1781 Monmouth St.
Chinese buffets are a dime a dozen in Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky. They all seem to have basically the same cookie-cutter décor, the same carry-out menu, and the same meat-centric buffet items to choose from. In that respect, Hong Kong Grand Buffet is no different.
Located in a Newport strip mall, the restaurant looks a bit bleak. If you happen by and peer in the window you might reckon, as we did, that the restaurant is carry-out only, even though the word "buffet" is in the restaurant’s name. There are a couple dozen fading photographs of classic Chinese dishes hanging on the wall next to the counter, a refrigerated cabinet of bottled sodas near the door, and no tables; only a few chairs lined up along the wall for carry-out customers to wait for their orders.
It wasn’t until my husband stopped in one day to place a carry-out order that he noticed the door leading to a large buffet room in the back. Seeing the cheerful room nearly packed out for lunch, he decided to give it a try and came home raving about how tasty it was. Trusting his judgment, I figured I’d give it a try as well, although a quick tour around the stations told me that I’d be ordering ala carte from the menu, since there was very little for a vegetarian on the buffet.
I ordered Bean Curd Szechuan Style from the "Vegetable" portion of their vast menu and it was superb; huge chunks of tofu and crisp-tender veggies stir-fried in a delicate brown sauce laced with chili pepper flakes. When I order this particular option from other local Chinese buffets the brown sauce is usually an overpoweringly salty, congealed hoisin sauce; and a few times I’ve encountered an oily, non-vegetarian version containing oyster sauce. In comparison, the sauce used at Hong Kong Grand Buffet is light and lets the natural taste of the crisp-tender vegetables shine through. My taste buds could hardly believe their good luck – it was really delicious, and the portion was so large that I couldn’t finish it. I was hooked.
The restaurant's menu boasts over 100 different ala carte dishes, eight of which are vegetarian. I haven’t worked my way through the list yet, mainly because the Szechuan bean curd rocks my world, but I do plan on trying the other offerings eventually. Nothing on the veggie section of the menu costs more than $5.75, which is seriously good bang for the buck, and non-vegetarians can enjoy a better-than-average buffet for a mere $5.50/lunch or $7.95/dinner.
One thing to be aware of is that being in Kentucky, the restaurant still sports a smoking section - and it's not too far from the buffet stations. The conscientious wait staff do try to seat smokers as far from the stations as possible, but sometimes it just isn't possible, especially during the noon lunch hour. To be fair, the restaurant seems to have a very good exhaust system in place because we haven't really noticed a second-hand smoke smell on the occasions we've dined there. In fact I'd have never known the section existed, save for the few times I've seen someone light up.
Hong Kong Grand Buffet may not win any awards for interior design, but the food is leagues above your typical Chinese buffet. It's affordable, tasty, and vegetarian-friendly, and ultimately that's what matters most.