Las Vegas Restaurant Review: Spiegel’s 1941

Spiegel’s 1941 is located inside the El Cortez in the heart of downtown Las Vegas. The restaurant takes its name from the gangster Bugsy Siegel, the famous mobster and man behind the Flamingo Hotel. His picture graces the walls of the restaurant, giving the restaurant an old-school feel. The restaurant is open daily and twenty-four hours a day.  I found this restaurant by accident one night wandering around Fremont Street, and decided to give it a spin. While I find it to be an affordable “high-end” steakhouse, I think you can find a better bang for your buck in the area.


Spiegel’s menu is simple. Most of the dishes are American in origin, but there are a few exceptions such as challah, poutine, fajitas and chow mien. The dinner menu features a number of steak and potato dishes, as well as deli items.


Parking is available at the El Cortez and the surrounding hotels. If you’re unable to find parking at the hotel, I would recommend the Fremont Street Garage. It’s easily accessible and cheap compared to the surrounding parking lots.


The service was decent, but not extraordinary. I didn’t have to wait long for a table or my food, which is unusual on a weekend. The hostess and wait staff are pleasant, but not the sort of friendly I think you would find in more expensive, upscale restaurants.


The drinks were a little too strong for me. The prices are reasonable based on downtown Las Vegas standards, but I prefer cocktails to have a flavor other than alcohol. I think you can find better drinks at Commonwealth, La Comida and the Downtown Cocktail Room.


I would give Spiegel’s a chance if you find yourself staying at the El Cortez, or if you want to try a steakhouse without completely emptying your wallet. Spiegel’s is also a good choice if you’re short on time and want to get a quick drink or meal. It’s not the best place I’ve eaten at in Las Vegas, but it’s decent.



Las Vegas Eats: Dona Maria’s Tamales Restaurant

Dona Maria’s Tamales Restaurant is one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas. It’s been around since I was a kid, and has been a staple in my family’s history. My grandfather and great-uncle still visit the place when they’re in town; they always say their visits aren’t the same if they don’t. I’m hesitant to say it’s the best tamale I’ve ever had (nothing beats home-made) but it is pretty close.
There are two locations in Las Vegas, but the most accessible to tourists is the one in downtown Las Vegas. Located off of Charleston and Las Vegas Boulevard, the original Dona Maria’s is right in the heart of the downtown area. It’s accessible on foot if you’ve started your night elsewhere, but parking can be tricky if you miss the turn into the lot. If you are on foot I would recommend, if you’re in the area at night, to walk in a group. The area is generally pretty busy on the weekends, but it can get a little hairy if you’re not careful.
Obviously the best thing to get at Dona Maria’s is the tamales. My favorite is the red tamale (comes with beef), but you can also get green tamales (with chicken) and cheese tamales. They even serve dessert tamales with pineapple and raisin filling. They sell the tamales individually or in bulk, if you’ve got a big party to feed. They also serve American dishes, such as patty melts, hamburgers, and pancakes if you’re not feeling adventurous. Some other dishes I would recommend are the chile relleno, fideo soup and the carne asada tacos.
As far as dessert is concerned, you can’t go wrong with deep-fried ice cream. I also enjoy the sopapillas and flan, but the deep-fried ice cream is a must have. If those don’t sound appealing, they also serve plain ice cream and cheesecake.
Dona Maria’s is one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. It may not be on the Las Vegas Strip, but it’s earned its place in the history of Las Vegas. In a city that is always changing, it has managed to maintain. I would even say you owe it to your trip to go to Dona Maria’s. You may come to Las Vegas for the alcohol, the nightclubs and the naked girls but…the tamales are magical.
What’s your favorite restaurant in your home town? How long has it been there?

Downtown Vegas Reviews: The Commonwealth

Downtown Las Vegas has undergone a major facelift in the last five years. In an effort to bring more business to the area, the Downtown Project has poured close to 350 million dollars into revitalizing the area. Commonwealth is one of many businesses that have the Downtown Project to thank.
The Commonwealth is unique, like every bar in the downtown area. Surrounded by neon signs and kitschy neighbors, the Commonwealth stands out with only its name and an art deco fan to draw in its patrons. Inside, the bar looks more like a Victorian-era pub or speakeasy than a modern Las Vegas bar. The bar stools, tables and the black and white photography give the bar a muted, relaxed atmosphere also unique to the Commonwealth.
Another plus about the Commonwealth is its space. The two story building offers an inside space on the ground level, and an open deck area on the top of the building. You’ll find more people on the deck where the DJ is set up; during the summer, it offers an unbeatable view of the downtown area. I prefer the downstairs space since there’s usually more available seating (and I am a lazy bar patron ).

Dress Code

There is no strict dress code at the Commonwealth, but I would stick to casual nightlife attire. I’ve been inside in jeans and never had a problem getting in. I would always say no to flip-flops (except in the summer), but you can always call ahead. It’s better to know ahead of time than get down there and get turned away.

 The Laundry Room

If you play your cards right, you can admission to the hidden gem – The Laundry Room. The speakeasy allows 10-12 people inside at a time, and photographs aren’t allowed. If you’re interested, ask one of the bartenders about admission.

Things To Do In Vegas: Visit Container Park

Container Park is part of the Downtown Project, an effort to give downtown Las Vegas a much-needed face-lift. The open-air shopping and restaurant plaza offers food, dining and entertainment options appropriate for the entire family throughout the entire year. Container Park is easily accessible on foot if you’re staying in the downtown area but if you’re coming from the Strip (or any other part of the city), but if you’re driving to Container Park, take the 95-South to Las Vegas Boulevard. You’ll find the Park at the corner of Fremont and 7th Street.

Photo from

Container Park offers a variety of dining options. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can stop in Jinju Chocolates, Sasasweets Chillspot, or Las Vegas Kettle Corn. Pinches Tacos or Cheffini’s are great places if you want something quick after making your rounds at the neighboring bars. If you’re with family, you can dine at Big Ern’s BBQ while your children stay busy at the playground in the Park.

Besides its dining and drink options, Container Park has a number of retail stores on site. Art Box provides local artisans a place to display their works, from jewelry to home furnishings. Kappa Toys and Uptown Children’s Boutique sells children’s clothes and toys, and Trikke Las Vegas offers tours of the city on their “trikkes”, an updated, stand-up version of the classic tricycle.

You can even get married at Container Park.

Parking is an issue when it comes to Container Park. There are a number of parking lots available in the area, with various rates per hour. The availability of these parking lots will depend on what is going on downtown, or the time of day. You can find free spaces to park at surrounding motels, but I would advise against that depending on the time of day due to safety concerns.

Container Park isn’t one of the top ten things to see in Las Vegas, but it’s a fun experience. In Container Park, you get a glimpse of where old school and new Las Vegas intersect. You’ll also support local artists, designers and vendors, which (I think) is great to do any city.



Las Vegas Restaurant Review – Margaritaville

Margaritaville isn’t unique to Las Vegas, but I think it offers an experience that is very fitting amongst the neon and sparkle of the Las Vegas Strip. Located inside the Flamingo Hotel & Casino, Margaritaville is one of the most colorful and entertaining places to eat in Las Vegas.


Owned by the world-famous musician Jimmy Buffet, Margaritaville captures the essence of island escapism that Buffet’s music is known for. The restaurant chain is named after Buffet’s 1977 Hit of the same name, and the song will play periodically throughout your dining experience. The food is mostly American with a little bit of Caribbean flavor.  Late at night, the restaurant morphs into more of a bar/club sort of setting, with room for live music and dancing. The music is mostly chart toppers from the 80s and 90s, so there’s a wide variety for everyone.


One big thing Margaritaville has going for it is the drink prices. Drinks can cost you an arm and a leg on the Strip, and Margaritaville offers a reasonable drink menu throughout the day and night.  The best part is – they are not only inexpensive, but good too. My personal favorites are the pina coladas, but they have a wide enough variety of beer and cocktails that everyone can find something to enjoy. The food is also reasonably-priced, especially compared to other nearby restaurants.

Another thing that sets Margaritaville apart is their hourly entertainment. An aerialist appears at the sound of “Margaritaville” and performs some amazing feats of flexibility on a fish hook.  This is a rare sight on the Strip, and I personally think it adds to the fun and fresh atmosphere. You’ll only be able to see her if you sit inside the restaurant, and not on the outdoor patio.


One downside is the wait. If you go on a weekend night, you could wait for an hour or more. But since the LINQ is right next door, you can always check in and then window shop while you wait. Parking can also be an issue. The Flamingo is the oldest hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and its parking structure needs a makeover. I suggest parking in open lot behind the Linq and the High Roller and walking; it will be a little bit of a trek but it’s worth it.

Las Vegas Entertainment: Shows on the Strip

So you’re going to Las Vegas. You’ve got the hotel booked, you know which clubs you’re gonna go to and your wallet has started to burn a hole in your pocket. You just need to decide what show you’re going to see while you there. The only problem is that you’ve got so many to choose from; how  do you know which one to go to?

My first article with has been published and will help answer this question. As a lifelong resident of Las Vegas, I’ve had time and the money to make my way up and down the Las Vegas Boulevard. Taking into account the many and hours and dollars I’ve contributed to the entertainment industry in this regard, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are seven of the best shows on the Strip.

Click HERE to read more.

Places to Stay in Vegas: The South Point Hotel & Casino

The South Point, located at the very most southern end of the Las Vegas Strip, is for the most part, a local’s hotel. You can see this reflected in the prices of practically everything in the hotel, from the slot machines to the restaurants to the room prices. It’s a great alternative if you’re coming to Vegas and don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a hotel room, especially since it’s just a few miles down the street from Mandalay Bay and the rest of the Strip.

The Showroom at the South Point offers surprisingly diverse entertainment throughout the week, and for very decent prices. The average price for entertainment on the Strip ranges in the hundreds of dollars, from Cirque du Soleil shows to comedy headliners. While you’ll find no resident Cirque du Soleil shows at the Southpoint, I’ve seen comedians Christopher Titus and Rob Schneider play there and the ticket prices range from 30.00 to 50.00 dollars. Resident performers of The Showroom include the Spazmatics, a popular 80s cover band, every Saturday night. I’ve never been a fan of cover bands but they are oddly entertaining and the drink prices are far better than at any nightclub or bar on the Strip.  If you find yourself near or in the South Point at night, you can always catch ‘The Dirty’. The Dirty at 12:30 is a free show that takes place every night at…12:30, of course. The caliber of entertainers differs from night to night, but you can’t beat the price for a few laughs.

South Point view from pool

From The South Point’s website.

If you find yourself needing a budget-friendly hotel that’s close to the Strip, The South Point is going to be your best bet. The food is decent, the room prices are hard to beat and they offer a wide selection of entertainment. If you’ve ever been to the South Point, let me know what your experience was like in the comments.

Upcoming performers this month include Jerry Lewis, Crystal Gale and Zowie Bowie.




Things to Do in Vegas: Visit the Secret Garden

The Secret Garden has been a staple of the Las Vegas Strip for nearly twenty years. It’s a tourist favorite, especially among those with kids. The habitat started out in the late 90s as a sanctuary for the big cats that entertainers Sigfried and Roy rescued, and has since expanded to include a dolphin habitat. I recently took my first trip ever to the sanctuary, adjacent to the Mirage’s hotel pool area. It wasn’t quite what I imagined, but it was worth the experience.

Pricing: Tickets to the Secret Garden can be kind of expensive, compared to other family friendly attractions. They offer no discounts for local, seniors or military members on tickets, whereas Shark Reef does. Still, the ticket prices are on par with most other family activities in Las Vegas.

dolphin mirage las vegas lauryn wilder travel blog

Tours: They don’t offer guided tours throughout the sanctuary, which I found a little odd. There are a few attendants throughout the “garden” portion of the experience to answer questions, but there is no informational talk on the history of the tigers, which I think would enhance this part of the habitat. The dolphin specialists and trainers get together about twice an hour to give a talk and demonstration with the resident dolphins, which makes most of the ticket price worth it. The dolphin staff is knowledgeable, friendly and very patient with every question the kids in attendance may ask. This was by far my favorite part of the whole experience. The dolphins are incredibly friendly, intelligent and agile. If you will have kids, this will be where you spend the most time in the sanctuary.

Amenities: Snacks and drinks are available inside the habitat; all of the amenities inside the habitat itself are eligible for discounts.  There are two gift stores located inside the habitat, but they are in separate buildings, apart from the dolphin habitat and the garden. If you have kids, you’ll appreciate this; you won’t find yourself exiting a portion of the experience and getting bombarded with toys and souvenirs. If you choose, you can bypass the gifts shops entirely.

Staff: The staff is very friendly and available to answer any questions you have about the animals. As stated above, I wish they would have some more information available about the cats in the habitat. The dolphin specialists went above and beyond to entertain the guests and answer questions, for both the kids and adults in the audience.

Other Notes: I went through the park on a general admission pass, but there are a number of other activities available to do with the dolphins. For extra fees, you can pet the dolphins, do yoga with them, swim with them and paint. The most reasonable activity is petting the dolphins, but the rest of the activities vary in price.


Overall, I would say the Secret Garden is worth visiting. You don’t get as much for your money as you would at similar experiences, but it’s still interesting and entertaining. There are shows available in the dolphin sanctuary at certain times, but I didn’t get to see one during my time there. But show or not, the Secret Garden is a unique, memorable experience to share with the family.