games and you can win stuffed animals. A lot of parents will just abandon their children there with a roll of quarters and head down to gamble. They even have an RV park, so people come to stay in the lot at Circus Circus.
They used to have this [faux] camel racing at the Luxor—it was a very low-tech machine, like a carnival game, where you bet on a camel, and then you sit there and hope yours wins. They have a horse version of it at The D downtown, called the Sigma Derby. It's the only one left in Vegas I think, and it's really fun to grab a group of people and bet on this plastic horse.
Speaking of gambling, do you ever try to win big?
I don't like to bet a lot of money, so I go where it's relatively low stakes. Downtown is the place for that. I love going to Binion's Horseshoe. Even though it's an older spot, you could see Gabe Kaplan playing poker there, which is the kind of stuff I get a kick out of. I think it's common Vegas knowledge, or lore, that if you really want to win on a slot machine in Las Vegas, you should play in a supermarket. Yeah, we have slot machines in our supermarkets, in the area where, in most towns, they'd have dog food and ice. Those have the best odds.
The worst odds are at the airport, while you're waiting for your plane.
What do your kids love to do in Vegas?
There's almost too many great things to do with kids in Vegas. Did you know they have actual flamingos at the Flamingo? And Mandalay Bay has an aquarium, which is surprisingly awesome. The Pinball Hall of Fame is a fun thing for kids. Fremont Street is really interesting—maybe it's not for kids, but I think kids might get a kick out of it, because the whole thing is covered by this LED canopy. My kids also love The Beatles Cirque du Soleil show. And magicians! Everyone should probably see David Copperfield in their life. Penn & Teller are always great, and Criss Angel does the rock & roll version of magic. Piff the Magic Dragon is very funny.
What's a quintessential Vegas slang word?
“Comp.” There's even a radio station called KOMP in Las Vegas. A comp is when you get tickets or your room for free. When you live in Vegas, you'll get comped a lot. The high rollers get a lot of comps, but also if you know somebody, you might get a comp.
Also “vig” if you're gambling, that's the percentage you pay if you lose. The “cage” is where you change your chips into cash. “Loose slots” are slots with better odds—they tend to be off the Strip and usually advertise their payoff rate.
Anyone whose Vegas recommendations you'll always trust?
There's a guy John Katsilometes who writes for the Review-Journal who's maybe a good guy to follow.
What do most people get wrong about the city?
They forget that it's really a town. You can explore a bit of nature. You can go to Red Rock [Canyon National Conservation Area], which is beautiful, and not that far. You could go to Mt. Charleston, which is beautiful, and not very far. You could go to Lake Mead, which is not as beautiful but there's a lot to do—you can go on a boat, or waterskiing.
If you could retire anywhere, where would it be?
I would probably retire here in Los Angeles because my family lives here. But anywhere in the world, with no family consideration? It'd be great to live in Italy. Or I have a fishing lodge up in Swan Valley, Idaho, that I can't possibly spend enough time at, so that would be another option. And I do love Las Vegas. There's a lot for retirees to do there, a lot of ways to keep busy. My grandfather lived there for 20-something years, and he used to go downtown every single night, walking around for hours, talking to people, and playing penny slots. It kept him very entertained in his old age.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler