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Jan 2, 2007 06:50 PM

Lucky 3 dimsum in Falls Church

I had to try this place because $9.95 for great dimsum buffet sounded too good to be true... You get a lot of food for $9.95 and a good variety but it's not great food. The high points might be the shrimp stuffed mushrooms or the har gow which is no different from any generic har gow but at least it wasn't terrible. There was a hot table--standard fried rice, lo mein, chow fun, green beans, chinese broccoli, stuffed mushrooms, fried tofu, among others, typical chinese buffet food. The lo bok gaw (turnip cakes) were okay, a little too fried; they disappeared quickly. There were the steel servers, typical of regular dimsum, w/ har gow, shu mai, char su bao, sticky rice. Har gow and shu mai were okay, the char su bao was gummy (stringy, like when I pulled it apart, the insides stretched a good 4") and the sticky rice tasted like chinese 5 spice. There was a fried table, too--where else can you get both french fries and fried fish head? Nothing caught my eye there, eggrolls, chicken terriyaki skewers, fried wontons maybe, can't remember. The desserts were various forms of bao, the custard center of the bolo bao was not fully cooked. The coconut bao was better. There was also a table of vietnamese spring rolls but didn't catch my eye either. Overall, it's a lot of food for the price; this is more about quantity than quality. The table next to us seemed to concentrate only on the crab and shrimp which disappears quickly so you have to be ready to pounce. I'd definitely bring kids because there is plenty for nonadventurous eaters from french fries and chicken terriyaki skewers to dumplings (doughy) to assorted desserts. For my money, I'd rather pay more and go to Mark's Duck House.

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  1. That's what we found - quantity over quality. Very nice people and lots of food, but the chow fun was tasteless, the rest of the offerings were pretty pedestrian, although the greens were very nice. There were some interesting Vietnamese offerings by the front door - we sampled them, and found them quite tasty, but couldn't figure out why they were on the way out.

    Yeah, french fries? Too much deep-fried stuff, too heavy.

    The dimsum coming from the kitchen wasn't anything special, most of it overdone and gummy. Our Chinese friends decided we'd do better going for burgers (they were kidding), but you do get what you pay for, I guess, and the cheap food at Lucky Three is worth just about what it cost us.

    We all stumbled out feeling soggy and fat, which is NOT how you want to exit a restaurant, but it's a pretty accurate description of the food we ingested. Shame on us, huh?

    1. I have a little higher opinion of Lucky Three, but I tend to go to any buffet with modest expectations. In general, I tend to find at a buffet a few items worth going back for, a lot of at-or-below-average items, and a few horrors. And ... hey, it's a weekday lunch buffet (beats the heck out of McDonald's) - for "special" certainly I'd want something better.

      With that in mind, I think Lucky Three is worth going back to for SOME of the fresh little steamer items (what are peanuts doing in dumpling fillings?) (the lotus-leaf wraps and the shrimp-filled dumplings are nice), the rice noodles, the Viet garden rolls (would be nicer if they ever replenished them when they're gone), and I like the turnip cakes very much when they're fresh.

      I particularly like the chance to "fusion" my lunch a bit - the Viet peanut sauce and sweet fish sauce is nice on Chinese dimsum, and the Chinese hot oil is nice on the Viet gardfen rolls.

      1. I have only been to Lucky 3 on weekends when they have cart service for dim sum and liked it quite a bit.

        1. I think anyone expecting top level dim sum at a weekday dim sum buffet is waiting to be disappointed. Given that, Lucky 3 is the best dim sum buffet in this area, with a ton of variety, plenty of seating, and fresh goods coming out of the kitchen constantly. I've been pretty happy with what they have offered, but a key thing I've noticed is that they offer a few exotic things during the buffet, and only early on. After that, it won't be served again. Also, things go downhill fast after 12:30pm. Get there early.

          I mean, if you're left feeling fat and greasy after eating at a buffet, don't be surprised because the restaurant didn't tell you to gorge yourself. People just feel compelled to get their money's worth and that's a fact of life.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Chownut

            Actually,if that's all that's available by way of dim sum in the morning hours, and the rush is on to make sure you get the good stuff, feeling fat and greasy - which came about simply by looking at the stuff, most of which we sampled,but did not eat, since it was so unpalatable, so gorging was clearly not part of our time there, believe me, since we're not suicidal - is the least of it. It would have been madness, once we tasted the greasy offerings, to have eaten more of what was out there, excluding the greens, which saved our day.

            Who wants to compete for food before noon? We'd rather pay more and get quality, which is available is so many other venues in that area.

            In the meantime,it continues to be a Major Truth, no matter what anyone tries to tell us: you do get what you pay for, and this cheap buffet is proof positive. Cheap just isn't good enough where food is concerned, at least in our world.

            1. re: loafing meat

              Oh no, don't misundertand me. The basics of the dim sum area always being offered. Once in awhile, they may have an eggplant dim sum dish or a stuffed beancurd dish that's offered early on, but not brought out anymore later b/c the stock has been depleted. Everything else is there.

              Whereever you go, whether it's a dim sum buffet joint or a regular dim sum joint, you'll realize that once you pass a certain time (~12:30), you're not going to get the hottest, the freshest, or the best selection. That's a fact of life with dim sum, even at the "grandest" of locations such as Mark's Duck House, New Fortune, China Garden, etc. At Mark's Duck House, you can get dim sum almost anytime because their stuff is frozen in the freezer. They are the IHOP of dim sum. Most of their stuff gets cold while circulating though, as what I've seen, they don't spend the extra bucks to have their carts heated. They might have changed now.

              In general, most chinese food is greasy. If you don't want greasy, you are better served looking at other cuisines. That's also the primary purpose of the teas, is to cut the grease. Lucky 3's buffet is a great buffet for the money. You're not getting americanized chinese food on the buffet bar, but instead, food that's served on dim sum carts at all restaurants, along with many other options. Heck, if you get a pineapple bun that's not cooked through like someone complained, just throw it out and get another one. Sure beats complaining to a waiter at a regular dim sum joint and then getting your food spit on.

              1. re: Chownut

                I guess we just have different concepts of what constitutes dim sum. In our experience, things are delivered freshly-prepared and not in the sodden, sticky mess that seems to define Lucky 3.

                As for your contention that "most Chinese food is greasy," that might be true of cheap "Chinese" buffets you find in America, where it really isn't Chinese food at all. Real Chinese cuisine - not the stuff presented at places like Lucky 3 - is hardly greasy. In fact, quite the opposite, but most Americans - as you so knowingly pointed out - tend to gorge and don't examine the finer points of what they're shoving.

                It's just another "all you can eat" grease palace, dressed up as something exotic for those who don't know any better. We relied on a recommendation we read here, and we got fooled, but, hey, it takes all kinds, and if this is the kind of food that satisfies people, then we applaud them. It's just not for us.

                1. re: loafing meat

                  Oh, for sure I've had finer dim sum, but not around here. This area is no great oasis for dim sum, but if you're stuck here, make the best of what you've got. I sure as heck have had better dim sum in NY, LA, and Hong Kong, but you don't see me griping about that since I'm not living in those areas.

                  Ask yourself though, for $9.95 dim sum buffet, did you really set your expectations up so high? Did you really expect gourmet? C'mon, you need to be realistic, and if your hopes were that high and for whatever reason, hoped to compare it to your dim sum nirvana experiences in the past, you were mistaken to have done that.

                  1. re: Chownut

                    Who ever enters a recommended place expecting it to be lousy? Realistic is what we got, and, as stated, it's not for us. Glad you like it, though. Enjoy.

              2. re: loafing meat

                Well yeah, you do get what you pay for - but I refer back to my comment above, that there are inexpensive buffets where you can expect some pleasant surprises (among the disappointments) IF you choose carefully.

                As for "we'd rather pay more and get quality" - well, me too, much of the time - but I'm not too proud (or wealthy enough) to pass up the affordable-acceptable. That's what leads me into little hole-in-the-wall places where angels fear to tread, and sometimes (and ONLY sometimes) I get a real thrill - it's also what keeps me out of the places I see, for instance, in Sietsema's weekly chat transcript: "The food was awful and the service was worse, and the bill was $200 for the two of us, do you think I should have said something?" (Hey, give me the $200, I'll bring you a stunning meal that I pay $30 for, and I can wait on you better than that in my sleep.)

                The point you make, that you found hardly anything measured up to your standards, is of course an individual judgement (and a common hazard of exploring the inexpensive), but what would be your response, please, to my summary (and I know it's a broad way of expressing the idea, but still...) "beats the heck out of McDonald's for lunch"?

                1. re: wayne keyser

                  I'd read such great recommendations here for Lucky 3 which is why I tried it. If I had read recommendations of "beats the heck out of McDonald's for lunch," I wouldn't have gone. Not many places don't. Obviously, it's an individual judgement on whether the food is worthwhile at a place--that's why we're here, to discuss what's out there and what our opinion is of the place.

                  1. re: wayne keyser

                    Hey, we're the last folks to knock the inexpensive. We frequent some places here in NOVA that resemble laundromats from the 1950s, where the food is cheap and really good. It's not always about the price, but it is always - always - about the quality. Lucky 3 had some nice items - the stuffed eggplant was nice, if you didn't mind the grease. As stated, the greens were very, very good, and the pile of shrimp at the end, near the kitchen, was a nice touch. But, the other items were disappointing and not well done. That's our subjective opinion, and we do respect that others find things to be much more acceptable than we did.

                    I'm also not one to knock McDonald's. There are times - rare though they might be - when only a Big Mac will do, and we're not ashamed of that at all.

                    So, inexpensive never has to translate to "lousy" because it is in the nature of true Chowhounds to keep exploring, even if it does mean a lousy meal every so often. People have different standards, that's all.

                    There are now so many wonderful little holes in the wall, hidden away in neighborhoods, strip malls, spots that aren't likely, and to enter them and order something that doesn't sound or look familiar is an adventure - for us - of the highest order where food is concerned. I am so glad to report that we have been happily surprised more often than not. But, the one thing I have noted is that the size of the place - these are small restaurants, very small - does seem to have a lot to do with the quality of the food. Lucky 3 is, by our standards, a big place, and that, I think, might be part of its problem: quantity over quality.

                    What a nice exchange this has been, sharing our standards and theories about why someone likes a place and someone else doesn't. Thank you for this opportunity, OP.

                    And, because we can't resist, and because loyalty matters, "VIVA BIG MAC!!!"

                    1. re: loafing meat

                      Well THAT is an issue worthy of a whole separate discussion: potentially wonderful places ruined by overexpansion (5 Guys) or oversizing (Lucky 3) - anybody got enough places that qualify in those ways to start a thread?

                  2. re: Chownut

                    Guess I'll have to see what's there early.

                    One of the plus-minuses is that the buffet goes til 3pm (yay!) but after 2 (maybe earlier) some things will be gone, and some things like the fried stuffed taro root dumplings (inexplicably kept on the non-warmed bread table) will be cold and leaden (boo!)

                  3. Personally, it's less about the money than if I'm going to eat greasy, high calorie food, it needs to be worth the calories/damage. It wasn't, for me, at Lucky 3. I didn't leave engorged or anything because most of what I got wasn't "calorie worthy" so I didn't finish it. I wasn't expecting gourmet at Lucky 3 but something worth the 800 or so calories you'd get from typical dimsum. As for trying more custard buns until I found one where the custard was cooked, it's not worth wasting the food when there are obviously people who enjoy it. I don't care if I'm not charged for it; I'm not into unnecessary waste. Plus, the custard is all made at once. If one is undercooked, the others will likeley be unless they make each one individually. If you like Lucky 3 better than Mark's Duck House then more power to you--getting something much cheaper that you also like better, can't beat that.

                    Pricewise, you can get 20 meatballs, veggies and potatoes at IKEA for $5.99. I don't get it, my husband does, but it is very filling for the price.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: chowser

                      I think someone like you who's not into waste and not into consuming large number of unworthy calories shouldn't be frequenting buffets in the first place, especially ones that cost $9.95. You should know better, because if it sounds too good to be true, most likely it is.

                      1. re: Chownut

                        That's why I've avoided Lucky 3 despite the reviews written here. I bring my wife and two kids to China Garden (we were just there after Xmas), and the food was pretty good despite the dim sum chef not working that day. We had more than a dozen items between us, and the bill came out to just over $50, which works out to be about what we'd pay at the buffet.

                        1. re: dpan

                          I think it's hit and miss with dim sum joints...I've had dim sum at oriental east and china garden, and at times, both have been greasy, although these two placest get the best reviews. I think for the most part, people need to accept the fact that dim sum is greasy. You have deep fried stuff, you have pan fried stuff, and you have steamed stuff that needs oil to keep from sticking. If you don't want greasy, you don't want dim sum.

                          Over $50 for two adults and 2 kids is pretty steep, comparatively speaking . Lucky 3 doesn't charge for small kids, although I don't know the ages of your two kids, but I'd imagine the price is lower for elementary school aged kids.

                          1. re: dpan

                            We have never had anything but excellent experiences at China Garden, even though it's not the funky kind of joint we prefer. It's one of our "grown-up" places, and you really can't beat the prices.

                          2. re: Chownut

                            Definitely and I'll go with my guts the next time. I'm such an optimist and really hoped I'd find a dimsum buffet I loved. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. At best, I would have found it; at worst, it was just one meal out. Can't be a chowhound if you're not willing to take risks.

                          3. re: chowser

                            meatballs, veggies and potatoes at ikea are more calorie worthy than chinese broccoli, stir fried crabs, egg noodles, congee, shrimp balls, etc etc at lucky 3?? no way! i have no problem eating a days worth of calories at lucky 3, 2,000+

                            1. re: Minger

                              No, IKEA isn't worth it to me, either. I said my husband prefers it to Lucky 3. It's easy to fill up at either place with way too many calories that don't taste good. But, as this is "chowhound" and about getting the best meal, I didn't think it was great food, just cheap food.