When in Las Vegas, there are good reasons aside from financial ruin to hit a buffet. For about $25 you can eat for hours, like a horse at the longest trough on earth, as long as you stay in the dining room. We tested five of the best, four along the Strip and one slightly off-Strip. The past decade’s star chef invasion has raised the bar on food and service all over Vegas, and the transformation has trickled down even to the buffets. This style of dining is perfect for families and the sleep-deprived, because you don’t have to decide what kind of food to eat till you get there.
Vegas buffets are rich in American comfort food. When in doubt about what’s good, go to the hot carving stations for beef, duck, lamb and chicken—they’re dependable across the board. And most places offer Italian, Chinese, sometimes Korean or Japanese, and always seafood. Every Vegas buffet seems to feature Alaskan king crab legs or snow crab legs; it’s not unusual to spy a diner with 25 spiny appendages stacked on a plate.
Dessert selections are wide and generally very good. Then there’s the mystery of bananas Foster, presented at every buffet in town. Isn’t the whole point to see it lit tableside and watch it blaze in front of you? Whatever. Go, have fun, enjoy. But remember: If you’re not famished, your buffet bargain will suddenly become expensive. The house is betting against you.
WICKED SPOON BUFFET AT THE COSMOPOLITAN
There’s something about Vegas that shows us how fickle we are. Remember when the Bellagio was the pinnacle of luxury on the Strip? Its thousands of handblown glass flowers now seem very 1998 next to new guys like the Cosmopolitan and the Aria, which rely more on digital effects to achieve the Vegas ideal of busy beauty.
The buffet at the Cosmo is positively tasteful, decorated in a hipster, mid-century-modern palette of browns and oranges. Overall, it’s the most appealing buffet on our list, offering small, composed plates of smartly conceived dishes. Most ethnic foods are under-seasoned at Vegas buffets, which is the case with the Korean beef salad here, though it’s still satisfying and dense. One standout: “fries with eyes”—crisp, piping-hot smelt, the size of French fries, served in a long-handled silver fryer lined with paper. You’ll feel as if you’re strolling the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Pad thai and edamame with ginger and chiles both come in small Chinese takeout containers, another whimsical touch. The slow-cooked lamb rib with five-spice powder is excellent. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and braised brussels sprouts make a brilliant combo. Add fresh horseradish cream and everything’s OK with the world.
THE BUFFET AT ARIA
The room has a pleasant, open feel, with subtle gradations in the wood on the tables and in the pastel tones of the expensive glass wall tiles. The fried chicken here is stellar. As at most of the buffets, the eggs Benedict suffers from an underdone muffin (such are the problems of even the most carefully tended buffet). All the fresh fruit is vibrant and bright. The Aria is the only Vegas buffet with a tandoor oven, and its garlic naan is among the best bread in town. You’d be wise to avoid the tilapia. The desserts are nicely cooked and presented—try the oatmeal raisin cookies, the custardy cinnamon bread pudding or the ubiquitous crème brûlée.
THE BUFFET AT THE BELLAGIO
This well-run operation is one of the largest on the Strip. You won’t feel rushed by the efficient staff, who serve almost 4,000 people a day. And you won’t be confused at the 12 food stations, since every item is labeled (even “lemons”). The crab legs here are better than anywhere else in town. Come for breakfast: The hollandaise on the eggs Benedict is fresh and very lemony, and there’s excellent congee with shredded pork and green onion (you can choose your toppings). The lovely croissants are much better than the “home-made rolls.”
THE BUFFET AT THE WYNN
With its pale-pink-and-silver-striped wallpaper and twinkly chandeliers, this is one of the prettiest buffet rooms; it looks like a supersized French café. At breakfast, pile some of the creamy smoked salmon rillette on a bagel with capers and spicy cucumber salad. The chilled seafood station, one of the best on the Strip, even has sweet white anchovies. The thin-crust pizza is fresh from the oven, and the Asian station offers delicious shrimp shumai and pork dumplings. End with the crisp-topped crème brûlée rather than the bread pudding (though it’s said to be Steve Wynn’s mother’s recipe). As the tourists have moved south to the Cosmo and the Aria, the Wynn is quieter, which is relaxing—though Steve himself probably wouldn’t agree.
CARNIVAL WORLD BUFFET AT THE RIO
The Rio looks like what it is: a roomy, linoleum-floored cafeteria with lots of choices. At all the buffets, you pay and tip before you eat, and here you can settle up at a convenient machine, which lets you select a 15 or 20 percent tip. The spare ribs are served in a tangy but subtle sauce; they’re chewy in exactly the right way. Fried clams with tartar sauce are delectable, and you can help yourself to plain noodles and add whatever sauce you like; the alfredo is especially good. Don’t miss the tiny squares of layer cakes with special toppings, like an S-shaped cookie made of marshmallow. Any cab driver will confirm that this buffet is the favorite among Las Vegas residents. It’s no surprise: The locals know a good deal when they see one.
*Meal prices are per person, and do not include drinks, tax or tip.
• You can’t make reservations at a buffet. To avoid lines, arrive when service starts. Or, if you play poker for an hour at the
hotel’s casino, ask the pit boss if you qualify for a buffet pass, which allows you to get in a shorter VIP line.
• While Vegas is all about indulgence, resist the urge to overeat. Scope out the entire spread, then fill a plate with
moderate portions. Go back for a fresh plate if you want to try other dishes.
• Eat slowly and save room for dessert.
• Leave at least a 15% tip—the staffs at these places keep your table clean and your drinks coming.
Wicked Spoon Buffet at the Cosmopolitan: 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 877-551-7772
The Buffet at Aria: 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 866-359-7757
The Buffet at the Bellagio: 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 866-906-7171
The Buffet at the Wynn: 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 888-320-7110
Carnival World Buffet at the Rio: 3700 W. Flamingo Rd.; 702-777-7777