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Affordable feast: Kai’s Chinese Restaurant serves large portions at student-friendly prices

For a meal fit for a college student, Kai’s Chinese Restaurant in the Brick Light District hits the spot for just over a ten spot.

Lobos can feed on a feast of flavor at Kai’s without breaking the bank; it’s conveniently located a block from campus, prices are aimed directly at college students, and the portions almost guarantee leftovers.

On a recent visit, I tried one of the most popular American-Chinese dishes, sweet-and-sour chicken. Kai’s version (for a very reasonable $8.25) has huge chunks of all-white chicken breast hand-breaded in a ridiculously thick batter, deep-fried, then smothered in a thick, sugary sauce with onions, carrots and bell peppers.

The chicken was fresh and flavorful – the plate came with an absolutely filling portion of chicken.

The fried rice ($1.50 extra to upgrade from white rice) was good but not overly flavorful, and without the flavor-adding compound of cubed carrots or egg. Still, it was tasty and filling, if not overly fanciful.

The vegetable egg rolls (a steal at $1.95 for two) were good but probably not housemade, so they have a bit of a mall food court feel to them. They were small and not particularly crispy, which usually means a soggy interior, but Kai’s were fine.

The star of the meal was the chicken. The portion could have fed two or three starving students, and the quality of the meat puts cafeteria food to shame.

Another highlight was Kai’s fortune cookies, thicker and sweeter than average but with just the right amount of vague prophecy. (Mine informed me of impending good news, which I’ll take.)

Kai’s Chinese Restaurant is in the Brick Light District near the University of New Mexico. (Jason K. Watkins/For The Journal)

The place is easy to find, but its proximity to campus makes parking difficult. A small lot beside the building is available, though. The exterior is a bit brutalist in design, but the inside is more welcoming and personable. Service is great, and you won’t encounter a wait. Food is served quickly, too, so you can be in and out in half an hour or so. The menu is vast, like most Chinese restaurants, so there’s truly something for everyone, even seniors and kids.

One of the best features of Kai’s, though, is the ability to order ahead on the restaurant’s website and have your meal waiting for you when you arrive. (It doesn’t deliver, unfortunately.)

Kai’s makes an ideal spot for after-class noshing. Because it’s situated in the gentrified Brick Light District, its competition is high-end and tough. Kai’s has been there for a decade, though, so it holds its own.

This isn’t a destination restaurant, and it isn’t exactly angling for Michelin stars. But for a good meal at a great price, served quickly without fanfare or pretension, Kai’s really hits the spot.