Most of us have an image of what Kung Fu means. Unfortunately, in the States it usually comes from things like the TV show, or Bruce Lee movies, or maybe kids breaking things with their feet and hands. Yes, martial arts is the top response that Americans give when you say Kung Fu. But did you know it’s also integral to Confucius? Yep. Really, it means something like “patient accomplishment” in Chinese. Once a person has mastered a specific skill, that person is said to have Kung Fu.
So: What about the new Kung Fu Buffet in Pflugerville? Have they mastered the (American-) Chinese buffet? I recently had a short lunch window to find out…
Let’s be sure to set the bar properly first. This is a buffet-only eatery, not a fine dining experience like you might expect at the (admittedly Japanese) Uchiko, or even a less upscale place like Suzi’s. It’s a buffet. Fast and cheap are key words here. Of course, you can also look for good too, as I did when I went in. I’d read reviews of their Cedar Park outlet, a mixed bag on the Web. Then again, most buffet places don’t fare very well on the review sites, do they; maybe folks haven’t set their expectations properly? I don’t know.
Still, I’m a sucker for buffet lunch, and if they’re good enough, I’ll even go there for dinner once in a while. The Chinese buffet joints near me, they’re not so enticing anymore; quality’s gone down most everywhere, and a few have closed up shop. Which is one reason I was interested in trying Kung Fu.
They’re in a small strip mall on the north side of Tinseltown Cinema Pflugerville, a building that’s not visible from the Interstate. If you come from the freeway you have a longish drive through the cinema’s parking lot, past Ashley Furniture’s big box store. I wouldn’t have even known that Kung Fu Buffet was there, except that I frequent other eateries right there.
Kung Fu in Pflugerville shares the same austere furnishings and décor as their Cedar Park location: yellow and deep purple walls with no adornment; dark trim; black or dark brown furniture. The furnishings are all sturdy and clean, and in this locale there are plenty of them! I saw at least thirty of the standard four-person booths, and lots of tables seating 4-6 diners. There are three seating areas, one of which is only tables and chairs. I think that room can be blocked off for parties and events, and it seats something like 60 or more folks.
The place wasn’t very full when I was there. Indeed, the one room was completely blocked off. About a third of the other seating areas was occupied. It was fairly quiet, in other words. It could be the economy, of course, but I think they’re simply so new that they haven’t been “found” quite yet.
Kung Fu has a half-dozen large steam tables and a cold desserts area. A broad selection! I’ve been in many Chinese buffet places that offered less than half the choices I saw. One table holds fried items, like egg rolls, and the more American-style items; ones the kids especially seek out. Chicken nuggets, fries, things like that. Not all the fried items were there, but many were.
The soups area featured four, the expected three (egg drop, wonton and hot-and-sour) and a seafood one. I think that fourth soup rotates between different offerings during the week, but I’ll have to go back to check that assumption. I had the hot-and-sour as my appetizer, with a couple of rolls (one egg roll with pork, one fried spring roll) and some crispy chips. Sriracha and hot mustard were readily available for the rolls, as was sweet-and-sour sauce near the breaded chicken bits. I went for the Sriracha this time; it’s one of my favorites. I found the soup to be okay, a bit thick, with plenty of vegetables but an overall bland flavor. Not the zesty I really craved, but okay. The rolls were standard fried-from-frozen items, but properly prepared and hot; not soggy like some become while waiting on steam tables.
As I walked through for my main sampling I saw many interesting dishes you don’t usually find on a lunch buffet, including a handful of seafood dishes: shrimp, grilled fish and more. The beef, pork and chicken offerings were hot and fresh-looking, and there was a good variety, from simple stir-fries to sweet-and-sour chicken. I also noted some vegetarian entrées. Several of the dishes promised spicy goodness, and I tried some of them out. I also went for some standards like Sesame Chicken and dumplings with dipping sauce. I was tempted by the Egg Foo Young, as it looked fresh and tasty; but my plate was already overloaded. Maybe for seconds?
I found everything to be tasty, with distinct differences between the dishes. One knock on many buffet places is that the only way you can tell the difference between the entrées is the name cards; they pretty much look and taste the same. Not so here! Also, I didn’t find any cold or even lukewarm dishes. Nothing looked like it had been on the hot table for a long time either; juicy and crisp were two words that came to mind.
I was a little disappointed in the fried rice, as it didn’t seem to be as well prepared as the other dishes. It wasn’t bad; not gummy or over-seasoned as I’ve seen on other buffet lines. However, it was more moist than I like, and it was quite bland.
Overall, I felt Kung Fu’s food was among the best buffet fare I’ve had in north Austin in a long time. Buffet Palace used to be this good, and in a few small ways is still better; but overall, this was better food, and at a much more palatable price. Not as zesty as I prefer, but there were options to pump up the heat. As always, I understand that most American-Chinese buffets align to the typical diner’s palate, to maximize their appeal across a broad audience. Kung Fu is squarely in the middle of that part of the industry’s business model, I’d say.
In short, it’s a good meal at an attractive price. Lunch buffet is $6.95 (plus drink), with dinner offered at $8.95. Given the selection and food quality, it’s very good value. I’ll certainly be back, and not just because they’re practically in my neighborhood. I’ve been looking for somebody to come into the market in our area with offerings like this. If you’re looking for fast Chinese variety in a clean (though spare) environment, consider Kung Fu Buffet in Pflugerville.
So do they have “Kung Fu” yet? They’re getting there. It’s not a place to make you go “Wow!,” but I enjoyed my meal. I wouldn’t take the lady I intended to propose to there for the Big Event, though I’d certainly consider making it into a dinner-and-a-movie sort of evening, with the cinema so close by…
Enjoy the (Quick Chinese Lunch) Heat!
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