In the world of old school ambiance and institutions I’m here today to talk about Café Cortez inside the El Cortez Hotel. In the 9+ years I have lived here, I have somehow never stepped foot in the building until this visit, and I’ve definitely been missing out. I’m already a huge fan of all things Fremont (aside from the hipsters) and have spent quite a lot of time there, so I knew the second I walked in that I had found the perfect new lunch spot to add to my rotation downtown. If they had a decent burger it would just be a plus.
After finding a parking spot at the very top of their tiny, old school parking garage, I made my way through the smoky, outdated casino into the depths of the casino floor to find the café. I believe I was in the minority age group based on the clientele I walked past, and probably the only person in the entire building without a cigarette in my hand. Café Cortez features the same bland ceiling tiles, muted paint colors and basic yet functional light fixtures that decorate the rest of the casino, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The space is quite large, filled with many 2 and 4 person tables, and probably gets pretty packed late night after First Friday. Even during my lunch time visit the place was fairly populated. The menu offers pretty much any type of food option as you would expect from your typical casino café, and serves up a pretty great matza ball soup.
As advertised on their website I came to try their $5 burger deal, which comes with a 1/2lb Café Cortez burger, chips and 12oz domestic draught beer. What is served is basically your simple back yard burger, but really good. The char flavor was prominent; the patty was of the more generic variety but really good overall. The LTO and pickles were all fresh, the bun was basic but perfectly fine as well. In all this is nothing gourmet, but certainly better than some places that try to tout a much fancier burger, and certainly fine for $5.
I wasn’t initially thrilled about getting chips over my go-to fries, but after having a few of my friends I thought twice about that. The fries weren’t quite shoe string, but a little too small and not that great to accompany any burger. The chips were of your generic Lays variety, and served their purpose just fine in this case. This meal is certainly not intending to be anything fancy or out of this world, but they still make an effort to serve something of good quality and not overcharge you for it as some casinos might. This is definitely better and cheaper than what is served down the street at Binion’s, and also probably more acceptable than what’s served at Park on Fremont because it includes a full beer for only $5. So if you’re looking for a cheap late night meal, or just an old school Vegas scene downtown, definitely check out Café Cortez.