By 3:30 p.m., the paltry lunch I ate at noon had vanished from my system. A snack just wasn’t going to hold me over until dinner.
I walked into La Que ready for an early-bird special. I stumbled into the tail-end of the Asian restaurant’s lunch hours and received a meal that not only filled my belly for the rest of the day, but cost less than $6.
At many restaurants, lunch menus are less expensive, adapted versions of dinner entrees. But La Que, a tiny restaurant next to Wild and Woolly Video on Bardstown Road, is almost giving the food away. La Que’s main menu is filled with Thai and Vietnamese dishes, but the lunch deal lies in the Chinese dishes. For $5.95, you get the following:
Soup, an egg roll or another similar side dish
An entree with choice of rice on the side
The entrees are similar to what you would find at Chinese restaurants (General Tso, chicken and broccoli, etc.). The portion you receive is generous and will hold you through your next meal. And it doesn’t hurt that the food is pretty darn good. I’ve been on a lo mein kick lately, and I recommend the shrimp version La Que offers.
A “B” letter grade is acceptable in most areas of life – except for restaurant health inspection ratings. In the food arena, many a nose will turn up at the sight of a B in the window.
Here’s what will earn a restaurant a B in Jefferson County, Ky., via the health department’s website:
Restaurant has scored 85-92% on its last inspection or it has scored 93% or above, but with at least one correctible critical violation. Such correctible critical violations might include toxic items not properly labeled or stored or restaurant staff eating or drinking while preparing food.
This grade was plastered on the door of Happy Buddha, a fast-food Chinese restaurant in Shively. Though the follow-up score of 98 percent was circled in red on the same sheet, that omnious B looked me in the eye and dared me to disregard instincts to visit a better-performing restaurant.
But I live in a world of second chances, so I continued inside the restaurant, where I found a clean dining room, friendly staff and really cheap food.
Happy Buddha is close to my childhood home, but I never visited this Chinese food restaurant until recently. I blame the dark exterior and static signage that never appealed to a teenager who wanted something more exciting.
Too bad I wasn’t eating there as a teenager, because I could have saved some major dollars. Only one dish, the seafood delight with shrimp, scallops and lobster ($10.95), is above $8. And the dishes on the high end of Happy Buddha’s scale (hot and spicy orange chicken, $7.65, and the shrimp dishes, $6.75-7.55) include fried rice and hot tea, so you’re getting lots of food for just a few bucks.
The menu doesn’t venture beyond the standard food offerings you would expect from a fast-food Chinese restaurant. Have a taste for fried rice? They have six types ($3.25-6). Lo mein? Lots of it ($6.05-6.95). Egg foo young? You betcha ($4.75-6.50). But it doesn’t get more exotic than that.
I went with the old standby – the broccoli chicken combination with white rice and an egg roll ($4.75).
My order looked no different than any other broccoli chicken I’ve ever had – a pile of chicken, broccoli florets and carrot slices coated in a brown goo. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because it’s exactly what I wanted my broccoli chicken to be. And when my order was ready to go in less than 10 minutes, I’m not expecting stellar presentation.
Happy Buddha’s broccoli chicken qualified as a dish that falls under the “You Get What You Pay For” heading. It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t that good. The carrots tasted no different than the broccoli. The chicken was bland. And the egg roll could have been bought from the frozen food section of your friendly neighborhood grocery store.
That said, I got a lot of food. It was hot. It was quick. And it was less than five bucks.
I’m glad that I didn’t let the health rating scare me away because I wouldn’t have discovered a place to get really cheap food that’s close to my parents’ house. But Happy Buddha isn’t a place that will offer cuisine designed to stimulate the taste buds. It’s a restaurant that will fill your belly on the cheap with something other than a cheeseburger and fries. And that’s fine.
Happy Buddha, 3927 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Ky.
Broccoli chicken combination plate with egg roll and white rice: $4.75
Ever heard the phrase, “Sex is like pizza – even when it is bad, it is still pretty good”?
I’d like to replace “pizza” with “Chinese food.”
Crowded buffets and hipster delivery guys have provided me with a steady stream of greasy, fatty, Americanized Chinese food for years. But each dish, no matter how mediocre, has satisfied my craving for something foreign enough to be exciting, yet familiar enough to be comforting.
China Inn manages to quell the need for Chinese food and go above the minimum expectations for this style of food. I’ve spent the past several hours trying to think of something witty to say about China Inn, but really, it comes down to this: China Inn is pretty darn good.