The mein event
Oriental Express970 S. McCarran Blvd.
Sparks, NV 89431
Yeah, it’s another Chinese fast food joint, but somebody has to keep track of these places for the beleaguered Northern Nevada time-pinched diner. This is where I come in. I feel about cheap and good Chinese restaurants the way some Second Amendment devotees feel about guns: Better to have one and not need it than vice versa. Thus if the slightly obscure location is on your route, you’ll do well to try Oriental Express, which opened about eight months ago in a somewhat secluded alcove off Kresge and South McCarran.
We probably preceded whatever dinner “rush” occurs by arriving at 5:30 p.m. on a weeknight, finding a place with barebones furnishings and décor except for an exotic poster of ancient Chinese hieroglyphs, but it was air-con cooled on a hot evening and clean and comfortable. We had no problem attracting cheerful if somewhat dizzy service.
We got a chuckle when our entrees arrived already in Styrofoam takeout boxes, but when we opened them, we got the joke: There was no way we were going to finish the contents, which were literally packed to the point of bursting, and the staff wasn’t going to waste clean dishes on us, given the inevitable. Another foible was that our tech-head server/cashier apparently forgot our appetizer order between mad dashes from the counter to his ready laptop on the far table. Thus the crab Rangoon appetizers ($4.25 for eight rather tasty ones) arrived after the main entrees. Without malice, I wondered if the order would have been better executed had I posted it on Facebook.
My husband’s shrimp chow mein ($6.95 for a quart) was about seven little breaded fried shrimps drowning in an ocean of noodles—and that doesn’t even count the gigantic side of fried rice. He eventually extracted all the seafood but was left with a comical surplus of the chow mein, and the rice was barely touched. We’re not low-carb zealots, but I’m serious: These guys don’t skimp on the starches. Still, it tasted fine. The noodles were boiled and fried just right and were competitive for this genre, especially after being jazzed with a few drops of pepper oil.
Ditto my shrimp with mixed vegetables ($8.75 for a quart). Good, standard veggies—baby corns, onions, peppers, et al—were crisp and fresh, the sauce a nice blend of soy, spices, a little sugar and some starch for texture. It met the expectations I have for places like this.
The menu is not a shocker. Oriental Express stocks a plethora of standards, including egg foo young options in the seven buck range, kung pao chicken for $8.25, Mongolian beef for $8.25. There are house specials, such as Happy Family, “an exotic combination” of shrimp, chicken, pork and various veggies ($9.95) and designated spicy dishes with names like “Dragon Meets Phoenix” ($9.95), “Triple in Garlic Sauce” ($8.95), and “Hunan Triple Delight” of chicken, beef, and shrimp ($8.95). They do deliver, according to the menu, within a three-mile radius. However, according to our server, the rules governing the range of service are “up to the driver.” I was puzzled but didn’t pursue the issue.
In terms of the price, there is definitely no murder on this Oriental Express. Our whole meal, not counting tip, came in around $20—for quickly served and tasty Chinese. Overall, it’s a very good deal. So I was a little surprised by the dearth of customers from the evening northbound commute on McCarran. Truly, it might be worth your while to do a hit-and-run raid and show up in suburban Sparks with decent dinner ready in 10 minutes. And I would definitely recommend Oriental Express if you’re carbohydrate loading for a marathon.