The majority of diners at Joy Luck Buffet typically build lunch around a series of round trips between their seats and rows of steam tables. After all, "buffet" is in the restaurant's name.

However, if you make your way there on your lunch break, the real move is to make for a booth (you're gonna need the real estate) and menu of Szechwan dishes that promise to bring the slow, simmering heat - smoldering like the embers of a dying fire against your stomach lining (in a good way) - that the cuisine is known for.

Looking for somewhere to start? Opt for an interactive dish called a hot pot - a large bowl of stock infused with garlic, chiles and oil - served boiling over a flame in the center of the table. Surrounding the hot pot are plates overflowing with mushrooms, cabbage, tofu, thinly sliced beef, pork and lamb and sections of head-on shrimp, squid and crab stick. Of note: lunch-goers will need to bring at least one friend, preferably with an adventurous streak, as two people are required to order the dish.

Diners have two options: dump all the ingredients into the bubbling stock to stew, or use chopsticks to quickly cook ingredients before they are eaten shabu-shabu style. The stock, which starts with the slight heat of chile oil, quickly becomes hotter as whole peppers boil in liquid that slowly evaporates and absorbs into meats and vegetables as they cook.

For those unfamiliar with the dish, it is not to be missed for midday meal, especially when combined with the company of colleagues.

Joy Luck Buffet, 8030 Manchester Road, 314.645.9982


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