Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; noon until 9 on Sunday. Price Range: Very reasonable. Full meals for $4 to $5 per person. Atmosphere: Informal, a bit worn. Special facilities: Parking in front. Highchairs and boosters. Management helpful to handicapped. Credit cards: Visa; NAC; American Express; Master Charge. Note: China Royal Bake Shoppe is at 8482 Piney Branch, 588-0210. Open 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily; closed Mondays.
Dining at the China Royal is a bit of a time warp. It took me back to the Chinese restaurants of my youth in the 1950s. I could have been 10 years old again, in a world where Chinese food meant one from column A and one from column B: wonton soup, spareribs, egg rolls and chicken chow mein.
Those were days when most of us didn't know dim sum or spiced bean cud or bon bon chicken. We ate fried wontons, not jao-tse; egg drop soup, not hot and sour; shrimp in lobster sauce, not whole fish in black bean.
Szechuan? Hunan? Tung Ting? Jut pass the soy sause, please.
The Chinese restaurants in those days all seemed to have red-tassled lanterns hanging from the ceilings. There were always mustard and ketchup on the table, never hoisin or bean sauce.
It's still the same at the China Royal, which has been in business for 22 years.
You'll find the old favorites. The five-page menu lists every chop suey, chow mein, subgun, sweet-and-sour and moo goo tai pan one could want. Most are uninspired and bland, but the ingredients are fresh, vegetables are crisp, portions are generous and preparation is entirely adequate.
Yes, the good old combination platter still lives at China Royal -- 16 of them, in fact, at prices ranging from $3.95 for chow mein-fried rice-egg roll to $5.65 for lobster cantonese with fried rice and egg roll.
Which brings us to the next point: prices. China Royal doesn't have 1950s prices, but it doen't have 1980s prices either. Follow the family-dinner route and you can feed four or five (if one is small) for $23. That sum buys soup and egg rolls all around, 4 entrees, fried rice, tea and almond cookies.
A few of the house specials are worth trying. The yung chow wonton soup, a large bowl of chicken broth with lots of wontons, sliced pork, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bok choy, is excellent at $3.95 for two.
There is Hawaiian pineapple duck. This is a large square of boned duck, deep-fried and dressed with pineapple (canned) and sauce. It is filling, though almost as sweet as a dessert. A good buy at $5.50.
If you want seafood, try the chow hoy san, a large mound of fresh shrimp, lobster meat, scallops and vegetables. Cost: $6.15 for a portion large enough for two.
The setting is one big, noisy room decidedly frayed around the edges, but a reasonable place to take children, where neither their commotion nor spills will be noticed.
Don't miss the family-run bake shop, just four doors down from the restaurant. It's an intriguing emporium of Chinese groceries, miscellaneous items and outstanding baked goods. In fact, a visit to the bake shop is worth a trip in itself.
You'll find authentic Chinese delicacies not sold retail anywhere else in the area -- not even in the China Royal restaurant. There are five kinds of dim sum (little pastries; the name means "heart's delight"). Some are meat-filled, some are sweet-filled, some are steamed. There are lovely spring rolls, sesame balls, fried dumplings and roast pork buns. There are winter melon cakes, black bean cakes, custard buns and much more.
The shop sells fabulous walnut cookies that are crispy, deep-fried, sweet curlicues 4 or 5 inches in diameter. On weekends one can purchase duck fresh-roasted on the premises for $5.50 a half.
The bake shop is managed by the daughter of the owner of China Royal. She is also chief baker. Don't be surprised to see a few bagels and challah breads stacked among the dim sum. "For some of my father's friends," said the manager.
And the X-rated fortune cookies tucked away on a shelf in the corner?
"They're from San Francisco."