All you can’t eat

The service at Top of China is about as welcoming as the lions by the front entrance.

The service at Top of China is about as welcoming as the lions by the front entrance.

Photo By David Robert

Top of China Buffet

2010 Oddie Blvd.
Reno, NV 89431

(775) 355-9998

A group of friends and I were driving home rather late, our appetites roaring, when I happened to spot an open restaurant, Top of China Buffet. Though some of my friends were skeptical, I talked the crew into giving it a try. I love a good buffet because, with my unparalleled ability to consume vast quantities, I can rip right through one like a Tasmanian devil and eat much more than my money’s worth.

What followed at Top of China, however, was very awkward. We were the only patrons in a huge, cavernous restaurant without any music. We were outnumbered by the employees roughly three to one, and they seemed to begrudge our presence. I’m mindful that it’s rude to arrive with a group of six (me, Danielle, Josh, Lisa, Ty and Cassie) just before a business is about to close. But they had the open sign blazing and a posted closing time of 10 p.m. It was no later than 9:20 p.m. when we arrived. Besides, a late arrival is no excuse for shoddy treatment.

Ordering was an ordeal. Our original server had trouble remembering our orders (partly because of a language barrier). So after three attempts, he and an annoyed-looking managerial type engaged in a lengthy discussion while standing at our table. Then the managerial type, who spoke better English, took over as our waiter, much to his further annoyance.

The buffet itself is large: eight big tables. The all-you-can-eat dinner price is a reasonable $8.59, with discounts for kids and seniors. There’s a variety of food and a lot of it. The menu boasts Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese, Japanese, American and Italian cuisines (though I didn’t notice much of the latter two). It’s never a good idea to arrive at a buffet after the dinner rush, and many of the things I tried, from chicken lo mein to barbecue spareribs, were worse for the wear because they’d been sitting out and picked through. I did three passes through the buffet, and they all felt like walks of shame beneath the gazes of grumpy workers.

We ordered some a la carte items for my friends who opted against the buffet—vegetable fried rice ($6.25) and mixed vegetable delight with tofu ($7.05). These were made up fresh and were better for it, though nothing was too memorable.

The buffet has quite a bit of seafood, including spicy octopi that taste like rubber and an inky blast of black pepper. After sampling a couple, I decided my remaining octopus was more fun to play with than to eat.

This disgusted Danielle, who sneered and proclaimed me “gross.”

But Josh came to my defense: “Hey Danielle, you’re eating cauliflower—I’ve seen diseases that look like that. … If that octopus was still swimming around, you’d think it was cute.”

The managerial type came over and asked if we needed anything else. When we said we didn’t, an army of workers immediately mobilized and began to clean the table with alarming speed and efficiency. It was the most impressive part of the meal.

It was partly our fault for arriving so late, but Top of China Buffet is not a soothing destination for the hungry or the weary. The food was unrewarding, and I was amazed at how they seemed to disdain our patronage. I rarely have felt so unwelcome in a restaurant.