Inside Yummy Buffet on Gilman Street
The sign on the side of the building still reads "All-You- Can-Eat-Buffet $5." However the cost of the all-you-can-eat line at Yummy Buffet on West Gilman Street, just off State, has risen recently to $6, or $6.33 with tax (with another 75 cents if you wish for a fountain beverage to accompany your plates of food). Buffet-to-go is $3/lb.
Even with the price hike (and a fire on Friday the Thirteenth a couple weeks ago), this is undeniably one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, way to fill your tum downtown.
Do you want to, though? The answer to that question will have quite a lot to do with a) how hungry you are and b) how little money you have to spend.
Yummy Buffet has a "food line of the damned" air about it, with most diners being men, ranging from college age to older (auras of divorced-and-regretting-it surround these poor souls), eating alone. One table of college students, a multi-culti group of males and females, seemed to be enjoying themselves -- other than that table, though, the mood in the room was morose.
So, bring a friend. And choose wisely from the buffet items. My advice is: head for items that have been most recently restocked, whatever they might be. A thin-noodled lo mein, for instance, looked like it would have been good if it were fresh, but the pan languished there with the dregs of the dish for a half-hour.
Start with a soup, egg drop or hot and sour. The egg drop was a little bland; the hot and sour was rich and full of tofu, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, but it was not very hot in terms of spice -- and not at all sour.
Other appetizers included a fried wonton/crab Rangoon (cold, although not intentionally),egg rolls, chicken teriyaki and spare ribs. The best of the apps were the steamed dumplings (again, these were the freshest out of the kitchen), with a tangy vinegary gyoza sauce. If I had it to do over again (buffets are always easier to attack in hindsight), I'd fill up on these small, tender, pork-filled dumplings.
The best entree to my taste was the pepper chicken, which was heavily black peppered -- that provided a familiar flavor but an unfamiliar oomph, and was the one chicken dish where the chicken itself hadn't been overcooked to chewiness.
The candied meat from the General Tso's Chicken was sweet, gummy and otherwise tasteless, and the stir-fried chicken in the MaLa Chicken was just as rubbery, although masked with hot pepper flakes. I'd borrow the excellent large mushrooms from the MaLa chicken; take the broccoli from the chicken and broccoli; and add the stir-fried garlic green beans to the pepper chicken and call it an entree.
If you want more chicken, try the breaded chicken chunks which are supposed to be the base for the sweet-and-sour chicken -- they weren't overcooked and had the most "chicken" flavor. The tofu cubes were doused in an odd sweet sauce.
I avoided the sushi, which looked like toy food, and also skipped a number of odd other American touches on the buffet -- garlic bread, sponge cake, Jell-o, canned fruit and hard-boiled eggs. Ultimately, if you want to eat a lot for very little money, you shouldn't have trouble filling up your plate with food that's tasty enough, if you pick and choose with care.
A lot of people see Chinese buffets like this one as a license to eat, and if you're serious about sampling a lot of dishes, enjoying your food and getting your money's worth, there are better Chinese buffets out there (Yes Buffet comes to mind). Shelling out an extra couple of bucks for the privilege wouldn't be a bad idea.