Eating at one Chinese buffet is like dining at any other, right? Wrong. If you step inside the King Palace Café on Dowlen and stay for a few moments, you will come to know it is not your average Chinese buffet. In fact, the sign at the entrance says that it is Chinese and Japanese food, but with a touch of Western influence.
Guests can order from the menu and be seated in one of the newly designed dining rooms for quiet and privacy, or you can plunge in and go for the buffet where more than 120 items await your preferences every day of the week. That’s right, you may eat seven days a week, 365 days each year, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and some customers do just that. The dining rooms offer wonderful accommodations for birthdays and other gatherings, as well as good friends getting together for a good meal. Each room has a scenic wide screen moving photograph, comfortable tables and offers privacy for your group. You do need to call ahead to reserve one of the two dining rooms. And remember, you may order from the menu or visit the buffet.
One gentleman told me that he does come in about five times a week, but always varies his choices to give him different food on the visits he looks forward to at his favorite restaurant. Some days he chooses fresh Gulf seafood from shrimp to oysters in season, and the tempting fried fish. Other visits include the famous sweet and sour chicken recipes that are mouth-wateringly good or the pepper steak that is fast becoming one of his more popular picks. He also has tried the sushi, although that took a bit of getting used to for this tough Southeast Texas cowboy.
Other guests come in strictly for the wide variety of freshly made sushi. The Bento Box has its own claim to fame and consists of a four-piece sushi roll, green salad, steamed rice and your favorite entrée. These boxes are packaged attractively and can be eaten in or taken home to share with family and friends. One can choose from vegetable bento, California bento, chicken tempura, chicken teriyaki, tempura combo, beef teriyaki, salmon teriyaki or shrimp teriyaki. The Alaska roll features salmon on top of avocado and crabmeat while the shrimp tempura roll has shrimp, crabmeat, avocado, and cucumber.
A special discount is in effect. When five Japanese bento and sushi boxes are ordered, the sixth is absolutely free, whether you eat in or take out to share. Discuss your options with any member of the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
The regular menu includes 10 different vegetables, three egg foo young dishes, five lo mein or fried rice choices, 17 versions of chicken, 13 entrees of beef, five pork choices, 13 variations of seafood, as well as five portions of fish not counted in the seafood. This doesn’t include the beautiful assortment of fruits, salad makings, and desserts. The only trouble most have is deciding where to start and how to end.
Benton Wong is the manager of King Palace Café and comes from more than a decade of business experience in the hotel and hospitality industry in Hong Kong. “You know, Hong Kong is often misunderstood,” Wong explained to me. “Most don’t know that it really isn’t China and it isn’t Japan. We are our own people.” He further explained with many busy hand gestures that he wanted every customer who visits King Palace Café to know that this restaurant is different in the fact that customer service is very important to them. “I want every person who greets or serves any customer to be on their best behavior, show a friendly smile, and be eager to help that guest find what he needs to enjoy himself here,” Wong said. “I think it is all about serving good food in a spotlessly clean atmosphere with a smile and genuine customer service.”
Wong’s philosophy seems to be working well. In the two visits I made to the restaurant in writing this article, I found the tables packed at lunch time, and folks chatting with their servers, going back to the buffet for more, and all reporting a good meal and lots of choices. Speaking to a table of four shipping employees, I asked why they chose King Palace. One big, burly guy said, “I like the food. It’s always good. I’ve been eating here two times a week for a while and it has never not been good.” Summing up his remarks, he said with a big smile, “In fact, I think this is the best Chinese-Japanese restaurant in the area.” Another of the group said that he liked the variety, saying, “We can all find something we like, and most of the time, we all try something different.”
Wong is a hands on manager and checks constantly on the buffet bar, making sure each area is spotlessly clean and full of fresh, hot food, or chilled salad as needed. He is quick, and moves about the large restaurant as a general would marshal his troops for battle. I saw him point to a table, and could not understand one word he said, but the server apparently did. He wanted everything taken off the table and the entire surface cleaned again. He had seen something that he did not like. He straightened the condiments on the table before he walked away to check on something else.
Wong is there almost every day, but will occasionally take one day away from the business leaving it in the hands of some of his now 30 employees. Before he was spending so much time at the restaurant, he served as a radio disc jockey and a director of dramas. It is evident that he takes pride in this restaurant and wants everyone on his team to do so, too. He said as of May 1, the entirely new management philosophy would be in place and everything will be done to the American standard we have come to expect in this country.
King Palace has recently added a small gift shop to the lobby area and Wong pointed out some lovely gifts that would be perfect for Mother’s Day or any other occasion. “Our guests can not only come in and eat a good meal. They can let mother pick out something she’d like.” They do expect the restaurant to be busy on Mother’s Day, but they are prepared and are eager to show off the best Chinese-Japanese buffet in Beaumont.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.