Note: Part of an occasional series on local A.Y.C.E. restaurants near campus.
There should be a law for buffets to label all their dishes offered.
That was the case when I went to the Inca Gourmet buffet in Lawndale for dinner.
With the exception of a few dishes— most notably, the watermelon and pineapple chunks — nothing was labeled. Even so, who knows if the sticky notes were above the right item, as some appeared to have been blown around by the winds.
Not being an expert on Peruvian food, I had no idea what I was getting, other than what I could tell from experience: rice, fried bananas, chicken, potatoes. A lot of chicken and potato dishes. What’s the difference between them aside from a sauce color? Can’t tell.
This was a first for me, almost flying blind in a restaurant. I’ve been to a number of chaotic buffets where things may be hastily labeled. And I’ve been to exotic restaurants offering Eastern European, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Tibetan and Middle Eastern dishes that had some sort of English description of what the dishes were.
I could tell there were a number of stews offering fish and tripe. I didn’t get a chance to try any lomo saltado, a late discovery I made when I moved a few old sticky notes around, but it looked like there was barely any steak bits in the bin.
It was a noisy joint by the way. CNN in Spanish was on full-blast, and the tables were alive with conversations. Combine the TV, the hectic atmosphere of the place, the wait staff’s poor English and my bad Spanish, there was probably no chance at identifying much of anything. Checking up photos of items and sticky notes on Google and Wikipedia didn’t always pan out. An online menu for take-out orders didn’t help either.
Eating at the Inca Gourmet gave a feeling of being stranded in a foreign country with no idea what you’re doing; just waiting for the pick-up and grabbing whatever the local fare is.
Another thing I noticed was it wasn’t all Peruvian fare. Chinese buffets tend to have the odd habit of throwing a pizza, french fries and other non-Chinese foods onto the buffet trays. I still chuckle at the memory of a Chinese buffet in Riverside County that put Oreos in the dessert section under a heat lamp. But it makes sense when consider small children and the no-frills steak and potatoes crowd.
Inca Gourmet did the same, only putting Chinese fried wontons along with fries — which actually, after reading up, are typical sides for lomo saltado. I think I recognized chow mein in one bin. When I came home to Google through my notes and pictures to identify dishes, I noticed the restaurant boasted “Peruvian-style Chinese food.” Hm. Well, the fried rice I scooped up on a second trip to the buffet was good.
The food wasn’t bad. It was decent for $12 and change for the buffet and a soda. But aside from the enigma of the dishes, nothing really stood out.
Basically it comes down to sentences like this: “The potatoes and chicken in the green sauce was better than the potatoes and chicken in the red sauce.”
Should you eat at the Inca Gourmet? Ask yourself if you want to take a $12 gamble and find out.
Inca Gourmet is located at 15651 Hawthorne Blvd. in Lawndale. Open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.