Guilty pleasure or disgusting habit, visiting even the best Chinese buffets will leave you full and full of regret - best, of course, being a relative term in the world of Chinese food and buffets. Those costing more than $12 -- Todai in the Marqu*E Center, for one -- are excluded, but here are five strangely common buffet non-sequiturs.
1. Corn Nuggets You know them, you probably love them and you'll definitely find them on most Chinese buffets in the city. From the hellacious China Border (it's like stepping into a nightmare of screaming children and dried-up broccoli) near 290 and 610 to the palatable Hunan Chef on Katy Freeway, they all keep deep-fried dough flecked with corn kernels permanently stocked. Did these originate as a hidden surprise for stoned people who frequent these places?
2. Jell-O There are not many things more disgusting than Jell-O...except finding it among an array of greasy Chinese food under heat lamps. Once again, no one really knows the origin of its arrival onto the steam tables of Chinese buffets, just that you can set your watch by it.
3. Half Frozen Slices of White Cake So you need a decent dessert after you've gorged on sweet and sour pork, General Tso's chicken and an array of various sodium-laden sauces covering all kinds of meat and vegetables. Naturally, tiny slices of white cake are your first choice. How convenient! There's one right at the end of the buffet. You take a bite and, wait a minute, it's half-frozen. This cake isn't homemade?
4. Crinkle-Cut French Fries At the places around town serving dual purposes as food establishments and unruly children's free-for-alls (Lambo Chinese Buffet), crinkle-cut fries are perfect with the corn nuggets, pizza slices and snotty noses. While most of them are found squished into the carpet, a few remain shriveling slowly under the heat lamps near the "American" food.
5. Soft Serve Only the finest non-dairy frozen soft serve in cardboard cones are available at Chinese buffets. It's quite the day when you find one with sprinkles and toppings too. Even better: when those toppings are completely intermingled with one another after the barrage of children and adults have used the same utensil to dish out all of them.