We all have our guilty pleasures in life. As a food blogger, my guilty pleasures revolve around meals that most food bloggers would be ashamed to eat.
One of my guilty pleasures is the Jumbo China Buffet along the 5th Street Highway near Fairgrounds Square Mall.
The buffet is the largest buffet of any kind in Berks County with 10 stations to navigate and what looks like enough seating for a few hundred people.
Buffets of any kind are hit or miss. If you go when it’s not busy, you risk food that sits for a while. So unlike a sit-down restaurant where the service should be better during off-peak hours, you want to visit a buffet at its busiest.
I went with a friend of mine on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, and it was definitely busy.
Jumbo Buffet tries to be everything to everyone. In addition to the Asian staples, they offer a wide range of American comfort food. There’s a carving station with fresh-cooked sausage and ham. And plenty of hot bar items including fried chicken, pizza, and fries. I’ve never tried any of these items myself, but I always see people filling their plates with them.
in the back of the buffet area is the hibachi, where you can create your own stir-fry from a selection of seafood, meats, vegetables and lo mein.
I have a system when I go to Jumbo: three trips to the buffet, twice for dinner and once for dessert. And I always end up with similar plates from one trip to the next.
Fried rice and chicken with broccoli are my two staples for the first plate. These are two items that are always done right when I go. The rice is always bright yellow and has just enough vegetables (a few peas and some onions) that I can convince myself that it’s good for me. Same with the chicken and broccoli. While it’s doused in a tasty soy sauce that has no nutritional value, it has white meat and vegetables so it can’t be all bad.
From there, I’ll build out with whatever looks interesting. On this trip, that was a pork dumpling and a little chicken in garlic sauce. The dumplings are always their best when they are first delivered. With no sauce to soak in, they don’t hold as well on the hot bar as other items. But when they’re fresh, they are delicious, especially with a little drizzle of ginger sauce to help them go down.
The chicken in garlic sauce is very much like the chicken and broccoli but with the addition of more vegetables (the occasional carrot or onion) and a stronger taste of garlic. And I can never have enough garlic.
Plate number two begins with the classic General Tso’s chicken. Jumbo’s version is a little hotter than others, but it’s not overbearing. There’s plenty of sweetness to help cut through the heat. And it’s always a popular item so you know it will be fresh every time.
Adding to my second plate, I opted for sweet and sour chicken, a vegetable egg roll and the very non-Chinese dish of fried plantains.
The sweet and sour chicken is always good, but not much different than any others you’ll find throughout the county. It’s the same lightly breaded, fried chicken pieces and the same red sauce. Similarly, the egg roll isn’t much different than anywhere else. Like the dumplings, it’s always better when it’s fresh out of the kitchen.
The plantains don’t fit with the rest of the meal, but I didn’t care. I love plantains and I’ll grab some off any buffet that has them.
After two trips to the hot bar, I venture up for dessert. I tend to connect with my inner child when I go to Jumbo because dessert always includes soft serve ice cream. It’s always vanilla and chocolate mix for me. I also found banana with strawberry syrup on the dessert bar so I added that to my plate. It’s not fancy, but I like bananas and I like strawberry syrup so I went for it.
Dessert includes one last item, the guiltiest of pleasures, the fried donut. The fried piece of dough, rolled in sugar, is something I look forward to on every trip. These treats just melt in your mouth. I always make sure it’s the last thing I taste before I walk out the door.
The great thing about the buffet is that it’s quick and cheap. We were in and out of the restaurant in about a half-hour, spending $15 per person for a hefty meal.
It’s not glamorous or fancy, but Jumbo China Buffet will always be one of my favorites, even if I feel a little guilty about it.