University Buffet: Value on University Avenue


A lot of food writers wouldn’t bother with buffet restaurants. They want to titillate thrill seekers. I have a different approach. I like to go to places under the food journalism radar. I like to check out places that yuppies hardly consider worth their time. These are the alternatives to the fast food industry, that provide meals ordinary people can afford, people with families. Families like the one I grew up in. My parents never thought of seeking the hottest new chef because, after all, my large family had serious bills in the offing. That had to take precedence.

That is prologue to my description of visiting University Buffet which sits at Marion Street and University Avenue in St. Paul. I’m on the Green Line grape vine, so I’ve heard plenty about it. I’ve now visited about a half dozen Green Line businesses. And found a few winners in the list.

I’ve been to a fair number of buffets. Most recently, I went to Roseville to visit Khan’s Mongolian Barbecue. Before that have been places like Grand Buffet and Teppanyaki Buffet in South Minneapolis. So there’s always an implicit comparison in my mind. One thing that always impresses me when I go to one of these buffets is the number of immigrant families that I see there. Obviously, it has to be a family treat. And an affordable one, unlike practically all other restaurants. The other, of course, is you have the opportunity to try all your favorite entrees, not pick one and omit the others.

University Buffet is not one of those “everything but the kitchen sink” places. It has a reasonable selection, but nothing overwhelming. But it has a more reasonable price than the average one. The price I paid was about what I paid for a single trip through the line at Khan’s Mongolian Barbecue in Roseville, $9.41. It actually included, seemingly, unlimited beverages.

They served all the meats (not turkey) of an average restaurant: pork, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp. Plus a salad bar and fruit. The fried rice was sort of plain. But I did find things not seen before. Kim chee and Mongolian Beef. The things I would go back for anytime were the egg foo young, chicken with garlic sauce, and stuffed mushrooms. Egg foo young is such an Asian cliche you’d think no one could stand out, but I liked the way this place made it. The chicken was ground meatballs in a tasty sauce. The stuffed mushrooms were large caps with a cheesy filling. Beyond these, I also took a mouthful of Kim chee, just to see if my avoidance was valid. But I found the kim chee served was kind of nice. I also got some huge, sweet strawberries and some banana pieces in a red sauce.

So this is a buffet I can see making a regular stopping place. There are still things I didn’t try, plus things I’d want to have again. The state government people are lucky to have this as handy as McDonald’s. You could easily eat three meals on one tab.