The choices seem endless at Hokkaido Buffet and Grill in Swansea.
Customers can pick their own ingredients for a Japanese hibachi stir-fry, try Cantonese or Hunan-style Chinese dishes, visit the sushi bar or go for cooked seafood, including jumbo peel-and-eat shrimp.
The buffet also offers fried chicken, pizza and other American favorites, as well as chocolate-chip cookies, Rice Krispie treats and homemade cheesecake.
"Some people don't like Chinese, Japanese, and we want the whole family to come," said manager Ki Yim, 37, of Fairview Heights.
Hokkaido (hoh-KEYE-doh) is named after the second largest island in Japan. It opened four months ago in the old Ryan's building. The owners also have a location in Florissant, Mo.
The new place seats more than 300 people in the main dining room and three party rooms. Buses are welcome, as the parking lot also is huge.
Customers Debra Williams and Sharon Vence recently dined on pineapple and Indian teriyaki, a seafood combo and cheese spinach bake.
They topped off the meal with fresh fruit and marshmallows dipped in a chocolate fountain.
"I like the atmosphere," said Debra, 57, of East St. Louis. "It's peaceful. It's pretty. It's a little exotic, and it's clean. I like the variety. The food is fresh, and it's good."
The all-you-can-eat buffet costs $7.99 for lunch on weekdays, $10.99 for dinner Mondays through Thursdays and $11.99 after 4 p.m. Fridays and all day Saturdays and Sundays.
Sandra Hobbs and her husband, Eugene, eat at Hokkaido almost every week, sometimes twice a week.
On their last visit, they feasted on seafood casserole, seafood salad, shrimp, egg noodles, beef and broccoli, fried rice and vanilla ice cream.
"I don't like sushi, but I like all their other dishes," said Sandra, 70, of Cahokia. "(The restaurant is) clean, very clean. You don't have to wait for service. We've brought our daughter and our grandkids here, and the waitresses are so sweet."
Ki immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong at 17 and has worked in the restaurant business ever since. He owned a large buffet in Arizona for 10 years.
Ki moved to Fairview Heights from California two months ago with his wife and two children to take over Hokkaido. He knew one of the owners, Maoli Dong, while living in China.
Ki emphasizes that the restaurant uses fresh ingredients and no MSG, a common food additive that some people believe is unhealthy.
"We have a unique birthday celebration, Japanese-style," he said. "When you come to work here, you have to learn a Japanese song. The servers encourage (the birthday person) to dance with them. Most people dance because they're happy, but some people don't. They're shy."
At a glance
What: Hokkaido Buffet and Grill
Where: 4580 N. Illinois in Swansea
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays through Sundays
Party rooms: Yes
Information: Call 416-2077 or visit http://hokkaidousa.com