A Japanese chef, a former Korean restaurant interior, a Vietnamese manager, and a buffet menu combining all three plus Chinese. Sounds unauthentic and one-star fusion? I thought so too, I didn’t plan on blogging about Saigon’s Buffet until I was a third way through my plate. Then I scrambled for the cam to snap a few from my mom’s. Good thing it’s a buffet, can always go back for seconds.
From the far right end we gandered first through the kimchis and namuls, grouped with a bright yellow ripe mango salad mixed with gochujang and something soakingly flavorful similar to either pickled sweet onion or green papaya salad. To its left are sushi rolls and plump chunks of red tuna and orange salmon, and a few stubby octopus tentacles that I really wanted to get but didn’t know where to fit on my heaping pile.
From the far back of L-shape buffet counter are fried rice, chow mein, and lightly mixed rice vermicelli (similar to bún xêu) that goes exceedingly well with the sesame-oil-sweet-smelling, cucumber-free wakame salad. Trays full of shrimps, baked salmon-wrapped pork, and grilled shrimp paste on a lemongrass stalk shine next to the more Vietnamese familiars: bánh xèo, bánh bèo, stuffed tofu in tomato sauce…
Little Mom fell for the all-around-crunchy and coconut-sweet sizzling crepes right away (“better than Kim Son‘s,” said she), while I grew on the chewy leaflets of semi-translucent steamed flour encasing carrots, mushroom, and pork, which looks halfway like a bánh bột lọc and tastes halfway like a bánh giò.
The dessert section lies between the octopus tentacles and the cashier, which is at the corner of the L. Simple, but sufficient for a cool washing-down, are the coconut milk jelly and the fruits, classic silky and Bi’s favorite is the flan, while the wafers dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with sesame seeds hit home in a nutty cheerful crunch. “Take a lot the first time,” obviously it’s not because they “charge for seconds” like the manager jokes, but because you don’t need to sample things here to be safe; everything’s better than expected. Everything’s yummy.
As we waited for the machine to print our receipt, the manager told Little Mom that the chef just brought out bún bò xào (stir-fried beef rice vermicelli), Little Mom said oh Bi likes that, had it come out earlier he woulda stuffed himself with it. And who woulda thought, the manager offered us a free to-go box with bún bò xào! It could just be the opening month (when they charge only $12.99 instead of $15.99 per person) and the beaming summer spirit, but Saigon Buffet surely had us this time. Come back we will.
Address: Saigon Buffet (previously Korean Garden Grille)
11360 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX 77072