If I have an Achilles heel when it comes to dining out, it is a persistent inability to make up my mind about the entrée. Who can ever pick just one? Wouldn’t that seafood linguine be pleasantly enhanced with just a morsel of roasted quail? Isn’t the fun of eating Chinese food in passing the plates around so everyone gets to try everything? Happily for my hardwired grazing gene, there is a contingent of restaurants in the Bay Area that cater to my need to nosh, with fixed-price all-you-can eat buffets. These aren’t Vegas-style troughs either the quality of the food in no way suffers from the fact that there’s a lot of it. And the cuisine spans the globe, from South America to the Middle East. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Rule number one for dining at Espetus: leave your vegetarian friends at home. It’s not that the restaurant doesn’t have any meatless options there’s a whole steam tablesalad bar area where you can load up on black beans and fresh fruit but the sight of a king-size rack of ribs circling the room on a silver platter can put even the most tolerant veg-heads off their feed. However, for the eager omnivore, this Brazilian churrascaria offers more than a dozen meaty delights straight from the grill, served by wandering waiters who carve slices off skewers of salt-rubbed sirloin and Parmesan-dusted pork loin until you indicate your state of satiety by turning a tabletop dial from green to red. Even this ploy might not save you the last time I was there and we went to red, the headwaiter marched over, turned the dial back to green, and forced us to try his filet mignon. Bless him, it was superb.
1686 Market, SF. (415) 552-8792, www.espetus.com
Back when I worked in North Beach, I walked past Helmand every day and tried to imagine what Afghan cuisine might entail. Content with stuffing myself with 50-cent dim sum and Cafe Trieste instead, I never ventured inside until I discovered the well-stocked, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $9.95. I can now report back with certainty Afghan cuisine means yogurt-based sauces, lots of lamb, and even a mouthwateringly delicious okra-and-tomato stew (bendi). The baked pumpkin in sugar (kaddo) is universally praised, and the leek-filled ravioli (aushak) are morsels of delectable pungency.
430 Broadway, SF. (415) 362-0641, www.helmandrestaurantsanfrancisco.com
Todai might be the best reason to take BART to Daly City. Located a hop, skip, and jump away from the station, this Olympic-size smorgasbord of Japanese food makes Sushi Boat look like the kiddie pool. At Todai you’ll find sushi aplenty (including roll-your-own), plus an array of salads, shabu shabu, calamari, unagi skewers (yum!), grilled meats, gyoza, udon, teriyaki, tempura, crab legs, and even bite-size cream puffs and green teaflavored cheesecake chunks. The high school cafeteria atmosphere is on the cheerless side, but the inexpensive carafes of hot sake do help to alleviate any lingering flashbacks of social unease.
1901 Junipero Serra Blvd., Daly City. (650) 997-0882, www.todai.com
GOAT HILL PIZZA
Like most people who have grown up accustomed to a regional variety of pizza, I admit to pizza crust favoritism in my case, a preference for thick and bready, Rocky Mountainstyle. Goat Hill somehow manages to trump my predilection with a specialty of its own, the sourdough crust. Not only does it adequately sop up all that extraneous cheese grease, but it also complements all kinds of toppings, from the familiar (pepperoni) to the esoteric (linguica). Best of all, every Monday night at the Potrero Hill location and daily at the Howard Street address, it’s all-you-can-eat, plus salad.
300 Connecticut, SF. (415) 641-1440; 525 Howard, SF. (415) 357-1440. www.goathill.com
STAR OF INDIA
Though my love of Indian food is generally all-encompassing enough to overlook some of the more common blunders cheap Indian restaurants are prone to (too much grease, not enough spice), it’s nice to be able to sidestep caution and go straight for the gustatory gusto. The daily buffet at Star of India is blessedly low on the grease index, and at $8.95 for unlimited trips to the steam table, I can overlook the spice issue. The vindaloo is fiery enough, the sag paneer delightfully smooth, and the assorted pickled veggies a great little garnish. Chai tea and a dessert option are included.
2127 Polk, SF. (415) 292-6699, www.starofindiaonpolk.com
Vegetarians, rejoice! Club Waziema’s got the $9 all-you-can-eat platter especially for you. Boasting the most incongruous decor of any Ethiopian restaurant in town, the restaurant has a bordello-chic look complete with crushed velvet wallpaper that only highlights the pleasure of plowing your fingers into spongy blankets of piping hot injera and stuffing them full of collard greens, spicy lentils, and vegetable stew. Sip a glass of delicate honey wine with dinner, or wait until afterward and start in on the G-and-T’s from the full-service bar.
543 Divisadero, SF. (415) 346-6641, www.clubwaziema.com *