No Limits

At Buffet City, Food Is Fun Again

A pan-Asian buffet restaurant with a build-your-own hibachi station, a sushi bar and Chinese food, where you can eat as much as you want for just $18.99? We had to check this place out. 

By Lauren Jackson June 26, 2024 Published in the July-August 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Buffet City features eight hot food kiosks and a customizable hibachi station.
Buffet City features eight hot food kiosks and a customizable hibachi station.

Image: Simo Ahmadi

It’s bright, it’s bustling and it’s overflowing with food. No, I’m not talking about a weekend farmers market. I’m talking about Buffet City, which opened in a shopping plaza on the corner of Bee Ridge Road and McIntosh Road in February. I first heard about it at a luncheon for the Boys & Girls Clubs, where Alvin, a club member, sang its praises. A pan-Asian buffet restaurant with a build-your-own hibachi station, a sushi bar and Chinese food, where you can eat as much as you want for just $18.99? I had to check this place out. 

I grew up with the buffets of yore—places like Ponderosa Steakhouse and Golden Corral, where the main attraction was dry sliced steak wilting under a heat lamp. But when Covid-19 hit, people understandably grew wary of sharing tongs with strangers and buffets were hit hard, leading to the closure of longtime favorites like Sweet Tomatoes.

These days, buffets are back. Covid is less of a concern, and rising food prices have customers hunting for deals and embracing a maximalist YOLO mindset that syncs perfectly with the buffet lifestyle. Don’t believe me? Sweet Tomatoes recently reopened its first location since its 2020 shutdown, and sales at Golden Corral were up 14 percent last year compared to 2020.

Hibachi chicken at Buffet City
Hibachi chicken at Buffet City

Image: Simo Ahmadi

It’s easy to blow past Buffet City without noticing it, but once you’ve stepped inside, you’re transported to a different world. At the entrance, you’re greeted by a giant cherry blossom tree made from LED lights that twinkle fuschia pink, and a host leads you to your table. Buffet City servers skip the long spiel about the offerings and instead send you on your way to explore the space. They know what you’re here to do: Eat.

The interior is filled with eight large hot food kiosks and punctuated by a sushi and cold food bar and the hibachi stand, where you can choose from dozens of ingredients to be stir-fried with noodles or rice. At the sushi bar, three chefs perpetually roll fresh sushi to replenish the ever-diminishing offerings. I counted 15 varieties during my visit, including crowd favorites like volcano, bagel, California and rainbow rolls. I’ve never been tempted by buffet sushi, but after seeing how quickly the products were turned over, I dove in and came away pleased. (I did, however, skip the tray of raw oysters. They were adequately iced, but buffet oysters are too adventurous for even my iron stomach.)

The hot food stands largely feature Chinese American cuisine, with established favorites like bourbon chicken, pepper steak and General Tso’s chicken alongside huge trays of lo mein and fried rice. For seafood lovers, there’s coconut shrimp, steamed clams and an impressive seafood boil made with crawfish, mussels, shrimp and corn.

Egg custard buns
Egg custard buns

Image: Simo Ahmadi

If you’re dining with someone who prefers a simpler approach to flavors, like a kiddo or just an unadventurous eater, there are options for them, as well. One section of the buffet offers pizza, mashed potatoes, French fries, chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, to name a few.

When dining buffet-style, opt for tiny portions of each dish that spikes your interest, then go back for larger portions of the dishes you love. I went back twice for a few select sushi rolls and the coconut shrimp, and, of course, crab Rangoon. (Let’s be real: I’d pay $18.99 just for endless crab Rangoon.)

No meal at Buffet City is complete without a visit to the dessert station. A deep freeze is filled with Good Humor-style ice cream snacks and situated next to a row of bite-sized cakes, perfectly portioned for your full belly. One item, a small square plastic container filled with red goop, was a particular hit. It turned out to be strawberry cheesecake-esque, and it was so good that I had to have seconds.

Keep Buffet City’s dessert bar in mind when building your meal.
Keep Buffet City’s dessert bar in mind when building your meal.

Image: Simo Ahmadi

Sometimes I need to take a break from swanky new openings, inflated bills and “mixologists” and just sit down and eat food that feels uncomplicated. Buffet City is a delightful departure from the standard foodie experience and it reminds me why I fell in love with food in the first place—because it’s fun to make and eat. And that’s exactly what Buffet City is: fun.

BUFFET CITY | 4458 Bee Ridge Road | (941) 342-6818 

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