I Don’t Care What Anybody Says, The AYCE Buffet at Chao Krung is Awesome
To truly understand Midtown Lunch (and me, for that matter) it might be helpful to go back and read my Guide to Beating the All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet. It was written a few years ago, inspired by the only all you can eat Chinese buffet near my work (the only one in all of Manhattan, as far as I know). To say I’m a huge fan of all you can eat buffets (especially those that serve Asian food) doesn’t really do justice to how I feel about the buffet. Maybe the word “student” is more appropriate. I have studied, and thought about, buffets for all my life. And one day I hope to fulfill my dream of eating at a Chinese food buffet in every single state in the country.
Sadly, there aren’t many under $10 all you can eat buffets between Downtown L.A. and Santa Monica… unless you include Koreatown- but those aren’t really buffets. They’re just all you can eat- so you lose out on one my favorite parts of the buffet experience: the variety. Back in 2005, when I lived in L.A. the first time, there was only one all you can eat lunch buffet option near where I worked (on Miracle Mile). On Fairfax, across from CBS, Chao Krung was my one buffet outlet- and while I remember it being just ok, I was excited to find out that it’s still there. And still buffeting it up during lunch, for $9.99.
So yesterday, I headed over to put it to the test… and surprisingly, unlike most things I’ve tried again after 5 years of eating in NYC, it was far better than I remembered.
Chao Krung is what I refer to as a small scale buffet. It takes up just one row of steam tables, with 10-15 items max. There is far less variety at a small scale buffet (obviously) but ideally, the quality should be better because they don’t have to focus on making so many dishes. Most Indian buffets are small scale (as was the Tibetan buffet I tried in Pasadena back in March) but most Asian buffets go for quantity over quality… so Chao Krung’s is not typical.
It’s worth reading my Guide to Beating the All You Can Eat Buffet, but I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. Your first plate should be a feeler plate (try a tiny bit of everything to see what’s good), don’t order a soda, load up on big money items, and obviously- never, ever, eat the bread.
On a small scale buffet, a feeler plate is usually pretty easy- but Chao Krung tries to make it tough by giving you the smallest plates I’ve ever gotten at a buffet. You think small plates are going to deter me!? Silly restaurant. Small plates just make me more determined to win the game. Thankfully I had already chosen the absolute closest seat to the buffet (Rule #1 in the guide), making it far less time consuming to make multiple trips with their smallish plates.
Clockwise from the left: pad thai, sauteed string beans, a fried sweet and sour chicken kind of thing, a sauteed chicken stir fry thing, fried rice, chicken wing, beef “mussaman” curry, and a fried tofu dish in the middle. Admittedly some of the dishes leaned more towards Chinese food… but I didn’t mind. Like the thin strips of fried crunchy chicken, which were coated in a sweet and sour sauce that was not unlike orange chicken. And if you combined the string beans and the sauteed chicken dish, you’d get another popular Panda Express dish. The fried rice wasn’t particularly flavorful, but that’s fine because most of the dishes were pretty sweet… so you need the rice to cut through. Some of the beef in the curry dish was chewy, and the curry itself didn’t pack a huge punch. But it had enough curry and coconut milk flavor to be completely completely satisfying.
Obviously the pad thai wasn’t great (it’s sitting on a steam table) but it was far better than I expected it to be. Not too sweet, or horribly mushy, it wasn’t what anybody would call great- but it was good enough that I took a second serving. In fact, I took a second helping of everything (except the sauteed chicken) including 3 chicken wings- which might have been my favorite. They were fried crispy, and covered in a sweet and sticky sauce that packed some surprisingly nice heat. (Kind of like a Thai version of Korean fried chicken.) They were a tad bit dry, but I actually prefer my chicken wings that way. I’ll take a dry wing with super crispy skin, over a moist wing with flabby chicken skin any day.
Finally- I’m not one to go for a salad (especially on a buffet) but peanut sauce dressing and fried crunchy things kind of get me every time. Although as a warning… if you’re vegetarian, or super into salad bars, I don’t think this buffet is worth the $10. I liked the string beans, fried tofu and salad… but without the meat options, you’re probably better off ordering off the menu or going somewhere else.
Obviously expecting to get “real” Thai food from a $10 all you can eat buffet across the street from The Grove, would like like expecting the SGV from Panda Express. But if you love buffets, and all you can eat mall food court Thai food for $10 sounds appealing to you (and you work in the area), Chao Krung will be your new favorite place. I’m not sure if they have the same dishes every day, but I’m willing to go back and find out. And in the end, that’s the mark of truly great Midtown Lunch.
- All you can eat Asian food, for under $10? Sign me up!
- Nothing stood out as amazing, but nothing wasn’t worthy of seconds.
- I really like the chicken wings. Crunchy, sweet and spicy. How can you go wrong?
- I don’t mind mall food court quality Asian food, and promise not to compare this place to the spots in Thai Town
Chao Krung, 111 N. Fairfax Ave., 323-939-8361