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Eating in Las Vegas

Posted by jrswift on April 3, 2007

Back for another fabulous post on fabulous Las Vegas.  In just six days, I’ll be enjoying some time in this fair city so I thought I’d talk a little bit about food.  Now I like food and so, when I’m in Las Vegas, I tend to eat a bit.  On the other hand, we’ve already established that I’m a bit of a, shall we say, frugal traveller so I’m obviously not spending my evenings dining at the many very fine restaurants that are available.  So, what do I eat?

Well…now that the legendary (and rather disgusting) one pound hot dog at the Westward Ho is no more, I’ll have to find another way to fill up.  It isn’t quite as easy to eat cheap in Las Vegas as it used to be but you can still chow down, sometimes on some very tasty treats, while you are vacationing.

We’ll start with breakfast which I rarely eat at home but occasionally indulge in while on the road.  One good thing about breakfast is that it is usually the least expensive meal of the day and another is that it is one of the hardest to screw up.  Even I can cook scrambled eggs and bacon and pancakes and they taste pretty good so most any place you go can probably do the same.  It is rarely worth seeking out any place special to enjoy this “most important meal of the day” so you might as well chow down wherever you happen to be staying.  A lot of times I might just want a cup of coffee and a bagel but that is likely to run you $4 or more at your local “foo-foo” coffee stand.  On the other hand, you might be able to get an entire breakfast for $6 or $7 at your hotel buffet.  Now I’ve eaten some pretty crappy breakfast buffets (how I miss late nights at Shoney’s but that’s another story) but, if you can’t find $6 or $7 worth of food at one of them, you are at one sorry buffet.  Since Vegas hotels rarely offer free coffee or a free continental breakfast, you might as well spring for the buffet.  If you are hungry enough and like breakfast foods, you could just load up for the day.  You might be able to get by eating only one more big meal and a snack somewhere along the way and that can make it a very good choice.  Even if you aren’t that hungry and just want a little something, the buffet is still going to be a better choice than the hotel coffee shop or even McDonalds so you might as well go for it.  On the other hand, if you’ve been up half the night (or maybe all of it) and sleep late, you can take advantage of the best deal in Las Vegas:  the lunch buffet.

Why is the lunch buffet such a good deal?  Because it often has most everything the dinner buffet has and, if they decide to call it brunch, it might also have most of the things you want out of the breakfast buffet as well.  And, if you eat an enormous meal sometime between 11 and 2, you probably aren’t going to be hungry for quite a while.  Not only that but lunch is often much less expensive than dinner.  Now you might get prime rib or crab legs or something special if you go to the dinner buffet but, unless you can’t live without those treats, it isn’t worth it.  Dinner also tends to be more crowded at most buffets so you might as well eat your “big meal” earlier in the day.  Besides, if you are going to be having a few cocktails (and most of you will) it pays to have them on a nice full stomach.

That being said, what are the best buffets in Las Vegas?  Is it worth it to go someplace nice (and expensive?)  My answer is yes.  My favorite buffet is the Bellagio and it will set you back close to $20 for lunch and closer to $30 for dinner.  Why is it worth it?  Because the food is well-prepared and seasoned and interesting.  Where else can I sample leg of lamb, wild boar and roasted duck for that price?  Now if all you want to eat is turkey, roast beef, mashed potatoes, some sort of salad and a cookie, don’t bother.  The joy in the Bellagio buffet is trying unusual tasty treats and deciding you like them.  Combine that with a very comfortable dining area and good service and I think you’ll find that what you get is worth the price.  Another excellent buffet is the Aladdin (soon to be Planet Hollywood) which is a bit less expensive than the Bellagio but also offers a wide variety of foods which are very well-prepared.  Not quite as many unusual options but still a good variety and well worth a visit.  I have not tried the Paris or Wynn buffets (perhaps this visit) but they also receive excellent marks from most visitors and will also set you back a good bit of coin.

Other good buffets on the strip include the Mirage (Cravings) and the TI (Dishes) which both sport a very modern room with a somewhat more limited but still tasty selection of food at prices close to that of the superbuffets I just mentioned.  I also liked Mandalay Bay which has a very nice dining room and Harrah’s.  Most of the other strip buffets are serviceable but not spectacular.  Don’t go out of your way to try them.  I’d steer clear of the Excalibur, Imperial Palace and Circus Circus buffets though some people like them.   The Riviera buffet is awful and, while it is good and cheap, the Sahara buffet can rarely be called good.

Downtown’s best buffet is at Main Street Station.  Very inexpensive and suprisingly good.  The Golden Nugget also does a small but tasty spread.  The rest of the downtown buffets are going to be edible at best.  I’d avoid them if you can help it.

As for the off-strip choices,  the name that always comes up is the Rio.  It was arguably the first “super-buffet” in Las Vegas and it spawned all the others.   On the other hand, it just isn’t that great.  Decent food and a pretty good selection but not on a par with the best buffets and often very crowded because its reputation remains high among many visitors.  I have not tried the Rio Seafood buffet but it gets mixed reviews.  An awful lot of seafood but it is the priciest buffet in town and so it may or may not be worth it to you.   Again, I do hope to try it some day so I can offer a more informed opinion.

As with their hotel rooms, most of the off-strip buffets offer a great value and some are pretty good.  Most of the Station casino buffets are at least pretty good and one of my favorite buffets in town is at the Texas Station.  It is a bit off the beaten path but the food is very good.  They have a large selection of food, including a good BBQ section.  Haven’t been in a couple of years but both of my visits were very satisfying.  The Orleans is also pretty good but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit just for the buffet.

One good rule is to only eat one buffet a day.  More than that is just too much.  There are plenty of ways to recharge your engines inexpensively without going back to the trough.  I won’t even begin to try and list all the food specials available in the city but I’ll highlight a couple.  If you are downtown, you must go to the Golden Gate and have a 99 cent shrimp cocktail (or maybe have two.)   The shrimps are a bit tiny but fresh and delicious and make a great snack.  A trip to Vegas just isn’t complete without at least one.  The other legendary Vegas meal special is the $4.99 Steak Special at Ellis Island.  I must preface this by saying that I haven’t had it yet but I think I might make it up there this trip.  Ellis Island is a small casino attached to an enormous Super 8 motel and it is far from glamorous but they give you a full steak dinner with all the trimmings and, by all accounts, it is quite good.  The special is 24 hours a day and it isn’t on the menu.  You have to ask for it.  If you try it, let me know how it is.

One of my favorite food strategies in Las Vegas is the late-night special.   These aren’t quite as special if you are on the Strip but most anyplace downtown or off-strip will have one.   You just can’t beat a plate of steak and eggs at 2 in the morning, particularly when it costs you less than $5.  Why eat breakfast when you wake up if you can have it before you go to bed?  Now this won’t be the best steak you’ve ever had but, most of the time, it is pretty good.  I’ve enjoyed this treat for as little as $1.99 but $4 or $5 is more typical.  If you don’t want the steak, you might do even better with some of the ham and eggs, bacon and eggs or pancake specials you’ll encounter.  This is food you’d pay three times as much for at your local Perkins but you can have it here for a song.  Not for everyone but, if you’re up that late, you might as well try it out.  Most of these special deals are going to be in the hotel coffee shops which, most of the time, offer overpriced food but are worth checking out anytime to see what special deals they might be offering.

Now, I do have to mention the fact that Las Vegas has a lot of amazing restaurants and, if you are so inclined, you should definitely try them out.  We keep meaning to go visit the Mesa Grill (Bobby Flay fans here) but most any celebrity chef is going to have a restaurant in Las Vegas and the food (and prices) are often out of this world.  Again, lunch will be less crowded and less expensive than dinner so it can be good way to sample some of the nicer restaurants.

And, of course, Vegas has all of your usual fast food but why in the world would you travel all the way there just to eat at McDonalds?  Don’t.  Take advantage of where you are and enjoy some of the many food treats that the city has to offer.  Until next time, have a great day.


One Response to “Eating in Las Vegas”

  1. ETR said

    You might enjoy this little tasty bit:

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