Chinese Food in Nashville

February 20, 2010

In America, there’s good Chinese food and bad Chinese food.  Let me explain:  good Chinese food is served up by restaurants that attempt to offer un-Americanized or regional Chinese food. They don’t do buffets, and they don’t put sushi dishes or rolls on their menus.  They can come across as rude to English-speaking customers.  They often have untranslated menus in Chinese characters.  They offer feet, innards, and things not available at Harris Teeter, Kroger’s, Whole Foods, Publix, or Trader Joe’s.  There are a variety of Chinese vegetables.  They may have algae-infested tanks of crustaceans, fish, and eel.  Service is dependably lousy.  They don’t apologize or explain to customers their way of business; customers deal with it.  Nashville has no such restaurant.  A sad reality.

What we do have, however, are bad  Chinese restaurants.  This means buffet lunches, “chicken McNugget on a stick” (as heard from a fellow diner recently), sauces in packets, chicken breasts only, broccoli as your only vegetable, a brown rice option, and vegetarian egg rolls.  These restaurants serve up food they think Nashvillians imagine what Chinese food should be.  We have a variety of such restaurants.  It’s all a matter of figuring out:  which are the good bad-Chinese-food restaurants?

Probably the most well-known and consistent example of a bad-Chinese-food restaurant is PF Chang’s on West End.  Desperate for any kind of Chinese food when we first moved here, we ate there a few times.  First impression:  there’s nothing more offensive than a waiter coming up to our table and asking if we’ve ever had Chinese food before–only to then explain it’s served family style.  [Ask if we’ve been to PF Chang’s before, and that’ll go over better.]  I don’t need you to explain the sauces at the table either, thanks.  Second impression, we once asked a server if they had bok choy that night.  She turned to us and asked incredulously, “What, you think this is a real Chinese restaurant?”  Confirmation that this is another bad-Chinese-food restaurant.  Golden Coast, August Moon, Chinatown, et al. fall under this category–albeit at a cheaper price.

There are days when I’m craving Chinese food, and I drive all over town.  I’m hoping for the best bad-Chinese food that will churn my stomach the least.  I return most often to:

China Spring (next to the Melrose Kroger)
2613 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37204-3042

It’s a buffet-ed lunch, though with an interesting lunch crowd.  Their buffet’s meat dishes are all variations of chicken, save the beef and broccoli.  For lunch or dinner, you can always order off the regular menu and get decent dishes.  Not a sit-down dinner place, but more of a take-out dinner option.  Strip-mall architecture and decor.  Nevertheless, they at least play Chinese music, and the food is cooked with fresh ingredients.  The gentleman who works the cash register can be charmingly snarky.  To-go portions are quite bountiful, and their low-mein is worth a try.  So goodly bad, it doesn’t have its own website.