Winning fare

ONCE known for all-you-can-eat buffets, Las Vegas has transformed itself into a destination to dine for. Options include cuisine from every part of the world, with price tags that vary as much as the menus.

In the early 1940s, the first buffet opened at the original El Rancho Vegas Hotel, the Las Vegas Strip's first hotel. Beldon Katleman, El Rancho's owner, initiated the all-you-can-eat for a dollar, Midnight Chuck Wagon Buffet, in an effort to keep patrons in the property during late-night hours. His idea of treating guests to an elaborate array of food for a small price was copied again and again. As a result, the Las Vegas buffet has earned its place in the city's history.

Buffets are still popular in Las Vegas. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the average buffet features about 45 food selections per meal including salads, fruits, roast beef, baked ham, roast turkey, vegetables, and a variety of desserts. Many buffets have specialized menus, ranging from seafood and steak to ethnic or exotic delights.

The popularity of this form of dining is clearly evident, as virtually every resort in southern Nevada, including Laughlin, Jean/Primm, and Mesquite, offers a unique buffet.

Several properties are taking their buffet experiences to the next level. The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino renovated the Rio Carnival World Buffet by increasing its dish selections. The buffet has more 300 offerings and 70 dessert dishes from around the world — from pizza to omelets to teppan yaki to fresh pasta. The Buffet at Treasure Island and Cravings at The Mirage both showcase an international line-up as well with American barbeque, a sushi bar, pastas, all in addition to the traditional buffet items.

Meanwhile, Flavors, Harrah's Las Vegas' newest buffet, features live cooking stations, freshly prepared seafood, prime rib, and a varied menu that also includes churrasco (Brazilian BBQ), hand-rolled sushi, and Italian casseroles prepared in a wood-burning oven.

Numerous restaurants now offer cooking classes. Renowned restauranteur Piero Selvaggio's Italian eatery, Giorgio Caffe and Ristorante, offers custom cooking classes for groups ranging from 15 to 40 people. Located at Mandalay Place, the classes include a full tasting menu and can be scheduled any day of the week.

At Cafe Ba Ba Reeba! at Fashion Show, groups can learn how to prepare paella, the classic Spanish dish. This class is offered on the final Saturday of the month and includes a five-course lunch with tapas and two wines.

In addition to classes on the Strip, there are off-Strip cooking schools as well, such as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas. Classes cover the culinary gamut, ranging from vegetarian cuisine to Thai to Southwest Thanksgiving. Classes are limited in size and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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