Empire strikes back
China Empire3326 S McCarran Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502
These July days are hot and long, and the last thing you want to do is cook. Baking is slow torture—you might as well be turning yourself on a spit. But you also don’t want to leave home. You’re enjoying the cool breeze that is (finally!) making its leisurely way across your back deck, and the idea of gussying up to go anywhere is simply overwhelming. You could eat last night’s leftovers. Or do cold cuts. But you want a little more, something spicy and savory and satisfying. Oh, and cheap. If you live in the area, you should try take-out from China Empire Chinese restaurant.
China Empire is an odd little place tucked away between a Goodwill drop-off and a dry cleaner in the Mira Loma shopping center complex. It is small—very small—and smells of grease and a few other things whose evasive names stubbornly remain on the tip of the tongue, unidentifiable and a bit heavy, yet not altogether unpleasant. There are a couple of tables, but I would not recommend eating there. Take-out is the way to go.
Ordering from the tiny establishment over the phone is sometimes tricky since language barriers can occasionally lead to misunderstandings. I’d recommend having a menu on hand and ordering by number, keeping the whole affair short and to the point. Approximately 30 minutes later, my husband or I will drive over and come home with those classic white Styrofoam boxes, dripping chunky juices that are not, granted, the healthiest, but are yummy nonetheless.
My favorite dish is the hot and spicy shrimp ($8.25), which is, strangely, only available in quart size. But this doesn’t bother my family—we all dig in. You get a lot of food for a little money. Another favorite is the house special: General Tso’s chicken ($8.95 for the quart) with vegetable lo mein ($3.25 pint/$5.55 quart), which comes with a choice of roast pork or chicken ($3.75 pint) or shrimp or beef ($4.25 pint). There is also a house special lo mein ($4.75), the ingredients of which, to be honest, I am not completely certain. But it is good. China Empire offers a list of possible combination platters that all come with ham fried rice and egg rolls ($5.95 to $6.25). Lunch specials are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday and are served with steamed rice or ham fried rice ($4.25 or $4.75). The restaurant even does catering, and of course, every meal comes with a possibly prescient fortune cookie.
Essentially, the food is zesty and salty, and the veggies are usually still crunchy. It’s not fine dining, but it’s an inexpensive tummy stuffer and one that you don’t have to cook yourself. It’s basic-but-good, Americanized Chinese fare, and eaten on a hot summer night when the breezes are just beginning to roll in, it can be a simple yet gratifying pleasure.