SoCo’s Chinese buffets

To celebrate the Year of the Boar, BiteClub made a, uh, pig of itself at several of SoCo’s most impressive all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. Let’s just say it’s no easy task to face down 100-plus items at a single sitting. Especially when some of those steam trays had us worried for our gastronomic lives. But for you, it was worth it.

After tossing back a few Tums, we name the top spots to get some serious grub on. As well as where you might want to, well, reconsider if you’re really THAT hungry.

Best Bet: Gourmet Garden Buffet
A rare gem, this Petaluma newcomer is some seriously good eats, and word is already out among the buffet-set. Eager eaters at both lunch and dinner can be cause for some serious traffic jams among the steam tables. But the wait is worth it.

What endears Gourmet Garden most is the minimal amount of filler–you know, tapioca, carrot salad, Jell-O and French Fries–that beef up other buffets. Oh sure, you’ll find most of this stuff, but it doesn’t dominate. Instead, Gourmet Garden has trays of fresh seafood (salmon, Tilapia, shrimp and crab), and a genuine sushi bar where fresh rolls–including high-end ‘Rainbow’ and unagi–are made frequently.

Other extremely edible entrees include orange chicken (waaaaaay better than Panda Express) beef noodles, pepper chicken and pineapple chicken. There are plenty of nods to American tastes with trays of fried calamari (steer clear), pizza, macaroni and won tons. Plus, a decent salad bar with both lettuce (shocking!) and cold seafood and salad dishes (along with a not-to-bad Kimchee). For dessert (where Chinese buffets eternally fall short), there is of course, three kinds of Jell-O, along with cakes, warm apple crisp and ice cream. 100 S. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707.778.3899. Open for lunch and dinner, plus take-out.

Top Contender: Fou Zhou II
A Press Democrat lunchtime favorite, this spot has recently undergone a serious facelift. Boasting some 150 items, it’s the most expansive we’ve found, verging on a bit dizzying in its selections. There are plenty of solid choices–and favorites include garlic green beans, Chinese-style Angel Hair pasta and a creamy, sweet chicken in white sauce (kind of like Walnut Chicken without the walnuts). Steer far away from the sushi, which is among the nastiest bit of food I’ve ever put in my mouth. Fried food fans will find an embarrassment of riches here, and there are a number of interesting desserts, including sesame cookies, among the Jell-O and tapioca. Overall, a solid choice for serious eaters and hungry media-types in need of a quick nosh. 450 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, 707.523.7000

Kid’s Choice: JK’s Four Seasons Buffet
With just about 50 or so selections, JK’s in Rohnert Park doesn’t have nearly the selection of the top two contenders, or the quality. BiteClub, to put a fine point on it, would be loathe to put just about anything here on its plate or in its mouth again. However, the all-you-can-eat thrill of non-stop Jell-O, canned peaches and Won Tons got our kid’s thumbs up. If you go, the cream cheese Won Tons and Vietnamese spring rolls are your only salvation. 595 Rohnert Park Expy W, Rohnert Park, 707.588.8629

Other buffets
King Buffet, 2131 County Center Dr., Santa Rosa, 707. 576.8388
Kwei Bin, 613 E Washington St., Petaluma, 707.778.6939
Panda Palace, 1202 W Steele Ln, Santa Rosa, 707.535.0404