In the past few weeks, I have been to a few AYCE (All You Can Eat) sushi buffets in the Greater Toronto Area.
Each and every one of these restaurants had their own menu and style that may have included in one way or another different types of asian food such as Chinese, Korean, or Thai. After checking out each restaurant, I found this to be a great opportunity to compare notes on what I look for versus what I am paying for.
1. Sushi vs. Sashimi
What is the difference between the two? Originated from Japan, sushi consists of a special bite-size portion of cooked vinegared rice topped with a slice of raw seafood, vegetables, or even tropical fruits. Makis and Hand Rolls are types of sushi that have the fish and veggies rolled or wrapped inside a layer of rice or seaweed. Sashimi is commonly thin slices of raw seafood.
At many AYCE sushi buffets, I have seen sushi and sashimi served in different sizes, and girth. Yes, GIRTH. My biggest pet peeve is being served with a huge chunk of sushi rice with a small shave of fish. These sort of restaurants overfeed you with rice so they can save more money by holding back on the fish.
The best bang for your buck will always be the sashimis. I always order makis sparingly because I don’t want to fill myself up with rice.
2. Lunch vs. Dinner
At many AYCE buffets, the price is very different during lunch or dinner.
At an AYCE sushi buffet, the standard is having sushi served for lunch while sashimi is served for dinner, but when the price is $10 more per person and you eat the same number of sashimi as you do with sushi, then you might as well eat sushi for lunch.
Although in some AYCE restaurants, dinner menus may be served during lunch but of course, at a dinner price. Only your wallet and stomach will determine which one to choose.
3. Weekday vs Weekend
This comes down to price. The base price is lowest on weekday lunches (Monday – Thursday) and increases at dinner. Some consider Friday lunch as a weekday but Friday dinners are always at a weekend price. At most places, weekend lunch and dinner will skyrocket to a much higher unexpected price.
Other than serving sashimi for weeknight dinner or on weekends, usually there are no special reasons why they are charging more only that they know families and couples are most available to feast at these times.
Go for the weekday lunch if you can make it. You will get better service, pay less, and it won’t be so crowded.
4. All You Can Eat but not All You Can Drink
Better ask if your soda drink refills are unlimited and/or if it’s included in the AYCE price. Otherwise you might be paying much more than you think.
I usually order some Chinese tea or green tea solely because I gave up soft drinks a long time ago and also they refill hot water for free. Besides, carbonated drinks fill up my stomach and I like to consume more of the food than the drink. Most places provide a small pot with loose tea/tea bag steeping in hot water. They either charge one price for the number of pots or the number of people. So if you have a party of 8 and they all want tea, either you will be charged for 2 pots that can serve 8 people or pay the individual price per person even if you are given 2 pots. At one place my wife and I actually paid for our own separate tea bags in separate cups.
If you don’t need anything special, tap water will always be free.
5. AYCE Sushi plus other foods and fusion
Most sushi places are now mixing up their menus by offering Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
With Chinese, I try to stay away or limit my steamed rice or fried rice. I figured if you’re eating sushi, you are already having good portions of rice. Do try their dim sum (steamed dumplings) as they are slowly making their way into the sushi restaurants.
Most Japanese AYCE buffets mixes in several Korean dishes. If they offer kalbi (small strips of marinated short ribs) give them a try. Koreans know that it can be difficult and expensive to make kalbi so make it worth your while to have some. It’s delicious!
Tom Yum Soup is my go-to Thai dish. I have always enjoyed a little sour taste in my mouth to warm me up for a sushi fest. Any noodle dish such as Pad Thai should be ordered with caution because it usually tastes either very bland or very sour.
6. Types of Sushi and Sashimi
I used to eat a ton of red tuna. As time passed by red tuna became less available and salmon started to be the norm. Now I’m hooked on white tuna (or butterfish). Just thinking about the butterfish melting in my mouth makes me want to go out for sushi right now. Yum!
I have also started to love octopus and surf clam sashimi. They have a slightly rubbery texture to it but the flavor is starting to grow on me.
Some maki rolls make its way onto my plate. I love dynamite rolls (tempura inside), spicy salmon crisp, and Red Dragon with salmon toppings.
Hand rolls are the biggest flop in my book for AYCE buffets. So much rice and veggies are stuffed into the seaweed wrap that you can barely taste any fish at all.
7. Fresh means everything
Once you bite into any sushi, it should not have a fishy taste. Nor should it smell fishy either. Sushi and sashimi is meant for you to enjoy the moment without having any difficulty of forcing it down.
With any fish sushi, not only should it be chilled but it should also be easy to chew. If you find that you are chewing non-stop, then it is far from being fresh.
8. Price can make it or break it
How much are you willing to pay for an AYCE lunch or dinner buffet?
For lunch, I am willing to go between $15 – $20 and that’s if they are offering sashimi for lunch on the higher end of the price range. I find that even with higher prices, the quality is still the same.
Some restaurants will give you a 5% discount if you pay the bill cash. It doesn’t hurt to ask your server before you order if a discount is available.
9. Old style/New style menu ordering
Pen and paper menu ordering is slowly being phased out. Most of these places don’t have a picture what each dish looks like. Unless you have eaten at this sort of place several times and ordered everything on their menu, then you really wouldn’t know what to expect. Also, it is so hard to get your server’s attention if they don’t check up on you from time to time.
iPads now made their way into AYCE sushi buffets. Order the quantities of dishes by tapping away at the pictures on their slide bar menus. Food should arrive within 5 minutes as this system is supposed to increase efficiency. If they don’t serve your food within a good amount of time then either the restaurant is busy or the iPad is broken.
Most AYCE have credit card machines with preset amounts on how much tip to add onto the bill. I will tip depending if I have to go up to get my own food or if they will deliver it to me. Factor in if they bring my food quickly, take away my empty plates before I return from the tables. I always consider if I am treated like a paying customer.
Most importantly, the food has to meet my expectations.
So I hope my list helps all of you decide on what you will look for at any AYCE sushi buffet.
If you love sushi as much as I do, it is always satisfying to walk out of a sushi restaurant smiling saying that I ate well and having that ‘Life is Good’ feeling. If you can say that, then you definitely achieved the most value out of your sushi meal.
Thanks for reading my blog!