There are few things that excite the debased overeater within my body more than a newly opened Asian buffet. As if American all-you-can-eat chains like Hometown Buffet or Golden Corral didn’t have gross enough reputations for heat-lamp renditions of mashed potatoes and meatloaf, most Asian buffets take the danger-zone of food cooked and served en masse to new heights with grilled-to-order meats, warm sushi and still-defrosting crab legs.
That was the case at Royal Buffet, which was right off of Atlantic Avenue and the 405 freeway until a fire in the attic burned it down in 2015. Notorious for its lack of air conditioning, its verbose racist tagging in the bathrooms and the extensive collection of scuttling cockroaches, Royal Buffet was not a huge loss. Besides, if anyone was still brave enough to try another Long Beach Asian buffet, there was always Hokkaido a few blocks over, which despite some cockroach sightings of its own, remains, in general, a best-case scenario for this type of operation.
That is, until last month when King Buffet on Pine Avenue opened, bringing a gleaming new buffet – and all the health inspections that come with it – to the bustling downtown district. Behold LB's best-case scenario: a clean buffet that’s waited over four years to open and has a neighborhood full of discerning residents to impress.
I showed up to the 11,700-square-foot space for a late lunch on Memorial Day, nursing a hangover for the record books and hoping the hyper-caloric meal would soak up whatever was left from the night before. We got seated among the comfy yellow chairs, which fill two massive dining rooms (King Buffett can seat up to 300 people at a time), and only then came face-to-face with the restaurant’s centerpiece – a 100-foot-long buffet that starts with edamame and ends with French fries.
If you take the whole line in order, you’ll be starting with sushi (over a dozen different nigiri and rolls), moving on to diced and cut fruits (unexpectedly fresh), then building your own order of Mongolian barbecue (don’t forget the minced garlic!) before handing off some more meats to the other grillmaster (short rib and shrimp on ice) and loading up at least two plates with the last half of the buffet, which is full of Chinese goodies, from fast-food fare (orange chicken, fried rice) to dim sum (steam baos, shumai) to all kinds of crustaceans and sea creatures that have been fried, steamed or both.
Most of the seafood is frozen here, including the King crab legs, the fried soft-shell crab, the spice-tossed crawfish and the numerous dishes featuring plump pink shrimp, but for $10 at lunch and $15 for dinner (a price cut since opening day), it’s a great deal. And everything you need to enjoy them is there, too, from drawn butter to a sweet dipping sauce to tableside Sriracha.
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While the cooked-to-order Mongolian barbecue was coated in an addictive savory sauce (you prep your plate then hand it to the waiting chef who cooks it) and even the seafood sent me back to the south end of the buffet for seconds, the most surprising find of the trip was the sushi selection, which was not only edible (imitation crab for the win) but was being prepared on the spot by a sushi chef stationed directly behind the buffet line.
I know it's weird to say "eat the sushi at the new Chinese buffet," especially when it's a segment of the food world that we’ve all been trained to avoid at any all-you-can-eat establishment. But if if you only use King Buffet to get your fill of eel rolls, Philadelphia rolls, rainbow rolls and salmon nigiri, then you’re still getting your $15 worth.
For dessert, skip the frozen yogurt (the consistency was like that of a sorbet that doesn’t know it’s yogurt yet) and stick to the mini cheesecakes, cookies, rolls and forever-flowing chocolate fondue fountain. Get it all while King Buffet is still new, clean and good.
King Buffet, 560 Pine Ave., Long Beach; (562) 983-8886