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.

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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 Price Comparison: Downtown Hotels

When people come to Las Vegas, the Strip is usually their first choice for hotel location. However, the downtown area is a viable alternative. Below you will find some of the average going rates of the downtown area. Keep in mind, these prices are just rough estimate and can depend on a number of factors (including events going on that weekend, holidays, etc.)

Hotel Weekday Rate Weekend Rate Resort Fee
Downtown Grand 32.00 – 81.00 USD 81.00 – 135.00 USD 44.68 USD
El Cortez 47.00 USD 180.00 USD 36.78 USD
Golden Nugget 49.00 -69.00 USD 159.00-259.00 USD 55.00 USD
Four Queens 53.00 – 138.00 159.00 -254.00 USD NO RESORT FEE
The D 24.00-69.00 USD 89.00-169.00 USD 44.80 USD
Plaza 29.00 – 55.00 USD 145.00 – 219.00 USD NO RESORT FEE
Main St. Station 48.00 – 90.00 USD 110.00 – 300.00 USD NO RESORT FEE

Las Vegas Price Comparison: Hotels on the Las Vegas Strip

Hotels on the Strip can be expensive. Depending on the time of year you visit, or whatever events may be going on that weekend, hotels rates can fluctuate up to 800 percent. Below you’ll find a breakdown of average prices for some of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. Note that these are strictly estimates, save for the standard resort fee. The rates will also depend on what kind of room you stay in; the suites and the bungalows are going to cost more no matter the event or time of year. These are also prices for the current fall season; these rates could increase greatly over the summer months.  I will do a “part two” to this table at a later date.

Price Comparison of Hotel Prices on the Strip


Hotel Name Weekday Rate (Average) Weekend Rate (Average) Resort Fee
Monte Carlo 45.00 – 70.00 USD 220.00-770.00 USD $33.60 USD
MGM Grand 60.00 – 175.00 USD 480.00 -560.00 USD $35.84 USD
Caesar’s Palace 200.00 – 300.00 USD 400.00 – 500.00 USD $32.00 USD
Harrah’s 70.00 – 120.00 USD 200.00 – 300.00 USD $29.00 USD
Bellagio 170.00 – 440.00 USD 500.00-600.00 USD $35.84 USD
Mandalay Bay 100.00 – 365.00 USD 100.00 – 800.00 USD $35.84 USD
Luxor 40.00 – 50.00 USD 200 – 300.00 USD $29.12 USD
Exacalibur 30.00 – 50.00 USD 200 – 300.00 USD $29.12 USD
New York New York 40.00 – 60.00 USD 220.00 – 365.00 USD $33.60 USD

Las Vegas and the NFL: What the Raiders Deal Means for Tourists


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Las Vegas might be getting a football team in the not-so-distant future. This month, the Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee sent recommendations to Governor Brian Sandoval regarding construction of a 1.9 billion dollar football stadium for the Oakland Raiders. If approved, this would become the most expensive stadium funded with public money. This sounds great on its face, but with 750 million to come from public monies it gets a little complicated. The other contributors mentioned in the deal were Sands Corporation executive Sheldon Adelson and Raiders owner Mark Davis. Adelson also owns the local paper, which makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of what this deal means to the Las Vegas economy.

The first thing to keep in mind is this just a proposal; the final price could surpass the budget, depending on final construction costs. Without a cap on public contributions, it could cost more than the 750 million. If the stadium gets approved, there are no details on how the final price tag would be divided between the proposed contributors. Currently Adelson has promised to contribute 650 million, and Mark Davis and the Raiders would contribute around 500 million. Again, with no specific details on the division of costs if it surpassed the 1.9 billion estimate, these numbers could change. This brings up the question of where the public funds will come from. At first it seemed like it was going to come straight out of tax money, but now it’s reported that a portion of the money will come from an increase in hotel room taxes.

That means our lovely tourists will be helping to pay for the stadium. After MGM announced its plans to end the decades-long tradition of free parking, this is just another added expense on your travels. It may not seem like a big deal; people to come Las Vegas to gamble, party and spend to excess. Professional football would only give people another reason to come to Las Vegas. And this is fine, but the problem is that no one is telling anyone that. The Sands Corporation and the Las Vegas Review Journal do their best to make it sound like the best idea ever but it’s a deal wrought with problems, hidden expenses and no true gain for the city. I think bringing sports to Las Vegas would be a good thing, but this isn’t the way to go about it.

Update: The date for the vote on these proposals has been set for October 10th.

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.