The Bayside Buffet at Mandalay Bay used to be my go-to buffet. I’m not saying it was ever the best buffet in town; but when I got into town, it was the one I was most likely to head for.
It was the crab legs. Most of the buffets in town have crab legs; it’s pretty standard—but the quality and delivery aren’t. Some buffets have them on ice, and pre-halved. That's better than no crab legs at all, but it’s not as good as hot, steamed, whole legs.
Hot, whole legs are often pre-scored, with little breaks in the shells to make them easier to open, but nutcrackers are available for the asking. And, they shouldn’t be overcooked. Buffets are notorious for overcooking everything. You can immediately tell if crab legs are overcooked: the shells will be soft, and when you crack them, the meat will break along with the shell, making it difficult to get the meat out. And, of course, a lot of the flavor will be lost. Crab legs should be a bit difficult to crack open; then you know you’re in for a treat.
Crab legs served cold, over ice, are almost universally pre-halved. Many buffets will happily heat up your crab legs for you, if you ask—and they’ll do it by plunging them into hot water. The result is overcooked, rubbery crab meat with half the flavor boiled out of it. Bollocks. Better to just eat them cold.
Mandalay Bay’s buffet used to have the best crab legs in town. Steamed, whole, hot crab legs, cooked the right amount, full of flavor, and you could have as many of them as you want. Believe it or not, even in Las Vegas that’s not easy to find, and part of the reason is that it’s more difficult to serve well. If hot crab legs stay out in the serving bin too long, they become overcooked as they sit there. So they have to be careful about the cooking.
Buffets tend to decline in quality over time, until they inevitably shut down for renovation and reopen, new and improved. I think Mandalay Bay is reaching the point where it needs a renovation.
On each of my visits thus in 2016, and now 2017, the crab legs have been seriously overcooked, often to the point that they are difficult to eat, because the meat breaks right along with the shells. And, as expected with overcooking, a lot of the flavor is gone. They aren’t bad, and you can still enjoy them (if some of them are hard to eat, there’s no penalty for just grabbing more and more until you’ve had your fill), but if you’re looking specifically for crab legs this is no longer the place. The new champion buffet for hot crab legs is the new Seafood Buffet at the Rio. It’s more expensive, and not on the Strip, but it’s just started a new cycle after a renovation and it’s the place for crab lovers. Aria also has excellent hot crab legs.
The shrimp cocktail here is pre-peeled and still great.
The prime rib is now consistently a bit overcooked and not as tender as one would hope, and the roast pork is pretty tough as well, when they even have it. The mashed potatoes and other vegetable sides are as good as ever, though the decline in prime rib quality is a disappointment as the carving station has few other options these days.
The sushi is as bad as you’d expect from a buffet; the pizza and salad are okay, but you’re at the buffet, so why would you eat those? The Asian section is unremarkable, even including the fried shrimp.
Dinner is $33 on weeknights, an increase from 2015’s $30, with beer and wine an extra $8. (Way back in early 2015, they included unlimited beer and wine for a total of $35, but the beer wasn’t very good anyway.)