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Imperial vs Mandarin ( if I must choose)

One of my grandparents wants to get together for a birthday with all of my family. They usually just take us for chinese food to the Mandarin, but I'm curious if Imperial is better in your experience?
If specific locations make a difference, it would probably be the Imperial in Scarborough and the Mandarin in Scarborough.
I haven't been to a chinese buffet in a long time, but I expect that neither of these options are very good. But which one has the best selection and freshest foods (I'm not interested in dessert selection as we always have cake at home).
Thanks in advance!

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  1. I wouldn't say Imperial is better then Mandarin, but I perfer it. For freshness I don't think you have to worry about either location, both places are constantly refilling items. In fact my friend makes fun of the walkie talkies the runners use to tell the kitchen what needs refilling. I think the selection at Imperial is better, especially on the weekends. Also if there are any little kids and the parents let them partake....the chocolate fountain at Imperial is always fun.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sweetie

      Thanks for your reply! I'll make the suggestion then

    2. Mandarin! - No! No! No! No!
      My worst meal EVER in Toronto was in the Mandarin at Woodbine!

      10 Replies
        1. re: hungryabbey

          - Hollow Snow crab legs with more water inside shell than meat.

          - So called Chinese stirred fry dishes totally lacking in taste and wok-hay and over thickened with gluey starch.

          - Roast beef was way overdone.

          - Fried dishes, suppose to be crispy, were all mushy.

          - Dessert! What dessert? Choice between empty ice cream cartons and jello.

          Need I say more?!!!

          1. re: Charles Yu

            Oy- no, no.. thats quite enough. I cringe at the idea of consuming such unnecessary and non-enjoyable calories.
            Obviously I would avoid the chinese buffet all together if I could, but it might be necessary.
            Have you tried Imperial?

            1. re: hungryabbey

              I have not been to the Woodbine Mandarin but at the Birchmount location the roast beef was declared quite good by my friend. And I would say over 30 items of desserts. Tiramisu, fruit tarts, sugarfree cheesecake, chinese sweets such as sesame balls etc. Imperial also has a large dessert selection, but their stuff screams "store bought" and doesn't make me want to try them.

              Imperial is a bit cheaper, so if you don't want to spend too much money on this, go with them. Otherwise I would pick Mandarin, their quality seems to be higher.

              1. re: Teep

                I would choose the Mandarin....they've always been for me the "best of the breed" over the years.

            2. re: Charles Yu

              Thanks for the warning. I usually agree with your choices, so I'll trust you this time again.

          2. re: Charles Yu

            Agreed that it is the worst of the Mandarin locations that I have visited.

            1. re: allanc

              I've never had a bad meal at the Woodbine location, although I think its been more than 3 years since I've last been there.....

            2. re: Charles Yu

              Any comment re Mandarin Siuth of Yonge & Eg? Thanks for infos.

              1. re: lamaranthe

                Smaller than most. I don't remember being revolted when I ate there, so I am going to say average for a Mandarin.

              1. re: duckdown

                If you absolutely must do buffet, the Mandarin on Woodbine Ave. is, despite the well-deserved slams it has taken on this thread, at least acceptable - if you know what to avoid. Stay away from the desserts, have no truck with the sushi, and be very, very picky about what you take from the Chinese food section. I have learned this from being forced, about twice a year, to accompany a group of not-particularly-discriminating friends, most of whom love, love, love the Mandarin. They like the selection, they like the price (discounts for seniors), they especially like the ribs and peel-your-own shrinp, they like trying the beat the house by eating a whole lot of stuff. The salad bar is okay but, once again, choose wisely. The roast beef, despite Charles Yu's warning (I swear, that guy must NEVER eat at home, so persistent and wide-ranging are his culinary adventures), has been, in my experience, tasty and nicely medium-rare, though you may have to specifically ask for how you like it. Grilled sausages are acceptable, as are most versions of the potato (but not the french fries). You'll get the hot-and-sour soup down, and may even like it. As Charles advises, the stir-fried dishes aren't up to much, nor should they be expected to - at a buffet, they'll wilt from the moment they're set out. Most important, though, you need to bring a different mindset to the buffet setting. An "acceptable" dish is a triumph at a buffet, and many dishes at the Mandarin are at least that. There's usually something to like, if not rave about. The service - clearing the used dishes from your table while you're poking around the buffet, looking for hidden gems that aren't there - is pretty good, and good-humored. The place seems perpetually busy every time I've been there, so it's a hit with lotsa folks who don't know from Chowhound. I regard it as an entertaining sociological experience, though I wouldn't make it a regular stop on my eating-out calendar.

                1. re: juno

                  The Super Mandarin at 410 & Steeles in Brampton is always top quality for Canadian chinese food... I've never had a problem there and the place has such high turnover its impossible to get a stale item

                  1. re: duckdown

                    Is this the location that is a $1 more than the other?
                    Just curious as to why.

                  2. re: juno

                    I quite agree with your assessment of Mandarin; AYCE value, great service, variety that will please everyone in your party. You must accept it for what it is and as the OP stated, they have a forced choice to make. Twice a year I am forced to go myself. I too choose carefully and avoid most dishes. On my last visit to the Queensway location, I noticed that the food had no flavour or more accurately, it all tasted the same, which is not to say that it's the worst food I have eaten, but the quality had diminished a bit.

                    1. re: tuttebene

                      The Woodbine location was truly awful in every way when I was there just before Christmas for a client's party.

                2. I have never been to the Scarborough locations of either chain, but of their Mississauga counterparts, Mandarin definitely beats Imperial by a looooooong shot.

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: mogo

                    I ate at the Imperial in Mississauga only and I agree, not even comparable to Mandarin

                    1. re: mogo

                      excellent, thanks to all who replied! I will consider this and stick with Mandarin. Glad we settled the debate.

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        I just wanted to add - GOOD LUCK!!
                        Guess secret to Chinese buffet secret is to arrive before the 7-8 pm crowd and avoid weekends, if possible! Otherwise, empty ice cream cartons,mushy food and overcooked meat might happen!

                        1. re: Charles Yu

                          uh, thank you- I will keep my expectations well in check.

                          1. re: Charles Yu

                            Have you ever tried International Buffet on Markham Rd, South of the 401 (east side, used to be Mr. Wong's)? It would be my first choice over Mandarin or Imperial, although I have to admit their desserts are mostly a huge miss (look nice, but all air, no flavour). I usually fill up on mains and have fruit and ice cream for dessert, so for me it's not an issue.

                            Otherwise, the Mandarin at Eglinton & Birchmount isn't bad. Or maybe they'd like to try Tucker's Marketplace for a change?

                            1. re: CeeQueue

                              No never been, thats another option though. Thanks.

                              1. re: CeeQueue

                                Oops, I just remembered it's called Super Buffet now. I hadn't been in awhile because of being on a restricted food plan so I asked around and apparently it's gone a bit downhill. You're probably better off at Scarborough Mandarin. At least they have decent desserts and a more-substantial carvery.

                                I went to China Buffet King in RH a few years ago and thought it was really good (for an AYCE).

                                There's supposed to be a half-decent Chinese Buffet in Pickering called Great Wall. I've heard it's better than the others, but haven't been there myself.

                                Let us know where you end up going and how it went.

                                1. re: CeeQueue

                                  I will, yes that Great Wall also is a possibility. I will let you know what happens.

                                  1. re: hungryabbey

                                    I am sorry I must disagree!!!! NO Great Wall !!!!!!!
                                    China Buffet King in Richmond Hill is good (I didn't know that was an option for you)
                                    But I must warn people against Great Wall (especially for lunch). I live in Pickering so I have been there a few times. The food is too inconsistant

                                    1. re: sweetie

                                      I'm under the impression that Great Wall serves mainly North American Chinese, e.g. chicken balls, chop suey, egg rolls - is that right or do they have authentic Chinese as well?

                                      1. re: Teep

                                        They do have quite a bit of the North American style food. But they also have other things, the frist time I was there the stir fried rice sticks (noodles) were reminisent of fried noodles I have in a typical cantonese style place (that I thought were great). They had steamed fish that was more chinese style. But like I said inconsistant.

                                      2. re: sweetie

                                        okay Im starting to think that Mandarin is the best bet.

                                        1. re: sweetie

                                          Thanks for the warning, sweetie. I'd heard Great Wall was better than average (which really isn't saying much), but it sounds like a trip to CBK RH is in my near future.

                                        2. re: hungryabbey

                                          Great Wall does have one major advantage (to me anyway) over Mandarin and Imperial -- they actually have raw fish (salmon sashimi and nigiri usually) while the others only have rolls which use shrimp tempura and/or crab stick (in other words, all the California roll variants). Also, my wife feels that Great Wall has better hot-and-sour soup than the otehrs. But I will say that Mandarin and Imperial beat them hands-down if you compare the rest of the items.

                                          I am surprised Great Wall has survived since that location has historically been a dud. It used to be the Olive Garden, then Tucker's, then Circle T's (which failed bigtime as a "lower-cost" Tuckers experiment), now these guys.

                                          Both Great Wall and Imperial flood the neighborhood with 2 for 1 coupons (in junk mail and in the local paper), probably trying to squeeze Mandarin out, but it isn't working. Mandarin hasn't lowered prices or offered coupons.

                                          1. re: TexSquared

                                            Super Buffet also has raw fish. They sometimes send out coupons in Scarborough.

                                            I really like the hot and sour soup at Happy Panda (Eglinton & Brimley); that came as quite a surprise...I had to go back and have another bowl. It's a small buffet, but I find enough things that I like and will go back for seconds and thirds of, so I don't miss the extra variety. Also, the food is replaced with fresh supply more often because there are fewer items.
                                            That said, it's definitely a mix of North American Chinese, Canadian and Chinese items. Their desserts blow, but the ice cream is decent. The prices are a bit lower than the larger AYCE Chinese. http://www.happypanda.ca/price_hour.html

                                            They have lovely washrooms.

                              2. Mandarin buffet Pickering weekday lunch is fantastic for kids and adults!!! Cheap and great variety, my family loves it ! Starwalk was good when it was new but it went downhill and food got a bit stinky for white peoples senses.

                                1. Wrong "either - or" question. The answer is China Buffet King on Yonge, just south of Major Mac in Richmond Hill. Steam table offerings on a par with Imperial/Mandarin. Lots of fresh fruit for dessert (and ice cream and cakes). But what sets CBK apart, IMHO, is sushi with real fish (even if most of it is salmon - I love salmon), and the hot table with Chinese specialties, such as Peking Duck (meat, skin, and pancakes), pot stickers, and crab. Stay away from the horrid soups, enjoy the tasty BBQ pork, honey garlic ribs, and chicken wings, plus many different noodle and rice dishes.

                                  Decor at CBK is bland beyond belief; it that's important, go elsewhere. But in my experience (and since we live less than a mile away, we end up there two-three times a year for the last decade), the food is good value for money.

                                  19 Replies
                                  1. re: KevinB

                                    *Duck*! Wow!
                                    I don't think I have ever seen Peking duck at one of these buffets.
                                    I assume that you are referring to diner? Which night?
                                    Also, if I may ask, what is the cost per person?

                                    1. re: allanc

                                      Starwalk buffet also offers Peking Duck. Also they have moved towards a northern Chinese emphasis, e.g. Fish cooked in spicy broth 水煮魚, which you'd not see in the usually Cantonese buffets. Not to say it's all delicious; the quality is not there. The duck is not as good as CBK's.

                                      1. re: Teep

                                        I disagree. I found Starwalk (Silverstar Blvd.) to be on par in terms of quality and variety with CBK Richmond Hill. Even their fried rice didn't taste like the generic dried out glop you get at the Canadian Chinese take-out restos.

                                      2. re: allanc

                                        This is s a pretty standard offering at CBK -most weekend evenings. It's standard price, which I believe is in the neighbourhood of $16-$17 per person. Be aware that you have to camp out at the serving area, and you will have to fight off little old Chinese ladies, who are quite ruthless when it comes to grabbing these tasty morsels.

                                      3. re: KevinB

                                        Can anyone tell me if the China Buffet King in Richmond Hill is related to the CBK on the south side of the 401 near Warden or if they totally different establishments with the same name.

                                        1. re: fogducker

                                          They are related, either a franchise or different branches, but the last time I went to the 401 location it was really bad, nothing was tasty, whereas the Richmond Hill one was much better.

                                          IIRC, Peking Duck was available at lunch too.

                                        2. re: KevinB

                                          wow that does sound better than Mandarin or Imperial, Thanks! I hope its not too far for them..

                                          1. re: hungryabbey

                                            If you were considering going to the Mandarin on Woodbine, it's just a couple of stops farther north on the 404 (get off at 16th, go west to Yonge, and head north). Probably another ten minutes of travel.

                                            Extra bonus: you can visit Whattabagel, Grande Cheese, and H-mart (Korean) on the upper level for great food finds to take home.

                                            1. re: KevinB

                                              I think the OP mentioned that they'd be going to the Scarborough location of Mandarin or Imperial.

                                              1. re: CeeQueue

                                                Yes, I think they wouldn't go for Richmond Hill.. I mean, even if I told them that its far superior, they really wouldn't know the difference (or care).. These are clearly not chowhounds we're talking about haha.

                                          2. re: KevinB

                                            I'm also going to give props to China Buffet King. I usually make it there once a year and always enjoy it lots. The sashimi is always very fresh there!

                                            1. re: racheljenna

                                              Agreed. The Richmond Hill CBK is very good, for a buffet.

                                              1. re: Pincus

                                                Ive been to the China Buffet King in scarbough, and enjoyed it very much. Of all the chinese buffets, this was the most "authentic" chinese. Yes, there was Peking Duck there (mind you, it's been a few years since I've been). I personally prefer Imperial over mandarin. Lower cost, just as many (if not more options). DEFINITELY more desserts. The Imperial in our area routinely sends out coupons for buy one get one so our family enjoys a reasonably priced dinner out there once a month. My two and a half year old has lots to choose from, and they only charge $3 for her I think. The one we go to in Ajax is ALWAYS rammed. If we go for dinner we always make a reservation or we try to get there for 5:30 pm (we try to eat early for the kiddo, she likes to get some good play time in before bed at 8, LOL) Never been disappointed. I can always find something good.

                                                1. re: iheartpie

                                                  Both Imperial and Mandarin in Scarborough are good, and the prices for dinner buffet are exactly the same. I personally would choose Mandarin, although i dont mind Imperial at all.

                                                  Imperial has plenty of food to offer, but one big selling point is that they have Crab Legs for dinner, and Mandarin usually doesnt. That can be a make or break point for some people, so if you want Crab, choose Imperial.

                                                  I have no real complaints about the food at Imperial, except that their deserts are clearly store bought, except for the crepes/waffles, but they have a good selection so its ok.

                                                  I prefer Mandarins grill over Imperial, and I think their deserts are better too. I tend to go to Imperial more often because I get coupons in the mail all the time for buy 1 get 1 free dinners/lunch. I must get em every month or 2, so whenever I get the craving for some chinese buffet, I always get it for cheap. If I have to pay full(which I havent in ages), Id go to Mandarin...

                                                  1. re: jmarcroyal

                                                    I must say, I've never tried Imperial but just wanted to pitch in my two cents about the Mandarin. For starters, I only go on weekends because I mainly go for the Alaskan King Crab legs. I went to the one in Vaughn, it was so fresh and delicious. I went to the one on Woodbine, and it was sub par. It seems location is a big factor here.

                                                    1. re: C mac

                                                      Alaskan King Crab?? I only remember snow crab from Mandarin before. The former has spiky hard shells, the latter smooth thin shells and less meat. If they do have King Crab I'll be there!

                                                      1. re: Teep

                                                        Mandarin and Imperial both use Snow Crab, not the meatier and more expensive King Crab. King would be nice, but realistically its just way too expensive to offer at a buffet. The Snow Crab tastes great, and even though theres less meat, its all you can eat, and its easier on the hands when you break em open!

                                                        Imperial offers the Snow Crab during the weekdays for dinner, which some might see as an advantage over Mandarin.

                                                        I remember when I was younger, Mandarin used to actually have Lobster in the Buffet, they were split in half right down the middle, but it was good Lobster. Damn I wish that was back!

                                                        1. re: jmarcroyal

                                                          Went to lobster fest at Mandarin about 2 years ago. One location had great lobster, the other had ones that are not that good.

                                          3. The mandarin in brampton is their head office and is there best location.
                                            They have a couple different rooms.One has a fish tank which is actually one wall,another is a wall with live birds inside and the other is a tropical garden with waterfall.
                                            I have heard from family and friends that the other mandarin locations vary(some good,some not so good).

                                            I have been to 2 imperial locations and they were both good(one at eglinton/warden area and the other dixie/dundas in mississauga).

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ninja5ca

                                              I liked the one at Eglinton and Warden. However of the buffet restos my family really enjoyed Star Wok. The food just seemed to taste better than the other buffet restos.