Lunch Box Buffet: A Solid Alternative To By-The-Pound Chinese
If you’ve ever gotten off the subway at Canal and Centre streets, you’ve probably noticed the giant yellow awning proclaiming the five combination for $4.50 deal at Lunch Box Buffet. I know I have! Until now I’ve never tried it because, really, there are so many options in the area for cheap food that I was waiting for a day when I had an intense craving for crappy Chinese and happened to be in the area. Well, those events happened recently and I headed inside to a magical world where you didn’t have to pay by the pound to sample multiple items.
The first public service I will do is direct you to go all the way to the end of the buffet first, as you pay and then load up your tray. I’m sure they’re used to confusion because I got a head jerk in the direction of the cashier when I was at the wrong end of the buffet.
You also have to do a little walk-through before deciding what dishes you want because there are so many to choose from: vegetable, American and Americanized Chinese. Nothing is labeled so you have to either trust your instinct, ask what things are, or just go with what looks good. I chose the last strategy.
The five items for $4.50 includes soup and your choice of fried or white rice ($4 if you get it to go, with no soup). Basically you’re getting rice, with four actual items. Normally I would think this is a rip-off, but my lunch was $4.50 including tax. I checked out another guy’s soup and decided not to bother because it was basically chicken brother with nothing in it, and it was also 73 degrees outside.
Since I’m not sure what exactly I had piled on my plate, I will give a general overview in vague terms. First up there were some noodles that were the last item I selected and the only regret on my plate. They were greasy and flavorless and even squirts of watered down soy sauce and sriracha couldn’t save them.
I got a fried meat chunk (chicken? pork? both?) and green bean dish that was in a sweet sauce. This was my favorite item because even though there was an oil slick on the plate when I got done eating it, at least I ate a vegetable! Next up was what I will call Chinese meatloaf. It was a hunk of porky goodness, like the kind of meat that’s stuffed inside dumplings. It was good in a “this is going to give me a heart attack” kind of way. Not recommended if you are afraid of grease.
Last, is the technicolor pork. I liked this even though there was a lot of fat and gristle involved. Avoid if you are afraid of red food coloring.
While this was not the best food I’ve ever eaten in Chinatown, I also liked that I had an entire buffet at my disposal without having to worry about how many pounds of food I’d piled up. It helps when you have ladies wielding giant spoons for portion control. I was absolutely stuffed after eating this, but that’s probably because I made the fatal mistake of getting two carbs on my plate.
This is a good choice if you want a few different items and have only $5 in your pocket. It’s also good if you want to see European tourists trying to figure out Americanized Chinese food and the concept of buffets at the same time.
Lunch Box Buffet, 195 Centre St. (at Hester)