If you think Las Vegas is just about losing those hard-earned bills (and your head, while you’re at it) and partying your face off, you might want to reconsider. Over the past few years, the city has emerged as a bonafide culinary destination. It’s now a place that chefs, writers, locals and epicureans from all over are keeping close tabs on. And 2014 was no exception, with a slew of new, exciting restaurants turning out inventive must-order plates from crispy shrimp beignets to creamy black truffle-topped Japanese risotto. Here, we share five ambitious new spots to eat incredibly well in Las Vegas.

1. Della’s Kitchen
Here’s the thing about starting off your day the right way in this city. While there are ample solid lunch and dinner options, breakfast can be lacking because there’s only so many buffets and cold room service meals you can stomach. This is where Della’s Kitchen (think farmhouse meets urban kitchen) at the newly opened Delano Las Vegas really works its magic. Properly fuel up — as early as 6:30 a.m., if you wish — with signature dishes like the Portuguese sausage and pastrami hash or blue crab benedict. If you’re still feeling wonky from last night’s excess, down a glass of “Mojave Burn,” a spicy and bracing blend of orange and carrot juices, ginger and cayenne. You’ll be revived to your wild ways in no time. Delano Las Vegas, 3940 Las Vegas Blvd., 702-632-9444, delanolasvegas.com

2. Yusho
The sister restaurant of the popular yakitori joint in Chicago echoes the same fun vibe as the original, but spreads its wings by offering even more wildly creative takes on traditional izakaya. As expected, all things grilled and skewered are on-point, but the kitchen really shines with the fried stuff. The beignet shrimp are a sublime example of sweet meets heat, with its creamy corn and seafood filling, gently spiced with curry and chili. The Logan Poser Ramen is a behemoth of a bowl, loaded with deep, porky broth, springy noodles, poached hen egg and a deep-fried slab of shredded pork belly on a stick. In short, this is the type of original, lip-smacking and downright addictive food that will keep this spot hot for years to come. Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd S, 702-730-6700, montecarlo.com

Burrata agnolotti at Portofino in the Mirage Hotel. (Photo: MGM Resorts)

3. Portofino
Chef Michael LaPlaca’s reputation for elevating classic Italian comforts to unexpected new heights is growing quickly, for good reason. Take, for example, his Caesar Salad: the dressing brims with bright anchovy, parmesan and, most importantly, olive oil from Italy. According to LaPlaca, it’s a key ingredient that other chefs will skimp on because of price. His spaghetti carbonara heads in an ever richer direction with the help of caramelized onions and pork belly. But, the dish that’s generating the most buzz is his meatballs. Mighty in size and flavor, they’re a signature blend of rich Kobe beef and sausage. As if they weren’t already over the top, imagine them capped with fried, goat cheese-filled squash blossoms and tangy San Marzano tomato sauce. The Mirage Hotel, 3400 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 866-339-4566, mirage.com

4. Cleo
Its friendly neighbors Bazaar Meat by José Andrés and Katsuya might be generating more buzz, but this Mediterranean restaurant should not be missed. For starters, you’ll be hard-pressed to find this type of cuisine (and of this high quality) anywhere on The Strip. And, the dining room – decked out in elegant flourishes like marble countertops, a towering brick-covered wood oven, and intricate chandeliers – provides a charming backdrop to your dinner. If you’re feeling fatigued from meat and sushi (again, no offense, neighbors), you won’t feel the least bit deprived from the veggie-forward menu, which is packed with hearty, satisfying bites, including the vegetable beignet, lebaneh and dolmades. SLS Las Vegas, 2535 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702-761-7612, slslasvegas.com/cleo

5. Japanese Cuisine By Omae
It’s tiny – the virtual jewel box seats 12. And, it’s off the Strip (and located in a bland strip mall). But, what might work against other Vegas spots works in favor of Chef Takeshi Omae, who cut his chops at Japanese Michelin-starred restaurant Omae XEX. There are only two seatings available Tuesday through Saturday, so reservations are a must. Every dish in all four fixed-price menus  – the first one, called “Introduction,” is for first-time visitors and a relative bargain at $65 – is prepared by Omae himself. So, sit back and get lost in his expertly and artfully plated sashimi from Tsukiji fish market and Japanese-inspired risotto finished with black truffle. 3650 S. Decatur Blvd. #26, 702-966-8080, omaevegas.com

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