There’s a buffet restaurant in suburban Falls Church, Virginia, along Virginia Route 7 between Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners.
I featured the building here, in my “What Do You Think You’re Looking At?” series—it was originally a Safeway supermarket, and you can still see the vaulted roof from the air, which was a classic Safeway design element in the 1960s. But for many years it has been a buffet restaurant.
As far back as I can tell it was Hokkaido Seafood Buffet, a just-about-erstwhile chain of Chinese buffets with a much larger sushi bar than usual. (There is, as far as I can tell, a single California location left. And here’s a 2013 review of that old D.C.-area location.)
I tried it once in grad school, back in 2016. It was very average—the sushi was plentiful but had that disconcerting “every variety tastes the same” element—and the place closed not too long after.
Then it became Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet, a typical modern Chinese buffet with a small sushi bar, make-your-own teppanyaki station (you assemble it from raw ingredients, a grill cook makes it for you), and several steam tables of Americanized Chinese food with an occasional genuine Chinese dish (they had a small dim sum selection if I recall.)
I went there once too, and it was pretty good as these places go. Unfortunately the pandemic killed it, and the building sat vacant for awhile. I had assumed that would be the end of the line for a buffet at this location.
Nobody, really, except Golden Corral is actually building new buffet restaurants at this point. So almost all new buffet restaurants are making use of secondhand locations with all the equipment and setup already in place. That means that every time one of these secondhand locations gets remodeled and gutted, there’s one less potential buffet restaurant out there.
But it turns out that did not happen here, though initially it looked like it had. A new place opened up, advertising halal Chinese food. I could see from the early online photos and reviews that the buffet setup had been retained but was not in use. I’ve seen this before occasionally. It will just sit there collecting dust until a major remodel.
But then this new place started offering a daily lunch and dinner buffet—and in addition to Americanized Chinese classics, they also offered Indian and Pakistani dishes. And apparently they also offer a prayer room for observant Muslims.
So I found this very interesting, and I wanted to try the place. First, it’s a neat melding of cultures going on. The immediate area is heavily Latino/Hispanic, and around here most of the customers I see in Chinese buffets are Hispanic. But the halal designation obviously means there’s a Muslim customer base here. It’s the melting pot.
Second, of all the many buffets I’ve tried over the years, I’ve never seen one that offers multiple cuisines like this, beyond sometimes advertising “Chinese, Japanese, Italian, American food,” which means a Chinese buffet with a small sushi bar, and a tray of frozen pizza, French fries, and chicken wings.
I’ve been watching local buffets and reading about their decline in the restaurant industry, and so I was intrigued by a place that bought a secondhand buffet, kept it, and then did something unusual and culturally interesting with it.
But here’s why this is half a review. I didn’t actually eat here. I planned to—I drove 35 minutes in rain and slow traffic late morning this last Saturday. I pulled up to the place and saw that their sign, which had once advertised weekday lunch for $12.99 and a (presumably enhanced) all-day weekend price of $24.99, was now asking $29.99.
Add tax and tip—even at the now-anemic rate of 10 percent for a self-serve place—and you’re beginning to approach the price of Fogo De Chao, or just any really good dinner, buffet or not.
I did that math, and then I hesitantly walked in. I did want to actually write about this! And the place did smell good inside. I noticed that the mural the Hibachi Grill place had painted when they took over from Hokkaido was still there!
Luckily I didn’t have to pay up front or even get seated; the host just told me to sit anywhere. I went straight to the buffet. A considerable number of the trays were just completely empty—not waiting to be refilled, just not in use.
The trays that were being used held a few Indian restaurant staples—tandoori chicken, deep-fried vegetable fritters, a few curries—some deep-fried American and Chinese foods (French fries and spring rolls), and a few starch-heavy Chinese takeout classics; I mostly noticed the fried rice and the lo mein. I furtively snapped these photos.
And then I turned around and walked out. I just couldn’t spend close to $40 for what was likely to be mediocre-to-decent takeout food.
This is where inflation is a problem. These restaurants just aren’t the same value proposition at $20-$30 that they were a few years ago at $10-$15. I hope they make it; if I’m ever already in the area at lunchtime on a weekday, maybe I’ll give it a try.
I realized as I walked out, trying not to make eye contact with the host, that I think I probably find this stuff more interesting in theory than it is in practice. It would be cool if you had a really fantastic buffet fusing immigrant cultures in the middle of an old but evolving suburban landscape. In many cases you do have that kind of thing—the D.C. suburbs are very diverse, and diversifying suburbs are widely considered to have some of the country’s best food.
But not every place has to be an example of that. God knows restaurants come and go. It’s a very tough business. And for most people who aren’t writers, a restaurant isn’t a thing to fashion a story out of; it’s a place to eat good food for a reasonable price. I can still make a story though.
The Last Buffet, Or The First New One?
Buffet Chronicles: Disappearing Sushi
Thank you for reading! Please consider upgrading to a paid subscription to help support this newsletter. You’ll get a weekly subscribers-only post, plus full access to the archive: over 600 posts and growing. And you’ll help ensure more material like this!
Check out free and paid subscription options!
there's been a Hokkaido buffet in Pittsburgh for at least the past decade. New construction building too!
Interesting read! Even tourist places like Orlando and Vegas that traditionally featured buffets seem to be phasing them out. Disney just opened a new Toy Story themed restaurant that’s all you can eat, but is served as large family style plates brought to the table. And it’s not a new trend for them either- they were moving this way before the pandemic at a lot of places.
If you’re interested, there’s some food/menu photos here: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/roundup-rodeo-bbq-restaurant-toy-story-land-photo-tour/