Las Vegas’s reinvented chow lines are haute, haute, haute.
It's time to herald—in neon lights—a new type of Las Vegas buffet. The traditional casino steam table, loaded with unremarkable fare, has been spiced up. And the new ingredients are served, as you might expect in Vegas, with lots of flash.
Today's deluxe smorgasbords of sushi, beef Wellington, and osso buco are nothing like the buffets introduced in the 1940s as little more than a gimmick to keep gamblers in the casinos. Back then, patrons paid a buck to wolf down all the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and roast beef they could handle, then rushed back to the blackjack tables and the one-armed bandits. But with the arrival of megaresorts in the 1990s and a wave of world-class restaurants, the Las Vegas buffet has gone upscale.
"The casinos used to say, ‘We're going to put a bunch of stuff on a plate and watch if people stick around,' " says Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter, who has been reviewing Vegas buffets for 20 years. "Buffets are rising to a level where you see the type of thing you would get at a gourmet restaurant."
And so are the prices—about $25 to $33 per adult. Of course, spreads like those at Bellagio (702-693-8111), Aladdin's Spice Market Buffet (702-785-9005), and Paris Las Vegas's Le Village (702-946-7000) adhere to high standards. Ingredients are fresh and often prepared in open kitchens. Sushi is a must. Offerings such as Alaska king salmon, hand-tossed pizza, and fresh-baked pastries are the norm.
Cravings (702-791-7355), a new eatery at the Mirage, has taken the concept a step further, hiring renowned restaurant designer Adam Tihany to redefine the trend. Thirteen color-coded cooking stations invite visitors to explore a "village" of international flavors.
Food and beverage directors aren't even sure what to call these latest buffet incarnations. In fact, Tihany agreed to accept the Cravings project on the condition that it not be called a buffet. "Dining is no longer about just eating," says Brian Lerner, vice president of food and beverage for the Aladdin. "It's entertainment."
Photography by Mitch Tobias 
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.