A few weeks ago, I was asked to plan a retirement luncheon for a colleague at work. When I asked where she wanted to go, she was adamant that the all you can eat buffet at Panda Garden would be divine. While I had something a bit more formal in mind, far be it for me to deny the last request of a co-worker. Needless to say, having never stepped foot inside Panda Garden, I was sceptical as to what to expect. Save for the Mandarin chain of buffet restaurants, my experience with Chinese and Japanese buffets paints the usual picture of salty, greasy food that’s been sitting out far too long. Add to that decor that would make the 70’s blush as well as steep prices, and you can appreciate my reservations. I am happy to report that the quality of the fare offered by Panda Garden, as well as the atmosphere, exceeded my expectations. To such a degree that I’ve already went back for seconds.
Located at the Kingston Centre, there is ample parking on the doorstep of Panda Garden. Both times I’ve visited, two tour buses have pulled in, but as the restaurant is well laid out, you won’t feel crowded. As soon as you enter, you’ll notice the wonderful glass mural in the lobby and very modern decor. There are 3 separate dining rooms, which helps when bus loads of customers pull in. Of course, as soon as you’re seated, you are free to jump into the buffet, which is equally as spacious, and packed with Chinese, Japanese and Canadian menu items.
Panda Garden’s buffet has all the traditional dishes you’d come to expect. Everything from steamed dumplings and fried rice, to beef chow mein and General Tao’s Chicken. Personally, when I have a hankering for Chinese food, I look no further than fried rice and General Tao’s, while Panda Garden definitely knows how to cook both dishes to my satisfaction. In addition to the fried fare, there is also a great selection of soups, fresh salads, and enough seafood to sink a battleship. On both occasions, fellow diners commented on the outstanding quality of the wonton soup. All hot dishes are kept warm, and everything is regularly re-stocked, so you can get as much of your favourite dish as you want during the meal time rush. It’s also worth pointing out that their menu is free of MSG.
Panda Garden also does Japanese dishes by way of various sushi rolls, although I couldn’t build up the nerve to sample any of them. Otherwise, while I chose another helping of dumplings over dessert, Panda Garden has a pretty decent lineup of cookies, cakes and ice cream as well. As a kid, I recall ice cream was the best part of these types of buffets. In the end, lunch at Panda Garden costs a whopping $10 per person, which is more than fair considering the food quality and selection. We joked that we had to be careful about this new found indulgence, as becoming a regular at an all you can eat buffet could easily have some undesirable effects on the waistline. That said, I think we’ve found a great alternative to ordering take-out from VIP. I”ll definitely be back again soon.
12 thoughts on “Panda Garden”
As a son of a chef and having been a cook for many years, I have a hard time with the quality of this type of buffet.
Cheap, yes .. but sometimes it's not good to have access to virtually unlimited food – especially if it's containing all kinds of bad stuff (preservatives).
Combined with the fact that one time I was there, the dessert "menu" was quite literally the side of the cardboard box that listed its contents.
You're right, most buffets are far from gourmet, and the selection at Panda Garden are mostly far from being healthy, especially after four helpings. However, if you're looking for fast, cheap and Chinese, look no further.
Thanks for the review Harvey! J really hates Chinese Buffet but I am of the opinion that if you know what you are looking for and have appropriate expectations, it can be pretty awesome. I've been to Panda Garden only once but as far as Chinese Buffet goes, it is quite good. I agree that they seem to have enough restocking that all the dishes seemed somewhat fresh. There was quite a bit of variety which was nice too.
I've stopped eating buffet sushi only because I find the rice is difficult to palate. They are often made early in the day and put into large cookie sheets and saran wrapped. Then, as the sushi is eaten, they pull out another cookie sheet to replenish. It makes the rice quite dry and lumpy in my opinion.
I wouldn't come here expecting the 9 course Chinese banquet meal you get at a friends wedding. But when your mouth craves the salty/sweet/crunchy heaven that is General Tao's chicken, there is nothing better!
I prefer the buffet at Bath/Gardiners – forget the name of it but it's in that little plaza where Metro & Shoppers & Tim Hortons & Jumbo is. They don't have as wide a selection as Panda Garden, but the food is delicious and they have some awesome lemon chicken.
Panda Garden is very good though, and we usually do at least 2 family functions a year there.
I've never been there, but I think it's called Lee Garden. All the buffets are gardens, gardens of fried deliciousness.
Ugh. This place has to be among the worst food in Kingston.
Okay, it's not your cup of tea. Care to offer up an alternative for either buffets or Chinese?
If you want very quick Chinese (in this case, Taiwanese) then the relatively new 'Green Tray' near Cyclepath on Princess Street is much better than the buffet places IMHO – they have a selection of pre-cooked stuff as well as a cook-to-order menu, but it's served by staff and not accessible to the public's hands (one of the most likely causes of food poisoning in buffets). And the place is nicely-designed, clean and spacious.
Oh yeah, and the sushi in buffet places? Don't even bother. As someone said above, it is horrible stuff. Sima Sushi remains the only half-decent place for sushi in Kingston, and half-decent is really as good as it gets around here.
Good to hear something about Green Tray.
I've glanced over at it a few times while passing on my way to the Mansion, and never really caught onto what sort of food they served, Beautifully designed place, very open and clean. I am keen to give it a try now, having heard something good about it. Cheers!
Just my two cents regarding Green Tray – I went there last week with my girlfriend for lunch, both of us ordering vegetarian options with noodles. The food tasted amazing (although I wish the tofu was a little less healthy and a little more deep-fried, but c'est la vie). Even though both of us were starving we didn't make it through our respective bowls, and for around $9.50 we considered it pretty good value for money. The only downside is that later that night I had what I can only imagine to be a "mild reaction" to the MSG in it – hahahaha I was bouncing off the walls for hours (and no, I didn't have any caffeine or sugar that day either). I will go back for the same meal, but will probably just need to drink more fluids next time – definitely a must try!
Interesting to hear what you all thought of Green Tray. I went about 6 months ago and thought it was one of the worst meals I'd ever had. I had a veg noodle bowl and some dumplings. The dumplings came steamed even though I'd ordered them fried (btw, they charge more to fry them!) and the noodle bowl was mushy and tasteless. I can make a much better stir fry at home and for way less than $9. I'm not sure I could be convinced to go back.
Well, my wife who is Asian, thought the noodles weren't special, but were certainly okay and better than other comparable places we've tried in Kingston. Perhaps you went on an off-day?
To be honest though, we both agree with you about the better cooking at home thing, but then if we used that standard, I don't think we'd ever bother going out at all!