The M.L. Guide to Beating the All You Can Eat Chinese Food Buffet

I fully admit that I am not a food expert.  I’ve never been to culinary school, my palate isn’t particularly advanced and I probably have no business writing about any kind of food (even if it is crappy carts and dives in Midtown).  But if there is one thing I could be considered an expert on, it’s Chinese Buffets.  I am a huge fan of the All of You Can Eat Chinese food buffet (emphasis on the huge).  The concept of all-you-can-eat is brilliant on its own, but once you throw in one of my all time favorite foods (Chinese), you’ve got one of the greatest inventions of all time.

In fact, it is a personal goal of mine to eat at a Chinese buffet in every state in the country.  Here are the states I’ve tackled so far:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • New Mexico
  • New York (Just recently… and the inspiration for this post.)
  • Nevada (Obviously)
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas (A great buffet just outside of Houston that had fried frogs legs.  Delicious!)
  • Tennessee (Terrible.  My wife will never let me live that one down.)

It’s clearly a work in progress, but I take my work very seriously.  I really love Chinese Buffets.  And it is not just the fact that you get to stuff your face (something I enjoy doing very much).  It’s also the no waiting (you start eating right after you sit down), the variety (it’s the spice of life!) and of course, the competition.  That’s right…  the competition.  You vs. the Buffet.  The price is really just a dare.  A sign that says “All-U-Can-Eat for $14.50″, might as well just say “I dare you to eat more than $14.50 worth of food.  Signed - The Buffet.”

Basically, your goal from the moment you walk into the buffet should be “Win the Game”.  And the game is to eat so much food that the restaurant loses money.  You want to eat so much that when they see you come back the next time, they get scared.  You want them to worry that if you eat at their buffet too often, they might have to close it down.  But before you can learn how to beat your enemy, you must KNOW your enemy.

The three kinds of Chinese buffets, PLUS my tips to winning the game (and more buffet porn)- after the jump…

Working just outside of Boston for 8 years, I became intricately familiar with the all you can eat Chinese food buffet.  There are three kind of Chinese food buffets, and all were within driving distance from my job in Lynn, MA:

1.  Small Scale – The small scale Chinese buffet is exactly how it sounds- small.  Only one station, it usually has only about ten items, but ideally they do those ten items really well.  What you sacrifice in quantity, you gain in quality.  There was a great example of this in Swampscott, MA, about 5 minutes away from my work.  I don’t remember what it was called, but it cost $7.95 and was delicious.

2.  Medium or “Regular” Scale – Most Chinese buffets will fall under this size.  Anywhere from 2 to 4 stations, a regular all you can eat chinese buffet will have anywhere from 20-40 items across 2 to 3 stations (or one really long station).  All your standards should be covered, a few different kinds of rice, soup, noodles, a few chicken dishes, a few pork dishes a few seafood dishes, some dumplings, egg rolls.  Just a standard buffet.  A ten minute drive to the Mandarin Super Buffet in Salem, and we were golden.  Don’t let the name fool you… this place was not a super buffet.  They only had 2 stations, and nothing out of the ordinary.  And that brings us to the third example…

3.  The Super Buffet – The mother of all buffets.  Finding a true super buffet is an awesome feeling.  The Super Buffet has that wow factor.  Buffets are awesome in and of themselves, but if a buffet makes you drop your mouth when you walk in, it gets the title of Super Buffet.  A super buffet will have at least 4 stations (or a few super long ones), with 50 or more items.  When you see it, you’ll know it.  Sure, sometimes you’re sacrificing quality for quantity- but the sheer size and fun of it all makes it worth it.  There was one of these on Route 1 in Saugus, but I’m pretty sure it’s gone now (International Buffet King).

Massachusetts was a great place to work if you liked all you can eat Chinese buffets.  Manhattan, not so much.  There are tons of Indian buffets in Midtown, but only one Chinese buffet- the Mid Town Buffet on 7th Ave. btw. 39th & 40th.  It’s a regular size buffet, and only costs $7.50 at lunch time, making it fairly easy to beat.  But this is not always the case… so here are some tips for beating the all you can eat Chinese buffet.

1. Sit as close to the buffet as possible. Walking back and forth between the buffet takes up valuable time, so you want to be as close to the action as possible.  Plus, at buffets with big money items, they always run out of the best stuff (crab claws, etc.).  You will want to be as close as possible so that when the refills come, you can be front and center stocking your plate as quickly as possible.  They saw me for the professional buffet eater that I am when I walked in, and seated me in a corner as far as away from the buffet as possible.

To make matters worse, they put a guy on the outside chair of the table- totally blocking the aisle to get out.  These guys were good… but it wasn’t enough to stop me.

2. Never order a soda. The first thing they will do at any buffet is ask you if you want a drink.  Don’t even think about ordering a soda.  It costs them pennies and fills you up- making it much harder to win the game.  Sometimes it even costs extra, so they’re giving you the double whammy.  You can’t eat as much, and they make you pay for it.  The smart places know this, and will give you the soda for free.  Don’t be fooled.

3. Your first plate should be a feeler plate. Your first go around, don’t load up on any one particular item.  Take one bite of everything, that way you don’t waste any space on things that end up tasting bad.  On your second go around, load up on all your favorite things from the “taster” plate.  Can you see what’s wrong with this first plate:

6 shrimp!  2 dumplings!  3 pieces of sesame chicken!  Terrible.  And only 6 different items. (You should have at least 8-10)  A chinese buffet professional might be able to pick out the 5 or 6 good items on a buffet just from looking at them… but I suggest the feeler plate for everyone else.

4. Seafood is a make or break item, both a blessing and a curse. A big part of beating the game is making sure you get your fill of the “big money items”, and this is always going to be the seafood.  The problem is, if the buffet is too cheap, you have to be wary of the seafood.  If the deal seems to too good to be true, it probably is.  (If you are going to eat seafood at a crappy buffet, make sure it’s not on a Monday, chances are it’s leftover from the Friday weekend delivery).  If a buffet is more than $10 because it has crab claws, shrimp and mussels you MUST eat your share to win the game.  It’s the suckers who don’t eat the seafood that are paying for your seafood.

5. Beware the “American” food. Chicken Nuggets?  Mashed Potatoes?  French Fries?  Corn?  If you want American food, go to Hometown Buffet (or Sizzler… I used to love their buffet!).  Chinese buffet is for Chinese food.  The chicken nuggets are for kids and losers.  (The one exception I make is for onion rings.  I love onion rings, and allow myself to indulge in one or two… just to see how they taste.)

6. When you think you’ve eaten as much as you can handle, eat the crab. I know you are going to think I am crazy, but on numerous occasions I ended a huge buffet with a plate of crab, and ended up less full when I finished eating the crab than when I started.  I kid you not.  Crab has some sort of magical restorative properties.  I don’t know if it’s all the work breaking the shell that burns calories, or what… but I am telling you- eating crab at the end of a buffet makes you less full.  It’s some sort of strange buffet miracle… try it for yourself.

7. Don’t waste your time on the desserts. Chinese buffet desserts are terrible.  Occasionally there will be a soft serve sundae bar, or the random decent eclair- but for the most part those cakes and cookies are always terrible.  Stick to the fruit, which is a decent money item, and a great palate cleanser.  I’m also a big fan of the post Chinese Buffet Jello.  You can’t go wrong with Jello, and for some reason they have it at every Chinese buffet I’ve ever been to. (Although preferably, you don’t want it to be touching the peel and eat shrimp)

8.  And finally, DON’T EAT THE BREAD! It really should be the #1 rule.  Everyone knows it, but I’ve got to say it.  Never, under any circumstances should you ever, eat the bread at a Chinese Buffet.  It costs nothing, and fills you up.  In fact, if it wasn’t for pork fried rice, I’d probably say the same thing about rice.  Needless carbs.  Stay away!!!

If all this has made you hungry for a Chinese Buffet, I have only been able to find one in Midtown (it’s where all the pictures came from). The Mid Town Chinese Buffet on 7th Ave. btw. 40+41st is a regular size buffet, and nothing special.  It’s only $7.50, but I would still only recommend it if you truly love Chinese Buffets.  It’s the kind of place I will go to every six months, to remind myself why I only go there once every six months.

So there you have it…  the Midtown Lunch guide to eating at All You Can Eat Chinese Buffets.  It has taken me many many years of buffet eating to compile it…. so use it wisely & enjoy!!!

62 Comments

  • Feh, I stopped eating at Chinese Buffets when I realized the following: 1) The seafood is substandard – if I want shrimp, I’d rather eat 6 giant shrimp of amazing quality than 100 shrimp of subpar quality. 2) Chinese Buffets are the dirtiest and most unsanitary of restaurants. After seeing the cockroaches at three of my favorite buffets, I called it quits. 3) The food is super oily, greasy, and fried, even the veggies. 4) The quality of the ingredients is subpar.

     

    #1.  True.  #2.  Eh.  I can ignore some pretty gross things for the sake of stuffing my face. #3. That’s a negative?  4) Who eats vegetables?  -zach

  • If you’re ever near Notre Dame in Indiana, Kings Buffet is great. for about 12 bucks you get dinner. Snowcrab legs and sushi- not just the cheap california role crap- theyve got salmon and tuna sashimi in addition to the aforementioned fishes in rolls. Excellent clams, but the standard New Zealand mussels. Duck at lunch and dinner. I throw in a piece of dessert with every plate. Fill up on crab, but don’t go too heavy on the fake butter dipping sauce. When you leave, take out the largest soft-serve cone possible.

  • We’ve got a great Buffet here in South Lawrence , MaSSACHUSETTS C1 Buffet that had specials on Monday and Wednesday for 5.95 all day. 4 great stations, great seaford (Mussels are terrific) and great Ice Cream and fruit section too. My wife and I dine there every week and the staff is great.

  • yuor prabley right about that buffet in houston. theres a million here. I lie right across the street from one in houston (Clear Lake) right by nasa. Its a super buffet with a sushi bar. Mastering this one was a toughie, but i did it and im going to eat there tonight. the quality is decent enough. The name is Oriental Gourmet and is practically on its way to galveston.
    just get off of i-45 south onto bay area blvd (going east), about a mile and a half away is el camino real, make a left, go down 1 light, and viola! youre there dude! e mail me if you ever go there super buffet master!

  • This is hysterical! I am making a movie that is about this very subject. I would love to interview the writer of this article.

  • In response to Jordan for Mongolian style in mid-town is a place called Pergola on 39th between broadway and 6th i believe… look it up to confirm

  • You are the reason the good buffets never last.

    The sign says “all you can eat”, not “you eat everything”

  • Yay! More Chinese Buffet nuts! I live in Pennsylvania and the countryside is randomly dotted with Chinese Buffets. My advice, if you are ever headed this way, look for “Gourmet Buffet” or “Super China Buffet” – two of the best I’ve ever had and they operate in chain form along the western side of the state. My kids (who are 4 and 6) adore seafood… what better way to satiate their cravings than a Chinese Buffet? They can have all the crab and shrimp their little bodies can hold and they don’t cringe at the site of the seasonings atop it like they do at Red Lobster. Hoo-ray for Chinese Buffet!

  • If you like Chinese buffets, you should come to NJ. There is a good one in Lodi (our favorite – Lodi Buffet), another one in Saddle Brook, another so-so one in Lodi (Bon Buffet), still another no so good one (City Grill) and ones in Bergenfield and Ramsey.

    I’ve always been surprised there is only 1 chinese buffet in NYC. Guess it is too expensive in NYC to have one.

  • As an avid, lifelong Chinese-buffet lover, this was one of the best things I’ve ever read. It resonates so strongly with me because I’ve thought about much of what is written here. Bravo. Whoever the author is, I’d love to hit up a Chinese buffet in the city. Just moved here and am checking out the Midtown Buffet tonight.

    Ken

  • Yesterday, I went to MidTown Buffet, and I’m sorry to say that it no longer fits into the $10.50 and less rule. They raised the prices by $2, making the dinner $11.95, and Lunch $7.95, which isn’t all too bad. But the $4 difference comes just from having or not having the crab legs. But realizing that there was MSG all over after reading this, I didn’t want to eat too much. I ate all the cheap stuff (7 eclair looking things, a roll, 2 cake pieces, jello, lots of peaches) because I didn’t think they had MSG, and then had 2 nuggets, onion rings, rice noodles, Lo mein, beef, and different chicken entrees. Overall, I really didn’t like it too much. If any of you ever go to Chicago (I moved here not too long ago), I would highly recommend a place called Buffet Castle on Belmont. It may not be in downtown, but it is probably one of the best Chinese buffets I’ve been to hands-down. I don’t think they use MSG because I don’t have “the feeling” afterwards. They also have a variety of items, and after experiencing that and a few local places here that I also don’t think use MSG, it seemed at this buffet I could see the oozing MSG. Also, they forced a tip on us…… I personally thought that we could bring the drinks ourselves…. IF there’s any other all you can eat buffet other than the ones posted here, could anyone please tell me? Thanks.

  • Forgive me on the MSG thing…I don’t know where I got that.

  • The food at this place is mediocre to bad, and when I went they added a $1 tip to my bill without asking. I’m a de rigeur tipper, but I do mind when they add it in without asking me (I dined alone). How can I be sure the server got it and not the owner?

  • I am the Exe. Chef of “THE” largest Buffet Restaurant in China.I have seen people eating for thier “Dead or Alive”around the buffet lines.

    Not much people enjoy but punish themselves.

  • That was an amazing article. Every time i go to a Chinese buffet my goal is to “beat the price”. Being small, i have to aim for the tasty expensive items :P
    The first picture really made me laugh, they known you were an expert, don’t let them win! I’m going to the Chinese buffet tonight, that article got me in the mood :)

  • You are an inspiration to my life. I’d like to shake your hand and buy you a beer.

    I’d like to add a personal tip of my own. Never go to a chinese buffet within the last hour or so before closing (on a weekday especially). It will be mostly old food thats been out there for a long time, and I’ve gotten food poisoning from this.

  • Good stuff..

  • Off topic for sure, but the best buffet i have ever been to is the Red Apple (3123 N Milwaukee and 6474 N Milwaukee) in Chicago. Polish food with everything one would expect from that, two roasts and great white borscht. Everything is good quality (plenty of fried, but nothing over-greasy).

  • This is probably the best blog post I have ever read. I think you might be my long lost cousin… and if you knew how crazy every member of my family is at a buffet, then I think you might agree. Its like we have an innate need to get the most for our money… its in our blood… and it looks like its in yours too!

    Please tell me where you have eaten in California… especially LA. I want to go there!

  • Brilliant article. There’s a “super buffet” here in England called Wing-Wah’s, fantastic choice for £12.95… they try and fill you up with large bowls of prawn crackers on your table, but as a buffet-expert (although not up to your standard) I ignore them and stick with the expensive stuff. I have to argue with your desert statement though… Wing Wah’s have a chocolate fountain and loads of marshmallows to dip into it. Lovely. You ought to come over to the 51st state and try it!

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