10630 NE Eighth St, Bellevue (across from Tower)

Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Sun-Wed 5:30-9pm, Thurs-Sat 5:30-9:30pm

Prices $1 extra on Sat & Sun
Bellevue's The Eating Factory
and its Japanese-style all-you-can-eat format offers so many things most buffets don't. Initially there's the space itself, which is smartly designed and artfully adorned with pretty paint, with comfortable booths and chairs and a light, spacious feel. The combination of subtle kitsch and a concrete floor painted with warehouse-type striping makes one feel welcome in this warm and unique environment. The hosts are friendly and fashionably attired--not to suggest that the more traditional aprons and weird hats worn by King's Table and Royal Fork employees are anything less than enticing. It's just that a lot of buffets are kinda gross, which can lead to a vaguely "dirty" feel upon entry, as if you're doing something wrong.Once you select your table, you proceed to the grub line, grab a plate... and it's goodbye hunger, hello freshness! A pair of miso soups started off the long main buffet table: the first was entirely serviceable, with a hearty broth, little squares of tofu, and flavorful green onions. The second, "spicy," miso soup had little new to offer--it tasted like the regular miso soup with some hot sauce added. For the taste-impaired diner who demands hot spicing across the board, this would be an appropriate choice.

Top-notch tempura vegetables were next--and The Eating Factory does tempura splendidly. A thin, crispy coating of tempura batter hugs broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes, creating a firm and crunchy vegetable ingestion system. Tempura is a tremendous way to interest children and Eastern Washington natives in vegetables, particularly with the light tempura dipping sauce. A sign in front of the tempura alleged the presence of shrimp, and while the Administrative Assistant (AA) claimed to have seen one (I'm not calling her a liar), I did not.

In a display of marketing wisdom, The Eating Factory next lined up big steaming pans of Asian fare aimed at parents and sushi-haters, with Sweet and Sour Pork serving as the "safe food" standard-bearer for this section. We didn't eat any, but this middle-of-the-road Chinese food would allow even the rare white American ethnophobe to breathe easy.

Just down the counter were fried and steamed squid and octopus; we were wary due to the large girth of the pieces. How large had these squids and octopi been? The thought of running into something that big in a dark, chilly ocean caused us moderate concern, but we joined hands, chanted briefly, and let it go. Soon we were glad to have cleansed ourselves of such dark thoughts, because the pieces were juicy and mild, substantial without being tough. Succulent steamed clams sat smartly (if briefly) on our tongues, and were washed back smoothly by Sapporo beer. The Sapporo was a steal at $4.95 for a large bottle; it runs around $6 at other establishments.

Crab legs (served at dinner only) were next, either heated in a ginger sauce or straight up. Both were okay, but we concluded that they were more work than they were worth. The chilled legs were a little skinny, and by the time you worked through the shell, the meat was either mangled or there wasn't any. For the true crabmeat lover, however, this item would be a tremendous bargain. One minor crab-leg-related problem did interrupt our dining pleasure: we had brought along a couple of Stranger interns--with adopted code names, for obvious security reasons. She was code-named D-3, he D-4. To make a long story short, the AA was wrestling with a crab leg, snapped it open, and squirted D-3 with a strong blast of crab juice, right in the mug! Whoops!

Finally we made our way to the fragrant rose of The Eating Factory: sushi and sashimi. I had fretted about the freshness and quality of raw fish in a buffet setting, but my worries were cast aside as I dug into my sushi. All the favorites were there: inagi (eel), hamachi (yellow tail) tuna, and octopus. Each piece featured sturdy rice and a nice little piece of fish, and even some of our non-favorites (roe, California) looked good. Beyond the sushi area was the jewel of the food line, a pretty stack of various sashimi, each piece fresh and tender.

The Eating Factory also has a selection of tempting "salads," including spicy kim chee, a huge bowl of pickled daikon radishes, and what appeared to be cute li'l whole baby octopi with an accompanying hot red sauce. Alongside the salads was a magnificent array of fresh fruits, including sliced ripe mango. The whole shootin' match runs $16.95 for dinner, or $9.95 for lunch (sans crab and sashimi). If you've gone out for sushi recently, you know that's an A-1 bargain.


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