We know nothing other than that a “Japanese restaurant” is moving into the space in Middletown’s Shop Rite Plaza once occupied by Royal China Buffet for well over a decade until 2015, and later Hao Sushi and Seafood Buffet for about a year after that. I was actually a fan of the latter, despite it not lasting nearly as long as the former, which also owns buffets in Hazlet and Eatontown. Even with an immense sushi offering and decent hot entrees, they never quite took off. The space this location occupies is a massive one, and even on seemingly busy nights, that meant it was never quite filled to capacity. That will be one of the main challenges this new restaurant will face. Given the size, it is easy to speculate that they will go the buffet route or switch over to hibachi—there certainly is enough space for numerous grills.
The other challenge will be trying to stand out as an Asian restaurant in a market already flooded with Asian restaurants. Between Chinese takeout, Japanese hibachi and sushi, and Asian fusion, can the Middletown area bear another of such restaurants? Earlier this year, Ichiban opened a hibachi/sushi restaurant literally three miles down Route 35 in Holmdel. By all accounts, they have been successful.
I have mixed feelings about another buffet if this is indeed going to be one. Royal China had decent food and obviously leaned Chinese with their hot selections. They also had a grill which cooked up some pretty good items, including burgers of all things. When Hao came in, they fixed up the interior nicely and it switched over to a Japanese leaning with an extensive sushi selection and the “takeout” usuals such as chicken and broccoli and General Tso’s. The buffet in Hazlet, to me, is beyond mediocre. They charge $15 per person (the same as East Brunswick’s far superior Teppanyaki) and have about a quarter of the selection. I have never been to the Eatontown one but have heard plenty of average reviews from people I know who have. In this area, at least, the buffet concept has gone the way of the dinosaur.
We will see in the next few months what exactly will be moving into this spot. I wish them luck, but they have a tall order ahead of them. If anyone from the new business is reading this, please reach out and let us know what you have planned!