I was all wrong about you, buffet. I underestimated you. You are a bad mofo.
Before my eight-stop, 11-hour eating odyssey, I was under the assumption that things had evolved greatly from the original buffet, the midnight chuck wagon at the long-gone El Rancho. The goal then was to fuel up weary gamblers and get them back to the tables. Today, prices are higher and the food is much better, a respectable culinary experience in its own right, right? Well ...
The Buffet of Buffets is the ultimate extrapolation, a 24-hour pass to six buffets at different casinos all under the Caesars Entertainment umbrella. The price starts at $54.99. It’s more expensive on weekends, and you can pay to upgrade and gain access to two more buffets (you also get a discount if you’re a Total Rewards member). While the package might be convenient for a tourist on the Strip who’s grabbing a bite (or more) between sights and slots, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to eat at eight places in one day. I took on this gastrointestinal gauntlet to find out if I was right, if these buffets don’t deserve to be the butt of so many visiting stand-up comedians’ lamest jokes.
I was wrong.
I start at the newest, biggest buffet, Bacchanal at Caesars Palace, figuring I’d avoid lines by hitting it first thing in the morning. At 7:15 a.m., there’s no breakfast line. I pay and get wrist-wrapped with a barcoded bracelet I’ll use seven more times before the day is out.
If you haven’t been, Bacchanal is almost as grand as everyone says. The food looks and tastes fresh, like what you’d order and enjoy at an actual restaurant. My first bite is a scrumptious morsel of smoked salmon, setting an unfairly delicious standard for the rest of the day. It’s all surprisingly rich for buffet food, particularly eggs Benedict with a perfectly poached egg and impressive hollandaise. Figuring on plenty of other breakfast food, I indulge in dim sum. I have to stop myself after a couple of plates and a sip of green vegetable juice. Must. Save. Stomach. Space.
I stroll across Las Vegas Boulevard and through the construction site mess of the Linq. At 7:55 a.m. I find the Emperor’s Buffet at the Quad. The booths are minty green and the carpet is violently floral. I pile a plate of eggs, bacon, sausage and fruit. The couple sitting across from me—the only other people here—have clearly been out all night, stuck in a deliriously giggly state. I make an ice cream sundae as the raccoon-eyed girl shouts at her date, “I’m going to get us doughnuts, then we’re going to sleep. Doughnuts. Bed. Let’s go!” Indeed, let’s.
Breakfast 3 begins at 8:20 a.m. at Flavors at Harrah’s. When I return to my table with a plate of biscuits and gravy, other people are sitting there. I wonder if I’ve gone insane. The hostess accidentally seated another party on top of me. The perils of eating at buffets alone, I guess.
After three meals, I’ve already hit the point where nothing tastes good. I’m done, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet.
I walk off breakfast outside on the Strip, inhaling fresh air and hot coffee to keep my body functioning. Suddenly it’s 11 a.m. and I’m at Paradise Garden Buffet at Flamingo, a room with a ’70s vibe and big picture windows showcasing the pool and its tropical birds. Since I’ve arrived while the line is switching from breakfast to lunch, some of the food isn’t labeled and I’m not entirely sure what I’m eating.
I encounter my first line of the day at Paris’ Le Village Buffet at 11:50 a.m. and it gives me time to think. I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this. I have no purpose. The line moves fast, and I’m thrust into a gloomy, Disneyland-esque play-city. Lunch with Mr. Toad and that talking candlestick from Beauty and the Beast. This food is much better than the last few stops, and heartier—pasta in truffle cream sauce, grilled lamb, pork and chicken sausages and roasted root veggies. No way I’m waiting at the crepe station. Keep moving.
Sucking down more coffee at the Planet Hollywood Starbucks, I’m trying to celebrate being more than halfway done; three breakfasts and two lunches before 1 p.m. I’m moving fast, but if I rest too long, I’m fairly certain I’ll die.
At 1:10 p.m. I ride the escalator down to the Spice Market, a big rectangle decorated in food movie posters. Good Burger and Sideways hang over me. The fried chicken is totally respectable, and finally, cocktail shrimp you don’t have to peel. Also, there are lots and lots of cupcakes. I sample key lime, chocolate-almond and lemon-poppyseed flavors.
Walking back across the Boulevard, I pass four panhandlers on the sidewalk and pedestrian bridges. Two of them hold signs expressing their hunger, and suddenly I feel like an idiot.
I’m eating everything forever just because I can while others starve right outside the casino doors. Vegas buffets don’t donate any food to the homeless, but only because they can’t. Most shelters and soup kitchens can’t accept prepared, unpackaged food. Still, I will feel bad the rest of the day and longer, and not just in my stomach.
At 4 p.m. I’m one of the first in line at the Rio’s Village Seafood Buffet. I pay my $10 upgrade fee and slurp down crab legs, sashimi, blackened tilapia, marinated olives and slipper lobster tails in 40 minutes. I saunter across the property to the much-ballyhooed Carnival World Buffet and can only manage one big plate of food (beef taco, cheese enchilada, rotisserie chicken, pepperoni pizza, couscous, cucumber salad) and a few dessert bites. My last mouthful was either chocolate eclair or banana cream pie. I can’t remember exactly, and I’m not sure that it matters. I’m home complaining by 6:15 p.m.
The 24-hour pass was a deal, on the surface. If I’d paid regular prices for all eight meals, the total would have been around $210 before tax and tip. I paid $86.47, not including gratuity. But no one in their right mind would eat at all eight places. It’s just too much.
I was right about one thing, though—eating at buffets is convenient, long lines notwithstanding. People like to eat this way because of the variety, the seemingly infinite choices spread out before them. It’s really about eating whatever you want, not as much as you can.
It’s fun. But it’ll be quite a while before I have that much fun again.