Raiders' punter AJ Cole is also the team's low-key restaurant critic. Here are his 3 favorite spots in Las Vegas.
- Raiders punter AJ Cole has been with the team for four years, the last three of which were spent in Las Vegas.
- In his time with the team, Cole has developed some very serious opinions on restaurants in town.
Las Vegas Raiders punter A.J. Cole is a master of his craft.
Through the 2022 season, Cole was fifth amongst NFL punters, with a net average of 43.9 yards per punt. He's good enough that the Raiders moved to lock him in for the future back in 2021, when the team signed him to a four-year, $12 million extension after he was named as a first-team All-Pro that year.
Now a veteran, Cole, 27, knows Sin City very well, and like anyone else who has spent some time in Las Vegas, he takes his restaurant recommendations very seriously.
Insider caught up with Cole and his soon-to-be wife, pro volleyball player Kylie Pickrell with Athletes Unlimited, on the red carpet ahead of NFL Honors in Arizona during Super Bowl week. Of all the professional athletes Insider has solicited for restaurant recommendations in their home team cities, no one has reacted with greater delight than Cole.
When asked for his favorite restaurants in Las Vegas, Cole immediately lit up.
"Oh my gosh, that's so tough," Cole said, pulling out his phone.
"I got this section on my Notes app that I keep," he said enthusiastically. "It's every restaurant that we've eaten at in Vegas. I write a review on all of them.
"That's a serious question for me. If you want a real answer."
Cole assured us that he would mix up his recommendations so he didn't just name three steakhouses. As a reporter, I have never seen an athlete more prepared to answer a question.
"So steakhouse is SW," Cole began. "Their steaks are great. It's a great atmosphere. Really good drinks. The little show is amazing. I like that a lot."
SW Steakhouse is located in the Wynn. "Prime-aged steaks and a curated selection of certified Japanese and domestic Wagyu are the stars at the Forbes Travel Guide Four Star award winning SW Steakhouse," its website advertises.
Unsurprisingly, you're going to have to pony up a good amount of cash for your meal at a steakhouse of this quality. Japanese Waygu beef cuts have a starting price of $240. That said, there are options for your main course that come in under $100.
But the vibes at SW Steakhouse look well worth the cost. And being the first restaurant to come to mind for an NFL player that has eaten his way through all of Vegas has to count for something.
As promised, Cole went in a different direction with his second restaurant pick: Din Tai Fung at the Aria.
"It's nice, but it's not like crazy Vegas five-star nice, but the food is great," Cole said. "The dim sum is amazing. And I have a peanut allergy, so I can't usually eat at a lot of places like that. I know the chef there, he's the man."
For any fans of dim sum, this place looks astounding.
"From Taipei to Los Angeles, the esteemed Taiwanese dumpling and noodle house is renowned for their Xiao Long Bao including the famed Shanghai-style soup dumplings filled with Kurobuta pork," the website promises.
"Each of our Xiao Long Bao is carefully weighed and folded by hand to achieve our signature Golden Ratio of 18 folds and stuffed with top-quality Kurobuta pork marinated in a blend of carefully-selected seasonings," the website says. "Paired with the piquant aromas of fresh ginger and green onion, every bite is the perfect bite."
For his final pick, Cole offered another wild card: Beauty and Essex at the Cosmopolitan.
"This is just a great experience place. The food is really good," Cole said. "Going there with a group of people and getting all the stuff is a lot of fun. And I like that it's in a little speakeasy of a pawn shop."
Clearly, food at Beauty and Essex is made to be shared.
"Beauty and Essex is really good vibes," Cole said. "I love the shareables there. The crazy stuff — street corn ravioli, Ferris wheel of beignets, they have grilled cheese soup dumplings."
Signature dishes at the restaurant include the grilled cheese dumplings and "Wonder Wheel" of desserts Cole mentioned, as well as Thai Style Deep-Fried Shrimp and Tuna Poke Wonton Tacos. They also sport an impressive cocktail list.
Cole's partner, Kylie Pickrell, approved of all three of Cole's choices, but volunteered three of her own.
First, where the couple went for a recent celebration in Vegas: Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres.
"We went there for his birthday this year, and we did the tasting menu, and it was awesome," Pickrell said. "They put stuff on there that I would not think to try or ever order at a restaurant myself."
Bazaar Meat describes itself as a "groundbreaking culinary experience," where guests can "enjoy nuanced, playful cuisine and cocktails, for which The Bazaar by José Andrés has become known on both coasts, in a strikingly seductive setting."
Tasting menus like the one Pickrell and Cole enjoyed are available at price points of $205 and $290 and deliver an impressive spread.
Zuma, a Japanese restaurant in the Cosmopolitan, was another favorite of Pickrell's, and was the very first place the couple ate together after moving to the new city.
Omakase is available at price points of $138 or $168 per person, or guests can pick their own preferred dishes from the menu.
With her final restaurant, Pickrell went with a place that comes with dinner and a show: Mayfair Supper Club in the Bellagio.
"That one's a fun time," Pickrell said. "There's a show that goes on constantly while you're eating, and as the night goes on it kind of gets a little raunchier too. So if you like funny stuff like that, it's a good place to go."
"Dinner is never just dinner," their website promises. While I can't be entirely sure what they mean, I intend to find out the next time I'm in Las Vegas.
And for any new Raiders players looking to get the lay of the city, Cole is ready to help you out.
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