But I have! And a friend of mine, the daughter of two well-educated, well-traveled, Taiwan-born parents, tells me that her folks adore Chinese buffets. I don't adore them, but I have fond memories of piling up plates with stir-fried rice and sticky General Tso's chicken back when I was a poor, hungry journalist in the 1980s. Gourmet it wasn't. But honey, when you're broke and starving, even shoe leather tastes good with sweet-and-sour sauce.
Maybe because the economy is still shaky, customers keep flocking to Chinese buffets and more and more of the restaurants keep popping up. Some are smooth operations with a vast array of steam tables loaded with traditional Chinese-American fare; others are simply gruesome. But they're all irresistibly cheap.
The newest buffet on the block is the three-week-old West One Chinese Restaurant (1350 East Meyer Boulevard), located at the back of the Landing Shopping Center and boldly attempting to succeed where two soul-food buffets G's to Please Finest Soul Food and the Cornbread Café failed. Hoping to lure customers, West One's owners have put up dozens of little yellow signs all over the east side neighborhood. But this stretch of Troost isn't at a loss for inexpensive Asian-American restaurants: Right across the street is the low-budget Friendship Chinese restaurant, and the drive-through China Feast is less than a block away.
The décor at West One hasn't changed a bit (the place still retains the salad bar and the neon signs from 20 years ago, when it was occupied by a cheap steakhouse chain), and the salad bar is laden with the usual suspects: iceberg lettuce, broccoli, chopped carrots, dense croutons. Traditional Chinese-American buffet offerings fill the tidy steam tables: stir-fried rice with shrimp, pepper steak, lo mein, crab rangoon, egg rolls, shiny sesame chicken and deep-fried chicken bits accompanied by violently red sweet-and-sour sauce. And, of course, two kinds of Jell-O.
Business has been spotty, a server there whispered to me one day. But the place is new, and the location isn't really visible from the street. Maybe all those little yellow signs will help. They got my attention I tripped over one.