The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: If You’re the Gambling Type

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OK, so maybe it’s oxymoronic to go to a place custom-made for blowing money in order to save money. But if you can wander into a casino without being lured by the slot machines or blackjack tables (which for me, a total nongambler, is easy peasy), casino buffets offer some pretty sweet deals. I recently checked out the dinner buffets at three local casinos—Cache Creek, Red Hawk and Thunder Valley—and found prices to be around $15 for spreads that were mind-blowing in both size and scope. But there’s just one catch: To get these cheap deals, you’ve gotta go during the week. The price zooms to about $25 for the Friday/Saturday seafood/steak extravaganzas. All three offer a salad bar, carving station, classic American comfort food, Mexican and Asian fare and a dessert bar/station. 

RED HAWK WATERFALL BUFFET

CACHE CREEK HARVEST BUFFET

THE BUFFET AT THUNDER VALLEY

1 Red Hawk Parkway, Placerville;
(530) 677-7000; redhawkcasino.com

Price: $14.50 for dinner Monday–
Thursday ($10.50 with rewards card) 

What we liked: The fantastic salads, including an unusual bulgur wheat with cranberries and walnuts, a tasty carrot-raisin slaw and tons of fresh fruit; baked ziti with a robust red sauce; killer pot stickers, seafood dumplings and chow fun; tender carnitas; surprisingly moist salmon; creamy mashed potatoes; super-fresh veggies, including string beans and broccoli; pies and cakes galore. There’s even a pho noodle bar and some sushi.

Not so much: The Mongolian beef was dry, and the cookies looked a tad cardboard-y. But two out of 200-plus ain’t bad.

Service: Friendly and accommodating.

14455 Highway 16, Brooks; (530) 796-3118; cachecreek.com

Price: $14.99 for all-day dining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday ($11.99 for Cache Club members)

What we liked: Crispy, subtly sweet Asian sticky wings; soothing seafood tetrazzini (with shrimp, scallops, crab and mushrooms in a creamy sauce); kung pao chicken, which packed a fiery punch; fresh, al dente veggies; tasty roast turkey (from the carving station); yummy broccoli beef. At the dessert table, the flans (coconut, chocolate and traditional caramel) stood out.

Not so much: Mac and cheese was meh, as was the pizza; pork chile verde was
flavorful but fatty.

Service: Could be better. When I asked our server for a beer, she tartly responded, “I’ll need some money for that.” A simple “$4.75, please” would have done quite nicely, thank you. 

1200 Athens Ave., Lincoln; (916) 408-7777; thundervalleyresort.com

Price: $15.49 for dinner Sunday–Thursday (discounts for members range from 10 to 50 percent, and seniors save $2)

What we liked: Fun taco bar; tasty fried chicken; delicious Thai curry noodles; good pot stickers. The Boyfriend proclaimed the bread pudding “just like Mom made.” I liked the fresh, chewy ginger cookies.

Not so much: Top round roast was tough; salmon was dry; salad bar was tired-looking. 

Service: The Boyfriend was annoyed when our server could not rattle off the beer list from memory. But she came through in the clutch.