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king khan reigns over a not-so-typical buffett
story and photo by Shaila Creekmore

After years in the fast food industry, hotel chains and, most recently, a Chinese buffet restaurant, David Wu decided it was time to start his own restaurant by introducing a different concept in Asian cuisine to Jonesboro. Wu’s King Khan opened on Sept. 9 and is based on the concept of Mongolian stir-fry, introducing a new, interactive style of buffet to Jonesboro’s growing foodie culture.

Made popular in the 1970s in Taiwan, Mongolian stir-fry, also known as Mongolian barbecue, is often said to go back to the 13th century, when the warrior Genghis Khan and his soldiers made their way across the land conquering many countries. During their travels, they would cook slivers of meat along with vegetables and spices available to them on their upturned shields over a blazing hot fire.

In today’s Mongolian cooking, the food is prepared on a large round grill made of steel that is heated to more than 600 degrees. The high temperature allows the food to cook quickly, sealing in the flavors of each of the ingredients.

“Some people think it will take too long, but because it’s cooked at such a high temperature, it doesn’t take long to cook the food – it’s no longer than anywhere else,” said Wu.

The unique aspect of a Mongolian grill is the patron’s ability to build their own dish called a crazy bowl. The customer chooses from a selection of meat and seafood, 22 different vegetables and a bar full of different sauces.

“People that come here basically create their own dish,” said Wu.

After putting all of the ingredients in a bowl, the diners mark a card with the type of rice or noodles they would like served with their food. The grill cook then prepares the food on the open grill while the diner returns to the table with a number to indicate their table.

“We wanted to let people have the choice of what they want to eat and to prepare it fresh for them,” said Wu. “The food that comes to you is always hot.”
After working previously in a buffet, Wu knew he wanted to move away from the common Chinese buffet concept.

“We wanted to be a little bit different and to let people have more choice,” said Wu. “If the (buffet) business is popular, it’s busy and it may be hard to keep up with what’s needed on the bar, but if it’s slow, then they have a hard time keeping up with quality.”

For those who are unsure about what they want or what flavors would blend well, cards are available to help the diner prepare a specific dish – essentially a recipe card. The staff is also eager to help by walking customers through the bar and giving them suggestions.

“Basically, you can’t go wrong unless you maybe get too much of one item; if you get a moderate amount of each item, it will come out fine,” said Wu.

The crazy bowl is one set price – $8.99 at lunch and $10.99 for dinner – regardless of what items diners add to their bowls. For those who want all-you-can-eat, the crazy bowl can become a bottomless bowl for just $4 more. For children 10 years old and younger, the crazy bowl is $4.99 and can also become a bottomless bowl. The Little Warrior’s menu also includes chicken strips, a corn dog and fish and fries.

“Our advice is to take the first bowl then add the bottomless bowl if they want more,” said Wu. “Eighty to eighty-five percent can’t finish the first bowl.”

The other side of King Khan is a full sushi bar. All sushi, sashimi and rolls are prepared fresh by the trained sushi chef. During lunch, King Khan offers the crazy combo with a choice of rolls, soup and a crazy bowl.

In order to create room for the sushi bar and large open grill space in the existing restaurant building, Wu said the building underwent major renovations and upgrades for six months.

“We gutted the inside and had to redo the whole inside,” said Wu. “The only thing we didn’t touch was the kitchen because we do most of the cooking out here.”

Wu said the kitchen is only used for prep work and when a meal needs to be prepared separately for dietary reasons. For those with food allergies, food can be prepared in a wok rather than on the grill with other foods to prevent cross contamination.

Wu said business has grown steadily during the restaurant’s first three months as people have heard about and come in to try a different type of Asian cuisine. In fact, Wu said they’ve had people walk in and turn around to leave when they discover it is not the kind of buffet that is so well known in Jonesboro.

“We have gone to get them and tell them if they would just come in and try us, they will like it,” said Wu. “Once we persuade them, they love it and they come back.”

King Kahn, located at 2104 S. Caraway Road, opens seven days a week at 11 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 203-9871 or find King Kahn Jonesboro on Facebook.