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Desert Companion

The cheapest eats of all

Love a great bargain? Are you stealthy? Can you run fast? These meal deals are for you!

Listen: The dining deals described in the preceding pages have been amazing. Truly. But they’re lacking in one specific and quantifiable area: money. Meaning, they cost it! How great can a deal really be if you still have to reach into your wallet?

Luckily, Las Vegas is full of the cheapest bargains around. And when I say cheapest, it’s not just a cute way of phrasing, it’s a damn dictionary-backed truth, tough guy. You cannot get any cheaper than free. It is an impossibility, like sane people who own more than three cats or clean restrooms in a downtown public library. So let’s take a look at a day’s worth of free eats, or “freats” — see what I did there? I love combining words that previously were not yet combined! — and how to find them.

As any health professional will tell you, mainly because it’s their job, you want to start off your meal with a low-fat appetizer. To find one, head to the nearest casino rooftop pool and locate the jug of water that young bathing beauties use to quench their thirst after a long day in the sun. Open that bad boy up. If it’s a classy enough establishment, you’ll see cucumber slices floating inside, giving the aqua an extra dash of flavor. Take out your toothpick — I’m assuming you have multiple toothpicks on you because, you know, they’re free — and stab at your delightful hors d’oeuvre. If pool-folk start giving you the stink-eye, offer them a slice or two. Or don’t! You’re the appetizer boss around here.

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Next up’s the buffet. Or should I say, “bar-ffet” — see how I did that again? Head to your favorite whistle-wetting liquor joint, pull up a stool and crack open your Ziploc bag. (Oh, now’s a good time to mention: Carry a bunch of Ziploc bags on you at all times to keep leftovers fresh and easy to reach.) Fill it with what they have: peanuts, potato chips, mini-pretzels, cherries, lemons, olives, orange slices, anything will do. Instant Vegas trail mix! Personally, I recommend going to those new throwback Prohibition-era whiskey joints that are all the rage. They have the most delicious garnish caddies!

The key to any great meal is, of course, an entrée full of carbs. Which is why your next stop is an Italian restaurant. Press your suit, iron your pants, take your top hat out of mothballs and spritz on some cologne. Make a night of it! When you get there, just take a seat. In a few moments, they will actually bring you a basket of bread! Free. No questions asked. Now I’m usually not one to critique someone’s business plan, but this seems like such an easily exploitable loophole that it would’ve been fixed by now. But it hasn’t. Sometimes they actually bring you bottles of oil and vinegar. That’s like someone responding to you punching them in the face by offering up their very kickable groin! If the waiter’s really great, they’ll bring you three or four helpings, which would be worth an extra tip if you were actually ordering food. When they ask for your order, stand up, give them your grateful thanks, assure them you’ll be giving a five-star rating on Yelp, and be on your merry (and mostly full) way.

But no meal is complete without a tasty sweet to top it off. Problem is, they’re usually so darn expensive, by which I mean costing any amount of money. Good thing, then, that free after-dinner desserts are readily available in every hotel on the Strip. Pick a random floor, walk through the halls and locate the Magical Cart of Mystery. Make a little game of it! It looks like a push-cart with towels, soaps, sheets and other miscellaneous items on it. But hidden away in a compartment is a box or baggie of sugary sweets. Sometimes it’s mints, sometimes mini-chocolates. Let the Cart decide for you. Whatever’s in there, eat one now and pile the rest into your Ziploc bag for later.

Another day, another perfect meal. All for free. And best of all, now that you’ve found the Magical Cart of Mystery, you can work on furnishing your new apartment. Excuse me, I mean “free-urnish!”

Rick Paulas has written for Wired, McSweeney’s, The Awl and other places where he can make up words like “freats.”

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