Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wahlburgers Misses the Mark

3635 S. Las Vegas Blvd. 
Las Vegas, NV 89109

For those of you that are not big hockey fans, Las Vegas now has its own hockey team. This is the first year that the Vegas Knights are playing, so it made sense that since we are big hockey fans we wanted to see our Ducks play their first game in Las Vegas. Once the hockey schedule came out, we made our plane and hotel reservations, bought the game tickets, and then set about on trying to decide where to eat on this short one day trip to the desert. My mom was very passionate about where she wanted to eat, so after our short plane ride and dropping our bags off at the hotel, we headed to Wahlburgers.

I did not know it until talking to my mom, but there's a reality show based on this restaurant and also the family that runs it, the Wahlbergs. Yes, the same Wahlberg's as in the singer and acting Mark, Donnie, and their Chef brother Paul. My mom is crazy for this show, and from what I can gather has watched all eight seasons with more on the way. Paul has an Italian restaurant, Alma Nove, in Hingham, which is just outside the Boston area. The first Wahlburgers is located nearby his original restaurant and is the one that is mainly featured on the A&E TV show.

Wahlburgers has blossomed into a pretty big chain. They operate restaurants in 14 states and also have an international location in Toronto. Their Las Vegas spot has been opened for a year and a half now and is situated at the Grand Bazaar Shops in front Bally's on the Strip, right across from the Fountains at the Bellagio. Some people online have claimed that it's hard finding this restaurant, but just key in on the large green Wahlburgers sign and you can't miss it.

We arrived here at just after 1:30 on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Walking from the Bellagio, I noticed that Vegas was pretty empty compared to our other visits to this desert paradise. Wahlburgers was much the same, as we got a seat right away, and only about half the tables were occupied during our stay. The restaurant was not as big as I was expecting, but with the cooler weather they had their large roll-up doors closed to the patio, and so it may appear to be larger when the patio is being used. The restaurant is dominated by green, grey, and black painted walls, a large picture of the Wahlbergs that my mom could not help but pose in front of, posters of the Wahlbergs movies and TV shows, and a bar that sits front and center taking up most of the restaurant.

Predictably the menu here is burger driven, but they do have a few other options for people not wanting a burger. There's sandwiches, salads, and even a Sloppy Joe available. Of course, the big draw here is the burgers, and they have 7 to choose from, ranging in price from $10 to $15. I did some research before coming here and knew what I wanted before walking in the door, so let's see how everything worked out for us on this visit.

Burgers come solo at Wahlburgers, so some sides were definitely in order. Our waiter claimed that the kitchen is not a fan of splitting sides, but he said he would talk to them about it. It kind of sounded like something he has said numerous times to other guests, but it did allow us to try all four of their side items. The best of the bunch was the Tater Tots and Sweet Potato Tots ($4.25). They were crisp on the outside, and fluffy on the inside, just like a tater tot should be. They could have come to the table warmer, but still good even though I'm not really a big fan of sweet potato. The Thin Crispy Onion Rings were decent, but again there were temperature issues. The worst of the bunch were the fries, which were obviously frozen and needed to be seasoned to wake up these bland and lukewarm fries. The sauces at Wahlburgers did nothing to really help the fries out either. The ranch dressing was straight from the bottle, and even though the Wahl sauce, a cross between thousand island dressing and Sriracha, added a little flavor it could not save the fries from being anything but mediocre.

My mom is a pretty basic burger eater, so it was no surprise when she ordered this Our Burger ($9.95). This burger comes with the standard lettuce, tomato, and onion, and also includes their Wahl sauce and house-made pickles. This 5-ounce burger was the perfect size for my mom, who is not a real big eater. She seemed to like her burger but said that she has had better.

Both Katie and my dad got the same thing, which helps me by lessening my writing, which we can all probably agree is a great thing. This O.F.D. Burger ($12.95) would have been my second choice, but I left it to the two of them. OFD stands for, Originally from Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood where the Wahlberg's grew up. This one has bacon, Swiss cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and a tomato jam included between its buns. This was a half pound burger, which my light eating father had a hard time finishing. Katie thought this burger was a mess, as it was too juicy and fell apart easily. She also thought it was kind of bland.

The BBQ Bacon Burger ($12.95) was listed as Donnie's favorite burger, and I had high hopes for it after ordering it. I was let down after my first couple of bites. I figured with the bacon, jalapenos, white cheddar, and avocado spread on this it would have popped with flavor. Not the case. It was average, but the avocado spread and jalapenos had no flavor to them, and if I did not see them on my burger I wouldn't have even known they were there. The burger patty needed to be seasoned a bit, and the bright spot for this burger was probably the bun, which did keep its integrity the whole time it was around. Who eats a burger for the bun though? Donnie Wahlberg must like boring burgers if this is his favorite.

Even my mom who was very excited to eat here had to admit that Wahlburgers is a place that she would probably not want to return to. She still loves the show, but the restaurant was very average, and that's being kind. It really had the feel of a tourist trap to me, with the constant upselling by our server, the woman who took our picture and sold them to us after our meal, and the outrageous $5 ice teas in the cups that you can take with you, but who wants to walk around with Wahlburgers cups on the strip?  In a city where almost every hotel has a gourmet/celebrity burger restaurant in it, Wahlburgers really needs to step up their game as something better than what you can get at your neighborhood Chili's. The reality show apparently brings the people in, but the boring burgers and frozen fries will not get a lot of them to return.

Out of five hockey pucks, (because we were in Vegas for the Ducks first game here), five being best to zero being worst, Wahlburgers gets 2 hockey pucks.

For more information about Wahlburgers, head to their website here:

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