If I have an Achilles heel when it comes to dining out, it is a persistent inability to make up my mind about the entrée. Who can ever pick just one? Wouldn't that seafood linguine be pleasantly enhanced with just a morsel of roasted quail? Isn't the fun of eating Chinese food in passing the plates around so everyone gets to try everything? Happily for my hardwired grazing gene, there is a contingent of restaurants in the Bay Area that cater to my need to nosh, with fixed-price all-you-can eat buffets. These aren't Vegas-style troughs either the quality of the food in no way suffers from the fact that there's a lot of it. And the cuisine spans the globe, from South America to the Middle East. (Nicole Gluckstern)
Rule number one for dining at Espetus: leave your vegetarian friends at home. It's not that the restaurant doesn't have any meatless options there's a whole steam tablesalad bar area where you can load up on black beans and fresh fruit but the sight of a king-size rack of ribs circling the room on a silver platter can put even the most tolerant veg-heads off their feed. However, for the eager omnivore, this Brazilian churrascaria offers more than a dozen meaty delights straight from the grill, served by wandering waiters who carve slices off skewers of salt-rubbed sirloin and Parmesan-dusted pork loin until you indicate your state of satiety by turning a tabletop dial from green to red. Even this ploy might not save you the last time I was there and we went to red, the headwaiter marched over, turned the dial back to green, and forced us to try his filet mignon. Bless him, it was superb.
1686 Market, SF. (415) 552-8792, www.espetus.com
Back when I worked in North Beach, I walked past Helmand every day and tried to imagine what Afghan cuisine might entail. Content with stuffing myself with 50-cent dim sum and Cafe Trieste instead, I never ventured inside until I discovered the well-stocked, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $9.95. I can now report back with certainty Afghan cuisine means yogurt-based sauces, lots of lamb, and even a mouthwateringly delicious okra-and-tomato stew (bendi). The baked pumpkin in sugar (kaddo) is universally praised, and the leek-filled ravioli (aushak) are morsels of delectable pungency.
430 Broadway, SF. (415) 362-0641, www.helmandrestaurantsanfrancisco.com
Todai might be the best reason to take BART to Daly City. Located a hop, skip, and jump away from the station, this Olympic-size smorgasbord of Japanese food makes Sushi Boat look like the kiddie pool. At Todai you'll find sushi aplenty (including roll-your-own), plus an array of salads, shabu shabu, calamari, unagi skewers (yum!), grilled meats, gyoza, udon, teriyaki, tempura, crab legs, and even bite-size cream puffs and green teaflavored cheesecake chunks. The high school cafeteria atmosphere is on the cheerless side, but the inexpensive carafes of hot sake do help to alleviate any lingering flashbacks of social unease.
1901 Junipero Serra Blvd., Daly City. (650) 997-0882, www.todai.com
GOAT HILL PIZZA
Like most people who have grown up accustomed to a regional variety of pizza, I admit to pizza crust favoritism in my case, a preference for thick and bready, Rocky Mountainstyle. Goat Hill somehow manages to trump my predilection with a specialty of its own, the sourdough crust. Not only does it adequately sop up all that extraneous cheese grease, but it also complements all kinds of toppings, from the familiar (pepperoni) to the esoteric (linguica).