Glutton For Punishment

A Guide to All You Can Eat Dining In Tucson.
By Todd McKay

THERE'S SOMETHING SACRED about combining good food with great value. It is, some would go so far as to say, the American Way. Given the economic choke-hold many of us have endured in recent years, the rise of the All-You-Can-Eat establishment is something we can all celebrate.

Chow A few short years ago, ethnic lunch buffets, Sizzler, and Waffle House were about the only places one could go and stuff oneself sick. Now the gluttonous diner has a wide array of eateries from which to choose.

Let's be candid here. Overeating is not for everybody, and I certainly don't recommend doing anything that facilitates eating disorders. But if you have the metabolism, and frankly, the stamina, to truly eat excessive amounts of food, this guide should be helpful to you. Thankfully, the industry has dropped the overly polite sounding "all you care to eat" for the utilitarian "all you can eat." These people want you to eat all you can, so don't be shy. Slap your money down and get busy! The following listings are in no particular order, and I encourage you to try them all, again and again:

Sweet Tomatoes: The high end of the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) spectrum. This place actually has tasty and well-prepared food, unlike some AYCE establishments. For seven-and-a-half bucks you get free reign over the lovely salad bar and hot food area, which has soups, potatoes, pasta and pizza. Until recently they had a helpful dessert schematic diagram that illustrated how to create a fudge sundae using the brownie muffin and "soft serve." Neither the schematic or brownie muffins have been seen of late, but you can still finish your meal with "soft serve" and toppings. (What exactly is "soft serve?" Apparently it's neither yogurt nor ice cream, but a chemical substance unto itself; it certainly looks appetizing when dumped from the carton into the machine.) Sweet Tomatoes is a bit pricey, but has savory food that doesn't leave one feeling sick afterwards.

Souper Salad: About four dollars lets you eat all the soup and salad you want, great, sugary muffins and best of all, pudding. Yes, you can fill bowls and bowls with pudding, both chocolate and banana. Negatives: They seem to have cut down on staff recently, upon whom you must rely for beverage service. Sandwiches here must be ordered separately, but they aren't all you can eat, so why bother? Though the fare is limited compared to Sweet Tomatoes, Souper Salad has the price advantage.

Sirloin Stockade and Golden Corral: These are grouped together as meat and starch types of AYCE establishments. AYCE salad bar and hot food area, plus separately ordered steaks and other meaty items comprise the basic buffet for about $6. For a bit more, you can order a steak. They usually have some sort of meat substance on the buffet, so save a dollar and stick with the buffet. Sirloin Stockade has a seafood salad that undoubtedly contains "krab" and other faux-seafood items, but it's sleazily tasty. The salad bars in these places are basic, and most of the other items are out of cans. Sirloin Stockade has a great dessert item--hot fudge cake--which is an undercooked brownie-like substance saturated with fudge sauce. It looks disgusting and makes one feel that way later, but tastes great. Golden Corral has slightly better steaks and a more expansive selection of food. These aren't exactly fine dining, and both have a fill-up-the-family ambiance, but they're great when you just want to inhale food.

Hometown Buffet: Similar to the previous two establishments, but here there's no separately ordered meat possibility--it's a strictly buffet affair for around seven bucks. It has the distinct advantage of a customer-accessible all-you-can-drink beverage area with sodas and, most importantly, chocolate milk. The ability to drink a half-gallon of chocolate milk is alone worth the price.

Pancho's Buffet: AYCE Mexican food. Yes! It's not gourmet, but it fills you up, all in a festive atmosphere. Little flags on the table allow you to alert the wait staff to your dining needs. The last time I feasted here, I was served by the happiest person in the whole world. It was somewhat disturbing how much enthusiasm he had for clearing dishes.

Grandy's: Greasy chicken, chicken-fried steak, warm vegetables from cans, many fried things. An older woman in a uniform comes around offering you more biscuits. Grandy's isn't for the faint of stomach or vegetarians, but if you have five bucks and a love of fried items, it's the place.

Furr's Cafeteria: Meat substances, fried things, canned vegetables, and little bowls of salad with too much salad dressing. Though you go through the entire line on your first run, subsequent food has to be requested from a little window behind the buffet. This is problematic, because it's often difficult to remember what delicacies were on the line and leads to requesting things like the "the brown stuff by the fish." Also, the little kiddie buffet in the dining area offers tater tots, but not the main buffet. Sometimes you just have to grab a few.

McDonald's: That's right, the Golden Arches on Grant Road near Alvernon Way at one time had an AYCE night, an AYCE beacon woefully absent from the present offerings. But who knows--given the proper consumer incentive, maybe they'll reconsider. Now, even I was tentative about this undertaking, and I am well trained in these matters. But it had to be done, so I brought my dining buddy Matthew, who also has innards of steel. There's a set menu of items to choose from, and we decided to try to consume the entire list between us. Getting through the six major sandwiches wasn't bad, but trying to eat five desserts was. I'd never had a McLean Deluxe, and I never will again. Suffice it to say you shouldn't try this without proper preparation and the understanding that you won't be particularly active for some time afterwards.

There you have it, a cursory review of some of Tucson's overeating dining destinations. There are many others, including some actually decent ethnic food lunch buffets. If properly timed, dining at one of these establishments can satisfy one's hunger for an entire day. So grab the kids, open your wallet and mouth, and commence to eating. TW

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