Mongolian Grill is a Waste of Time and Money

When driving back into Ames on South Duff, you are greeted with dry prairie grass, run-down car repair shops, and a restaurant outlet. As you become aware of the hunger you’ve been holding in on your way home, you get excited to see a new food place on your way in to Ames. Your curiosity growing, you gaze at the building, wondering what kind of delicious delicacy awaits you inside. You pull into the lot and stare up at the sign. Next to tasty Vesuvius Wood-Fired Pizza is a place known as Buffet Mongolian. Yes, Buffet Mongolian. Not Mongolian Buffet, and especially NOT Mongolian Grill. It is crucial that you do not mix up the two restaurants. It could be the biggest mistake of your life. You continue to stare at the gigantic sign on the side of the building. I’d say that it looks like 2nd graders designed and hung the letters there, but that would be degrading to the 2nd graders. At first glance, the letters appear to read “buffet monGollan”, but you proceed into the building anyway. You step inside and examine the venue. It seems spacious, it goes back pretty far, and there’s plenty of floor space around. You and your party of 10 are escorted around the corner into a section of the restaurant you didn’t see before. They’ve packed as many chairs and tables as they possibly can into one room. You shuffle your way in to sit down and scoot as close as you can to the people around you, not by choice. After choosing your beverage, you instinctively go up and look around at the buffet. You expect to see a variety of Asian foods and dishes, so you start off with some sticky white rice. As you glance around you don’t see anything you expected. All around you, you see platters of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, onion rings, fried cheese, garlic bread, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, tacos, ice creams, cinnamon rolls, and other sorts of non-Mongolian cuisine, each tasting worse than the sample before it. Most of the food has nothing to do with Mongolia, a land-locked country between Russia and China. Mongolian cuisine is popular for its mutton, dumplings, stews, noodle soups, and other things, most not served at this restaurant. The restaurant has mostly Chinese and Japanese influence, not to mention the “white people comfort food” of fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. There are some edible meals presented, though. Hidden behind the rows of stale or undercooked food is a poor imitation of a HuHot station and grill where you can watch them prepare your food. The line for the grill wraps around the area for what seems like miles. The cooks spend more time cleaning the grills than actually cooking with them. There is also a decent selection of sushi, though that’s not what most people think of when they hear the word “Mongolian”. The restaurant resembles how old white people would imagine China being. There are indoor water features, Chinese cat decorations, fake plants and Russian dolls that are set alongside 20th-century European paintings and a stagnant selection of smooth jazz music. The food allows you to say that you ate some hip “foreign food” without you having to ingest actual Mongolian food from actual Mongolia. You can sneak an egg-roll on your plate of macaroni and cheese to make it more exotic. The “Coming Soon” sign was posted in front of the building for so long that the disappointment that you feel after leaving the restaurant makes it difficult to go back there ever again.