Throughout Middle America, Chinese food is often synonymous with buffets. In many smaller and medium-sized cities, in particular, the Chinese buffet is an especially attractive option for restaurant owners due to lower labor costs and a perceived lack of sophistication about Chinese food, which permits serving simpler, low-cost dishes. This model is particularly effective east of the Mississippi River, where a plentiful supply of restaurant workers and owners originally from Fujian province in China has radiated out from Manhattan's Chinatown. In contrast, in the Los Angeles area, Chinese buffets appear to be a comparative rarity, perhaps due to a higher degree of sophistication about Chinese food relative to other parts of the United States.
In areas like the Westside and the San Fernando Valley, no more than a handful of Chinese buffets are to be found. There is something of a concentration of Chinese buffets in the San Gabriel Valley — and not just for the obvious reason. But probably there are not even a dozen there.
Having said that, the number of Chinese buffet restaurants around Los Angeles is actually quite a bit higher than one might guess, because most Chinese buffets in Los Angeles have Japanese names, and are often described as Japanese buffets. (Indeed, I am aware of only one buffet restaurant in the Los Angeles area with a Japanese name that actually serves predominantly Japanese food.)
One may wonder why most Chinese buffets use Japanese names such as Hokkaido, Sumo, Hibachi, Minato, Kyoto, Kami and Ichiban, instead of something that is obviously Chinese. The most likely explanation is that the primary draw for most of these buffets is the sushi, despite the fact that, aside from an occasional teriyaki or tempura dish, the Japanese food selection stops with the sushi. So the Japanese name really just serves as a reminder that there's sushi inside.
All of which brings us to the recently opened FuJi Buffet and Grill, located in Glendale near the intersection of the Ventura and Glendale freeways. FuJi Buffet took the place late last year of another Chinese buffet, Osaka Seafood Buffet.
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Most local "Chinese" buffets serve a combination of sushi, Americanized Chinese food, rudimentary factory-made dim sum, chicken wings, fruit and desserts. It's what one would expected from FuJi, but a surprise awaits. The dim sum section contains standard dim sum selections such as BBQ pork buns and taro buns, but there are many other items one might not expect to see. Chicken feet? Cantonese dim sum–style spare ribs in black bean sauce? Xiao long bao? Zhong zi (glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves)? Chinese beef balls? Siu mai with fish roe? Who knew?
Over in the soup section, you'll finds Fujian fish balls (filled with ground pork) in broth and fish maw soup. There is a wood ear fungus salad, grilled whole mackerel, salt-and-pepper shrimp and chopped whole yellow croaker, a San Gabriel Valley favorite. Entrees include sweet-and-sour fish fillets, steamed sole fillets, salt-and-pepper squid and clams in black bean sauce and marinated dry bean curd slices, which were all San Gabriel Valley–quality.
Obviously we're talking buffet food here, not gourmet food, but for diners who appreciate an occasional Chinese buffet, FuJi Buffet and Grill might rocket to the top of your list.
300 Harvey Drive, Glendale. (818) 553-1688.