Aside from the famous buffets found in Las Vegas casinos, most have a pretty bad reputation for offering sub standard food served en masse. But Houston, Texas has some buffets that really make the grade. Granted, there are some that fit the stereotype perfectly, but there are also some surprisingly good selections. When deciding on this review series I stuck to restaurants that specialize in buffets either all the time or have a daily buffet such as for lunch. I did not review any sit down restaurants that had occasional buffet offerings such as for a Sunday brunch. So if you are looking for a Houston buffet that really shines, consider my top picks and stay away from the others.
Houston Buffets: Asian Cuisine
Excellent: Todai is pretty proud of their fare with lunch at $14.95 per person on weekdays and $17.95 on the weekends and dinner at $25.95 and $26.95. But you do get a ton of food and the price is well worth it especially given its above average quality for buffet food. What I like most about Todai is the choice between hot Asian food, sushi and meat. This is the perfect location to take those who want a little bit of everything or for the couple who can not decide between steak and sushi. Why not get both?
They have quite the vast selection of salad options from traditional fare to more exotic. For those who simply want salad, you can’t do much better than this even at specialty places. Soups, dumplings, baked fish dishes and stir-fried foods are among the hot entrée offerings. Again, there is enough of this genre to please anyone who wants Asian food. My personal favorite is their sushi with a selection of gunkan, sashimi, nigiri and rolls. My hubby loves their churrascaria though, which is all you can eat meat from chicken and sausage to lamb and quail and a variety of steak options all grilled on skewers, sliced and served. Each genre of food that is served is a good buffet itself but put together it is the “mother of all seafood buffets”. Todai is located at 7620 Katy Freeway in the MarqE Center.
Excellent: Tokyo One at 7465 Greens has a great buffet selection. They have salads, sushi, hot dishes and desserts afresh and all well made. The ambiance at the one I went to is a little odd. It used to be a barbecue restaurant and the same décor remained but for Asian cuisine. Although odd it was not uncomfortable plus there were ample TV’s all tuned to World Cup soccer and a fully stocked bar so would be great for happy hour. The entire place was exceptionally clean and service was impeccable with friendly and efficient wait staff. The beef was cooked perfectly and did not remind me of beef jerky, something that often occurs at buffets if only due to sitting out for awhile. The vegetables were also cooked nicely, crisp and well seasoned. Tempura offerings were fresh and the batter was nicely done.
The sushi and rolls were tasty but there was not a huge selection for a lunch buffet. They hit all the most popular types which I suppose is what would be expected but I would have liked to see a few more. Udon was prepared fresh with a variety of accoutrements to add to it including quail eggs, tofu, mushrooms, spices and onions. Dessert offerings were pretty good including fruit, cheese cake that had white cake bottom instead of graham cracker somewhat reminiscent of tres leches, chocolate cake, crème brulee and a cherry tart. I sampled a few of them and they were decent. Not spectacular but good. However, ice cream is included that the wait staff will bring you and you can choose from red bean, chocolate, green tea and plum. My hubby had green tea and I had the plum. They were both very good and a perfect end to the meal.
At $11.95 plus its proximity to Willowbrook Mall, this buffet competes directly with Kirin, another favorite buffet. They both have their strengths. I enjoy both but each has its own unique features. For a look at some of their food, see slides 6, 7 and 8.
Excellent:Kirin Buffet at 7615 FM 1960 West is another favorite of mine that I have gone to often for both lunch and dinner. I prefer their dinner selection but at $21.95 I would go to Todai and add in the churrascaria for just a little more. Lunch is $11.95. Kirin’s lunch buffet is similar to Tokyo One’s. It has fewer hot dishes and a few more sushi and roll selections. Soups, salads, sushi, rolls, hot Japanese dishes and desserts are what you can expect at Kirin. I have always had great service here but I recommend waiting a bit past opening to enjoy it as it can get very busy during the lunch rush.
Good:E-Star Chinese Buffet and Sushi Bar is a really good lunch option especially at $8.39. They have a wide variety of Chinese hot dishes to choose from and a few American dishes targeted primarily to the children in the party. They also have a sushi selection which is surprisingly good. I have been here several times and it is always pretty good. The service is OK but not stellar and is pretty consistent. The sushi on the buffet is always fresh and it goes pretty quickly. The hot foods have been slightly hit and miss. For the most part they are fresh. However, I am one of those who tries hard to avoid the rushes and when it is not quite as busy some food stays a tad past its prime. It’s not terrible but could be freshened more often. All in all a good choice for lunch at that price.
Bad: I never really have high expectations for Chinese buffets. They are a dime a dozen. Many are ok to eat in a pinch when you are on a budget and out and about. But Two Café East at 935 South Mason Road is beyond gross. The food is not fresh, bland or overly salty. Then they have a “sushi bar”. I am an absolute lover of sushi. I could east sushi every day and I am fairly adventurous when I have it. I have no clue what that stuff was that they were trying to pass off as sushi but I wasn’t going to touch it. There were rolls with something pink on top of it. Pink. No, not yummy tuna pink. Pepto Bismol Princess pink. Unfortunately, I have been here more than once due to visiting others who live in the area but with consistently poor quality food and terrible service I have boycotted it forever.
Houston Buffets: Mediterranean Cuisine
Good: DiMassi’s Mediterranean Buffet is a really good buffet when you have a craving for a little of everything in regards to Mediterranean cuisine. I went to the location at 8236 Kirby Dr. for the first time after 1 pm on a weekday. The buffet was $9.99 and included drinks. They had a great selection of foods including soup, salad, hot entrees, gyros and desserts. For the most part, everything was fresh. However, my late start I believe marred the experience somewhat as it was obvious some food was sitting there for awhile.
The chicken arura I was especially disappointed in because it had a great flavor but the penne was mush. The chicken kabab was very good but slightly dry and I believe if I had caught it when it was fresh it would have been excellent. Some dishes of note, though were the lamb, hommus and Lebanese salad. There was also a skewer of lamb to be used in gyros at the brick oven but was not informed it was part of the buffet (you have to ask for it) until leaving. See slides 10 and 11 for a sampling of their food.
Poor: In all fairness I can not truly attest to the quality of Aladin Buffet and Grill located at 16310 FM 529 Rd. This is not to be confused with the Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine Restaurant located in Montrose that I have not gone to but hear good things about. I watched as this place was built and was truly excited to try it out, driving by it often and counting down until the Grand Opening. When I saw it was opened finally I wasted no time in trying it out. Sort of.
I went in with the expectation of sampling all the food and either having a decent nearby Mediterranean restaurant or an incredible one. But, alas, I could not stay. I can not remember the last time I experienced such an unappetizing aroma. I looked to the two people who were with me. One had the same expression on her face as I did and the other, my husband, had a cold and couldn’t smell anything but he was not impressed with the appearance of the food. We just walked out. As adventurous as I am I will leave the reviewing of the place to someone else. Maybe they will have better luck.
Houston Buffets: Latin and Mexican Cuisine
Good? I didn’t really know how to rate Pancho’s Mexican Buffet located at 5442 North Freeway. I will lose all culinary credibility if I say it’s good food. It’s not, I know it. It may even be pushing it to categorize it under Mexican food. But I like it. Call it a guilty pleasure. You go through the line initially in cafeteria style herding, gathering the foods you wish to have for course one. There is a condiment bar where you can get salsa and veggies for toppings and you can get chips at your table when you sit down. Then when you need another round of food you raise the little flag and wait staff will take your order and deliver your food.
This continues for as long as you can hold out. Finally, though, when you are about to explode and think you do not have room for even a wafer thin mint, the sopapillas come which is the best part of the experience. These fried donuts should be drizzled with honey and eaten by the dozens. Then go home and veg in front of the TV because that is all you will feel like doing after this meal. Heavy, greasy, poorly cooked and oh so yummy. Everyone likes it. Nobody wants to admit it. Go ahead and indulge. I won’t tell.
Poor: I have been waiting to try Flor de Cuba located at 16233 Clay Road for awhile. Seeing that they had a daily lunch buffet and I was doing this article made me pretty excited and I was happy to take the time to eat there. But I was sorely disappointed in both the food and the service. The service was slow especially considering all the waitress had to do was refill drinks. She gave the drinks back to the wrong people too when she refilled it. I didn’t look closely enough to the pricing when I went because the cost was $8.99 simply because it was Friday. I should have gone the day before and paid a dollar less. Although not a lot, I still would have felt better about it.
To call this a buffet in the first place was an insult to buffets. There was really only two items that could remotely be called entrees. The picadillo a la habanera was flavorful but a tad on the salty side. They had a chicken vegetable soup that was surprisingly good and the high point of the meal. Everything else was just bland. There was shrimp that was neither peeled nor deveined, the other selection that could possibly be deemed an entrée. They also had 2 rice dishes, white rice and some bastardization of fried rice with hot dogs in it. They also had black beans and plaintains. Their salad bar consisted of what looked like canned fruit salad and chopped iceberg lettuce. This selection for $8.99? No thanks. To see their entire buffet, look at slide 9.
When researching I saw a lot of positive reviews and they even received the 2008 Houston Press award for Best Cuban Restaurant. Maybe they have changed over the years or maybe it was just the buffet. But the bad experience on the buffet will cause me to stay away even if the off the menu items are exemplary.
Houston Buffets: American Cuisine
Good:Larry’s Bar-B-Q Buffet for $8.99 is a steal. I have been here numerous times and the food is mostly good. Whenever you go to a restaurant for any length of time you are sure to find some flaws on occasion and Larry’s is no exception. They are fairly consistent with the quality of food which is a solid “good”. Not bad, not great either, just good. They have a fair selection to choose from, with over 100 items. I have, on occasion, come across some food that was a bit overly salty or some items that seemed to be sitting out just a touch past its prime. But for the price you can’t beat it.
Questionable: I’ve been to America Buffet twice now. I avoided it for a long time and finally bit the bullet. The first time I went they must have had a good day. The food was surprisingly good and fresh. The second time…not so much. None of it was particularly horrid. I did not get sick. But it was not as fresh and either overly salty or incredibly bland. See slides 1 through 5 for an idea of what you might get at America Buffet. For $7.99 at lunch, though, it was passable.
It has all the typical foods you might expect to see on a buffet. But I was particularly amused by the names such as their apple and peach caveler (I am assuming “cobbler” since that is what it looked and tasted like) and their cheese fondoo. No, not fondue. Fondoo. I would not argue if someone else wanted to go there but I will not seek it out. It seems they may have good and bad days there so it is questionable which days you will get decent food and which days you may want to pass it by.
Houston Buffets: Indian Cuisine
Excellent:Indian Wok is Chinese and Indian fusion cooking. This seemed interesting to me but I was admittedly leery about the buffet. But I gathered my courage and trekked to the Willowbrook area to try it out. Their lunch buffet is $7.99, another reason I was a tad wary of the cuisine. Certainly decent Indian food, something that can go horribly wrong if cooked poorly, is not available on such an affordable buffet. I was pleasantly surprised. I knew I was in for a surprise when I went there around 1 pm and could not find a place to sit. I had to wait for a table nut not for too long. Plus, there was a definite shortage of wait staff. Not enough tables and slightly slow service are the only negatives in this place and frankly, I can live with both if it means keeping the price low.
The buffet itself was packed full of a great selection of entrees. Granted, salad and dessert options were pretty sparse but enough to satisfy most people. Really who goes to an Indian buffet for the salad anyway? The main dishes ranged from traditional Indian fare to fusion dishes. I love spicy food and they had some excellent, flavorful dishes. There was also vegetarian cuisine, naan, rice and more. Entrees consisted of lamb, chicken, goat and fish. There was something for everyone and the food was obviously fresh. This has become one of my new favorites and I highly recommend it. You simply can not go wrong given the quality, selection and price. Indian Wok is located at 7911-A FM 1960 West near Willowbrook Mall.