Multiple choice

Kwando bucks the buffet trend, and keeps things fresh and light

BRING ON THE BUFFET<br>Seafood items are plentiful at Kwando’s large, fresh buffet.

Seafood items are plentiful at Kwando’s large, fresh buffet.

Photo By Josh Graham

Kwando Restaurant

740 Mangrove Ave.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 343-6788

All-you-can-eat buffets are not easy to come by—it can be a challenge to churn out multiple dishes and keep them fresh and appealing. An American-style smorgasbord, with racks of carved meat, thick sauces and veggie dishes, is better suited to the buffet presentation, whereas Asian food is less resilient and can become limp after sitting under hot lamps.

More than one local buffet has been shut down by the county due to unwanted kitchen critters and food wallowing in tepid temperatures. So it is no small feat when an Asian buffet can present numerous dishes that look and taste fresh at a price that is remarkably inexpensive.

Located in the corner of the Safeway shopping center on Mangrove Avenue, Kwando Restaurant is cheerily decorated with paper lanterns, a tinkling fountain and a welcoming circular arch leading into the dining area. The buffet opened three years ago, and in that time has accomplished the careful balance of timing and temperature to offer a giant selection that is appetizing to the eye and the taste-buds.

Our server greeted us instantly and allowed us to choose among the many wide booths. There are also free-standing tables that can accommodate large parties. The prices are reasonable—especially if you take advantage of the sushi bar. Monday through Thursday (slightly higher on weekends) the lunch buffet will run you $7.25 for adults, $4.20 for children 6 to 11 and $2.20 for kids 3 to 5 years old. The dinner buffet begins at 3:30 p.m., and goes till 9:30 (adults, $9.95; $5.70 for kids 6 to 11 and $3.70 for the young’ns). Kwando also offers a seafood buffet on weekends for a few dollars more from 3:30 to 10 p.m. A refillable fountain drink or hot tea costs $1.25.

Le Chen prepares Sushi, a favorite at the restaurant

Photo By Josh Graham

Lined up in tidy sneeze-proof serving bars, the dishes are grouped by meat items, noodles and rice, vegetables and seafood. Most of the dishes are labeled so selection is easy.

I loaded up with small samples of everything and had to take two plates. I particularly liked the coconut shrimp available during the lunch buffet. I ate a dozen fried shrimp and calamari rings, which were tender and addicting. The Peking chicken was my friend’s favorite.

The chicken chow mein was fair, but there were plenty of other offerings, including shrimp fried rice, crab legs, which cracked easily and were thick with meat, stuffed oysters, steamed mussels, beef with broccoli and Buffalo wings. The stuffed oysters and mussels looked slightly dry, although the steamed mussels appeared as if they had just come out of the pot.

The buffet dishes change every day. The salad bar is always available, and includes fresh fruit (my friend was delighted by the lychee), crisp romaine and iceberg lettuce, the usual salad toppings and dressings, as well as seaweed salad and squid salad. There is an ice bar with shrimp and raw oysters, which only lacked lemon slices (you can find lime slices in the fruit bar). There’s also a dim sum bar with steamed appetizers; a carving bar (usually with fish), a soup bar with wonton or sweet and sour soups and a dessert bar.

The sushi bar is manned by traditionally dressed sushi chefs making rolls fresh and to order. The sushi was cold and delicious. I made numerous trips back for more and couldn’t help but think of how much it would cost to eat that much sushi in any other restaurant in town.

Although Kwando was about half full during both of my visits (lunch and dinner), there was no bottlenecking at any of the bars, no long lines to wait in, and we had a leisurely meal. The servers were very friendly, and our waiter made sure our drinks were always full.

Many buffets are heavy on the calories and carbs and light on fresh seafood. Instead of waddling out of the smorgasbord with a belly extended by multiple servings of mashed potatoes and slabs of roast beef, I left Kwando feeling comfortably full.