Friday Night Fun:
This was actually my second visit to Panda Buffet, but over a year had already passed since my last food adventure, and it was a first for Mike, so when suggesting new buffet choices, I threw Panda in the mix. I think he chose Panda because it was closer than all the others I had named. Mike is obviously very meticulous and thorough when it comes to choosing food-not! He was being practical though. All the others were on the far Eastside, and being that we planned on seeing Jaun of the Dead at The Loft after we ate, he wanted to keep us kind of central, which was okay with me because I remember Panda being pretty tasty.
First impressions of the restaurant were good. The hostess was polite and friendly, seating is in a booth promptly after greeting us. For a Friday night, I had expected it to be a little busier, but there were at least 7 or 8 other parties grubbing it up, so we weren’t completely alone. When it comes to buffets, the more hustle and bustle means the fresher the food and the more often they change out the old and cold trays for hot and steamy new ones, so I was a little worried.
After taking our drink orders, our waitress let us lose to eat to our heart’s content. I can’t help but feel like I’m beginning a race whenever I start the process of scoping out a buffet, like I need to get all the good stuff before anyone else does or before it’s all gone, regardless of how busy the place is-force of habit I guess.
Before committing any food to my plate, I quickly walked up and down the isles of Chinese goodness, previewing what I could possibly fit onto my plate.
They had a small sushi area which consisted of some basic fresh sushi rolls, individual fish flaps over rice, and some tempura blocks filled with who knows what. It all looked pretty basic, but safe nonetheless.
After deciding I would skip dessert because nothing looked particularly tempting, I made a mental note that I could pile a bit more food on my plate instead. Score! You see, I’m very particular with what food makes it onto my plate because I’m a one plate kind of girl. I’m the kind of buffet enthusiast who piles as much food as possible onto one plate only, without making a nasty mountain mess of it all. That’s usually all I’m able to handle for one buffet experience, without feeling totally tamaled out. Having a tamale experience usually never ends well and leaves one feeling sweaty, sick, and really uncomfortable. I’m also the kind of buffetier who doesn’t mind my food touching. I actually prefer my food to spoon, snuggle, drool, and even make out with each other. Chinese food flavors usually compliment each other pretty well. If I choose my food well, I could usually finish off my entire plate too. And if I end up really liking one dish and really want more, I just make it a point to serve myself a bunch of that dish next time I visit that buffet.
Once I looked over the entire buffet, I started out smart, by gathering all by sauces and chiles first, delivering them all to the table, then I moved on to the sushi bar. I gathered a small sampling of 4 or 5 sushi selections, quickly taking them to the table. I chose not to pile these onto my main food plate because sushi is a unique beast, which I feel deserves a plate to itself-kind of like dessert. Finally, I moved on to the hot plates. I sprinkled a little of all the best looking dishes onto my main platter: crab puffs, pork dumplings, wanton meatball wraps, a “taco egg roll,” fried rice, some thin yellow noodles with chicken flavor, a chicken veggie dish, Shrimp balls filled with a mystery mix , honey shrimp, orange chicken, sesame chicken, BBQ pork, and even some white fish smothered with some melted cheeses.
After my plate was the perfect combination of everything yummy, I walked back to the table, where Mike had already started digging in. I didn’t mind though. Cold Chinese food is not my thing either.
Finally after prepping my dish with all the sauces and chillies, I started nibbling on it all. Although it wasn’t as hot as I would have preferred, the flavor was there and so was the variety. The issue with the lack of mouth burning steaminess may have actually been my fault. I paced the isles so many times, even after previewing the whole thing! That and my chilli/ sauce prep probably let some of the steam out too. It was all pretty good though, and all that pacing must have paid off because I finished off around 80% of my plate, including the sushi.
I noticed that many of the other eaters chose to only pick through the seafood selections. The crab legs were a huge hit. Some people had plates of crab legs, shrimp, and oysters on their tables, with no hint of any Chinese food. I didn’t go there this time because I was really craving Chinese food. The hostess explained to us that Sunday is the day to come if you’re in a fishy mood because it is a seafood lover’s dream all day long.
Now for the main questions:
10 scale service rating: 8
10 scale food rating: 7
Is it worthy of a repeat visit? Yes
Would I order the same dish or change it up? I would leave out the sushi next time, leaving more room for the hot plate. Crab puffs, pork dumplings, and cheese fish would also get the boot. I would stick to a handful of faves, and pile those high. Keepers: Taco egg roll, fried rice and veggie chicken, and honey shrimp and sesame chicken.
Don’t take my word for it. Check it out:
2419 East Broadway Boulevard
Tucson, AZ 85719