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Tour the world dish by dish: Enjoy a wide range of tastes and delicious desserts at great prices

If variety is the spice of life, an affordable buffet is like saffron: sweet, subtle and somewhat rare.

The Thur Shan Buffet at the Sandia Resort and Casino is Albuquerque’s biggest and, possibly, best buffet. Fit for a Vegas casino, but at a fraction of the price, Thur Shan serves a spectacular all-you-can-eat lunch for less than $12, with carving stations featuring brisket, barbecue, seafood, dedicated stations featuring Italian, Mexican, Asian and American food, and a dessert case to be envied.

On a recent lunch visit, I sampled a variety of flavors from Mexico, Asia, Italy and America. The fried chicken was good but, like most fried things, it didn’t age well under the heat lamps. The smashed potatoes were quite fresh, though, and were delicious, as was the barbecue pork. The latter was rich and tender, with a smoky crust that was packed with good flavor. Even the corn on the cob tasted like it came off a barbecue grill at a summer picnic.

The Asian options were also great: a breaded chicken stir-fry was very good, with a citrusy taste and a great texture. The fried rice could have been moister, but the flavor was great. Also good was the pepper steak, sauteed in a pan with bell peppers and onions. It was tender and juicy, and just right.

The egg rolls were the only obvious item that wasn’t made fresh from scratch in house, but they were still good. The mac and cheese was phenomenal, as were the tiny little round spicy hush puppies served with it.

A homemade lemon pound cake, smothered in fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, and topped with delicious, fresh whipped cream at Thur Shan Buffet. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

The best part, though, was the dessert. Out of dozens (and dozens) of sinful options, I chose a slightly healthier path: a homemade lemon pound cake smothered in fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, and topped with delicious, fresh whipped cream. It was a summer treat worthy of a four-star restaurant but at Thur Shan, it’s standard fare.

I’d make a trip back to the buffet just for this dessert.

The atmosphere is unmistakably casino-esque, but if you’re a fan of the lights and noises of Vegas, you’ll feel right at home here. Although smoking isn’t allowed inside the buffet, there are smoking areas in the casino that make the smell noticeable. (I have a particularly sensitive nose, but it didn’t bother me.) They offer Sunday brunch, breakfast four days a week and even a $6 lunch special for active-duty service members with ID. Parking is free and plentiful at the casino, but you have to make a bit of a walk to get to the buffet. Service is fantastic, even though it’s a buffet, and the staff is exceptionally friendly and helpful. Casino regulars and high rollers may qualify for special offers on the buffet.

Dinner and brunch buffet prices are higher than lunch prices ($11.95), but drinks are included in the meal price. The restaurant also offers lots of seasonal and holiday specials; on Fridays and Saturday nights, for $28.95, diners can enjoy endless snow crab legs and fresh seafood, a fair price by any standard.

This is an excellent buffet, one of the best in the state, and it’s priced with gamblers in mind. Take advantage of it, particularly during the lunch hour, and you’ll enjoy a veritable feast for less than twelve dollars.

The only downside to eating at Thur Shan? Having to let your belt out an inch or two so you can get yourself home.