Litchees are a   sweet way to finish a meal at China Inn in Blacksburg.

Litchees are a sweet way to finish a meal at China Inn in Blacksburg.


Chinese fare doesn't have to be buffet

By Tom Angleberger - Special to The Roanoke Times
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Two readers suggested I try Blacksburg's China Inn.

It's a modest-looking place from the outside, and without such recommendations, it would be very easy to pass by.

But inside, it's quite a charming little restaurant.

A friend of mine categorizes restaurants by whether or not they have tablecloths. China Inn does, along with very nice ink brush paintings, plenty of potted plants and a large window that makes the dining room bright and pleasant. Light Chinese music with a western beat adds to this mood.

I've reviewed a number of Chinese buffets and they can be quite enjoyable, but there's also something enjoyable about sitting down in a nice dining room and having a waiter take care of you.

And this waiter was extremely charming.

He pointed me to the lunch specials, 26 options priced about $5, including a choice of soup. Hot tea and crispy noodles were served gratis as well.

From standard options such as General Tso's chicken, egg foo young and chop suey, I ordered shrimp with garlic sauce.

My soup came almost immediately. It was as thick and hearty as egg drop soup can be. I hadn't finished when my entree came. It was good and loaded with shrimp and vegetables, but didn't seem quite spicy enough to justify being printed in red on the menu as a hot and spicy dish.

The dessert options included litchies. I asked the waiter about them, but he couldn't quite explain what they were. I decided to order them anyway.

He returned with a bowl of cap-shaped white things with ice. I was unsure about what I was about to eat, but it didn't look good. And yet it was.

Litchies, it turns out, are a type of fruit, and the dish before me tasted like a slightly exotic fruit cocktail. It was a pleasant ending to the meal, though not an inexpensive one.

Yes, I did miss the endless bounty of a buffet. But I enjoyed the peaceful, unhurried atmosphere and friendly service.

Bottom line: Blacksburg's China Inn has many charms inside its plain brown wrapper.