Visitors to the Bellagio in Las Vegas who’ve worked up a hearty appetite at the poker tables know what’s next on the agenda. It’s buffet time. And the Bellagio comes through: the 12 live-action food stations range from prime seafood to prime rib, with gourmet pizzas and freshly made stir-fried options thrown in. All this for $19.95 on weekdays. On weekend nights the price goes up to $35.95—but that includes Kobe beef.
Nothing says indulgence like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and destinations like Vegas—the capital of excess—have been cultivating the genre for decades. The first rendition there, designed as a quick stop for late-night gamblers, opened at El Rancho Vegas, the Strip’s first hotel, in the 1940s. The Chuck Wagon restaurant advertised a “Buckeroo Buffet” (for a buck, of course) where gamblers could “hogtie a tantalizing selection of cold cuts” or “lasso a fresh crisp salad” to “appease the howling coyote of your innards.” Today, Vegas buffets are attractions in their own right, with diners parking themselves at the trough for hours.
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The all-you-can-eat phenomenon goes well beyond Sin City, of course. For connoisseurs, the appeal is as much about variety as about quantity. “You’re in control at a buffet, whereas if the food’s being served to you, you’re at the mercy of the restaurant,” says Chris Raab, a California-based sales executive and buffet fan whose travels have taken him from Chicago to Bali. “You can be more adventurous and try something you might not have tried.” For example, Porcão, in Rio, offers no less than 30 different cuts of barbecued meat alongside its buffet of salads, soups, and vegetables. The 125 desserts at Café Fleuri in Boston, made from every texture, temperature, and type of chocolate, guarantee something for every sweet tooth.
In these belt-tightening days, many restaurants have set their price tags to match shrinking budgets. At the Indian spot Copper Chimney, in New York City, diners don’t have to shell out more than $10 for all the delicious curry, masala, and vindaloo they can handle. At top-end establishments with higher price points, people heap their plates with the most expensive and rare items—lobster, Kobe beef, exotic fruit. “People eat more than they should,” says Edmund Wong, executive chef at the Bellagio. “Some even ask for take-out containers.”
Feeling hungry? Head to one of the world’s most appetizing all-you-can-eat buffets and you’ll leave as full as you want to be.