Restaurants can be works of art, but first and foremost they’re places of business. And in some cases, what a business. Tao Asian Bistro in Las Vegas – a spot that has never made anyone’s best restaurants list, doesn’t have a superstar chef, and has only 3 1/2 Yelp stars -- generated $64.6 million in sales in 2013, making it the highest-grossing independent restaurant in America, according to Restaurant Business magazine.
In the Venetian Hotel right on the Strip, Tao sported an average check of $75 per person, according to the RB rankings. According to the Tao website: “The multi-faceted and multi-story ‘Asian City’ houses a restaurant, banquet facilities, lounge, nightclub and beach in 60,000 square-feet. Corporate Executive Chef Ralph Scamardella showcases a menu incorporating culinary components from China, Japan and Thailand, along with a full sushi bar and perfectly paired cocktails to complement the authentic Asian cuisine.”
Overall, Las Vegas accounted for five of the top 15 grossers. There was none from California.
The two top-grossing restaurants in the Golden State came from the Bay Area, led by perennial favorite the Slanted Door at the Ferry Building (No. 22 overall). It generated $16.5 million in sales, followed by Scoma’s Sausalito with $15.3 million.
Southern California’s busiest non-chain restaurant was, of course, Gladstone’s with $14.8 million. Harris Ranch, the oasis on Highway 5 in Coalinga, was fourth with $13.3 million and the Bazaar by Jose Andres was right behind in fifth with $13.3 million.
But the national list was dominated mostly by restaurants that are either Vegas party places or steak places. Or both. Following Tao were perennial top-grosser Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami ($35.3 million), the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C. ($26.7 million), Smith & Wollensky in New York ($25.5 million) and Lavo Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas ($24 million).
Of the 50 top-grossing restaurants, Las Vegas’ Carnevino, run by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, had the highest check average at $170 per person. The Four Seasons in New York trailed with $150, followed by New York’s 21 at $143, Las Vegas’ Prime Steakhouse at $140 and another Batali-Bastianich place, New York’s Del Posto at $130.