In search of a great buffet


Traveling plays a big role in my life at Hmong Today. And on the road, there’s no option but to eat out for nearly every meal. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, in a small town or the big city, the very best value in restaurant food is offered through that once menacing eating factory called the “buffet”.

These days, however, the buffet can be quite a pleasant eating experience—and one that doesn’t necessarily leave you with that “sunken ship in your stomach” feeling.

Buffets come in all shapes, styles and flavors. There’s everything from huge national franchises like Old Country Buffet to the one-of-a-kinds like the Hmong inspired Taste of Asia in Madison, WI. There’s mile long salad bars and there’s mile long sushi bars. Make your own stir-fry or make your own hamburger.

Having all this buffet experience, I would like to consider myself a buffet expert. Yes, I have eaten all I can eat and have lived through it to share with readers some insight on many of the best buffets in the Midwest which in this case includes Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Best Buffet For A First Date: Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse (sushi buffet)
Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse
1333 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403-2696
(612) 339-0540

Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, this longstanding Japanese eatery is famous for its teppanyaki style meals (where a chef performs a show of culinary acrobatics involving knives, flames and spices all while cooking you and your guests a meal). Hidden inside Ichiban is a little known “all-you-can-eat” sushi bar, consisting of dozens of varieties of sushi that are offered on a floating platform that continuously rotates while you and your guest can eat whatever your chopsticks are capable of grabbing.

An adventurous eating experience, the sushi buffet at Ichiban will prove to be a conversational piece in itself—and a great place for memories to begin blooming!

Best Buffet For Everyday Eating: Old Country Buffet
Consistency, economical and even healthy are some of the attributes that make Old Country Buffet suitable for everyday eating. Also, there’s one in virtually every city in America, so there’s no excuse for not finding an Old Country Buffet (so “everyday” we just call it OCB) wherever and whenever. Specializing in simple fare such as spaghetti and meatballs, OCB also prides itself on its fresh garden salad buffet, which is a healthy element that many buffets are lacking. Of course, we just love the freshly baked blueberry pie with a few scoops of ice cream at the end of each meal, but remember we did have a salad, so the food karma balances out.

To find the nearest Old Country Buffet near you, go to:

Best Buffet For Hmong Food: Taste of Asia (Madison, WI.)
2817 East Washington Avenue
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 240-0762

OK, there really wasn’t much competition in this category, but it’s important to bring this great little eatery into the conversation, specifically because of the unique food items you can find at Taste of Asia.

With dishes like “chicken-liver salad” and “boiled pork fat in sweet sauce”, there’s no mistaking the Hmong influence here. Beyond the Hmong dishes, there is also a wide assortment of other Asian dishes, borrowing from the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Thai.

No matter where your travels take you, make a stop in Madison and visit Cher Pheng Her (owner and chef) and his crew!

Best Buffet For Seafood: Todai (Schaumburg, IL.)

E-109 Woodfield Shopping Center
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Tel: (847) 619-1088

We used to travel to Chicago for the art, lakeshore views and shopping opportunities. Now we go mainly to eat at Todai, a Japanese sushi and seafood eatery that’s located in a suburb of Chicago.

If you like seafood, you’ll love Todai. There are more than 20 different sushi dishes in addition to the ocean load of other seafood fare not easily available in the Midwest (including raw oysters and an assortment of soups and entrees).

Try to make it to Todai as early as they open their doors in the morning, otherwise expect to be put on a waiting list. Every time we’ve gone to Todai there has been a long line of people who wait up to an hour to get inside (because people typically spend up to two hours to eat once they are inside). Yes, it’s that good.

Located throughout the West Coast and scattered throughout the country, Todai is a constant winner in the seafood category for countless publications. Check out the locations online at:

Best Overall Asian Buffet: Grand Buffet
Grand Buffet
West St. PAUL, MN 55118

So often, buffets boast about how many different dishes there are to choose from. And while it’s true that variety counts in the making of a great buffet, all selective eaters will tell you that variety doesn’t truly matter as much as taste and freshness.

When you can have taste, freshness and variety, you’ve got a good thing going. At Grand Buffet in West St. Paul, those three elements are added with great service to make it deserving of being named the “Overall Best”.

From serving two different kinds of crab legs (Dungeness and snow crab) to serving fresh lychee all year round, Grand has become famous for never skimping on quality and freshness.

“Our mission from the very beginning when we opened was to be the best,” owner Andy Cheng remarks on the philosophy behind Grand’s success. “And our happy customers are proof that the formula has worked.”

No corners are cut here, as even the jumbo shrimp truly live-up to its name at Grand (they even take the time to peel their jumbo shrimp!). There’s also a small assortment of fresh sushi (and yes, they use real fish) and a dessert bar that’s second to none.

Although the prices are amazingly low, I’d stay away from eating at Grand everyday—not because it wouldn’t be worth it, but because I’m not able to resist eating all I really can eat at Grand!

Healthy Is Possible At The Buffet: Tips On Eating Healthy At Any Buffet
• Approach buffets with a plan. Don’t view a buffet as a personal challenge to get more for your money by overflowing your plate. Instead, survey the entire buffet, decide what you want, and take only that.

• Eat from the salad bar first. By eating the most healthy dish first, you fulfill your hunger before you’ve had an opportunity to overeat. The key word here is to not “over eat.”

• Instead of ordering soda, stick with a cup of water. Not only will drinking water help your stomach recuperate faster from the meal, it will also help keep your overall calorie count lower!