Las Vegas, for many reasons, is considered ground zero for design creativity and drama. "The casinos have hefty budgets," explains Clark Wolf, who is currently guiding restaurant expansion at Mandalay Bay. "And to reduce risk, they're bringing in bigger- and bigger-name chefs: Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, and Bobby Flay are the newest arrivals. One way for them all to compete is through spectacular design. Restaurants have to compete with each other, of course, but also with the casinos, the acrobats, the shows."

Wolf also notes that, all things being equal, it can be 30 to 40 percent cheaper to build in Vegas than in San Francisco or New York. "Casinos have their own construction companies," he says. "They can fabricate in the desert and haul everything in. Much of what you find in Las Vegas is new construction. So you're not going into a 150-year-old building and spending a third of your budget on demolition." As a result, serious cash is devoted to design - and the public is eating it up.

But you hardly have to go to Vegas to find cutting-edge restaurant design. These days, no matter where you're dining, you can bet on being served a hefty side dish of spectacle. "Diners today want a whole experience," says Beers. "It's not just about dinner, it's about entertainment. They want good tastes, smells, visual stimulation. But, above all, it has to be fun."

10 places for dazzling design and world-class cuisine
per se, new york city
überchef thomas keller's luminous, new $10-­million restaurant in the time warner center has natural materials - wood, stone, metal, glass - and a chocolate, caramel, and cream palette combined in a striking room that's tailored yet totally luxe. (212) 823-9335,