THE PLACE: My daughter and I discover CJ Palace by following our noses. We are drawn in one evening while heading to the car after dance class at Art in Motion, just two doors down. Tucked into the northwest corner of the Spanish Springs mall off Pyramid Highway, CJ Palace offers Chinese cuisine and Japanese sushi a notch above others in the area.
THE LOOK: From the outside, CJ Palace blends into the mall and might be missed if not for the delicious smells and the crowd that fills the entryway at peak hours. In addition to in-house diners, CJ does a bustling take-out business.
Inside, CJ Palace feels nothing like a mall restaurant. With high-backed maroon booths, simple décor and casually dressed diners drawn from the mall and nearby, CJ Palace has the comfortable, relaxed, no-pressure feeling of a neighborhood restaurant. The staff isn’t flustered by kids, even when a mess of noodles is left on the table.
The restaurant is divided into two sides, with Chinese food on one and sushi on the other. We opt for Chinese.
THE MEAL: Trying to stay within our $20 budget, we bypass appetizers that include potstickers, spring rolls and crab rangoon and go straight to the meal. Entrées are served family-style, so my 9-year-old and I each make a selection.
She quickly chooses chicken chow mein, and I leave my comfort zone — which typically leans to shrimp and fish — and try Mandarin chicken. At $7.95 and $10.95, respectively, we come in just under the $20 limit but opt for sodas as well, which puts us a few dollars over.
When our meal arrives, my mom instinct belatedly kicks in, and I am struck by the lack of vegetables in our order. I wish we had ordered somewhat differently. Nonetheless, we dig in and are not disappointed.
The chicken chow mein is just right — the noodles are firm, not mushy. The sauce is sweeter than some, and my daughter appreciates that she can spear a large gob of noodles without having to pick through the mushy vegetables so frequently found at other restaurants. With the dish being one of my daughter’s favorites, we have sampled it at restaurants across town and find CJ’s version to be one of the best.
The Mandarin chicken, accompanied by steamed rice, proves to be lightly crisp on the outside. The accompanying sauce is, for me, the right side of “hot” — enough to be tangy but not so much I need to wash down every bite with a slug of ice water.
The family-style entrées are large, of course, and we take home enough leftovers for at least one, maybe two more meals for the two of us. In hindsight, I would redo the order to include a vegetable dish within budget. With all the leftovers and subsequent meals at home, we would easily have two or three meals each for $20 or less.
KUDOS: The service is fast but not rushed — a bonus when you’re dining with children. Our server and others stop by frequently to check on us, but there is no pressure. Granted, we have been there other times when the service is slower, but that tends to be at peak hours.
QUIBBLES: The chicken options are familiar choices, including general’s chicken, lemon chicken and sesame chicken. I find myself wishing for something a little different, but at the same time, I appreciate the familiar.
ALTERNATIVES: Although my daughter sticks to chicken chow mein on every visit, I have tried a variety of the seafood and shrimp dishes and always find them satisfying. So far, I have stuck to the Chinese side of the menu but would like to venture into sushi on another trip. The sushi bar is always busy, so it’s probably worth trying.
RETURN TRIP: Absolutely. CJ Palace is a good choice when we want to go out to dinner but don’t want to drive back into Reno. Spanish Springs and Sparks can feel somewhat limited on dining choices, so I appreciate the presence of restaurants like CJ’s and like to support them.