The Chinese buffet looms large in certain circles. Bodybuilders blog about how to load up on protein, with articles like “A guide to getting huge on the cheap.” For obesity researchers, the Chinese buffet is the mecca of behavior analysis, where they discover obese customers are more likely to sit facing the food and less likely to use chopsticks than are normal-weight diners. And for the rest of us? We tend to fall into two camps: the squeamish and the ravenous. Those who wouldn't eat sushi from a buffet line if Nobu Matsuhisa himself inspected it first, and those who throw elbows to be the first to grab from a replenished tray of yellowtail.
Osaka Seafood Buffet is Glendale's newest hot spot for bodybuilders and obesity researchers, and yes, for the rest of us too. It's housed in the spot that used to be the Rusty Pelican, and more recently, and briefly, Minx nightclub, snuggled into the intersection of the 2 and the 134 and next to In-N-Out. The exterior is rock walls and sailcloth shades, and the interior a jumble of wood planking and marble. Long table after table now cover the recessed area where the Minx crowd used to dance, and serving stations snake where the thirsty once perched on their bar stools.
Osaka, that's Japanese, you're thinking. Yes, but the food is a mixture of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American and more. Think French fries plated next to kimchi and you've got the idea.
The food's also a hit-and-miss proposition. Some items (short ribs) are good enough to fill your plate with, while others (spicy calamari) you might strongly consider depositing discreetly in your napkin.
Let's start with the short ribs. They're the best thing in the place, with tender, flavorful meat, just slightly sweet. But the chicken one tray over is a bit too salty. Keep going and you'll run into the Mongolian barbecue station, with an overworked cook trying to keep up, now cooking for one mountain of a man who's loaded noodles and a few vegetables on one plate and a pile of beef onto another, pretty much depleting the paper-thin curls of beef on one stainless tray. Mongolian barbecue, while tasty, is as much of a people-watching experience as it is a culinary one.
Around the corner is the sushi and sashimi with fresh-tasting salmon, a serviceable tuna roll, hard slabs of yellowtail, a watery tuna salad and other sushi, and a perfectly done seaweed salad. The kitchen couldn't keep up with the sushi demand, so about a quarter of the trays remain nearly empty.
In the small dim sum section, all I could find were the ubiquitous gelatinous pork dumplings and sesame balls. If you want dim sum, make the drive to Chinatown and hit Empress Pavilion. But the baked oysters were fine and the baked salmon was particularly good, splashed with a bit of soy sauce. The garlic shrimp and coconut shrimp both seemed a bit tough, but other diners kept asking for more trays of the garlic version. The basil clams were tender but too salty, the spicy calamari tough and swimming in a spicy cocktail sauce.
The fried food section ranged from bananas to potatoes, with crispy egg rolls surprisingly lacking in grease and tasty tempura that seemed, however, to only include sweet potato slices. In the Chinese section, the string beans were flavorful yet oily; the savory, garlicky sauteed spinach was a better bet.
The orange chicken tasted like every other orange chicken you've ever tasted: a fried, gooey bomb of salt, sugar, fat, and a miniscule bit of chicken. Which is not to say it wasn't good. How can you go wrong with salt, sugar and fat? The pepper beef was tender and flavorful and the slightly bland broccoli chicken's brought back fond memories of takeout comfort food. The chow mein consisted mostly of soft noodles and soy sauce.
So, at $10.99 for a weekday lunch and more for dinner, is Osaka worth it? If you can eat $20 worth of short ribs, salmon and sauteed spinach, absolutely. Osaka is not the place to come if you're looking for a subtle blending of flavors or small plates bursting with originality. This is a place to chow if you're a starving student wanting to pack in a day's worth of calories in one midday meal. Or if you have to feed a carload of football players. Or if you happen to be a bodybuilder or obesity researcher.
REBECCA BRYANT has written for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other publications.
What: Osaka Seafood Buffet
Where: 300 Harvey Drive, Glendale
Contact: (818) 551-9288
When: Lunch buffet $10.99, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; dinner buffet $17.99, Monday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; dinner buffet $18.99, Friday, 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.