There was a time when the Rio was the center of the Vegas buffet universe, and not just because the magnificently huge Carnival World was known for serving more than 300 different dishes every day well before Caesars Palace’s Bacchanal came along and outsized everything. The Rio had a whole other thing, the smaller yet specialized Village Seafood buffet, dishing up plenty of the ocean treasures that make up a favorite part of the buffet experience for many diners.
Last month, the Rio debuted a new combo experience, the Carnival World & Seafood Buffet, which has a separate line of more than 70 seafood dishes added to Carnival World’s 200-dish-strong smorgasbord. How does it work? If you want more fun with fish, you’ll pay a $15 upgrade and get an invisible sea creature stamp on your hand. A buffet team member with a black light will check to make sure you have access to what kinda feels like Club Shrimp Scampi before you enter the roped-off area; When I went, I was asked to show off my glowing lobster mark to some non-English-speaking eaters who wanted in but didn’t understand.
Once inside seafood world, I was impressed with the variation of dishes and improved quality. Sashimi was much better than my last visit to the Village Seafood buffet a couple years ago, and exotic goodies like octopus provencal and black mussels in spicy Thai tom yum broth waited beside Cajun crawfish and Jonah crab claws.
There are some seafood dishes available in the regular buffet area—which remains particularly strong in the dessert, meat and Chinese food categories, FYI—but they’re not quite as good as in the upgraded space. So you can get clam chowder, but the VIP chowder is worthy of a second bowl. Lunch, $24.99; dinner, $32.99-$49.99; brunch Saturday & Sunday, $31.99.
Still hungry? Here are three more renovated casino feasts to explore.
The Buffet at Excalibur
After a $6.2 million renovation, this 35,000-square-foot mega-eatery came back to life in January with a sleek new look, but it was the food that really needed a refreshening. It’s much tastier now, and there’s a lot more of it: more stations to accommodate different cuisines, an interactive dessert display, and all-you-can drink beer and wine for $10. Breakfast, $17.99; lunch, $18.99; dinner, $23.99-$26.99; brunch Saturday & Sunday, $21.99.
The Buffet at Wynn
Always situated in the upper echelon, Wynn’s buffet didn’t need to be improved in terms of cuisine or setting. But that’s what they do here, always adding elegance and sophistication—and in this case, 120 new dishes. South American rodizio-style barbecue is served from the open-flame parilla grill, and a giant rotating griddle doubles for pancakes or street tacos. The color scheme is “Swiss coffee and delicate vine,” with wasabi-colored marble floors and canopies above each service station, while the dessert pâtisserie offers 39 options including a rotating gelato display and other sweet treats meant to be hand-dipped in dark, white or milk chocolate. Breakfast, $23.99; lunch, $26.99; dinner, $42.99-$49.99; brunch Saturday & Sunday, $34.99.
The Buffet at Aria
Often overlooked because of all the fancy eating options at Aria, this second-level buffet was made over when it was just 3 years old. Now it’s a Strip secret, full of artisanal cheeses and carved meats, exquisite desserts and fresh seafood, bottomless Champagne or sangria and stellar Indian cuisine—you won’t find that at your average buffet. Breakfast, $21.99; lunch, $25.99; dinner, $36.99-$41.99; brunch Saturday & Sunday, $31.99.