The new Lotus of Siam restaurant location at Red Rock Casino has lost something by going more upscale.
Lotus of Siam is an iconic name on the now-dynamic Las Vegas food scene.
The original location opened in 1999 in a worn-down strip mall on East Sahara shoehorned in between a billiards hall and a massage parlor.* The tiny hole-in-the-wall that began with a lunch buffet and only a dozen tables instantly proved to be wildly popular with locals. Word spread fast.
Tourists gradually discovered the family’s century-old traditional recipes, many of the dishes from Northern Thailand, with their own unique flavors and characteristics. Eager for expansion, Lotus of Siam took over the adjacent space next door, knocked out a few walls, tripled in size, and became a full-service restaurant. An extensive wine cellar and menu were brought in. The reviews were stellar. Casino limos started pulling up asking for reservations. Waiting lists became a nightly ritual.
By 2010, Lotus of Siam was widely considered one of the best Thai restaurants in the United States. The restaurant won numerous prestigious awards, including the 2011 James Beard prize for “Best Chef in the Southwest.” Many loyal visitors wondered if and when Lotus of Siam would expand further, perhaps with new locations. Then, the roof collapsed. Literally.
A 2017 downpour and flood caused a massive ceiling collapse which shut down Lotus of Siam for the first time ever and made the decision to move to a new location imperative.
About a year later, Lotus of Siam opened a much newer, flashier, and more modern flagship restaurant on Flamingo, which proved just as popular with both locals and visitors. The Chutima family made it through the COVID shutdown, which hurt so many small mom-and-pop restaurants, and by 2022 was thriving again with big plans to launch its first significant expansion into a casino venue.
And so, in late 2022 Lotus of Siam opened a second restaurant at the Red Rock Casino in Summerlin. They’ve been open for about six weeks now. Yesterday, Marieta and I made our visit to the new location. Here are the Pros and Cons of our experience:
– Excellent original family recipes
– Opens at 4 pm (instead of 5 pm, which is customary in many dinner-only locations)
– Well-coordinated seating (opening time can be awkward, but the hostesses promptly seat everyone in order at the top of the hour)
– Overstaffed (always someone on hand to refill glasses, remove dishes, answer questions, etc.)
– Attractive ambiance
– Scaled back menu (far too many Northern Thai options were removed)
– Prices increased
– Dinner only (no lunch)
– Far too many uncomfortable seats (small chairs, barstools)
– Yes, the ambiance is nice (reportedly cost $5 million), but no one comes here for the plastic plants–we come here for the great food
SUMMARY: Lotus of Siam has lost something by going more upscale. The old original dive location on E. Sahara with its squeaky floor and cheap surroundings and hands-on family members running a crowded dining room was part of its natural charm, a sort of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park to Thai food. The new spot feels almost antiseptic.
The downscaled menu at the new Red Rock store also disappoints. One of the many delights of visiting the Flamingo spot is that they kept everything intact from the original. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The extensive menu and the panoply of intriguing choices — alluring any curious visitor to keep coming back, again and again, to try out new items — was a holy book for foodies and a temple to Thai. Prices increased at Red Rock too, which was to be expected.
Many of the same original recipes will likely tempt regulars and perhaps the new location will win over a few converts. However, the expanded location simply doesn’t match nor meet the “wow factor” and consistent excellence of the first two flagship stores.
* Note: The Chutima family’s very first restaurant opened in the Norwalk section of Los Angeles when the Thai family immigrated to the U.S.