A reader of the Prince George's Extra tipped me off to Chanans Buffet in the East Gate Shopping Center in Lanham. Go there, he promised, and you'll find a plentiful, pleasant meal from the extensive buffet of almost 50 dishes. So I did, and I would be amazed if anyone left hungry after a trip to this all-you-can-eat restaurant.
If it's your first time, be sure to enter Chanans through the entrance on the right and line up with the regulars behind the cash register. We didn't know the drill and made the mistake of joining the line waiting for tables, but we quickly learned from fellow patrons that at Chanans you pay first and then eat.
Lunch is the real bargain at $5.99 (after 4 p.m. the dinner price of $9.99 prevails). The cashier presented us with a preprinted ticket with the number in our party. Although the place was packed, with a line out the door, the turnover was very quick and we were seated in a matter of minutes.
Chanans is really multiple buffets. And thanks to a tip from the reader, we started at the Mongolian grill, where it helps to know the ropes. For starters, load a plate with your favorites from the trays of raw ingredients, such as chicken, beef, pork, onions, broccoli, rice noodles, green peppers, carrots, spring onions, mushrooms and cabbage. Be sure to pile plenty on your plate, as all the ingredients cook down significantly during the grilling. Next go to the array of spices and sauces--garlic, ginger, sesame oil and hot sauce are a few of the options--and sprinkle them on top of your meat and vegetables. Then hand your plate to the chef who cooks it on the grill and a few minutes later presents you with your freshly grilled dish.
Another buffet includes an extensive selection of Chinese dishes; while they are on the bland side, plenty of spices and hot sauces are available for you to add at the table. My advice? Make a beeline for dishes as they are brought out, since we noticed that the ones we liked tended to be the freshest as well. The wait staff is attentive to replenishing dishes, so there is a steady stream of new arrivals. Here are a few worthwhile choices: The green beans were crisp and not overly cooked but we liked them even better when we spiced them up with a bit of hot sauce. The shrimp in lobster sauce was full of shrimp, and the roast chicken was also acceptable. Boneless ribs had a nice flavor and did not need any extra spices.
Sprinkled through the Chinese buffet are a few American classics as well: mashed potatoes with gravy sat next to spring rolls (which were stuffed full), which sat near pizza (very cheesy, light on the sauce), which was sitting near won ton soup. (A nice touch was a bowl of minced pork and chopped scallions next to the won ton soup.)
Chanans also has plenty of desserts: soft ice cream, puddings, funnel cakes and fried dough rolled in sugar. Fruit is also available.
Another plus: the dishes are labeled, so you know what you are selecting. The restaurant is clean and well lighted and has a casual atmosphere where patrons share information about their favorite entrees. The wait staff is quick to provide and refill bottomless sodas (included in the price of the meal) and at clearing plates from tables. It's a pleasant place for a huge and inexpensive meal.
Chanans Buffet, 10573 Greenbelt Rd., Lanham, Md. 20706; call 301-262-2177. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Child prices ($4.19 for lunch and $5.99 for dinner) and a 10 percent discount for senior citizens. Accepts charge cards. Carryout items available as well. No alcohol.
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CAPTION: The extensive buffet at Chanans runs from Mongolian grill to Chinese dishes and even mashed potatoes and gravy.