China Cafe brings the Far East close to home

Chef Du Jour

Like all college students, I am on a budget with little room for luxuries like dining out in restaurants. And like many of my fellow students, I feel dining on campus can get a little monotonous. Throw in transportation restraints and there are not many choices, or so I thought.

My goal is to find affordable and convenient restaurants for the AU community. One such restaurant is China Cafe in the Westwood Shopping Center across the street from Park Bethesda. Students on campus can access China Cafe as well - simply take the Park Bethesda shuttle, cross the street and you are there.

China Cafe is mainly set up for take-out service, but limited space for dining-in is available, too. As my first stop on the D.C. restaurant scene, I was impressed. My dining companion and I each ordered soup and an entree. The total bill, with non-alcoholic beverages, came to less than $20. We also had leftovers that provided us with another meal.

The menu selections are straightforward with little embellishment in the menu descriptions. In other words, when you order a particular dish, you know exactly what will be served. The choices are varied but not overwhelming. There is something on China Cafe's menu to please the most discriminating palates, from vegans to meat lovers.

The hot and spicy selections are just that: hot, spicy and not for the faint of heart. The Hot and Sour Soup was not only served hot from the soup kettle but was spicy, spicy, spicy! Since I am from New Orleans, I had no problem at all with the spiciness.

We sampled the Hunan Chicken, featuring boneless white meat deep-fried in a brown garlic sauce with fresh broccoli florets and bamboo shoots. The chicken was not over fried and the brown sauce had the perfect amount of garlic, which complemented the sauce instead of overpowering and competing with the rest of the ingredients. The perfectly prepared vegetables were fresh and of a nice quality.

We also tried the Vegetarian's Delight, which featured a brown sauce, which was of a different texture and much lighter than the brown garlic sauce. Carrots, zucchini, straw mushrooms and bamboo shoots were just some of the vegetables in this delightful dish.

After finishing our meal, we sat back with the type of grin that comes from eating good food and having a satisfied stomach. I have gone back two more times to see if that first visit was a luck of the draw and am happy to report that the consistency and quality was apparent with each subsequent visit.

I would give this restaurant three stars, only because the atmosphere is geared towards take-out service and not dine-in. Nonetheless, the quality of the take-out packaging is extremely high. My food stayed hot well after I served it at home. This would make a great stopping place for take-out food to eat home or in one of the area's wonderful parks.

RATINGS

Total: Three out of four forks Quality of service: N/A Quality of food: Three forks Menu Selections: Three forks Dollar Value: Three forks Location : Four forks Atmosphere: Two forks

All major credit cards accepted.

CONTACT:

China Cafe 5436 Westbard Ave. Westwood Shopping Center Bethesda, MD

(202) 654-3077 (202) 654-3078

Hours of operation: 11 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Lunch menu 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Dinner menu: 5 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. 7 days a week

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