Evelyn Fang

It’s 5:03 p.m. Robert is starving because he hasn’t eaten since breakfast. Robert hasn’t eaten since breakfast because he has made plans to go to the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) restaurant tonight, and, since he’s a college student on a budget, he needs to make the most out of the $12 he’s about to spend there.

Perhaps you have once found yourself in Robert’s situation. If you have, you likely know the suffering Robert went through as he starved his way to dinner time. And, if you know what kind of suffering that is, you’ve probably also hoped that the all-you-can-eat place you were about to try is good.

With that being said, your next choice of place to eat copious quantities of food for a set price may be assisted by the following reviews of what may or may not be the top four AYCE restaurants in the Santa Barbara area.

Empress Palace – $19.99 for lunch

Serving a combination of both Japanese and Chinese cuisine, Empress Palace carries this unique combination of food to its AYCE menu. Monday through Saturday, customers can order a large variety of dishes ranging from edamame, egg rolls, nigiri, sushi rolls, and orange chicken.

The miso soup and egg rolls I ordered was pretty standard, served to us by very polite waitstaff. The standout of our experience, however, was the nigiri — or rather, the warm rice that was in the nigiri (for those of you who don’t know, nigiri is usually cold). This definitely docks points off of the restaurant’s Japanese cooking. However, if you do enjoy Chinese food and don’t mind eating Japanese cuisine at a questionable temperature, Empress Palace might still be the place for you.

Kimchi Korean BBQ – $16-30, depending on meat selection

For AYCE Korean BBQ lovers, the sorrow that came with knowing that the nearest KBBQ place is over half an hour away is now gone. As is common with many Korean BBQ restaurants, Kimchi Korean BBQ’s AYCE menu is a litany of variations of meat including beef, chicken, and seafood, along with a few sides like steamed egg and spicy tofu soup. Like many traditional KBBQ places, customers sit at a table with a built-in grill, with Korean sides like kimchi and glass noodles surrounding, and cook the raw meat themselves.

While there is a two-hour time limit on your dining experience, this is more than enough time to get stuffed with yummy marinated meats. If you’re craving Korean BBQ, Kimchi Korean BBQ is definitely a solid place to go to in Santa Barbara.

Tamira – $9.95 for lunch

Located on State Street, one of the busier parts of Downtown Santa Barbara, Tamira offers a clean and classy style of interior along with a lunch buffet. Customers can enjoy salad along with an array of Indian foods — I would especially recommend their masala, chicken curry, and veggie biryani. The food here contains spices which give their dishes a flavorful kick, and the all-you-can-eat deal also comes with a basket of complimentary naan. With the addition of readily available and polite waitstaff, Tamira is definitely a place to consider going for an excellent Indian dining experience.

The Brewhouse – $16.95 for brunch, $25.95 with bottomless mimosas (21+)

Offering different all-you-can-eat options throughout the week, The Brewhouse is sure to have at least one AYCE night that appeals to you. I opted to try out their weekend buffet brunch. With glass windows throughout the interior of the restaurant, patrons inside the restaurant can enjoy their first meal of the day with natural sunlight (though if you’re especially fond of the sun, they also have an outdoor patio). Their buffet offers traditional American breakfast food items like fresh fruit, sausage, and toast. There are also very friendly standby chefs who will make you tasty omelets, waffles, and eggs benedicts. Overall, I’d say it was an authentic American brunch experience.