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Todai (Asian Buffet, Daly City, CA & elsewhere)

December 30th, 2007 · by Cyndi · 1 Comment

Todai is a small buffet chain specializing in sushi and a variety of Japanese and Chinese foods, with a smattering of other things. They started in Hong Kong I believe and had a strong presence in California. But they’re growing. They have many restaurants in South Korea, a couple in mainland China, and one in Malaysia. Aside from one opening in Vancouver, Canada soon, the rest are in the United States. Mostly in California but also Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. Expect this list to be out of date soon (many of the above aren’t open yet at the time I am writing).

I mostly eat at their Daly City (just south of San Francisco) location but have been several times to Concord, CA and a couple locations north of San Jose. I have eaten once in Los Angeles. We generally go three times a year: on each of our birthdays and on Christmas.

Prices, hours, and specials vary some depending on location. Here is the current information for our closest location, subject to change:

Daly City, CA
Pacific Plaza
1901 Junipero Serra Blvd. #A
Daly City, CA 94014
Tel: 650-997-0882
Fax: 650-997-0822
Restaurant Hours


11:30am – 2:30pm (Mon – Fri)
11:30am – 3:00pm (Sat, Sun & Holidays)


5:30pm – 9:00pm (Mon-Thurs)
5:30pm – 9:30pm (Fri-Sat)
5:00pm – 9:00pm (Sun & Holidays)
Price <effective from August 1, 2007>
Lunch $14.95 (Mon-Fri)
$16.95 (Sat, Sun, Holidays)
Dinner $24.95 (Mon-Thurs)
$26.95 (Fri, Sat, Sun, Holidays)
Children(Under 12 yrs. Old)
Lunch 5 feet & under 1/2 Price
4 feet & under $ 5.95
3 feet & under Free
Dinner 5 feet & under 1/2 Price
4 feet & under $ 6.95
3 feet & under Free
*20%Off – Seniors 65 or Older (Dinner only)
*Soft drinks included
Specials: A complimentary half shell Lobster per adult buffet ( Added value, Fri-Sun Dinner only)Birthday PromotionFree Birthday Meal on your birthday
Valid Photo I.D./ Must be accompanied by at least one paying adult
Promotions: KIDS EAT FREE- MONDAY THRU FRIDAY (Limited Time Offer)
Children under 12 years old and under 5ft./ Must be accompanied by one paying adult per child
Christmas Special“* (Tuesday,December 25th,2007 )
– Open All Day 11:30am – 9:00pm / All Day Serving Dinner & Special Menu : $26.95 per person
Special Menu:Turkey, Prime Rib, Lamb Chop, A complimentary half shell Lobster per adult & much more…
Special Promotion
Kids eat FREE with one paying adult.
Buy one Beer, Get second one for $1.00 (S) & $2.00 (L)

There is enough there that people eating only sushi will have plenty to choose from, and friends who hate both sushi and seafood can also be satisfied. It’s kid friendly (be sure to ask for a balloon!) and they’ll sing happy birthday to you (also free on your birthday if you come with a paying adult).

We discovered this place when living on the San Francisco peninsula. A friend and I had a habit of eating at a Palo Alto sushi buffet on Christmas day (thus keeping alive the rule that Jews eat Asian food on Christian holidays…Chinese (and in areas that have them, other Asian) places tend to be all that’s open). All of a sudden, our regular spot started closing on Christmas and we drove around looking for an alternative, and found Todai. Now it’s Michael’s and my tradition, and one we’re teaching our daughter.

It used to be that Todai, and other open restaurants, were a haven from Christmas madness. They were their ordinary selves, filled with fellow Jews, Asian immigrants, and others who either weren’t Christian or chose not to celebrate. Now, Todai plays Christmas music, decorates the place, has special “American” food, and warmly greets customers with “Merry Christmas.” Fortunately, the food is still good enough to make up for those changes.

You can look at their menu online, but the offerings change frequently, and no location has everything at once. They have sushi and sashimi, cold salads, raw and cooked cold seafood, fresh cut fruit, various hot entrees and side dishes, soup and udon, and desserts.

They make most of their foods on site, which makes it a lot easier to navigate dietary restrictions. Although some of the components for their food arepre-made (and many are frozen), they cut up their own fruit, put together their toppings, and make the sushi. I’ve found the staff to be very helpful and kind. They offer to special order foods if they’re not horribly busy and the staff who doesn’t speak English (perhaps half, in my experience) takes the time to bring you someone who can.

If you’re used to paying top dollar for high quality sushi, this is not the place for you. The food is good but it’s not great and you will likely be disappointed. Still, it has a homemade flair to it, is mostly fresh (with some frozen elements), and isn’t nearly as junky as most restaurant food of its class. I react badly to preservatives and such, but always do fine there.

If you’re gluten sensitive, beware. Many dishes have soy sauce added. The sushi is pretty safe (avoid the one with tempura batter) and the staff will tell you which one or two (if any) have a soy sauce topping. The hot foods often have soy sauce and of course some are breaded. They don’t blink an eye though to your bringing outside foods, so go ahead and bring some wheat-free tamari and enjoy your sushi. I asked about the tempura once and it is possible it is gluten-free, but I can’t remember for sure. The batter has egg so I couldn’t eat it anyway.

A surprising number of foods there have egg. The fried rice and the Thai noodles both did but there was another noodle dish that was safe, along with the plain rice. My favorite offering there is the lobster, which is only available for dinner on weekends and holidays. I gave it up a while ago when I discovered the topping was a mixture of miso and egg yolk. But this last Christmas I asked if they’d be willing to make some without the topping and they did. It tends to be a bit dry, so it needs something, but it was still good. And Miriam didn’t get sick from that meal (she will if there is the slightest trace of egg in anything). I don’t know if their miso is gluten-free…Miriam and I both can cheat with gluten and dairy once in a while, just not orange or egg.

This floored me, and will turn away any serious sushi fan, but many of the rolled sushis have mayonnaise in them. The plain fish over rice kind are safe, but maybe 2/3 of the rolled ones have mayonnaise. Some have cooked egg as a filling too. And watch out for fake crab which has egg. Again, the staff is great and, since they made these themselves, they know what is in them. Fortunately, the selection is large enough that I had at least a dozen kinds I could eat. Some of the Todai locations have a smaller sushi area than Daly City and there are only 4-6 kinds I can eat.

Being an Asian restaurant, there isn’t a lot of dairy, but you will need to ask. The crab legs (the warm ones, not the cold ones) were swimming in butter and there is cream cheese in a couple of the sushis . Sometimes one of the cold salads has cheese in it. Most of the dishes are okay; it’s the more American ones that generally have butter or cheese.

If you eat seafood but not meat, or if you’re avoiding raw seafood, or perhaps just shellfish, you will have no problems finding a good selection of foods. There may be some cross-contamination with shellfish, so be careful if that is a concern.

Now, if you are avoiding all animal foods, you’ll have less to choose from. There will still be a couple of sushis. They always have the rice in the tofu skin and one or two purely vegetable rolls. You can ask them to make you some fish-free rolls too and they probably will if you explain why (they don’t do foods to order there like a sit-down restaurant, but they’ve been very accommodating of allergies and other food restrictions). There will be rice and noodles and salads (not just basic lettuce, but some delicious and interesting ones like seaweed) and probably soups (I haven’t asked about stock). If you eat egg, there is vegetable tempura too.

Lowcarb is quite possible here too. Sashimi and raw shellfish, some of the cooked meats and fish, seaweed or cucumber salad, green salad, stirfry vegetables, edamane, and melon for dessert.

Drinks there are basic. Soft drinks, coffee, and tea come with the meal but I don’t drink any of those so I can’t review them. For an extra price, there is juice, beer, sake, and some other things. They usually have a special on one or more alcohol.

Then there is dessert. The fresh fruit is usually near the sushi, not the dessert area. Unfortunately, they choose the same set of fruits over and over so they’re not always in season. You can see them cut them up from a whole piece of fruit but that doesn’t mean they are any good. The watermelon I had on Christmas was so bad I nearly spit it out, but my daughter loved it and asked for more. The honeydew was barely tolerable. But if you get these in the summer, they’re fine. They often have a cooked banana and cream dish.

Watch out for shared tongs if you react to any of the fruit. Some places are more separate than others. For the Los Angeles Todai, I didn’t feel comfortable with any of the fruit because of shared tongs near the orange slices. But the staff brought my daughter a big plate of freshly cut melon from the kitchen.

They usually have a crepe area and they are good (but not for us anymore due to the eggs, and wheat). They cook them to order and add whipped cream and/or fresh or canned fruit.

There is generally also an ice cream dispenser. They used to have a green tea ice cream (possibly it’s still in some locations) that was not only good but vegan too. I really miss it. Now they have nonfat (lowfat?) vanilla and chocolate ice cream that has milk but no eggs. We had some vanilla on Michael’s birthday last September because we wanted something to stick a candle in that Miriam could eat. It was watery and overly sweet and tasted like chemicals. Miriam enjoyed it but Michael and I thought it was pretty nasty. Do ask at your location because you might have something different.

The standard dessert display is really nice. Many cakes and tarts all in bite-sized pieces so you can have several without filling up. They are frozen and the restaurant cuts them up. They generally have cookies and often creme brule and white chocolate. We have checked a couple of times and every last one of these things has egg in it. I haven’t asked about gluten or dairy. My guess is that there will be several choices for those restrictions. Okay, on Christmas they did have one egg-free dessert: tapioca pudding. Which would have been fine except it was bright green-blue and I wouldn’t let Miriam so much as see it. Fortunately, she’s happy with fruit.

All in all, I enjoy my outings there and always have a huge variety to fill up on. My favorites are lobster, broiled oysters, sushi, sashimi if they have the seared ahi which is amazing, and cold salads, especially the seaweed and cucumber. I look forward to being able to eat eggs again some day (I’m not allergic to them myself) so I can have more sushi and tempura.

I couldn’t eat there too often, but it is a fun three time a year treat.


Categories: Chain Restaurant · Food · Restaurant Reviews · SF Bay Area Restaurant
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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Gourmet Garden (Petaluma, CA) | Norwitz Notions // Dec 26, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    […] else is usually open, though that’s changed in recent years).  Normally we go down to Todai, a chain of buffets with huge amounts of decent sushi and other Japanese and Chinese food.  But […]

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