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Zali Mongolian leaves customers stuffed

by Eric Ginsburg

We stood over the grill in Adam’s backyard waiting for a spread of meat to cook before dunking it in hot sauce. It was late and I was starting to wonder if we would ever eat, but Adam and his friends had all eaten a massive lunch and weren’t hungry when dinnertime rolled around. These dudes can put away a serious amount of food, and would not stop raving about how good their lunch was, which only further aggravated my stomach.

“You have to go there,” they said, describing the numerous options at the Mongolian grill one of them had discovered. I didn’t even know there was Mongolian food in town or what it entailed, but I was sold.

I’ve never cooked with a shield and sword before, and eating at Zali Mongolian Grill is probably as close as I will come. Mongolian warriors used their shields as cook tops, a server tells me, which is why any Mongolian restaurant has a round grill. Unlike any other buffet I’ve been to, Zali provides uncooked meats and vegetables for selection. After choosing sauce and spices, I handed my metal bowl to the cook and chose fried rice (over white rice, noodles or tortillas) and returned to my seat until it was ready.

Using two cooking utensils that looked like yard-long swords, each cook chopped and maneuvered the food on the gigantic grill, which is open and visible from part of the restaurant for those who want to watch.

Zali is just one of a ring of international restaurants in front of Super G Mart along West Market Street, and costs $9 for lunch and $12 for dinner with kids’ meals costing $4 less for each. The buffet spread seemed daunting on my first visit so I asked the server if there were any more traditional Mongolian choices or things she’d recommend. Goat and lamb, which weren’t currently available, she said, and added that the Thai sweet chili sauce was her favorite.

I took her advice the first time up, picking the sauce to cover a mix of chicken and shrimp with a smattering of vegetables and pineapple along with the Zali curry powder. With so many seasonings to choose from, I didn’t even see the Zali chicken spice option.

Cooked up with fried rice, the food was out quickly, and I happily chowed down before returning for a second helping, this time with sausage and teriyaki sauce, swapping noodles for rice. My only complaint — the table isn’t furnished with a knife, and the long noodles and sizeable chunks of sausage were unwieldy.

Mongolian cuisine is known for its meats, which is no surprise looking at the choices on the buffet: There’s everything from crawfish and clams to meatballs and turkey. There is something for everyone, even people who don’t want Mongolian food — the Jamaican jerk sauce, for example.

Fear not, vegetarians — the vegetable options are plentiful too, with some staples that you could find in my kitchen like onions, carrots and peppers as well as baby corn and bok choy. There’s an entire salad-bar portion of the buffet, though I happily ignored it.

By my third bowl, I started to get the hang of it. Feeling overconfident, I decided I needed to take on the frog legs, which come on the bone. No, it didn’t taste like chicken, but closer to how I remember gator and with the consistency of fish. The frog legs ultimately were a little too out there for me, but there was plenty of other delicious food to keep me full.

I was certifiably stuffed, the only honorable and legitimate way to leave any buffet. Like my friends who told me about Zali in the first place, I had no interest in eating for a while, and even though I ate lunch at 1 p.m., it was 10:30 that night before I snacked on a petite dinner.

As it should be.

WANNA go?

4929 W. Market St, Greensboro. 336-676-4425

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