This Brand New Buffet Has People Waiting Hours For Unlimited Soup, Salad, And Pasta — Here's Why I Drove An Hour-And-A-Half To Try It

Back in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted pretty much everything for basically everyone. Notably, many restaurants struggled to stay afloat, resulting in temporary-turned-permanent closures all over the country — and for me, as a Californian, one of the most heartbreaking was the beloved all-you-can-eat chain Souplantation. Considering its communal soup, salad, baked goods, and baked potato bars, it's not surprising that the business couldn't weather the challenges it faced in 2020, but that didn't make the closure sting any less for those who really loved it.

The cult-favorite buffet first launched in 1978 in San Diego, California, and since then, it has become a beloved family-friendly restaurant across America. (In non-California states, though, the restaurant operated as "Sweet Tomatoes.")

Exterior of a closed Souplantation restaurant with news ticker about it selling off items

Like, when I say Souplantation was iconic to many, I'm not even exaggerating. Here's a post from X (formerly Twitter) that was made in 2020:

X: @RealPattyWap / NBC / Via Twitter: @RealPattyWap

Fast-forward to 2024, and people are STILL mourning the loss of Souplantation, with one TikTok user saying, "[T]here's a deep hole in my soul that can only be filled by [S]ouplantation."

Comments expressing missing Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes

All that said, ever since all Souplantation locations closed in 2020 after filing for bankruptcy, I've been going through the stages of grief, thinking I would never be able to grab the handle of a warm, colorful bowl and fill it with chicken noodle soup ever again. So when a restaurant called Soup 'n Fresh started going viral on social media after being hailed as a Souplantation "dupe" — in their old building, no less — I dropped everything and drove to Rancho Cucamonga in Southern California to try it.

Storefront of 'Soup n' Fresh' with a green sign above the entrance
u/blackchewbaca / Via

Soup n' Fresh opened its doors this past April. Though the restaurant is not affiliated with Souplantation in any way, it definitely hopped on Souplantation's swag, considering the concept and foods are almost exactly the same. (However, Soup 'n Fresh's business manager told me the company plans to expand the menu.) And as someone who used to go to Souplantation A LOT, my expectations were pretty high! That said, here's everything I ate at Soup 'n Fresh and how it compared to Souplantion.

Glass door to a restaurant named "Soup 'n Fresh", indicating it serves soups, salads, and baked goods

Note: BuzzFeed was provided this meal and experience free of charge; however, we were under no obligation to give a positive review.

Dannica Ramirez
Text banner reading 'THE SALAD BAR' over a background of lettuce leaves
Ekaterina Goncharova / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

First of all, I got there a minute or two before the restaurant opened at 10:30 a.m., and already there was a big line of people waiting to get in — on a Tuesday! Now, it's easy to credit this to people's need to re-experience Souplantation, but the price for the lunch buffet (which goes until 4 p.m.) quite probably plays a huge role as well. Soup 'n Fresh charges $16.99 per adult, $14.99 for older adults, and up to $10.99 for kids under 12.

Menu sign with prices for adults, seniors, and children for lunch and dinner; includes beverage prices

You have to pay extra for a fountain drink, but you can get unlimited drinks after that fee. Prices for dinner clock in at $18.99 per adult and $16.99 for seniors.

Dannica Ramirez

OK, even though Soup 'n Fresh technically has no connection to the original Souplantation, the similarities are...uncanny. I mean, the restaurant building was literally an old Souplantation, so the salad bar's setup was the same: double-sided and filled with bowls and bowls of greens, dressings, veggies, and more.

A salad bar with a person building a salad, various toppings, and a label for pasta salad

I honestly would pay the $16.99 just for the salad bar alone.

Dannica Ramirez

When you're done filling your plate with salad, you pay at the end of the bar and then find a table to start chowing down. Here's what my salad looked like:

Plate of mixed salad topped with crumbled egg and crispy strips, on a dining table

I got the Asian salad mix (which I assumed was a dupe for Souplantation's "Wonton Happiness") and topped it off with wonton strips, mushrooms, carrots, red onions, and hard-boiled eggs.

Dannica Ramirez

If I'm being honest, a salad bar salad is going to hit EVERY TIME. I do wish the salad itself was dressed a little more — the salad mix I got was already dressed — but I guess it's my fault for not adding extra dressing on top of what came with it. Other than that, I truly couldn't complain about a salad I made myself. If it tasted bad, then that would've been on me. Everything tasted fresh and crisp, and you could see staff members prepping, slicing, and chopping up the veggies as you went down the line!

Two cafeteria trays with a salad, scrambled eggs, pasta, and mushrooms

My friend tried two types of pasta salad, and she said they were both super good, flavorful, light, and refreshing!

Dannica Ramirez
A spoon lifting noodles and vegetables from a bowl with text "SOUP & PASTA" above
4Kodiak / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

After we ate our salad, we gravitated toward the soup and pasta next. Soup 'n Fresh offered three pasta selections and seven (!) soups, so I was so excited to dive in.

A cafeteria counter with various trays of food behind a protective glass barrier

The restaurant was quite packed, so getting a pic like this without anybody in it was a miracle.

Dannica Ramirez

For the record, even the Soup 'n Fresh soup bowls were quite literally the same as what Souplantation had. It's giving "You can copy my homework, but don't make it obvious" vibes. (Except it was very, very obvious.)

Stacks of white plates and colorful bowls in a wooden cart, ready for serving

Some of the more popular soups at Souplantation were the clam chowder, chili, and, of course, the famous chicken noodle — so we undoubtedly reached for those first to see Soup 'n Fresh's spin on them. As for the pasta, there was mac 'n' cheese, chicken alfredo, and a marinara penne option (not pictured).

Assorted bowls of soup: chicken alfredo, mac and cheese, chicken noodle, clam chowder, and chili

Other soups that were offered were:

• Mushroom soup

• Corn chowder

• Minestrone

Dannica Ramirez

Here's what I thought about the soups:

Woman tasting food with a spoon, looking excited; likely related to a food review or tasting event

Here's what I thought about the pastas:

Person eating pasta with two bowls on table, one appears plain, expressing disappointment
Text "BAKED POTATO" over a background of potatoes
Massimo Ravera / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

I know I said the chicken noodle soup was the star of the show, but for me personally, the real star will always be the baked potato (and the blueberry muffins, but we'll get into that later).

Counter with variety of potatoes and toppings for baked potatoes. Text labels potatoes and points to toppings

I think I had three baked potatoes one time during a Souplantation outing.

Dannica Ramirez

Much like Souplantation, Soup 'n Fresh had a potato bar paired with a pretty awesome topping station that supplied everything you need to make a loaded baked potato: shredded cheese, green onions, sour cream, bacon bits, butter, and diced onions (if you're into that). There were sweet and russet potatoes available, so I grabbed a russet potato to try.

Two images of baked potatoes, one wrapped in foil, one topped with cheese, sour cream, and green onions
Dannica Ramirez

Here's what I thought about the baked potato:

Woman with surprised expression holding a fork with food near her mouth
Freshly baked muffins on a cooling rack with the words "THE BREADS" overlaid
Jennifer A Smith / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

Next up, I visited the bread station — which might arguably be the best station. Don't get me wrong, the soup and salad options were great, but the bread station as a whole was where it was really at (for me, at least).

Assorted bakery items including muffins and breads, and a slice of pizza with a brownie, labeled by handwritten notes

The bread station consists of cornbread, chocolate brownies, cheesy pizza-like focaccia, garlic bread, and blueberry muffins. To nobody's surprise at this point, that's exactly the selection Souplantation had, too.

Dannica Ramirez

Here's what I thought about the garlic bread, cheese focaccia, brownie, and cornbread:

Close-up of a hand holding a piece of cheese-filled cornbread; second image shows the inside texture of the cornbread

Here's what I thought about the blueberry muffins:

Three images of a blueberry muffin, first whole, then with a bite taken, and lastly showing the inside with few berries

As you can see, Gabby and I love Soup 'n Fresh's muffins — even without the yummy and crispy edges:

Woman presenting a plate of mini muffins; another plate with larger muffins beside it
Dannica Ramirez
The word "DESSERT" overlaid on a close-up of a whipped cream texture
TorriPhoto / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

Other than the sweeter baked goods, other dessert options at Soup 'n Fresh included a selection of fruit and yogurt from a cute little fruit bar and an ice cream machine that offered vanilla, chocolate, and swirl soft serve. Here's what I thought about the desserts:

Two images side-by-side: left shows a breakfast plate with fruit and granola, right has a soft serve ice cream in a bowl
Variety of fresh vegetables above the words "FINAL THOUGHTS"
Tatiana Maksimova / Getty Images / Dannica Ramirez

All in all, Soup 'n Fresh did NOT disappoint! It was an overall great experience and was totally worth the one-and-a-half-hour drive there. For me, the price for the lunch buffet was unbeatable, and I left feeling like I had eaten my fill.

Assorted slices of pizza on a wooden board with tongs, next to a basket of garlic knots in a kitchen setting
Dannica Ramirez

Additionally, the staff was SO NICE and super helpful, and despite the fairly big crowd in the restaurant, everything was managed really well. Also, the booth where we sat had a view of the restaurant's line outside, and when I say the queue to get inside the restaurant was nonstop, I mean it. According to a Soup 'n Fresh staff member, if you don't come to the restaurant right at opening, wait times are usually up to an hour and a half.

People waiting outside a restaurant with stone pillars and green trim
Dannica Ramirez

Not gonna lie, I am counting the days until I can go back to Soup 'n Fresh. Even though Soup 'n Fresh uses recipes different from Souplantation, it tasted similar enough that the experience itself was so nostalgic and made me think of all the Souplantation outings I had with my family. I would certainly make the drive to return, and if you're in Southern California or are passing through, you might wanna check out Soup 'n Fresh and load up on salads, baked goods, and, of course, soup!

A cafeteria line with open containers of food and a person's hand visible
Dannica Ramirez

Did you use to go to Souplantation or Sweet Tomatoes all the time? If so, what was your favorite thing to eat?! And would you try Soup 'n Fresh if you had the chance? Let me know in the comments!