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  • Writer's pictureSpicy Eyes

Episode 5: The Curious Charms of the Casino Buffet

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

Yes, we sold y'all on our explorations of off-the-Strip food culture and yes, our about page literally says "Here in Las Vegas, we're more than buffets and 99-cent shrimp cocktails..." and yet here we are, breaking that rule. But the casino buffet isn't just on the Strip, and if you ask any local, we tend to frequent buffets more than we'll admit (or post on Instagram).

Plus, they're kinda polarizing. Mention the casino buffet and you tend to get love/hate reactions, which really got us thinking: Why? What's going on at buffets?

We start off by interviewing Cindi Reed, who writes under the name C. Moon Reed for The Las Vegas Weekly. She recently wrote a fantastic feature on buffets and cites UNLV historian David Schwartz as a major source in her research. She calls the casino buffet our "regional cuisine." You can read about the history of the casino buffet in detail here.

An image possibly from the 50s or 60s of the buffet at the El Rancho casino, featuring an ice swan, cold cuts, vegetables and an array of colorful platters.
The spread at Las Vegas's first casino buffet

Next, it was time to head off to AYCE (yep, that's short for All You Can Eat) at The Palms to meet Elite Yelper LJ Riofta—clocking a minimum of one buffet visit a week, he's in the buffet big leagues. With two players cards (thanks, Jeff!), two coupons (thanks, LJ!) and some careful timing, we managed to get the four of us in for $28. It's a fantastic deal, especially considering AYCE's barbecue corner. Tune in to the episode to get all of LJ's insider buffet tips and tricks. Special thanks to Terri (@savorsincity) for introducing us to LJ. :)

(Photos by Jeff Scheid)

Eating at a buffet can come with some complicated feelings. Isn't indulgence, after all, the combination of guilt and pleasure? For us, that guilt primarily resides in all the food waste. We have a short discussion about how complicated it can be to think about sustainability when living in a city like Las Vegas—a lot of our sustainability conversations just aren't going to be the same ones people in most other cities have.

Luckily, there is a silver lining: Turns out that 20 tons of food waste per day (much of it from casino buffets) goes out to Las Vegas Livestock, a fifth-generation pig farm about 30 minutes north of the city. There, we met Sarah Stallard, the farm manager, who explained their process and philosophy. What's extra inspiring is that LVL is working on a new food waste processing method that they'll patent as a model for other livestock operations around the country.

(Photos by Jeff Scheid)

One last behind-the-scenes: This episode was a headache and half to produce. Our original topic ran into some PR rep roadblocks, so we figured buffets would be an easy alternative. Not so. More PR roadblocks! Then: we deleted ALL of our audio files from the pig farm! (Many thanks to Sarah for the last-minute phone re-interview.) And then: more digital mishaps, resulting in half a day of editing, down the drain! Nonetheless, it's done and we're pretty happy with the result. As always, thanks for listening—your support, comments, and encouragement mean the world to us.

A few shout-outs from the beginning of our episode:

* Our friends Brock & Leslie over at The Las Vegas Weekly have a new podcast out called Second Helping, and you should take a listen now!

* Food writer Kevin Alexander gave us a shout out in his article about the Las Vegas food scene, which you can read here. You can also find his new book here.

* We also mention a Nevada Independent story by journalist Megan Messerly, about a home care worker who will occasionally bring his clients to a buffet.

This episode was produced by Sonja Swanson. The outro music was composed by Jeremy Klewicki.

Last but not least, don't forget to rate, review and subscribe on your platform of choice:

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