San Leandro Restaurants
Update 12/04: In our last visit to New China Buffet, a Sunday evening, we were disappointed about the quality and taste of the food. It seemed to have gone down a couple of notches from our earlier visits. The Mongolian BBQ, an early favorite, was specially disappointing in that this time it was completely tasteless, but none of the other entrees prompted us to take more than a couple of bites. The ice cream (hard this time) available in a variety of unidentified flavors was pretty good, however.
It was both with hope and trepidation that we came across the ad for New China Buffet in our local newspaper a few weeks ago. You see, San Leandro already had a Chinese buffet, "Buffet Fortuna", which is so bad that I haven't been able to convince Mike to go back even for the lofty purpose of writing a review and warning others. But New China Buffet was brand new and it had higher prices, so I figured it was worth a try.
We've gone three times now (September 2004), on a weeknight soon after it opened, on another weeknight last week and then on a Saturday night. In general, we found the food to be tasty, of good quality, and a bargain for the price. Both the food and the service were significantly better on weekday nights, however.
New China Buffet claims to have over 150 dishes and I wouldn't be surprised if that was true. The buffet offers four different stations serving main dishes, two with fruits and cold seafood and one with desserts, Each station offers 10-12 different dishes. In addition, there is a sushi bar with a dozen selections, a Mongolian BBQ station with five or six types of meats and seafood, two types of noodles and a half a dozen vegetables, and an ice-cream station with a dozen flavors. It would be impossible for a regular person to sample more than a fraction of all the offerings. Still, as they don't seem to vary much from night to night you can try them all in a few visits.
The buffet includes basic Chinese-American dishes, a few dumplings and dim sum offerings, tons of seafood and, interestingly enough, some traditional American and Italian-American foods. In the American category, I've enjoyed the roast beef on all of my visits. It's usually cooked medium-rare, nice and red in the inside, but you can always carve yourself a slice from the outside if you prefer well-done meat. The roast beef is pretty good, even though it's a little tough and usually lukewarm. Skip the accompanying gravy, however - it's very sour.
I also liked the garlic bread - the thick slices were lightly coated with garlic and didn't have any Parmesan cheese, but they were pretty tasty. The french fries were also surprisingly good, perhaps not as crispy as I would prefer them but just as good as what you get in many diners. The onion rings, on the other hand, were too oily and soft. The thin cheese pizza reminded me of frozen pizza but wasn't bad; it did have a little too much tomato sauce for my taste. Mushrooms stuffed with chicken were also tasty as was the imitation crab pasta with cheese.
The quality of the Chinese offerings was a little more varied. We liked the Tropicana chicken and the General Tso chicken, though I'd prefer lighter breading. The Tropicana chicken sometimes is spicier than others. The beef/chicken with broccoli was also good but the chicken with mushrooms which one night was just OK but inedible on a different visit. The BBQ duck was great on my first visit, but too dry on the two subsequent visits. Some chicken sticks were good, but a little fatty and overcooked.
Mike tasted some of the sushi; the unagi (his favorite type of sushi) was OK, better than expected, but tasted too mild, probably a consequence of the spicier food he ate first. He wasn't as thrilled with one of the rolls he got.
On one visit I was very happy with the Mongolian BBQ, which tasted as good as what you can get in a regular restaurant. On a subsequent busy weekend, it was bland.
Michaela particularly enjoyed the melon, watermelon and jello and, of course, the noodles. She was also fond of the sesame balls.
The desserts are probably the worst part of the menu. Several little cakes were available and most of them devoid of flavor. The pudding was dark so I assumed it was chocolate but it was completely insipid. The coconut macaroons available one night were quite good, and the fried doughnuts are pretty simple but great, though during our first visit they weren't cooked all the way through.
Either the ice cream freezer isn't cold enough or the ice cream is so popular that it quickly melts down and while it's not of the best quality, some of it is pretty tasty. Unfortunately flavors are not marked so you have to make an educated guess for the less obvious flavors. They have some fruit toppings, raisins and salted peanuts, but no chocolate fudge or caramel.
New China Buffet is open every day for lunch 11am to 4pm and dinner from 4pm to 10pm. They charge $6.25 per person for lunch and $10 for dinner on weekdays and lunch on weekends and holidays. Children under 3 are free,; above that age they pay $2.50 plus 55 cents per year of life. They serve sodas, lemonade and ice tea for 90 cents extra, unlimited refills. In all, I think it's an incredible deal, especially when you're hungry.
Service on our weekday visits was excellent. We were seated immediately, dirty dishes were constantly removed and our drinks refilled. When we went there on a Saturday, we had to wait outside before a table was available to us, and the waitresses were too busy to pay much attention to us. In all, I'd recommend to go on a weekday.
The restaurant itself is pretty nice if institutional looking. On weekends it can get very crowded. They don't have high chairs but otherwise it's child friendly.
In all, I imagine that unless the quality declines, we'll continue to go to the New China Buffet, especially on those evenings when we can't decide what we want to eat.
New China Buffet
15073 E. 14th Street
San Leandro, CA
M-Su 11 am-10 pm