Thursday, January 4, 2007

Red Onion Cafe Closing

Why is it that the good die young? Why is it that sometimes, despite the best efforts of their regulars, mom & pop eateries with soul are forced to close their doors? Doesn't seem fair, does it.

In one of my very first posts for Chubbypanda - The Epicurious Wanderer, I covered my favorite spot in Irvine for Taiwanese comfort food; the Red Onion Cafe. For over eight years, this cozy little restaurant tucked away in a corner of "Irvine's Chinatown" has served faithfully and well as my watering hole of choice for Taiwanese tasties. Thus, it's with a very heavy heart that I announce that the Red Onion Cafe's last day of business will be January 15th, 2007. The restaurant will not be reopening afterwards.

According to the owner/manager, the family will be "taking a break" from the restaurant business. Although he mentioned the possibility that the family may open another restaurant in a different location at a later date, he sounded far from certain. I think it's fairly safe to say that this is probably your last opportunity to taste the cafe's homey fare. As such, I strongly encourage you to swing by sometime in the next week and sample their food before it's gone for good.

Here are some of my favorite dishes:

(Crispy pork fat goodness.)

Deep Fried Chitterlings - Deep fried pork intestines dusted with a little salt and served with shredded cabbage and green onions. They're really bad for you, but incredibly delicious. Best sampled with a cold glass of Taiwan Beer.

(Pouches of brothy goodness.)

Xiao Long Bao (Little Steamer Dumplings) - The best in Irvine. Thin, chewy dumpling skins enclose juicy pork filling swimming in a perfectly seasoned sea of soup. You'll need to head to the San Gabriel Valley to find any that are better.

(Cat's fud.)

Orange Chicken Set - Cat's favorite meal here. The mildly spiced, deeply complex flavor of the orange chicken is something you won't find at Panda Express. It definitely deserves a try.

(Like eating at a temple fair.)

Snack Set - A trio of three popular Taiwanese street hawker snacks. These aren't the best I've ever had, but they're quite nice. In the upper left, a pork meatball soup with flavorful, springy meatballs and a soothing broth. In the upper right, a cylinder of mixed rice with dried shrimp, group pork, and shitake mushrooms topped with shredded Taiwanese pork jerky. In the center, a steamed, rice flour dumpling in a pool of sweet and spicy starch sauce and garnished with cilantro. The filling of the dumpling consists of ground pork, dried shrimp, and shredded bamboo shoots.

(Scary looking, but tasty.)

Baked Tomato Chicken Pasta - Despite its rather alarming color, this mild, cheesy pasta sits firmly in my comfort zone. Eating it always makes me think of home.

(Little Panda's Favorite)

Ham and Corn Pasta - I used to order this dish in Taiwan a lot as a child. Pasta in a creamy corn sauce with bits of ham. What could be better comfort food?

The meal sets all come with a choice of complimentary desserts. I like them both.

(I love all puddings.)

Pudding - Inspired by flan, the Taiwanese version is gelatin-based, less rich, and less sweet. It's also a lot healthier for you. I really like these sorts of light desserts.

(Hidden goodness.)

Red Bean Custard - A coconut cream custard hides a base of sweetened red beans. It's more strongly flavored than the pudding.

Other items to try are the Pork and Preserved Egg Rice Porridge, Fish Filet Rice Porridge, Water Dumplings, and the Clams Stir-fried in Thai Basil. Please stop by. It's not the best Taiwanese food in town, but for me it's very reminiscent of my childhood in Taiwan.

I still can't believe it's going away...

Red Onion Cafe
14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste H
Irvine, CA 92720

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Comments on "Red Onion Cafe Closing"

Blogger Anita said ... (January 4, 2007 at 7:12 PM) : 

oh, it's so sad when a favorite closes. :(

Blogger Rasa Malaysia said ... (January 4, 2007 at 9:27 PM) : 

I was there once, and I actually liked the food...I think the problem is the business is not good enough and I guess the location is not that great either since it's tucked in the far end of the lot. :(

Blogger BuddingCook said ... (January 5, 2007 at 12:18 AM) : 

hmms.. yeah the last time i went there i saw the sign..wah. too bad i didn't see all these dishes sooner. i've only tried a couple of items. but my friend always orders the intestines. :D hmms..maybe i should try to go there before it all ends.

Blogger H. C. said ... (January 5, 2007 at 8:58 AM) : 

Wow - how sad. Even though I've never been to ROC, given the rarity of Asian cuisine like that down in the OC (well, rare in comparison to SGV) ~ I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you folks down there that something similar will open up.

"Chubbypanda's Taiwanese Bistro", perhaps? ;)

Blogger Christine D. said ... (January 5, 2007 at 2:42 PM) : 

:( I've never been there before, but I've always had it on my "list."

Sucks that the first time I go there might be my last, and not because I wouldn't like it.

Maybe it'll be the first time that I'll try XLB.

Blogger Chubbypanda said ... (January 5, 2007 at 10:17 PM) : 


Very sad. I actually teared up a little as I wrote the article. Hard to believe it will be gone soon.

Rasa Malaysia,

You should go again before they close. The clams in Thai basil are right up your alley. I'd be really interested to know what you think of the xiao long bao.

Budding Cook,

Your post about the sign prompted me to call the restaurant and confirm. Much sadness. The intestines might be their best dish. You need to have them.


There are a few other places in Irvine that serve the same dishes, but there's just something about the Red Onion that Cat and I love. We're really going to miss it.


You should go anyway. Who knows? maybe you won't like the food? =)

- Chubbypanda

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