It took me two days to make the drive so I stopped twice for lunch. This was my first lunch. And yes, I was craving Asian food both times. So sue me. (But not really, please!)
I got off the highway just outside of Columbia, SC in search of a Starbucks and a McDonalds (gross, I know), both of which had been promised to me by the little blue FOOD sign for this exit. Unfortunately, I was able to find the truck loading zone for Wal-Mart before I could find the Starbucks. So after wasting at least fifteen minutes searching for coffee, I decided I needed to refuel on something better than McDonalds (whew!)
As always, I thought sushi or hibachi would be a great choice for lunch, so I drove around in circles through strip mall hell looking for the promise of Asian food. And just as I was about to give up, I caught glimpse of a building with the word BUFFET on it, so I stopped for a closer look.
That is how I found Eastern Buffet.
The door promised a $7.95 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet which was good enough for me. What I didn’t realize was HOW MUCH STUFF could be included in a $10/with tip meal. So here’s a breakdown of what I got:
First plate. Vegetable lo mein, mock crab meat in butter sauce, seafood salad (like, octopus, mock crab, and shrimp) also in butter sauce, mac and cheese (wtf?), an egg roll, 3 crab rangoon, sweet and sour sauce, and some broccoli I *borrowed* from the beef & broccoli.
How was it? Aside from the mac and cheese, everything was pretty good. The vegetable lo mein was by far the best thing on the plate because it was SO FLAVORFUL. The crab meat and rangoon were probably tied for second because they were both pretty delicious. The egg roll could have been cooked a little more because at some points it was mushy instead of crispy, but I mostly just ate the veggies inside anyway.
So on to the second plate. It was at this point, somewhere between shoving my face full of food and heading back to the buffet that I realized there was a whole untapped resource in the back just waiting for me to find.
Now I know a lot of buffets have sushi, but I’m not much of a buffet person, so it was a pleasant surprise. I took note, and got ready to fill up my next plate.
Second plate. Kimchi (lots of it), chilled seafood salad, more lo mein, some shrimp scampi looking deal, a plantain (yes, like from Latin America), and sushi! I should also mention it was at the point I noticed a very suspicious food station next to the food area with raw vegetables and a sign that said “Choose your Meat: Shrimp, Chicken, Beef.” But I’ll get back to that.
The second plate was excellent. The kim chi was mind-blowing for anyone who likes spicy food. Which I do. It was so good, in fact, that it lead me to believe that the owners were probably Korean because it reminded me of kim chi I would get from Korean friends who’d gotten the recipe from their moms, grandmothers, etc. It was spicy and delicious, and definitely not the watered-down Americanized version I’m used to. The scampi was good, and so were 2 of 3 sushi rolls. One was a bit…squishy, for lack of better description.
And then there was the plantain. What the hell was a plantain doing at an Asian restaurant? I don’t know, but if they keep making them the way they do, they can have all the plantains they want. And I will keep eating them!
Now back to that strange little food station next to the sushi. After a closer inspection (unfortunately with a full plate), I realized that included in the price of the buffet is the option to get a specially made hibachi meal! You load up on your plate which raw veggies you want, choose your meat, and request rice or noodles. Then the multi-talented hibachi grill expert (who also rolls your sushi) will fry up your hibachi style meal to your liking. And you can even go get a plate from the buffet while you wait!
In reference to the name, you can see where the east and south come from I’m sure (plantains from Latin America and well, duh, it’s a far east buffet), but what about the rest? They also offered plenty of American favorites like mac and cheese, chicken wings, and the like which is very Western. As for the north, well, to be honest I kind of just threw that in there, but the chilled seafood salads were very reminiscent of German and Norwegian chilled salads, so I guess that works.
All in all, this place is a PHENOMENAL deal with enough food to find something great. I learned the hard way that they weren’t on top of their mac and cheese game, but it’s not like I wasted my money on something I wouldn’t eat. I set the plate aside and went back for more.
Rating: 8/10 (would be an 7 if it weren’t for the GREAT value)