THE EATBEAT: Customers gravitate to Mongolian section of Panda BuffetThere are trends in the restaurant business, and manager Bob Lin at Panda Buffet on Columbia Road indicates he will be moving toward the addition of more Japanese items. As it is, there is a seemingly unending array of choices at Panda Buffet.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
There are trends in the restaurant business, and manager Bob Lin at Panda Buffet on Columbia Road indicates he will be moving toward the addition of more Japanese items. This will include more sushi and Japanese style foods that, he said, some customers regard as more healthful.
As it is, there is a seemingly unending array of choices at Panda Buffet. In addition to the vast buffet, there is a Mongolian Barbecue section featuring seafood, chicken, beef and pork. It is prepared to order by Chef Nelson Arroyo, who came here from Puerto Rico. And Lin says 80 percent of the customers at Panda Buffet gravitate to that corner of the restaurant.
I find a meal at Panda Buffet an interesting adventure as well as a good value. Lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. is $7.99, and the beverage is an additional $1.39. The dinner buffet from 4 p.m. to closing time at 10 p.m. is $10.99 for adults. And there are special children’s rates.
Some customers prefer taking out food from the buffet starting at a basic price of $4.49 per pound.
The selections seem endless, and I enjoyed picking and choosing as I circled the large buffet table. There you find sweet and sour chicken, chicken and broccoli, cream cheese wontons, hot and sour soup, roasted chicken and beef, fried shrimp and dumplings, seafood delight, snow shrimp and coconut shrimp, crab legs and salmon.
I ended up with a plate that was loaded and made sure it included boiled broccoli and cooked cabbage. These are vegetables that go well with the buffet choices. I found I could have done without the soup. It seemed to me rather heavy or oily.
When you go to the Panda Buffet for a late lunch you can take your time and study the food. I was drawn to the appealing desserts and fruits to finish my meal. I left Panda Buffet feeling as though I wouldn’t need to eat again for a month.
My whole experience at Panda Buffet was good. The food was inviting and choices plentiful. The presentation was good.
This is food that requires much more preparation time in the kitchen. And Panda Buffet usually has six people who are cutting, chopping and working with food as it comes into the kitchen. No pre-made foods here. The wait staff of mostly Asian people is friendly and helpful. Many of them are trained in New York or on the West Coast, Lin said.
With the many pluses at Panda Buffet, there are a few minuses. One is the presence of buckets with cloths in the water for cleaning. That seems like something the customers would rather not see.
Finding the way into the Panda Buffet is a challenge until you learn how to take the little road off 24th Avenue South and find the backside of the restaurant. It’s next to Batteries Plus. And there is plenty of parking when you drive around — carefully. Most customers know that although Panda Buffet faces Columbia Road, you can’t get in from there.
Although there have been no new Chinese restaurants here in recent years, Panda Buffet seems to have found its niche.
2451 South Columbia Road
Owner: Jeff Lam, of Sioux Falls, S.D.
Manager: Bob Lin
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Reservations: (701) 780-8800
Report card: A seemingly endless array of choices welcomes customers. The price is moderate, and the helpers are smiling and cheery. The restaurant meets the challenge of having enough volume, so it does not need to leave hot food sitting out more than an hour.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com.