This Week in Buffets
The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (which is actually in Dana Point—go figure) just restarted its Friday night seafood buffet and Sunday brunch. I hear these all-you-can-eats are worthy of the Shah, but there's no way I can afford the $55 for the Friday-night buffet and $70 for a delightful Sunday—hell, I can barely afford the $10 parking fee just to visit the Ritz. So excuse me as I indulge in the following buffets.
DINNER FOR TWO:
¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!
$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20
$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40
$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!
AL-WAHA B.B.Q. FAMILY RESTAURANT
This is America at its most yummily raucous, as Asian, Latino and white families join Muslims in the clamor, united under the brotherhood of good Middle Eastern grub. The buffet is the most popular choice, but hidden under the "daily specials" menu heading are Middle Eastern regional specialties, unknown to other county Arabic restaurants, that trump Frommer's in their insight to the Middle East. 9562 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-0656. $
There are many options available on this Polynesian trade store's always sweltering buffet table. Mostly meats—pale, turgid beef sausages with a lean snap; finely sliced povi masima (salted beef), ruddy in color and buttery in flavor; fatty, sweet turkey tails and a couple of styles of ufi (fish) ranging from bitter to silky to sweet. Make sure to take home a couple of palusamis, baked taro leaves stuffed with onions and coconut milk that are little paragons of bite. 1217 S. Western Ave., Anaheim, (714) 220-9675. $
One of the few Chinese buffets 'round town that won't wreak havoc on your porcelain throne. Good mix of Chinese-American dishes, from sweet orange chicken to a hybrid chow mein speckled with baby octopus, snow peas, onions and carrots. 3420 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 957-2688. $
Only card-carrying Club 33 members and their guests can enter this exclusive club, located in the bowels of Disneyland. The all-you-can-eat buffet is by far the best in all the land of Disney, which, in itself, isn't saying much. But you can be legally shit-faced here instead of telling park security your soda fermented as they throw you into Disneyland's drunk tank. 33 Rue Royale, New Orleans Square, Disneyland. Only worshipers of Walt can enter. $$$
E-San specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Lao-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry (smoky with eggplant chunks) and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563. $
A traditional turo-turo (buffet), Handaan rotates out various Filipino goodies—adobo, satays and about five different offals. But the sides—vinegar-spiked rice and pansit bihon, tiny, tasty noodles cooked with cabbage, celery, carrots and baby shrimp—remain constant. 9777 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-8431. $
Americans famished for a savor of liberty should trek over to India House, a tiny but posh Buena Park restaurant where the promise of freedom comes with a complimentary basket of naan. India House's buffet, an Electoral College of flavors, scents and options, offers the hallmarks of any outstanding Indian feast—smoky tandoori chicken, assorted curries and masalas, and billowy basmati rice mounds—but the chefs also sneak in some surprises in a vegetarian key. 7775 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 670-2114; www.newindiahouse.com. $$
ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY
During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords it over the best religious-minded buffet in the county at Orange County's largest mosque, preparing $2 Styrofoam cartons of delicious Indian food and the stray baklava. The rest of the year, Auntie Fatima prepares it only during Friday services. Some of the tastiest Indian food around—and no faith in Allah required! 9752 13th St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-1722. $
MONGOLIAN BAR-B-QUE PAN ASIA
Keep it simple, folks: go for the No. 2 meal. It begins life as frozen beef shavings. Mmmm . . . shavings. Ladle on your choice of oils, sauces, spices and roughage. It will be transformed into a sizzling feast. 369 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-4644. $
NATRAJ CUISINE OF INDIA
With their fabulous buffet, you could conceivably skip the rest of the day's meals. The restaurant's garlicky naan goes well with whatever the day's selection of spicy dishes is. 24861 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 581-4200; 998 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-9197; 5262 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 930-0930.$$
EL PORTAL DE VERACRUZ
Most people pick their El Portal meal from a buffet that surprises hourly. Sometimes you'll find fried bananas sidling against pork ribs slathered in a citrusy green salsa spiked with smoky cactus strips. Or you can go veggie and load up on grilled jalapeños, cheese-sprinkled refried beans and moist rice. But no meal at El Portal is worth eating without at least one masa-based Veracruzan snack: potato-y garnachas, lightly fried picaditas or fluffy chicken tamales. 4530 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-1660. $
SUMO SUSHI SEAFOOD BUFFET
Gobble up all the sushi you can, or try the distinctively Vietnamese dishes here, such as the cold soup of dried and fresh lotus seeds with strips of seaweed—a perfect finale or an opportunity for enlightenment? 1500 W. MacArthur Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 438-2455.$$
A derivation from the usual buffets and quickie curries, Taal is a comprehensive take on northern Indian cuisine, with a couple of Chinese-Indian dishes—spicy chow mein!—to delightfully confuse eaters.2720 Nutwood Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-7846; www.taalrestaurant.net. $$
A place where Mexican Mexican food is served, with items not found at Taco Bell. Try the mole with a salsa that has the texture of ketchup, made up from the sweetest ingredients on earth or spices harvested from Satan's flower garden. 111 W. Santa Fe, Placentia, (714) 528-8515. $$
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9562 Chapman Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92841