All-you-can-eat Vegas

by Jeanette.Scott

Spin the foodie wheel of fortune in Las Vegas and even if you lose on the casino tables you can be a winner on the buffet tables

An apple, a pear and a barrel spun sadly into place. You lose. The fruit machine, just for a second, stayed silent, its lights stayed unlit. Possibly out of respect for yet another loss. But that’s how it goes in Las Vegas. The slots, the craps tables, the poker rooms – there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to luck. Unless you’re an expert cheat, that wheel will just keep on spinning and maybe, just maybe, your number will come up.

The same sort of rule applies at the buffet tables. Some, you win - steaks piled high, chocolate fountains dripping with luxurious goo and platters of fresh fruit, like banquet halls of old. Some, however, you lose - meat dry and limp under hot lamps, a dessert platter made up of jelly, and prawns that will confine you to your bathroom for three days.

The culinary scene in Las Vegas has come a long way since the days when an all-you-can-eat buffet meant a few trays of fried chicken and dodgy seafood. Some of the world’s hottest chefs have opened restaurants in the most opulent hotels. But when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. And here that means visiting the buffet and piling your plate higher than the mountain of money chips you just lost. Well, you’ve got to recoup your losses somewhere haven’t you?

Obviously, when you’re feasting for a few dollars, you can’t expect to eat from a gourmet garden every time. That’s the wheel of fortune at work in Vegas. You just have to throw the dice blindly and hope for the best. But, and I don’t think this is cheating, here is a selection of some of the best buffets along Las Vegas’s famous Strip.

Bally's
This hotel consistently tops the best buffet list, thanks to its Sterling Brunch. Every Sunday between 9.30am and 2.30pm you can gorge on caviar, lobster, sushi, steak, champagne and a hundred other tantalising treats. There are no limp omelettes withering under heat lamps here. Linger for as long as you can and visit the dessert selection – it’s to die for. Booking is recommended, and be prepared to stump up more than average for this slap-up spread. Brunch will set you back $85.

Bellagio Hotel
One of the Strip’s most decadent hotels boasts one of the Strip’s most delicious buffets. Be prepared to queue for this one (unless you’re a high-roller). You’ll still find traditional American favourites but the sumptuous buffet will whisk you away on a tour of the world, with cooking stations serving up specialities from Italy and the Orient. Watch your food being cooked fresh by expert chefs and walk back to your table feeling smug. The seafood is fresh but the wisest buffet-eaters will always veer away from a feast from the ocean, even in the Bellagio. Seafood in small amounts is the best way to go. Friday and Saturday evenings are gourmet nights with top cuts of meat on offer. Prices range from around $14 for breakfast to $35 for the gourmet dinner.

Mirage
The Cravings restaurant bills itself as the ultimate buffet-dining experience. I have to agree. Expect to wait in line to see an endless curve of food stations lining the outer wall of the nicer-than-average buffet hall. You do feel like you’re in a top restaurant in the glitzy surroundings. The Mirage used to be more expensive than average, although this has changed, but the quality of the food remains astoundingly good. There is enough choice to tickle even the fussiest tastebuds. Just make sure you save room for dessert! Prices range from $12.50 to $22.50 for dinner. Splash out around $20 for the champagne brunch at the weekend to get the day off to a bubbly start.

Luxor
You feel like you’re in the underbelly of a great pyramid in Luxor’s giant but dim buffet hall. There’s more of a canteen vibe to the place and the food is average. But the prices are reasonable and the standard is consistent. It’s best to go for a lunch stop in the Land of the Pharaohs, where $11 will buy your midday feast. Pay around $17 for dinner.

Paris
Ooh la la. The creative Le Village buffet has a strong French flavour and you’ll find regional specialities as you wander around the stunning dining hall. Paris is decadent and lavish and the food lives up to the superb surroundings. Expect to fork out a few more dollars than some of the other buffets ($25 for dinner, for example), but you’ll get tasty crepes and succulent mussels with a side order of joie de vivre.

Harrah's 
I’d stopped in for a late lunch and didn’t expect much. Harrah’s feels like an old-Vegas kind of joint compared to some of the eye-popping newer places further down the Strip. Picking up the lunch price-tab, I actually caught the start of the dinner buffet. This is an excellent tip for most hotel buffets; just make sure you won’t get kicked out when dinner service begins. This, however, is highly unlikely.
The food was exceptional and the service staff were the friendliest of all the buffets I’d visited (always tip buffet staff well; they’ll bring you drinks and clear your table after every trip to the food stations). At $12 for lunch you can’t go wrong. Especially if you round off your feast with a few trips to the chocolate fountain. That’s where I made my money back.

There is only one thing for certain on the buffet wheel of fortune in Las Vegas. You’re likely to lose a lot of pounds (£s) but you’re doubly likely to gain a few pounds (llbs).

 

Jeanette.Scott

As a travel writer and photographer I've contributed to the LA Times, Lonely Planet, Real Travel, The Australian, The Herald Sun (Australia) and, of course, as an editor and writer on www.simonseeks.com. Following a stint in hospitality, I started my media career in 2002 in newspaper journalism, and I've written for the Guardian, Metro, Coventry Telegraph, Coventry and Warwickshire Times and Living magazine.

According to a fairly pointless Facebook application, I've visited 24% of the planet. Good to know, although there are ten minutes of my life I'm never going to get back. I'm fascinated by our planet and whenever I visit a place that's new to me - be it Barbados, Burkina Faso or a previously unvisited corner of Britain - I want to capture it. I want to keep the confluence of smell, noise and vision; the expressions on the faces of the people; the layers of history; the unfamiliar food and drink. I fasten it in my mind's eye - but when my memory fades, I've got a stack of photographs and a thousand furiously jotted notes to remind me.

Favourite places - my home town of Chester, New Zealand's south island, Malaysia, Fiji, Melbourne, Norway's fjords, Italy (mainly the restaurants), Greek Islands, London, Edinburgh, the Lake District, and home (Chester, though my true "home" will always be Warwickshire).

My Chester

Where I always grab a hot drink: A coffee with the grand (and quite surreal) decor of Oddfellows as the backdrop is a treat; but when my sweet tooth is raging the Blue Moon Café can’t be beaten for hot chocolate with lashings of whipped cream and marshmallows.

My favourite stroll: Treading the wooden slats of the Queen’s Park Bridge is pretty unique. I cross it every morning and evening to and from Simonseeks HQ. For a look at real life in Chester, cross the bridge from the city, drop down to riverside and head away from the direction of the racecourse. You’ll find grand homes and, eventually, the meadows (the scene of a very special New Year’s Eve midnight picnic for me).

Where to be seen: At the races of course! After a day at The Roodee get your hands on one of the coveted Bedouin tents to dine/drink/people watch from in the outdoor space at Oddfellows.

The most breathtaking view: Get the lift to the fifth floor of Abode and check out the view from the Champagne Bar. It’s both unique and breathtaking. If you’re not thirsty, stand on the steps of the High Cross (the pointy monument where the four main streets – Watergate, Eastgate, Northgate and Bridge – meet). Behold The Rows and let the history of the buildings and the buzz of modern life around you slip into your memories.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Grosvenor Park is perfect in winter but the first rays of sunshine draw picnicking crowds. Act like a local and cross the Queen’s Park Bridge to find your haven in the meadows.

Shopaholics beware!: Visit any of the stores (ground and first floor level) on The Rows and shop accompanied by centuries of history.

Don’t leave without...clocking some time with the Eastgate Clock. Put your shopping bags down, take a picture if you must, but make sure you climb the steps and simply stand and watch the world go by for a while.