Eating Right at the Rio During the WSOP
Published on April 10, 2018
The 2018 World Series of Poker (WSOP) is fast approaching, so it’s time for poker players to plan their annual pilgrimage to the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
But while card sharks everywhere are thinking about all the fish they’ll be feasting on at the tables, I’d like to focus on the Rio’s restaurant scene.
Dining during the WSOP can be difficult, what with thousands of players hustling to and fro and the limitations of a 60 or 75-minute dinner break. Long lines and packed houses make for a race against time, especially when you have chips in play waiting for you back in the tournament room.
Dinner breaks can turn into a feeding frenzy fast, and if you’re not on your game, you can easily wind up missing the meal altogether.
Playing poker on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, so I’m pleased to present my personal guide to the Rio’s culinary offerings. I’ve been lucky enough to compete in a few WSOPs in my day, and with that experience fresh in mind, I hope to map out the Rio’s restaurants to make your dinner breaks easy and efficient.
Read on to learn about the best food in the building, places to avoid like the plague, and a few “secret” spots to get your grub on.
Before diving into the delectable delights to be found at the Rio, I’d like to take a moment to explain exactly why your diet matters as a poker player.
If you manage to make the dinner break of an average WSOP tournament, you’ve likely been at the table for most of the day. Blind levels typically last for 60 minutes, and the dinner break arrives after Level 6 in most cases. Throw in a few bathroom breaks along the way, and you’ll be grinding for an eight-hour shift before it’s time to eat.
You can be a physical specimen or fitness fanatic, but eight hours of intense WSOP action is enough to drain anybody’s energy. When the dinner break mercifully arrives, this is your opportunity to refuel your body’s engine.
And when your stomach is full, your brain has the energy it needs to power through the tournament’s latter stages.
Trust me, eating well on dinner break provides a distinct advantage over your competition. Many younger players opt to skip the dinner break altogether, seeking out a place to smoke or maybe even hitting the sportsbook instead.
These young guns think they can get away with playing well on an empty stomach, and who knows, maybe their youth provides natural vigor.
When the field returns from dinner break, folks who found time for a nice meal tend to retain their focus and stamina much more than their hungry counterparts. If you’re up against a talented pro with a ton of chips, their choice to skip dinnertime can quickly level the playing field.
Now that you know why eating well at the WSOP is so important, it’s time to find out where to go.
To help make that easier, take a look at this . You can use the map to orient yourself as I walk you through the Rio’s restaurant options.
To start out, locate the purple section on the map, which covers the convention halls. This is where the WSOP actually takes place, not in the main Rio casino area. Look for locations like the Pavilion, the Brasilia Room, and the Amazon Room to put yourself exactly where you’ll be playing this summer.
From there, I’m going to take you on a tour of the Rio’s cuisine beginning with the closest options, and the moving out into the main casino. Obviously, proximity is important in this case, as you won’t want to waste chunks of your dinner break walking the long hike to and from the tournament rooms.
I’ll get this one out of the way early… don’t eat at the Poker Kitchen.
The place is notorious among poker players for offering lukewarm cafeteria fare at outrageous prices. Even with a shift in strategy last year, from an actual sit-down meal to “grab and go” options, the food here is never worth what you’ll be paying.
Simply put, the Poker Kitchen is a money grab by the Rio and WSOP organizers. They know that thousands of players show up to the event for their first time, and without being warned, they’ll go with the closest meal they can find.
With a captive audience of poker players who don’t know the Rio very well, the Poker Kitchen can charge obscene prices knowing full well that they’ll always have a steady stream of customers.
Try it for yourself if you must, but be careful about sushi and meat, as players have been known to contract food sickness after eating at the Poker Kitchen.
I’m a sucker for a good hot dog, so maybe I’m partial here, but this is where I go to grab a quick pick me up. It’s not a full meal of course, more like a midgame snack, but for just a few bucks, you can’t beat a hot dog on a summer day.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Owned and operated by Dave Swanson, the All American Dave food truck has been a staple at the WSOP for several years now.
The journey began back in 2010, when Swanson’s pal and poker pro Antonio Esfandiari started paying for healthy, home-cooked meals to be delivered to his table. When fellow pros caught on and saw how delicious Swanson’s dishes were, they soon got in on the action.
Eventually, Swanson set up a full-fledged food truck directly outside of the Amazon Room in the Rio’s back lot. You’ll need to go through a few back corridors to get there, but just ask around for “Dave’s” and somebody will point you in the right direction.
You can also set up a text-based delivery service, so whenever you’re feeling famished, just send a quick message to request your favorite meal. A few minutes later, a beautiful gal will show up with a white paper bag containing culinary delights.
You should read up on , as he was profiled by Food and Wine magazine last summer.
But let’s see what high-stakes cash grinder and Esfandiari running mate Jeff Gross has to say about Swanson’s food:
Dave has runners bringing meals to the tables, which means you can eat right there and not have to worry about what you’ll be having.
You’re not going to end up bloated or tired because of a poor diet.” – Jeff Gross
As Gross alluded to, Swanson specializes in healthy and organic natural foods. His dishes typically consist of a protein like steak, salmon, or Ahi tuna, along with fresh steamed vegetables and rice.
Here’s how All American Dave himself describes his approach to designing tasty, yet health-conscious, meals:
For example, we chop the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces before saucing it. Most meals have six ounces of lean beef, salmon or chicken. Dinner is a vegan Caesar salad with cashew dressing and a protein on top.
I’m aiming for higher fat content and lower carbs. There’s no bread, no gluten, nothing processed.”
According to Swanson, his dishes provide the perfect punch of nourishment for the poker player’s body. With fatigue naturally setting in, and the adrenaline rush of actual gameplay fading away late in the day, poker players need true sustenance to perform at their peak.
You’ll pay a premium for that sustenance, with Swanson’s base price standing at $25, but signing up for a meal plan can shave a few bucks off each plate.
And remember, that price does include prompt delivery, which is a tremendous convenience during a WSOP grind. Just remember to tip the servers, who hustle to bring your food hot and fresh anywhere in the Rio.
Whether you are following the Whole30, strict paleo, gluten-free, or just value what you put in your body, there is simply no other option for 100% natural and sustainable meals in Vegas outside of Whole Foods Town Square, to a certain extent.”
– Darren N. from Frisco, Texas
A favorite among poker players, and a Vegas casino staple, Hash House a Go Go is your go-to breakfast and brunch hotspot.
The conceit here is simple – homestyle breakfast dishes with a twist, served up in heaping helpings to get your day started right. My favorite dish is Margie’s Famous Crab Cake Benedict, but I also love the Chicken and Waffles and Tractor Driver Combo. In each case, the portions really are massive, so come prepared to eat your fill.
The only drawback associated with Hash House a Go Go are the hours, as the joint closes up shop at 1 p.m. on weekdays, and 3 p.m. on weekends. Obviously, that means you won’t be spending the dinner break here, but it’s the perfect place for a pregame feast.
And if you happen to be hungover from a late night out – and no shame in that, this is Sin City after all – Hash House a Go Go is revered as the best cure around.
Home cooked meals with a little grease and a lot to eat always do the trick when you’re feeling under the weather, so head here to put last night to bed and get ready for the tournament to come.
To find your way here, the best place to start is the plaza area right outside of the Pavilion tournament room.
With your back to the Pavilion, take the long walk down the corridor and look for the Penn and Teller Theatre and its adjacent Starbucks on the right-hand side. Hash House a Go Go is located directly past the Starbucks.
The chicken and waffle tower is a must have! They even put bacon inside the waffles. Biscuit and chicken is buttery heaven with amazing sauce. Service was good, but it gets really busy so prepare to wait!
We clean our plates and walked out with a full belly!” – Vickie G. from Hanover, New Hampshire
If you’ve ever seen Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on the Food Network, you know all about celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
He’s known best for reviewing other restaurateurs, but the goatee clad biker dude is also a successful restaurateur in his own right. With the launch of El Burro Borracho a few years back, Fieri put his stamp on the Rio’s restaurant scene.
And what a stamp it is. The menu is Mexican inspired of course, but as he’s prone to do, Fieri has put his own personal flair into every dish. I’m talking about Acapulco Gold Salad, the El Gringo hamburger, and Fieri’s famous “burro sauce.”
If you’re a traditionalist when it comes to Mexican food, you may not appreciate Fieri’s take on burritos and enchiladas, but most people wind up leaving full and happy. That might have something to do with the tequila shots flowing at the bar though.
I have heard complaints from poker people about the long wait times, but that’s to be expected in any busy casino restaurant, let alone one with celebrity chef cachet. If you can grab a table early and get your order in quick, however, you should have plenty of time to scarf down a plate of sizzling fajitas.
To get here from the tournament area, just put your back to the Pavilion and start heading up the long hallway. It’ll hook to the right as you pass the Starbucks, and then you’ll head past Hash House a Go Go. Another 50 feet or so in the same direction, and you’ll find El Burro Borracho on the left.
I came with two friends neither could finish their dinners. The chimichanga was huge, the al pastor tacos were also more than my friend could finish, but I gladly consumed the rock shrimp tacos.”
– Joe B. from Las Vegas
Despite the name, this place has nothing to do with All American Dave and his food truck.
Indeed, the All American Bar and Grill takes the opposite approach, slinging up good old fashioned comfort food at an affordable price. If you’re looking for a slice of pizza, or a whole pie for that matter, this is the place for you. Other favorites of mine include the hot wings, the chili cheeseburger, and the bucket of shrimp.
Prices here are more than reasonable, and the portions are enough to keep your belly full for the rest of the night.
It’s not all casual fare here though, with fine dining options running the gamut from filet mignon to slow roasted prime rib.
Every time I’ve been here it’s been a packed house, so be prepared for a little bit of a wait.
You’ll find the All American Bar and Grill after making your way back to the main Rio casino. Walk past the cashier’s cage and then the Ipanema Tower hallway, and you’ll see the bar and grill just ahead on the right.
Mashed potatoes, rustic vegetables, apple salad, cranberry sauce, dressing, gravy, dessert and a package of Starbucks instant coffee with 12 servings. Everything was so delicious I am never cooking for Thanksgiving or Christmas again.”
– Robin G. from Las Vegas
Buffets are tough to review because the menu changes as certain foods go in and out of season.
That’s especially true for a buffet that specializes in seafood, so you’ll need to take a look for yourself to see what Carnival World & Seafood Buffet has in store for your trip.
To get here, head to the All American Bar and Grill and just keep going straight. Once you pass a bank of slot machines, you’ll see the buffet line on your right.
It’s definitely a must on the agenda on our next trip to Vegas! Oh, just a quick note, if you’re on a diet, I’d recommend you dropping it before entering this place.” – Ana Ruth H. of San Bernardino, California
Fans of the Vietnamese delicacy pho – a broth and noodle soup that can be supplemented by meat and veggies – will agree that Pho Da Nang Vietnamese Kitchen is the place to be.
The elegant setting and sophisticated ambience belies the affordable prices and prompt service. You’ll feel like you’re in a fine dining establishment, and the food will be downright amazing, but you won’t break the bank.
That’s important for poker players on a budget, a group which includes most poker players aside from the top pros.
Obviously, the main attraction here is the pho itself, but you can also get down on a heartier dish like the charbroiled pork and steamed rice platter.
The menu is admittedly limited when compared to places like All American Bar and Grill or El Burro Borracho, but if Asian cuisine is your thing, you simply can’t beat Pho Da Nang Vietnamese Kitchen while visiting the Rio.
To get yourself here, you’ll basically walk as far from the WSOP area as you can. Follow the same directions found in the previous entry, just turn to the right instead of the left after the slot machines.
Big bowl with lots of noodles and soup plus side of veggies. Perfect hangover cure food! Also, they were super fast like 5 minutes!”
– Phoebe F. from Waihapu, Hawaii
Other dining options at the Rio include and .
I haven’t been to either, unfortunately, so my reviewing skills are of no use here.
But I hear great things about both, and while they’re clearly on two ends of the culinary spectrum, both should serve you well when your WSOP dinner break arrives.
Make sure you eat right on your quest for a WSOP title. This guide helps you find the best places to eat on breaks and after a hard day at the tables.