Monday, January 29, 2007

Mattern's Deli

Hi, I'm new here and I just wanted to take a moment to say hello to all the other Orange County Food Bloggers (whose sites I frequent), as well as all you Orange County foodies out there. Now that we got that out of the way...

This past saturday I set out to have the perfect sandwich. It's no surprise my stomach led me straight to Mattern's Deli in Orange, which serves up old fashioned no-frills sandwiches at an affordable price.

The deli specializes in sandwiches, most notably the Poor Boy (on a roll) and the Rueben (heated). The Corned Beef, Black Forest Ham, or Liverwurst sandwiches are also pretty tasty. Mattern's is also known for their delicious Bratwursts (with mustard and saurkraut). Pair that with any number of the imported beers they have on hand and you've got yourself a damn near perfect lunch.

Mattern's also carries a wide variety of meats, sausage, bread, beer, cheeses, and chocolates that you're not likey to find anywhere else. Note that there are only six small tables located inside and that the lines tend to get long on the weekends around lunch time, however I have no doubt you will find it worth the wait. Mattern's is located at 4327 E Chapman Ave in Orange.

Mattern's Deli is located at:
4327 E Chapman Ave
Orange, CA 92869
(714) 639-3550

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Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon)

Nestled inside the far right corner of the Bolsa Mini Mall, obscured behind two big yellow umbrellas, and overshadowed by the bright lights of the nail salon next door, it can be easy to overlook Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap.

The restaurant is an awkward L-shaped configuration, with the small entrance at the tail end of the L and is easily missed unless someone gives you exact directions. The interior is bare bones basic with about a dozen utilitarian tables and chairs. But then Tran Quy Cap doesn't need any fancy embellishments, it has stayed in business for years by offering arguably the best com tam (Vietnamese broken rice) plates in town.

Com tam is traditionally peasant fare, utilizing leftover broken bits of rice that were formed during the harvest or processing. The rice is cooked slightly drier than normal, and takes on a couscous-like consistency. Or you can opt for banh hoi (Vietnamese steamed vermicelli sheets). The menu is essentially variations of grilled meats to accompany your rice. Served with a side of Vietnamese herbs and pickled vegetables.

Your order comes with a small bowl of the obligatory nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and broth. The broth may be sipped as a light soup, or spooned over the rice if you think it's too dry.

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) 1

Our order of cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls) came first with a side of Vietnamese greens - lettuce, cilantro, mint, and pickled carrots and daikon. The egg rolls are crisp, filled with pork and shrimp. You can eat these plain, or wrap them in herbs and lettuce and dip them into the nuoc cham. One order was about $5 or so if I remember correctly.

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) 2

Our order of banh beo, nine small discs of rice flour with minced shrimp, fried shallots and crouton bits, was only OK. The banh beo weren't pipping hot, so the rice flour consistency wasn't as smooth as I'd like. One order $4.95.

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) 3

But I was really here for the com tam platter. Most plates fall within the $4.95 to $5.95 price range. I super-sized and shared, so this platter was $7.95. Tran Quy Cap is known for their marinades and the grilled pork chop took center stage, with grilled shrimp, egg omelet, shredded pork skin, and the house specialty - tom hau ky (Vietnamese shrimp paste deep-fried in a bean curd wrapper). While some other com tam restaurants might offer this, the shrimp is not nearly as thick, the wrapper not nearly as crispy, flaky. If you don't see the combination of grilled meats that you'd like, you can simply request particular ones be added to your plate.

Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) 4

But then if the juicy details in this photograph haven't convinced you of Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap's deliciousness, then I don't know what will.

Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap
9607 Bolsa Ave.
Westminster, CA 92683
Closed Thursdays

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thai Nakorn Update

Thai Nakorn fans can now rejoice. The owners will rebuild, but don't know where or when yet.

The Orange County Register has a brief update on the situation here.

Earlier this month, Orange County's Thai Nakorn burned to the ground. The cause of the fire still hasn't been determined yet.

Thai Nakorn was much loved and many of us mourned the loss. Owner Wanida Sreewarom said some of her regular customers offered money to help rebuild, with one fan offering to pay for a whole new restaurant. Now that's love.

Rebuilding on the same location will take more than three months though, so Sreewarom is scouting out other possible places.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

A First Bite: Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen

Mexican restaurants in Mexico cover the gamut from prehistoric peasant cooking to world class sophistication. Yet despite the vast number of Mexican restaurants in Orange County, they fall into three basic camps: great grubbing at the low end of the scale; old school Gringo Mex smothered in greasy yellow cheese and red sauce; and Nuevo Gringo Mex, the sort of overpriced fare decorated with ancho or cilantro colored crema fresca spooged from a squirt bottle. Very few wade deeper beyond those familiar and overcrowded waters.

Orange County Mexican food lovers deserve to fill some of the missing gaps in that spectrum, and the quietly lauded Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen leads the counterstrike with traditional, yet gussied up Mexican food.

How many places serve the Yucatecan bar snack panuchos, and a delicious version at that? This one's served with a pickled red onion relish supposedly spiked with habanero peppers that lacked any of that chile's distinctive flavor or heat. Those cebollas moradas added complexity to the terrific dish, but it forebode a tendency toward too much sweet and not enough heat in the three other antojitos I sampled on this first visit. If there's a gabacho compromise in the very likable food, this might be it.

Now let me puff up the churro maker's head a little. Its crisply fried, cinnamon sugared crust yields to an ever-so-slighly loose, custardy center. They're served with a not-too-sweet, dark chocolate sauce and a crackalicious, sweet-bitter burnt caramel sauce. The menu should simply say: "Sugar coated, deep fried, hot sex dunked in liquid crack." If you see some destitute addict hanging out at the back door in dessert withdrawls, that would be me.

Orange County craves sophisticated Mexican food without dumbed down flavor profiles, and the CIA trained Gabbi Parker might be our best hope yet. But please, Chef Gabbi, bring on the heat. Bring on the funk!

Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen
141 S. Glassell
Orange, CA

Gabbi's occupies an unmarked storefront next an Army Navy store on the east side of Glassell.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Newport Beach Restaurant Week

In less somber dining news, the Newport Beach Restaurant Association is having its inaugural Newport Beach Restaurant Week this week only, from Jan 21st (yesterday, I know, sorry!) to the 25th.

Over 75 of Newport Beach’s best eateries are expected to participate in the citywide, culinary celebration by offering delicious three-course, prix-fixe gourmet menus at $12.95 for lunch and $26.95 for dinner.

I'm going tonight!

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

What the heck is going on?

Two weeks ago Thai Nakorn burned to a pile of ashes. Then ChristianZ reports Cathay Newport closes, and Chubbypanda witnesses Red Onion's final night. Now the same week that Rasa Malaysia breaks the news that New Shanghai is going to fold, Professor Salt says that Crescent City has shuttered its doors.

Today, I find out that Farmer Boys in Tustin is history as well. All the signs ripped from the exterior walls. There's a big crane poised to install a new one for a new place.

Yes, it was part of an inland empire chain, but its Fish and Fries were the best around, offered at an affordable price point. Breakfast there was always a treat: crisp hash browns, crispier bacon, and eggs exactly as you ask.

What's next?

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Save Our Faves 2007 - Zon Baguettes

The recent spate of restaurants folding, reported on this blog and others, has got me worried about one of my favorite local banh mi joints.

Nestled on a relatively busy stretch of Newport Blvd. in Tustin, Zon Baguettes isn't yet on the endangered list, but the fact that it just recently raised its prices is surely not a good sign. Their base level models now run at around $3 with tax. One wouldn't have blinked if this was a Quiznos or a Blimpies, but a Vietnamese sandwich? $3? Really? That could spring for two in Little Saigon

But I'm here to say, give them a chance (in the spirit of Chubbypanda's Save Our Faves 2007 Meme), because even at $3 or even $4, their Xiu Mai banh mi is worth it. Good crusty bread, stuffed with a saucy, meatloafy concoction, some pickled veggies and a sliver of cucumber. It'll fill you up. It'll make you happy. And if you're an Irvinite like me, it'll save you the gas it takes to drive to Westminster after a hard-day at the office.

Zon Baguettes
14081 Newport Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780

For the meme, I'll be tagging:

- Nguyen from Oh-So Yummy
- Deb from Dinner at Six
- Henry from Henry Chan's Food Adventures
- Sarah from The Delicious Life
- Kirk from mmm-yoso

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Finding the Good Stuff (Irvine Farmers Market)

(Begging to be eaten.)

Any cook worth his salt will tell you that the foundation of a great meal lies in using the freshest ingredients. The simplest recipe can attain a startling degree of deliciousness with the use of properly selected raw materials. For me, the search starts at my local farmers market.

(I'll take the lot.)

Once a single row of shops in corner of the University Center parking lot, the Irvine Farmers Market has blossomed into a booming fair celebrating some of the best food products Southern California has to offer. With five meandering rows of stalls selling everything from artisan breads to freshly pressed cider, there's truly something here for everyone.

(I didn't know students got up this early.)

Every Saturday morning, throngs of UCI students and Irvine locals comb the booths for the ripest produce and tastiest products. From the producers to you, without any middle man. It doesn't get any better than this.

(Doesn't even need salt.)

The main draw is, of course, the many tables overflowing with delectable fruits and vegetables harvested that very morning. Just these tomatoes alone would be enough to get me out of bed early on a Saturday.

(Just like in Taiwan's markets.)

Even more appealing is the wide range of Asian greens and other vegetables available. You can't find veggies this fresh in any grocery store. That's the way we Asians like to eat our food. The less time that elapses between soil and rice bowl, the better.

(Bins of delights.)

My favorite one-stop-shop for Taiwanese tasties is the stand for Yao Chang Farm from Ventura County. If an Asian recipe shows up on Chubbypanda - The Epicurious Wanderer, chances are I got most of the ingredients here. There's no sign, but it's the stall in the corner closest to the Stanford Court apartment complex and furthest away from Lee's Sandwiches. Just watch out for the Taiwanese grannies that staff the booth. Those ladies can really sell.

(Ooooh! Pretty!)

You can also pick up bouquets of the most amazing flowers. At those prices, there's no reason that your special someone shouldn't get some every week. The perfect way to say, "I love you."

(Feel like an omelet?)

But, farm-fresh produce is just the tip of the iceberg. Small producers like Lily's Eggs offer a variety of amazing products at highly competitive prices. You may pay a dollar more for the eggs seen here, but trust me. Once you've tasted the difference, you'll never go back. That statement holds true for all of the goods available at the Irvine Farmers Market. During my interviews with some of the vendors, I found dedicated artisans passionate about the quality and freshness of their offerings.

(Full of faith and love.)

At Heaven's Kitchen, Irvine residents Kay and Allen Womack offer a selection of delicious baked goods inspired by the Southeast region of the United States. Heaven's Kitchen is part of a community of faith, and is an active participant of outreach programs that provide food to needy families, toys for disadvantaged children, and Bible studies for young people. Kay makes all of her wonderful products by hand, using recipes passed down to her through four generations of African-American women. She named her enterprise "Heaven's Kitchen" to honor the women in her family who taught her how to cook, and whom she believes are smiling down on her from heaven. Kay is doing her own part to pass on the family legacy by teaching her daughter, a graduate of Georgetown University, and her two grand-daughters how to cook. Stop on by and try the Sweet Potato Pie or Peach Cobbler. As Allen will tell you, a little time in the oven to the warm pie, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and you've got yourself a perfect plate of Southern hospitality.

Kay and Allen are currently looking for a production facility for Heaven's Kitchen. Until then, Kay cooks everything in her own kitchen. In addition to baked goods, Heaven's Kitchen also caters, offering a wide assortment of classic Southern dishes. Contact Kay or Allen for a catering menu or drop by the Irvine Farmers Market and say "hi".

Heaven's Kitchen
Kay and Allen Womack
Phone 1: 1-714-997-3332
Phone 2: 1-714-926-8025
Fax: 1-714-997-2585

(If you're interested in participating in a community of faith, or making a donation to the charitable organizations supported by Heaven's Kitchen, please speak with Kay for more information.)

(A family affair.)

Carlie Stone does a great job representing Delaney's Culinary Fresh, a pasta, oil, and sauce company started six years ago by her mother, Jordan, and operated with the help of Carlie and her sister. Based in Temecula, Delaney's Culinary Fresh features a variety of sauces made using extra virgin olive oil, aged Italian cheeses, and fresh herbs and spices. Carlie recommends using her mother's sauces for pasta, bruschetta, and salad. The ladies don't skimp on the flavor, and the sauces are guaranteed to be freshly made, often only a day or two before they're sold at the market.

Delaney's Culinary Fresh

(He loves his cheese.)

Daniel represents the Winchester Cheese Company, a family-run dairy operation located in Winchester. The Winchester Cheese Company produces a variety of Dutch, farm-style cheeses using raw, certified whole milk and vegetable rennet imported from Holland. Their delicious products have been recommended by the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Bon Appetit Magazine, and Savoir Faire.

Winchester Cheese Company
32605 Holland Road
Winchester, CA 92596

(A sweet deal.)

Local beekeeper, John Ford, markets his honey under two brands; Vinciana's Natural Honey and Uncle Teddy's Natural Honey. With hives along Trabuco canyon and Ortega Highway, John takes pride in offering the honey he loves so much directly to you. He likes his honey any way he can get it, but his favorite delivery methods are in hot tea with lemon, or on a piece of warm toast.

Vinciana's Natural Honey
P.O. Box 8473
Fountain Valley, CA 92728

(Really knows his stuff.)

Lowell from Dry Dock Fish in Fullerton is always ready to answer your questions and sell you the Catch of the Day, literally. Dry Dock Fish brings in a number of their fish from vetted producers, but also catches a good portion of their seafood themselves. Lowell can tell you what's in season, where it came from, when it was caught, and the best way to have it for supper. His passion for his product really shines through. Dry Dock Fish's offerings are far superior in quality than what you'll find in your neighborhood grocery store. In less than twelve hours, the fish go from their nets to your hands. Who can beat that?

Dry Dock Fish Company
1015 E. Commonwealth
Fullerton, CA 92831

(The tamales, not him.)

Kurt of Casa Solana Homestyle Tamales runs a catering business in Mission Viejo that serves all of Orange County. He markets traditional, authentic, homemade tamales produced by a Mexican, family-run business in Riverside. The tamales are individually wrapped, certified by the US Agricultural Department, and served in restaurants throughout Southern California. This panda vouches for the deliciousness of his products.

(I miss the old rep.)

A longtime market favorite, Stanton-based Mom's Products offers homemade, Mediterranean oils and appetizers. As with most of the stands at the Irvine Farmer's Market, Mom's Products is family owned and operated. The old rep was a charmingly gregarious fellow who used to greet his regulars, including this panda, with a resounding "Hello, my friend!" A few years ago, he was replaced by this genial, but much more subdued relative. I still love their offerings, but I miss my old chum.

Mom's Products
7441 Cerritos Ave.
Stanton, CA 90680

(An olive oil rainbow.)

Petrou Foods has long been a favorite stop of mine for high-end olive oil. According to their market rep, Lena, George Petrou immigrated to the United States from Greece 12-14 years ago, bringing with him intimate knowledge of olive oil manufacturing techniques. He set up shop in San Diego, applying his skills to the production of California olive oil. Today, Petrou Foods produces some of the finest olive oil and olive products in all of California.

Petrou Foods LLC
7960 Silverton, Suite 120
San Diego, CA 92126

(Good stuff.)

Gourmet Tamales of Carlsbad (guess where they're from) markets homemade tamales with no lard or industrial processing that are much larger than any you'll find in a grocery store. Their selection is astounding. Manny, the gentleman I spoke with, said that there was simply no comparison between their tamales and mass-produced ones. I have to agree.

Gourmet Tamales of Carlsbad
1813 South Coast Hwy
Oceanside, CA

(Fun knickknacks for the whole family.)

Tired of shopping yet? No? Good! There's an entire row of booths selling crafts from local artists.


The Irvine Farmers Market - Where you'll find some of the very best food Southern California has to offer. Go support your local growers and producers. You may find yourself paying a little more than you would in the store, but quality comes at a price. These mom & pops need your business, and we want to keep their wonderful products available for a long time to come.

(Open every Saturday from 8am - 12noon.)

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

China Garden, Irvine

As much as I love cooking, I don't do it on a daily basis. When I don't cook, there are a few restaurants that I always frequent in Orange County, and one of them is certainly China Garden.

Serving authentic Cantonese cuisine (you have to know what to order though), China Garden has never failed my high expectations. If you would like to try out real Chinese food, here are some dishes that I strongly recommend.

I am partial to soy foods and I love all kinds of tofu. One of my favorite dishes at China Garden is the above "Special Braised Bean Curd" dish. Deep-fried to perfection, these silky and soft tofu cubes are steeped in aromatic five-spice and star anise-flavored soy sauce. The taste is simply delightful.

If you go to China Garden, don't miss out their fresh seafood, especially the fish. Like any typical Cantonese-style Chinese restaurants, China Garden offers a variety of live seafood such as Dungeness Crab, Alaska King Crab, live shrimp, and a few kinds of live fish. I love their live red cod. This fish is divine when it's cooked two ways--steamed and stir-fried. First, the fish head (trust me, it's delicious!) is chopped into small pieces, coated with flour, and fried. Then, they are tossed with ginger and scallions. I love this dish as it has enough wok hei--the breath of wok-- the essence of it comes through in this creation. Next, the body of the fish is steamed with soy sauce, ginger, and scallions. I am not sure about you, but I could just eat my steamed rice with that soy sauce alone!

For vegetable dishes, I recommend their "Pan-fried String Beans with Minced Meat." This is a very popular Chinese vegetable dish; the crunchy string beans are lightly fried in oil and then tossed with minced pork. Seasoned only with salt, this is a simple but flavorful dish.

All in all though, China Garden is a very good Chinese restaurant. Other dishes I recommend are:
  1. Salt and pepper crab or ginger and scallions crab
  2. Fried chicken
  3. Souffle with almond flavor (baked almond tea topped with a pastry crust) - A must-try!
China Garden
14825 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 653-9988

Other review:
  1. China Garden Dim Sum - Monster Munching

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cathay Newport Closed

Just a quick mention that Cathay Newport in the shopping center at the south-west corner of Bison and Macarthur appears to have closed down. Went there for lunch the other day and their sign had been taken down and all their windows blacked out. It could be that they are only closed down for remodeling but I got the impression they were closed down for good. Cathay Newport was very good at providing each diner with a wide variety of food on their plate and at very reasonable prices.
If anyone has any further information on this please leave a comment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sprinkles, Fact or Fiction

I'd read about Sprinkles first on The Delicious Life! where she blasted the poor cupcakes as just the latest example of fad theory. Fad theory and rumor theory, with the epicenter being Beverly Hills, and the hinterlands being represented by our very own Newport Beach. So when I found myself just doors away from the store a few nights ago, I had to find out for myself!

The store itself reminds me more of Chuao Chocolatier, with a fairly shallow storefront hiding what are hopefully the Oompa Loompas and assorted magick implements in the back. What storefront there is, is dedicated to row upon row of cupcake dish trays, filled with near uniform renditions of each flavor, identified by small, brightly colored sugar-wafer circles that match up with the menu board above.

I'd read that the lines were out the door for this place, but I got there in the evening, on a weekday, when it was drizzling, and so what customers there were, fit inside that night. And of course, the hordes seemed to have gotten there already, as many of the cupcake trays were empty, and they were down to only a handful of the interesting flavors, like coconut and banana. They seem to operate on the same menu principle as Strickland's Ice Cream, with their subset of flavors per day, hopefully getting you to come back on multiple days to try them all.

I got six that night. I figured hey, when would I be back down this way?

Verdict: almost insanely sweet. Jaw throbbingly, Pavlovian saliva-gland trippin' sweet. Hard to distinguish between flavors sweet.

My kids were split- one loved the frosting so much that's all he ate, the other seemed to prefer the cake portion. I ate a bit of the dark chocolate, the coconut, a bit of banana, and a bit of carrot, but really I'd be hard pressed to tell which was which, in a blind taste test. They were good cupcakes- moist and spongy in the right place, with a frosting that had both the crispy sensation when biting into it as well as the melt-on-the-tongue fluidity that I like. I just couldn't taste beyond the sugar.

They say that your taste buds die off and become less sensitive as you age, which, paradoxically, makes you more finicky and prone to notice nuances in flavor. There weren't any nuances here for me- it was as sure a blood-sugar-busting pick-me-up as, well, Jolt Cola. I was fortunate that my children didn't bounce off the walls all night long. (Or maybe they did, and I was just too sugar-low'd to notice)

Sprinkles Cupcakes
Corona Del Mar Plaza
944 Avocade Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 760-0003

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Thai Nakorn Burned Down

Thai Nakorn, at 12532 Garden Grove Blvd. in Garden Grove, burned down around 2 a.m. Monday morning. About 40 firefighters worked to put out the blaze but it was a total loss. No cause has been determined. Read the Orange County Register's brief article here.

Thai Nakorn has been an around for 20 years and is regarded by many as Orange County's best Thai restaurant. Thai Nakorn specialized in the Isaan (Northern Thai) style of cooking with its pungent flavors of garlic, lime, and ground rice. I've never encountered a dish I didn't like.

I was introduced to Thai Nakorn when it expanded to its current location in Garden Grove about three years ago. The Register had done a pretty complimentary review with one glaring problem. The reviewer thought the number of stars after each dish indicated what the restaurant rated their own dishes. I was appalled. Apparently the spiciness quotient didn't give the reviewer a clue either. And this line made it through an editor and copyeditor to eventually come out in print.

And that's why we need food bloggers.

Thai Nakorn's loss will be mourned. I hope they can rebuild.

Read Elmo of Monster Munching's review here. For now, it'll have to serve as a tribute until Thai Nakorn can either relocate or reopen.

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Friday, January 5, 2007

Thach Che Hien Khanh - Westminster (Little Saigon)

Che, this Vietnamese gelatinous, tapioca-filled, coconut milk dessert is rather hard to describe for the uninitiated. Is it a dessert pudding? Dessert soup? It can be eaten warm or iced. It serves as dessert or a light snack. No matter what you call it or when you eat it, Thach Che Hien Khanh is the place to go in Little Saigon for the best and largest selection of che.

Thach Che Hien Khanh - Westminster Little Saigon Bolsa Ave. 1

Thach Che Hien Khanh started as a small cafeteria-line style eatery (it's too small to really call it a restaurant) at 9784 Westminster Avenue in a tiny strip mall with only a few other shops. The lines used to go out the door and the cars overfilled the parking lot. Back then, two people were needed -- one person to fight through the hordes to grab some che, a second person to wait in the car because there was no parking available.

Thankfully, Thach Che Hien Khanh opened another location inside the Today Plaza on Bolsa Avenue in the heart of Little Saigon. This location, in the same strip mall as the always popular Quan Hy Vietnamese Restaurant and Banh Cuon Tay Ho 4, is convenient as a quick stop after eating at either of the two restaurants.

But again, it's just a little eatery. There are no tables or chairs. Or menus for that matter. Grab drinks or flan or yogurt from the refrigerators first if you want them. Then line up and point to what you want. All their che offerings are on large metal trays behind glass. The milky che are variations of taro, banana, plantains, corn, with coconut milk and tapioca pearls with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and crushed peanuts on top. Che sam bo luong is a "healthier" offering with seaweed, lotus seeds, and dates. Che troi nuoc, small dough balls in ginger syrup, with or without mung bean filling. Che ba mau, three color che, usually features red bean, green doughy strips, and white bean or mung bean. Che Thai features lychees and jackfruit. Sticky rice with lap xuong (Chinese sausage). Sticky rice with corn.

On this particular afternoon, I opted for xoi nep than (charcoal rice), black sticky rice with mung bean and coconut shavings. Coconut milk is served on the side. The sticky rice is studded with large slices of lap xuong and shredded chicken and scallions.

Thach Che Hien Khanh - Westminster Little Saigon Bolsa Ave. 2

The banana che (starting from the far left) featured bananas, mashed taro, along with tapioca pearls, tapioca strips, coconut, and a light dusting of sesame seeds and crushed peanuts on top. The plantain che held their shape better than regular bananas. And corn che is mixed with sticky rice, coconut milk is served on the side.

Thach Che Hien Khanh - Westminster Little Saigon Bolsa Ave. 3

Each item is $1.75. I've never been charged more than that for anything, but, just in case, I hesitate to say everything is that price.

Che should be eaten right away for freshness. Or refrigerated for later.

And in the quirky hodgepodge of cultures and cuisines that we call Southern California. The kitchen workers are Latino and Spanish music can often be heard from the back, while Vietnamese workers are in front. And adapting to the Taiwanese craze for boba that's gone mainstream, you can also add that to your che too. Just ask. Same goes for ice. Otherwise, che is served at room temperature.

Thach Che Hien Khanh
9639 Bolsa Ave., #A
Westminster, CA 92683

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Taleo Coupon

My first post here is not even a review but simply a coupon being offered by my blog (Orange County Mexican Restaurants) and Taleo Mexican Grill in Irvine good for a complimentary appetizer or dessert item of your choice. Yes, the coupon is real and it is good until the end of this year but don't wait that long to redeem it.

Before heading to Taleo be sure to check out my Deluxe Review giving an extensive rundown of their menu and environment.

Be sure to also check out their most recent mention in the Orange County Register (December 28, 2006).

Taleo Mexican Grill - Chips and Salsa

Taleo Mexican Grill - Outside Seating

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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