Bahn Xeo Buffet

Kim Son goes all-you-can-eat in a lavish new location on Bellaire

The weekday dim sum dining room was much smaller than the one used on the weekends. There were only two other tables occupied, which was not a good sign. We ordered some hot tea when we sat down, and then we were given menus -- there aren't any dim sum carts on weekdays, the manager told us. The dim sum menu wasn't very long or very interesting either. (No wonder there were so few customers.)

I asked my brother if he would rather go down the street to Ocean Palace, which had dim sum from carts every day, or try Kim Son's buffet. My brother Dave has sold groceries to a lot of Chinese restaurants in his long career in the business, and he has always avoided eating at the ones with buffets. But since we were already there, he made an exception.

When we told the dim sum dining room manager that we were going to go over to the buffet dining room instead, he freaked out. (Maybe he was on some kind of incentive program?) The waitress had already brought our tea, he pointed out. He told us we could stay at the same table and still eat the buffet. And with that, the waitress and the manager pulled back the giant panels that separated the two dining rooms, revealing the buffet just beyond the doors. It was like some kind of magic act.

The bahn xeo is easily the most popular buffet item.
Troy Fields
The bahn xeo is easily the most popular buffet item.

Location Info


Kim Son Restaurant

2001 Jefferson
Houston, TX 77003

Category: Restaurant > Dim Sum

Region: East End

Kim Son

12750 SW Freeway
Stafford, TX 77477

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Outside Houston

Kim Son

10603 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Outer Loop - SW


Hours:11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays .

Bellaire Lunch buffet: $7.95

Dinner buffet: $12.95

Friday night and weekend buffet: $14.95

10603 Bellaire Blvd., 281-598-1777

Dave's eyes widened as he took in the scene. There was a staggering amount of food on display. But while that was impressive, it was the crowd that caught Dave's attention. "I have never seen a Chinese buffet restaurant with all Asian customers," he said in amazement.

In fact, you need a pretty decent grasp of Vietnamese cuisine to figure out some of the more popular buffet items. I had to show Dave what to do with the big crepes called bahn xeo. The crunchy pancake is fried with pieces of pork and shrimp; you break some off and wrap it in lettuce leaves with fresh herbs and cucumber, then douse it with fish sauce. You also need to know that the minced poultry mixture is eaten inside of the lettuce cups that sit beside it.

Of course, you can always ask your fellow diners -- as I did about the noodles. There was an area next to the bahn xeo where the steam table containers held various meats and vegetables, but I couldn't figure out what they were for. "You mix them with the noodles," somebody told me. What noodles? I wondered. While we were talking, an employee arrived bearing a huge container of hot vermicelli, and the mystery was solved.

The bahn xeo is easily the most popular item on the lunch buffet -- it looked like every table had some. Also popular are the small bowls of soup noodles and soup with dumplings that you order from a special made-to-order counter over to the side. The cook there also makes egg cakes to order -- these are individual omelets with potato chunks. They're bland, but you can doctor them up with the condiments available at the counter. (Watch out for the shrimp paste! It smells like bilge gunk.)

Fried cuttlefish, seafood delight salad with jellyfish, jalapeños stuffed with shrimp paste and snails in brown sauce were some other highlights of the buffet. Stay away from the sushi, which gets crusty and stale after sitting out for hours.

It's a great lunch deal for $7.95, especially if you're really hungry. But while most of the dishes are competently prepared, they aren't hot out of the wok like they would be if you ordered them as individual dishes at a regular restaurant. At dinner time, when the price goes up, it just isn't worth it. There is too much great Vietnamese food in that neighborhood to bother with lukewarm buffets.

I would have guessed the mighty Kim Son would come into Bellaire Chinatown like a fire-breathing dragon with a top-end restaurant that showed everybody else how Vietnamese is done. It's sad to see them imitating the Happy Panda with an all-you-can-eat buffet instead. We can only hope this is not a sign that the Kim Son dynasty has decided to seek their fortune on the culinary low road from now on.

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