There are a half dozen places in Carbondale to get a Chinese dinner, but for price and taste, the best is New Kahala Fast Food. New Kahala is a small restaurant with seating for about 40, just off The strip in Carbondale, but for Chinese food that tastes good and has good prices, size doesn’t matter.
The restaurant is in a small strip shopping mall and family-owned and operated. They offer take out and delivery of a pretty standard fare of Chinese food. Most meals come with white rice and either crab rangoon, an egg roll, or soup. Meals range in prices from $3.50 to about $8 and you can substitute fried rice for the white rice, if you prefer.
My personal dish of choice is chicken fried rice. The fried rice has plenty of chicken and egg, carrots and peas and a few bean sprouts, which I promptly pick out. With two crab rangoon, it is $4.05, easily the best price in town for lunch or dinner.
In addition, the serving size is large, so I can actually make two meals out of one order of fried rice. For heavy eaters, it would probably only be enough for one meal, but I’ve never heard of someone still hungry after they finish the portions there. The staff is friendly and often remembers patrons who regularly order the same thing, like me. Food is cooked fresh, so it usually takes about 15 minutes to get your order, though on a busy Saturday evening, the wait can be a bit longer. I usually call ahead and have my order waiting for me when I get there as sitting in the very fast food style restaurant waiting for my order can be tiresome.
The restaurant offers an array of pre-packaged soft drinks and juices as well. It is convenient to downtown Carbondale and close enough to most of the city for those on a short lunch hour to still be able to enjoy their food. I particularly enjoy it knowing that it didn’t cost me more than half an hour’s work to pay for it.
I have friends, and former co-workers, who prefer the Chinese buffets to going to New Kahala and ordering just one food item. Carbondale has three of these buffets and if their food quality was half as good as New Kahala, I might agree. Unfortunately, it’s not and I don’t.
Super Buffet and Super Chinese Buffet are both on the east end of town, near the mall. Super Buffet is next to Best Buy. Super Chinese Buffet is across the highway next to the mall. Their prices are identical and their meals almost so. Of the two, I prefer Super Buffet because it offers seafood on the buffet during the dinner hours. For $6.95 plus tax, I can get crab legs, salt and pepper shrimp, peel and eat shrimp, mussels (sometimes) and sometimes crawfish.
The problem is that except for the shrimp, I’m never real comfortable eating these things off a buffet. If I knew for certain how often they were being replaced, I could probably like it a little better, but the reality is that I have seen them just add the fresh crab legs on top of the ones already on the steam tray. So, how long have those crab legs on the bottom actually been there?
And, the remainder of the food on the buffet seems predictable and greasy. I mean, I expect it of the fried potatoes (I know, what are they doing on a Chinese buffet?), but even the green beans are oily. Since we eat a low fat diet at home, dinner out at the Chinese buffet often just means that I head home feeling a little queasy.
And, I think with a little bit of effort, I could probably sketch out the buffet from memory and tell you exactly what’s going to be on the bar. It’s not that I object to favorites like lo mien and general tso’s chicken, but I’d actually like to see one or two different dishes thrown in once in awhile for good measure.
The dessert bar is a mishmash of pastries that I can buy in bulk at Sam’s Club and fresh fruit, pudding and Jell-O. And, my favorite, almond cookies. Still, I would like to see something just a little different once in awhile. But as predictable as Super Buffet is and as much as I would like to see a better quality of food, it is by far a better buffet than Super Chinese Buffet or Happy Reunion, the Chinese buffet on the west edge of town.
Super Chinese Buffet has an almost identical selection of food, but if possible the quality is even lower. Almost everything, including some of the desserts, feel like they need to have the excess oil dabbed off them before they are fit to eat. But by far the worst is Happy Reunion. What passes for a buffet is about 10 items, most of them chicken based, put on the steam tables. The chicken, for the sweet and sour chicken, has so much excess dough on it, it is often difficult to find or taste the chicken involved. The foil-wrapped chicken is overdone and the egg drop soup has the consistency of glue.
Still, I think it is the service that truly prevents me from going back there. Drinks are routinely served half-full with no ice and are never refilled in the course of the lunch hour even though the menu touts free refills. I don’t know that I have ever heard the staff say “Thank you” to a patron or even smile. The service and the food at Happy Reunion make it a horrible place to eat.
For the bargain conscious, the Chinese buffets in Carbondale offer a great deal of food for a low price, but you get what you pay for. For real Chinese food, fast and affordable, the top in Carbondale is New Kahala Fast Food.