Cafe Society

Avoid congealing mediocrity with these four buffets

I'm almost always disappointed by buffets, and I'm not just talking about those suburban brunch monstrosities, with their questionable produce and meat-carving stations. I've also been let down by most buffets at restaurants with a more exotic, global bent. They seem like such a good idea, a way to experience a vast array of flavors without committing to a whole dish of anything that might be extremely weird and/or disgusting. But somehow, this tempting scenario rarely works out that way. For starters, the restaurants generally feature their less-weird offerings on the buffet line, which is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the blandest way possible. And after they cook up these dishes, the kitchen generally ignores them — which means you encounter chafing dish after chafing dish of congealing mediocrity.

Still, I keep trying local buffets, hoping to find exceptions to that rule — and I've discovered a few in town worth the gut-busting effort. One is the Guadalajara Authentic Mexican Buffet at 11385 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora, where $9.99 buys you all the menudo, beef cheeks and tongue you care to eat. But get there too late at night, after the food has been sitting for a while, and you're going to need a lot of beer to wash down your dinner. By then, just about every dish seems dry and encrusted in sodium.

 Indian buffets should work better than most, thanks to the stew-like nature of the cuisine, but I've found just two in the city that actually do: the limited line at Mt. Everest Restaurant & Bar, where solid versions of tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala sit next to off-menu specials like goat curry; and India's Restaurant, in its new home at 7400 East Hampden Avenue, where the kitchen refreshes dishes frequently and doesn't shy away from heat.

Ethiopian food, which gets better the longer it sits, would also seem suited to the all-you-can-eat line. The lunch buffet at Ras Kassa's Ethiopian Restaurant, at 2111 30th Street in Boulder, offers an efficient way to sample the injera flatbread, lentils and stews made with earthy berbere — but it comes at the expense of both piquancy and the cultural experience of sponging up a shared platter of different delicacies with a group. After you've walked the line here, you'll want to grab a table on a return visit.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk