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East Buffet

I can’t say East Buffet without thinking Eve’s Buffet. That will likely only mean anything to Portland, Oregon old-timers, skuzzy pre-90’s folks, not the current uber-indie inhabitants. Before there was Meyer Café (which could be defunct now for all I know) there was Eve’s, a dowdy little coffee shop inside Fred Meyer (the best NW grocery store ever).

East_buffet_dining_roomUnsurprisingly, the word east also brings up Easter, which might be why I’ve been twice on that non-essential holiday (as well as on my thirtieth birthday, which was totally essential). Last year I cooked a fresh ham. This year I was burnt out; persistent eating enabled by strangers seemed the thing to do.

I had been holding off on E.B. because it’s the kind of place my mom would love, not in an ironic way, and she’s visiting in June (my mom’s been to NYC twice in the nine years I’ve lived here and I’ve gone home as many times. I don’t think that’s weird but practically everyone I know sees their parents multiple times annually). She took me to her local Chinese Buffet, Treasure Island, which was fine by Beaverton standards, but it’s no Flushing. Really, what does it matter if I go again a few months?

East_buffet_servingAt 5pm on Sunday (opening hour for dinner) the vast rooms weren’t even close to crowded. They were only using one half of the restaurant. Saturdays can be a mob scene and you often get caught in the middle of wedding parties and events. I don’t mind mayhem but pile ups occur when a fresh item is brought from the kitchen. Crab legs in particular, bring out the glutton in people. I don’t think they’re worth the effort (especially if E.B. decided to start enforcing their 1 ½ hour dining maximum rule) but they seem to be the unanimous favorite. Every table had more than one plate piled high with the orange, spindly appendages. They used to serve hacked up lobster tails in a brown garlic sauce and making it to the tray before it was decimated was worse than a rush hour not letting people off the subway before shoving on scene. I’m sure cost, not a call to manners led to the crustaceans’ removal, though.

East_buffet_cold_stationJames decided that we’d need to eat five plates of food to bring the cost per plate down to a reasonable level ($27 per person). That was pretty ambitious. By my third plate, I was kind of done in but a fourth had to be forced to get a dessert course. To say that there is a lot of food is an understatement. Even with four plates, I probably only sampled 10% of what was on offer.

Two stand alone stations are devoted to warm food. There’s one for cold, which I enjoy, despite ignoring the half filled with fruit, jello and dubious gelatinous treats, one which is black and jiggly that I’m guessing is grass jelly. The other half of this stall contains spicy, oily tendons, baby octopus, sliced organ meats, raw fish, seaweed salads and the like.

East_buffet_sweetsBehind the cold food is a sushi counter where you can pick and choose from a wide selection rolls and sashimi. I feel like this is a thing unto itself and usually abstain or just pick one or two items. I also never touch the soup or soft serve ice cream machine and try not to load up on noodles and definitely not rice.

Kind of the middle of the fray there is a carving display where peking duck is sliced on demand. In a double decadent whammy, there are also thick, meaty rectangles of roasted, crackly skinned pork. To the immediate left is a grilling area that turns out Korean ribs, skewers, scallion pancakes and other delights.

It’s strange how these photos make the plates look like they contain less food. They seemed much, much fuller at the time. Not to say that this is skimping.

I forgot about the no noodle/rice rule, so I only picked at the dull, slightly peppery noodles then got a little scared over the no wasting food or you’ll be charged rule. I picked up some random sliced cold meat, tendons and who knows what, wakame, shrimp, two little octopi and a battered fried sardine. I’m not sure what made the mini cephalopods bright red.

Seriously, this plate was a killer. I overdid it with meat, which can’t be discerned in that pile. Short ribs, roast pork, bbq pork, chicken, everything pretty fatty. As you can see there’s also a grilled eel nigiri, raw tuna slice, green beans, a fried bean curd blob with shrimp, that crazy dish of battered shrimp with walnuts and mayonnaise, and something white, translucent and topped with sesame seeds, kind of like konnyaku.

Peking duck was amazing but I should’ve gotten it earlier because I was feeling a little ill by the time I made my way to it and the pork wedges. New rule: rich food first. Forget about pacing. Like I said, sushi seems unnecessary but I couldn’t resist a couple pieces. I also picked up a few more tendons (I don’t know why I like cartilage so much) and a cereal covered prawn.

No, Asian desserts aren’t the big draw but I couldn’t leave empty handed. Clockwise from the lavender cup: taro pudding, caramel colored layer cake I thought would be peanut butter but was mocha, lotus seed pastry, a greasy mochi type ball that only attracted me because it was weirdly green and a cheesecake-ish square.

Now, I’ll have to fast the next few months to build up my stamina for another East Buffet excursion in June. Ok, fasting is not in my vocabulary. How about I just vow not to set foot in any all-you-can-eat joints for two months. (4/8/07)

This seemed like a good spot for a celebration. Apparently, two wedding parties thought the same thing. This was my most surreal visit to date, which might be appropriate for a 30th birthday. We were seated in a room next to a wedding party with bad '50s medleys, top 40 techno and glow sticks. In order to get to the food, we had to walk through their festivities. Not that I'm complaining, we got a show with our buffet. Well worth the Saturday night wait and $25. (7/27/02)

I don't even know where to begin with this one. If heaven were a giant all-you-can-eat restaurant, it would be patterned after East Buffet. From the sheer size (two floors), neon sparklers atop the building, and hostesses with walkie talkies, you know you're in for something larger than life.

I happened to go on Easter, but there's no need to wait for a special occasion to gorge yourself silly Chinese-style (I wonder if they actually have all-you-can-eat in China). Stations are brimming with items from accepted to the novel. One contained fruit, salads, and more jiggly gelatin-based items than a church picnic. There was also a sushi bar, a meat carving area with Peking duck and lamb with mint jelly (that I'm guessing was only there for Easter), and a tour of Asia's greatest hits space that confused me with satay, scallion pancakes, Korean bbq, tempura and live shrimp in tanks–were they supposed to cook them on demand? I was also baffled by the little shell balls that people piled on plates, sucked on and spit out. Snails, I'm guessing? One section had spicy shrimp and lobster tails that people were literally fighting for, yet in the same environs were odd old-school American treats like lobster thermidor. There was also an impressive dessert counter heavy on the colorful, coconut-laden, and ricey goodies.

Highlights included various dim sum, crab legs, that scary dish with prawns, walnut and mayonnaise that tastes really good even though it creeps me out, and sushi (I never knew it could be so filling–I suppose a giant plate of anything will use up stomach space). I ate so much I didn't even have room for any of the soups, congees, or Peking duck. My only letdown was their lack of turnip cakes, which I had expected to be there. But I was appeased a bit by their half-off bubble tea special.

Take note of intimidating handwritten list of rules in the lobby with a bit about time limits and getting a 20% charge for wasting food. What does that mean, wasting food? Who would do such a thing? I smuggled out a sesame ball and feared the worst, but sometimes you've got to take risks. (4/15/01)

East Buffet * 42-07 Main St., Flushing, NY

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  1. The pics look delicious! I was at the Elmhurst East Buffet once, and thought it was even better than the Flushing ones. They had these egg batter-dipped fish cakes, fried, of course.

    The no-starch rule is good, otherwise you get full very fast from the “cheap” foods and won’t get your money’s worth.

    April 15, 2007
  2. Wendy Smith #

    Hello, I love your photos of Filipino food. I would like to use it to promote my Filipino restaurant here in Alaska. Would that be OK with you?

    Marketing Consultant for
    ValPak Alaska

    July 30, 2008
  3. this place looks so awesome. The picture of the food is so awesome.

    March 26, 2009

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