by Kat Robinson
Lunchtime buffets can be hit or miss, so when you find a good one you stick with it. Which is why I have to give kudos to Panda Garden in the new Shackleford Crossing Shopping Center. For a fast, easy lunch that suits a lot of different sorts of tastes, it's pretty darn good.
The restaurant offers a whole lot of choices -- a cold seafood bar, salad bar, dessert bar (complete with pie tower case), a bar that seems to be almost entirely composed of items that come with cheese, and a neat ice cream dispenser where you dial in the flavor you want to add.
All that's nice, but the part that really makes Panda Garden stand out is the sushi bar. That's right -- I said sushi bar. Sushi can be a scary proposition on any buffet -- there's no telling how long each piece or roll has sat out under questionable heat lamps or sneeze guards. But here, no worries. An actual sushi chef is behind the bar, ready and willing to take your suggestions and request. The daily "special roll" can be a bit of an interesting mixture, but there are also choices like Volcano Rolls, California Rolls, and other favorites like Spicy Crab, Philly, and Avocado.
And the price is more than reasonable. Lunch is $6.95 for the buffet (not including tax or drink) -- less than you'll pay for one of the "house rolls" at many of the other sushi joints in town -- and at those places you don't have items like fried wontons or General Tso's chicken to add to your plate.
Friends of ours went the other night for the evening buffet, a bit late. They report that the sushi chef on duty asked their preferences and then brought a couple of loaded sushi platters directly to their table, to make sure they had what they wanted before the joint closed down.
You'll find Panda Garden at Shackleford Crossing south of I-430... they also have a take-out menu, if you're interested. Dial (501) 224-8100. Open at 11 a.m. seven days a week.