“Where can I eat human flesh?” It wasn’t a serious question, of course. We, like so many other iPhone 4S owners, were simply testing the limits of Siri’s personality and humor. However, when Lunch Box Buffet, a restaurant I’ve walked past so many times on my way to Eldridge for dollar dumplings, showed up, we couldn’t ignore it. We just had to know. If there was edible human to be found, we would find it.
Nestled on Grand street between Bowery and Chrystie, Lunch Box Buffet’s manifesto is simple – impossible amounts of food for only $4.00, anytime (note: there’s a caveat there; we’ll address in a moment). They serve just about everything under the sun (if Siri’s correct, literally everything) fresh, hot, fast, and ready to eat. In short, it’s everything we hope to find in our Sunday in Chinatown expeditions.
Your experience at Lunch Box Buffet is, for the most part – very straightforward. When you walk into the restaurant, you’ll be directed immediately to the cash register, where you’ll pay for your tray and 5-section plate. As mentioned earlier – there is a caveat in the $4.00 price tag that’s permanently ingrained on the restaurant’s sign – it’s not actually $4.00. It’s $4.50 now, so don’t forget your quarters. And, if you’re planning to launch a restaurant in New York, don’t tattoo your prices on your actual building… they’re like to change eventually.
A woman will give you a tour of the buffet – a seemingly endless expanse of steaming metal trays stuffed with every Chinese dish you could ever imagine. You’ll start with the base – styrofoam compartment #1. Pick between several varieties of rice, noodles, or simple vegetables. After that, the easy part has ended. What you’re left with are 4 empty compartments, and 50-75 options with which to fill them.
My biggest piece of advice for this portion of the meal is to stymie the urge to ask what everything you see is. There’s not enough time in the day for that. Pick what looks good – there are limitless options for every kind of palate – tons of tofu, seafood, and vegetable options, and of course, more meat than you could ever ask for… so many different kinds, in fact, that you cannot often tell what kind of meat you’re looking at (which likely led to Siri’s unsettling recommendation).
In essence, pick what looks good. I ended up with what you see below – a large bed of deliciously chewy noodles, a curried chicken dish, a sweet and sour chicken dish, a tofu dish, and another dish that I was wholly unable to identify – but trust me, it’s all amazing. Grab a table (you’ll likely be sitting with strangers) and a coke, and enjoy the fruits of your $5 bill.
I can’t say I definitely sampled my species at Lunch Box Buffet this afternoon. However, I also can’t say that I didn’t. People who eat people, they say, are the hungriest people. If I did join the modest sect of our population pursues cannibalism as a means of nourishment, I can honestly say I enjoyed it… thoroughly. I can also say with confidence that I’ll be back, and soon. There are scores of other dishes to try, and endless styrofoam compartments to fill. I owe it all to you, Siri… you strange, strange robotic woman.