Polynesian Buffet At The Silverton
Almost everyone knows that "Sin City" is a nickname for Las Vegas, but have you ever heard it referred to as "The Ninth Island"? That's what Hawaiians often call Las Vegas, and it's easy to imagine the appeal. Gambling is illegal in Hawaii, and a metropolis of neon and excess is the polar opposite of tropical breezes and living at one with the land. For a city in the middle of the desert, it's got a large population of folks of Hawaiian descent, too.
As such, you can often find things around town specifically catering to the Hawaiian audience. The Polynesian Buffet at the Silverton Casino on Saturday nights comes complete with a whole roasted pig : more on that in a minute!
In the mood for a taste of the islands, yet being 2500 miles away from the actual islands, we headed to the Silverton unsure what to expect. A lot of Hawaiian food is a bit bizarre to non-native folks. In Hawaii, you'll find Spam® on the breakfast menu at McDonald's, and most mainlanders would double-take at taro (a purple root sort of like a sweet potato) or loco moco (hamburgers on rice topped with gravy and fried eggs). Yet I figured the Hawaiian standards of Kalua pork with cabbage as well as Huli Huli chicken would be at the buffet as well.
As we were seated, we noticed quite a few Hawaiians amongst the tables. A few were even wearing plumeria flowers in their hair, and we saw one large table in particular which looked like it was having a family get together. From their banter and age ranges, it was obvious that they weren't just visiting Vegas, and it was a bit heartwarming seeing a family (perhaps by blood, for sure by heritage) find its roots in a new locale.
Along with the more exotic Hawaiian specialties on the buffet, I found glazed ham with pineapples, fried plantains (a type of banana), and that Kalua pork I mentioned before. Kalua is a style of cooking that literally means "baked in an underground oven," and the flavor is a bit smoky, a bit salty, and sometimes it's cooked with banana leaves so a bit earthy as well. The Kalua pork at the Polynesian buffet at the Silverton was good, but not as good as at Aloha Kitchen (which has four locations in Vegas to serve all those Hawaiians that now call Vegas home).
As I made my rounds to see what food choices were available before I grabbed a plate, I noticed what appeared to be a big ham. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was the whole pig. Now, I'm neither super squeamish nor totally unfazable, but I prefer my food not to have a face when I'm eating it. Walking around to the other side of the display, I could see that the pig's face was still there, with its back and sides cut open, along with tongs to get out the meat. That's just too much for me, but it didn't spoil my appetite. I realize it's a delicacy for many, and upon going back for my second plate, I watched with morbid curiosity as a native Hawaiian literally pulled the tail off and put it next to his other food selections.
For my first plate, I got pork lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves), Huli Huli chicken (chicken marinated in brown sugar, garlic, soy sauce, and ginger), and pineapple sprinkled with li hing mui powder (made from plums) along with a few other items. As with many Hawaiian foods, the tastes were a bit familiar with a bit of the exotic. The taro leaves give an earthy flavor to what would otherwise be a simple pork roast. The Huli Huli chicken tastes like a distant cousin to teriyaki, and the li hing mui powder doesn't overpower the underlying flavor of the pineapple.
For my second plate, I chose a piece of "Hawaiian" pizza, some lo mein noodles, a potsticker, and more Kalua pork, along with a couple traditional mid-America dessert items, bread pudding and a fruit tart. The only thing noteworthy for this round was the Kalua pork. It might not have been as good as Aloha Kitchen's, but it was certainly worthwhile, and when you're at a buffet, there's always that tendency to want to get your money's worth.
After dinner was done, we headed back into the casino and on through the Bass Pro Shop to the car. The Polynesian buffet at the Silverton Casino is certainly not as encompassing as a luau, but for a brief mini-excursion to a world literally an ocean away, it's a nice, low cost way to feel the spirit of aloha. You'll have to bring your own hula girls, but they'll supply the roasted pig.
At Silverton Casino (10 Minutes From Mandalay Bay On The Las Vegas Strip)
Saturdays : 4PM to 10PM