Las Vegas is famous not only for its big shows, tacky wedding chapels and abundance of Elvis impersonators, but also for the casinos' free buffets.

As recently as two years ago, those free buffets were as good as it got when it came to eating out in Las Vegas. Not anymore. Today, the chow line is dotted with high-style, high-visibility, high-priced dining rooms whose kitchens are under the demanding eyes of some of the country's top chefs. How'd that happen?

Here's a look at Las Vegas' top 12 restaurants, as cited by Gourmet magazine in its annual restaurant issue (October 1999):

Aqua - Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 693-7223. Two major Robert Rauschenberg paintings hover over the modern decor and fresh seafood crusted and cooked rare.

Aureole - Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 632-7777. Salmon tartare, foie gras with duck pastrami, rare ahi tuna and what may be the city's best wine list, housed in an amazing four-story wine tower.

Border Grill - Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 632-7777. Waterfront cafe (OK, the river is artificial) serving green corn tamales and gigantic lime coolers.

Delmonico Steakhouse - The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 414-3737. Big, rare steaks courtesy of Emeril Lagasse.

Le Cirque - Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 693-7223. Miles of luscious silk make this a visual feast, all the better to enjoy the classic French country cuisine.

Napa - Rio, 3700 West Flamingo Road, (702) 252-7777. Chef Jean-Louis Palladin oversees this menu, with more than 100 wines by the glass available to go with the soft-shell crab.

Nobu - Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 4455 Paradise Road, (702) 693-5090. In the tradition of New York's Nobu, fresh, inventively presented raw fish.

Noodles - Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 693-7223. Hooray! A noodle shop right next to the casino floor. Chinese barbecue, too.

168 Shanghai- 4215 West Spring Mountain Road, (702) 365-9168. Steamed dumplings, snacks and tour-de-force seafood dishes in the best tradition of Chinatowns everywhere.

Picasso - Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 693-7223. Mediterranean-influenced menu features lobster salad, seared foie gras, squab and Florida snapper.

Pino Brasserie - The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 414-3737. Innovative renditions of traditional French bistro favorites, like braised meats.

Prime - Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South, (702) 693-7223. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's signature dishes: short ribs, Dover sole, five-pepper New York steak and his famous dense chocolate cake.