Buffets in the Age of Coronavirus: Doing the Safety Dance

El Torito updates the all-you-can-eat playbook
Published on Aug 12, 2020

Remember that thing called the “all you can eat buffet”?

Before the pandemic, millions gathered every weekend all across America to worship good eating at large, sometimes gargantuan displays of food—all they could enjoy for one low price.

Those are like phone booths and typewriters now. Artifacts of a different time.

But brunch lives on. The weekend, such as it is, is still powered by that curious mix of breakfast and lunch served somewhere between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It’s just safer now.

At El Torito in East Pasadena, the lavish weekend spread has been supplemented by sheets of plexiglass, displaying and protecting the food.

As Jose Aviles, El Torito regional director of operations, explained last Sunday, the chain has made a genuine commitment to both the brunch experience and the safety of diners.

‘We wanted to make sure that we served the same great food,” he said, “But in a much safer way. Our parent company, XRG, has done its utmost to make sure that we provide a comfortable environment for people.”

Aviles is also aware that longtime customers are grateful for the opportunity to return to dining at restaurants, despite the restrictions.

“They say, ‘Thank you for this,’” said Aviles.

“This” is widely separated tables, wait staff in face shields, masks and gloves, and the same number of serving stations, all protected by mounted sheets of plexiglass. Rolling garage door-type “windows” have also been installed, at the suggestion of a manager, to combine the indoor-outdoor experiences, and provide more air circulation.

El Torito offers a taco bar with pork, carne asada and chicken, along with a host of toppings that the chef will prepare for you. Across the room is a traditional serving station offering mexican specialties like Chile Colorado, Birria, and enchiladas, along with the chain’s popular Mexican caesar salad.

A traditional breakfast is also available, serving bacon and sausage, in addition to an omelet station. Waffles and slathered in whipped cream, along with a Banana Loco station is also available, sweet tooth-wise.

We opted for a bit of everything, from a pair of tacos, to the corn cake, beans and rice, and a seriously delicious neaping bowl of the Green Chile Pozole, the Mexican-American Sunday morning staple. Bountiful with oversized corn kernels and meaty pieces of chicken, it was a meal by itself. One I could barely finish.

The restaurant was consistently busy during our visit, yet the service was attentive and the food fresh and hearty. If you’re missing the buffet experience, and you don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s safety, El Torito might be a  delicious bet.

And you can still eat all you want, you’ll just be choosing. They’ll do the serving.

El Torito Pasadena is at 3333 E Foothill Blvd Pasadena, CA. (626) 351-8995.

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