Super King Buffet is a little slice of a bygone era.
5015 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97266
Portland has been changing—a shift in demographics, housing stock and culture. Even though I moved to Portland 20 years ago, I still consider myself a bit of a newcomer in a lot of ways. When I went to Super King Buffet with my friend, his father and his son, I knew that it was the site of the old Organ Grinder Restaurant, but I had never experienced it firsthand (here’s a link for all those interested in 1980s clothing and terrible mustaches—you know, like how most younger Portlanders dress now!).
So, with that, our trip to Super King Buffet was like a trip through the past, where nothing changes and everything stays the same. Twenty years ago, I came out to the suburbs like this to fill up on cheap buffet meals due to my college budget. But here’s the rub. Most buffets verge on frightening. And bland. While there were elements of this here, as a whole we agreed that Super King’s offerings were on par with, if not better than, some of the dim sum we regularly seek out around 82nd Avenue, the mid-town dividing line between “Portlandia” Portland and the working-class Portland suburbs.
As we arrived, we crossed a bridge overlooking koi ponds on either side of us. To the right of the register is an expansive dining room, as one would expect in any Chinese restaurant. We were seated in a room adjoining the main area with the buffets. The staff was all Chinese, but the eaters were from all over the world and included young families, retired couples and people visiting on their lunch break.
There were several buffets of hot and cold foods, varying from Americanized Chinese favorites, like sesame chicken and General Tso’s, to a selection of Jell-O and a salad bar reminiscent of a Wendy’s circa 1986. Fear of certain foods is relative. And in this case, the Americans mostly skipped the American food.
What struck many of us most was that everything was fresh, and there were some very atypical findings. A well-seasoned pork chop was amongst other Chinese-style offerings; a healthy amount of actual seafood was available (steamed salmon; imitation crab dotted several dishes). Three kinds of soup (seafood, hot and sour, egg drop) all stood up to the many soups offered elsewhere. The green beans were crunchy and garlicky. We had fresh, steamed Shanghai-style dumplings, as well as hum bao steamed buns—just like they serve anywhere else in New Chinatown Portland.
The deep-fried buffet featured imitation fried scallop with a butter sauce, fried plantains, pot stickers and sesame balls. And around the corner was a lonely section of mediocre-looking sushi rolls on ice. While we all skipped that (this time), after sampling the vast array of food our initial reservations were completely muted. Though we also skipped most of the desserts and the salad bar, we noted that there really was something for everyone here. For the record, the plantains were good and the imitation scallop definitely got the texture right, but the butter ended up making it salty and strange.
Super King Buffet is a little slice of a bygone era. So, I welcome all you Portlanders who are dismayed at the changing face of our food scene, of our city or of our neighborhoods to traipse out to 82nd and “slum it” with some surprisingly decent Chinese food. It’s about half the price of dim sum served at most other eateries in the area, and it passed our sniff test.