Sometimes, which seems to be too often, there is always a drag, some pull, that leaves you wanting out of Las Vegas. Everything costs you, from parking to entree side dishes — all but that forced smile from the overworked waitress. All on top of the gambling and shows you came for.
And early breakfast is no different. Vegas may well be the place that doesn’t want the night to end. And perhaps predictably, it is exceptional at sleeping in. And it’s that — mornings — that bring moments of truth — a time when the sidewalks get hosed down, and when the glossy veneer reveals its plastic and seams.
So goes the hunt for breakfast. Travel here for the reasons less glamorous — for, say, an actual business meeting, or attendance at a conference, or (this week) for days of my daughter’s tournament volleyball qualifier — and the warts become all the more evident.
In tournament sports, games start early — and teams convene even sooner, each day. Try finding a meal before 7, in time for an 8 a.m. game time start. At MGM’s Mandalay Bay, it comes down to room service from that one solitary kitchen in the whole casino that can get the task done — maybe in time for 6:30… or quarter to 7.
So goes the foray into dine in room service. At Mandalay Bay, two eggs and toast with sausage and coffee runs you $28. Add in the (fine print) service charge ($9), plus tax, and we’re up over $40, and that’s without counting a tip. Did I say I wanted out of Las Vegas?
But in The Shoppes at Mandalay Place, the small mall between the Mandalay casino and Luxor, sits an Irish pub that delivers, again and again.
Amid retail standard bearers and a menagerie of casino-land one-offs (Essentials…? Burger Bar…? Lids…?) is Ri Ra Irish Pub.
It’s away from the glitz and the casino crowds, and during normal eating hours is reasonably easy to find table space at. I was surprised to find that Ri Ra is a four-location chain of pubs in Vermont, North Carolina, Maine — and Nevada. I realize this is Vegas, but just steps inside and away from the casino glitz, Ri Ra feels real, in its dark worn wood and tarnished brass. Someone behind the bar — at whichever shift — always seems to banter in an actual Irish accent. It’s a welcome respite from flashing lights and the ubiquitous hum of digital slot machines.
The doors don’t open until 8 a.m. But in the minutes leading up, a small contingent of diners begin to linger by its gated entrance — as a harbinger of good food to come. Almost down to the second, the gates roll away and the hostess stand rolls forward. At this hour, table space still abounds. I take a seat at the bar, and am met almost immediately by a gray haired bartender offering coffee, in YES, a starchy Irish tone.
A breakfast menu staple seems to be “Just Some Eggs,” which for $11.95 gets you 2 eggs (any style), a breakfast meat, home fries AND toast. I went with eggs over-medium, with home fries, sourdough toast, and bangers — which are seared and seasoned Irish sausages.
Unexpected in Las Vegas: The breakfast at Ri Ra that hit the spot! The food came out quick, with great taste and filling portions. And my Irish bartender even sent me off with a “To Go” cup for my coffee. All for under $18 — plus a well deserved tip for service that left this customer feeling more than a little bit welcome in this garish and plastic kind of town.
Casinos may cast glamorous illusions, but it was the grounded and subdued Ri Ra Irish Pub that helped, for moments, to escape from Las Vegas. Ri Ra for breakfast earns 5 Stars.
Next up: Ri Ra’s “Bangers and Mash” for dinner.
Jason James Barry is an award-winning essayist and journalist - and chief correspondent for TorqueNutDriver.com. Join him on his adventures in travel - and the food along the way.