This week, I visited my neighborhood Chinese takeout restaurant Grand China at 3815 Dayton Blvd. From what I’ve gathered, this restaurant was formerly located at 816 Mountain Creek Road near a gas station, Village Laundry and a La Altena location. There was another restaurant at the current location called China Lee, but it closed sometime in 2016.

In Red Bank proper, Grand China—now located near Food City—serves its purpose as an inexpensive utilitarian Chinese takeout service with everything one could imagine might be served in such a restaurant.

And with 28 lunch specials (the time of the day I visited) for only $4.99 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., you’re getting into ridiculously inexpensive food. If you’ve eaten Chinese food before, you’ve had this type of food.

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For a great overview of how Chinese food became so prevalent in America, I recommend “A Very Brief History of Chinese Food in America” from Time. You should also watch the documentary “The Search for General Tso.” It’s fascinating.

Atmosphere/service
Monica and I drive by Grand China often. We use the nearby Food City as a primary grocery store, and Bread & Butter (our local bakery) is always a beacon. Unfortunately, Grand China has the curb appeal of a dilapidated tax service building in a misbegotten ghost town. It’s anything but “grand,” and a small cardboard sign near the front entrance (such as the kind you would see a person holding at an intersection) said “delivery driver needed!” So, you know, if you need a job. Inside, the restaurant is fairly typical of takeout places. It reminds me of the ubiquitous and dated No. 1 Chinese restaurants in every city. There are a few booths (although one of them was broken), but I imagine that most of the orders are to-go.

A very nice man was working the register. We briefly chatted about the weather. He pointed me to the lunch specials, and I was surprised at how much food I could get for such a low price. With other types of food, I would be hesitant to try a $4.99 special because “too good to be true,” but Chinese food can be both cheap and good. Take Shangri-la at 14 E. Seventh St., for example. They offer great specials and the food is tasty. A win-win for budget diners.

The delivery is for patrons within a 7-mile radius of the restaurant. Fees range from $3 to $5, depending on how far they have to go. The average delivery time is 40 to 60 minutes, according to the website. By the way, my favorite section on the website is the “reviews” heading. There is no way any of those reviews are real. “Solid place, love delivery.” C’mon. It’s hilarious.

My plan was to get some quick takeout and return home to walk the dog before I had to head out again. Monica was at the beach with her family, so she couldn’t join me for this one.

Sesame chicken, white rice and broccoli. (Photo: Staff)

The food
The menu at Grand China is filled with combinations of meat, veggies and rice. In addition to familiar dishes, the lunch special (my focus for this article) features chicken wings and several hot and spicy specials. These offer PLENTY of food for a normal-sized human, but for $7.50, you can get many of the same dishes as an “all-day special combination platter.”

Other highlights include mee fun (Chinese noodles) and several “Thai specials” featuring red, yellow, panang or massaman curries. Vegetarian options include tofu and vegetable dishes with rice.

Because this was my first-ever visit to Grand China, I decided to keep it simple. I ordered the sesame chicken lunch special with white rice. I chose a cup of wonton soup over a spring roll. My entire bill came out to $5.46 before tip. Like a miracle, less than seven minutes later, my food was ready to head out the door. I threw a couple of packets of duck sauce and soy sauce into my bag and drove home.

Inside Grand China. (Photo: Staff)

When I opened the box, I was surprised to find only two broccoli florets. I didn’t order a vegetarian meal, true, but only two tiny florets? Why even bother?

The chicken tasted tangy but seemed overly sweet for my liking. The batter didn’t adhere well to the chicken, so it had a tendency to slide off before I could eat it. As for texture, the whole bite was sort of gummy and sticky. It wasn’t pleasant. Also, the broccoli florets were cold. On the soup side of the situation, I’ve certainly had better-tasting wonton soup. This wasn’t terrible—nothing I tried was—but it was all very bland, which is probably an indication of customer preferences. I’ve talked to many a cook who has felt the need to tone down spices and bold flavors because of customer complaints.

Would I go back?
Grand China is the closest Chinese restaurant to our home, but places such as Rice Boxx and Shangri-la are much better bets for my food dollar. I think a good test for a restaurant is if they offer a good version of the most basic of dishes. It doesn’t get any more basic than sesame chicken, and this was, sadly, only a serviceable version. I wouldn’t recommend eating there unless you happen to be in the area. But it IS cheap, if that’s your motivation.

The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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