FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Houston buffets leave student stomachs, wallets full
All. You. Can. Eat.
No four words in the English language are as literal as the guarantee of endless plates at the mega bar. However, customers have to ask if there is truly a bargain behind those steam trays and heat lamps.
The prospect of stuffing one’s face with nothing but macaroni and cheese, shrimp fried rice and frozen cheesecake sounds appealing to anyone trying to stretch their dollar.
When customers look at most buffets, though, they must consider what is being offered that has the most bang for the buck.
There are standard fried foods, like chicken nuggets or fries. After that, many restaurants offer the requisite salad bar.
Of course, no all-you-can-eat buffet is complete without rows of steam tables keeping food that was made at some unspecified time warm and ready for consumption.
To be honest, who would pay $8.99 to eat stale fries and cookie-cutter chicken bits? What about some bagged salads that have been out since God-knows-when, or maybe mashed potatoes fresh from the box with packet gravy?
If these buffet clich’eacute;s sound less than appetizing, look for buffets that offer something others don’t. Any buffet will serve fries and salad, but a specialty makes the trip worthwhile.
For instance, the buffet at Kim Son at 10603 Bellaire Blvd. offers a litany of dishes foreign to most western diners.
‘ Avoid the Chinese cuisine staples like beef with broccoli and moo goo gai pan and head straight for the Vietnamese menu.’
Some people may recognize the spring rolls, rice noodles and various greens wrapped with shrimp or pork in rice paper, but Vietnamese specialties b’aacute;nh b’egrave;o and b’aacute;nh x’egrave;o are not to be missed.
B’aacute;nh b’egrave;o are small cakes of rice flour topped with mung bean paste and onion. They come in ramekins, and are enjoyed with fish sauce.’ B’aacute;nh x’egrave;o is a different kind of beast.’
An egg and coconut milk crepe filled with bean sprouts and shrimp, b’aacute;nh x’egrave;o is to be cut or ripped into pieces, wrapped with lettuce and dipped into fish sauce for consumption. The process is messy and complicated, but extremely rewarding.
Todai, at 7620 Katy Fwy., is also an ideal location. Behind a $30 dinner price tag is a massive selection of sushi, made-to-order noodles, seafood and much more.
Perhaps Todai, with its hefty price tag, is bit out of place amongst other all-you-can-eat buffets. Considering its vast selection and variety, however, Todai is a more worthwhile place to visit than cheaper buffets.
Another exotic buffet option is Udipi Cafe, though it’s only open for lunch. Indian food seems ideal for the steam tray, as the wide selection of sauces and curries retain their heat by virtue of their spices.
Along with the spicy stews and curries, there are Indian specialties like savory samosas, dosa crepes and sweet payasam. Hardcore carnivores will be astonished by the depth of vegetarian cuisine at Udipi Cafe.
Local buffet chain SteaKountry has everything needed to be another cookie-cutter buffet restaurant.’
Steakountry offers an unrivaled selection of meat that makes other all-you-can-eat buffets look vegetarian.’
Of course, there’s the steak. Most likely made from cheaper cuts, Steakountry steak tends to come out either just right or tougher than rubber. The roast beef is merely decent, but the chicken is boldly flavored.
Best of all is the chicken-fried steak, which on average will cover about half of a plate, and some nice greasy chorizo. With the addition of sopes ‘- thick cakes made of corn masa with beans and lettuce ‘- a new menu item is born: chorizo sopes.
The all-you-can-eat buffet can never replace the quality and overall traditional atmosphere of a full-service restaurant. However, if a buffet can provide something special, it’s all worth it.’