Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez
I consider myself extremely lucky to have parents born and raised outside of the US. While it's hard to see my extended family members on a regular basis - mostly because it requires a 15+ hour plane ride - my parents always made it a point to teach us about our heritage and traditions on the main land. Lucky for me, diverse food and family gatherings is of the utmost of importance on both of sides of my family.
I'd like to think that my palate and taste buds are more adventurous than most and family outings to unique restaurants were common occurrence. (Name any part of a chicken, fish or cow's body and I guarantee someone in my family has eaten it.) Irvine Diamond Jamboree is a multi-cultural shopping and dining destination that we've patronized for years. We have our favorite restaurants and love trying out new ones. I was thrilled to hear that our next IFWTWA progressive lunch would be hosted here.
Tasty tradition at Chef Hung Taiwanese Noodle
We started our day at Chef Hung Taiwanese Noodle, a family-friendly restaurant specializing in hand-pulled noodles and slow cooked broths. Chef Hung is world renowned for his award-winning beef noodle dishes and in addition to trying three variations, we tried samples of his other menu items.
I highly recommend you start with a side of the Bean Curd and Napa Cabbage Salad and the Cucumber Salad as both have the perfect balance of texture, tang and savory. The tea list is extensive so you'll find an aromatic hot or iced tea to pair with your meal. Next, move on to a side of the double fried Chicken Wings or the Green Onion Pancake before you start the main event.
The noodle menu is enormous so when in doubt, go with the award-winning favorites. The restaurant sources its produce locally and seasonally. The hand pulled noodles are noticeably different from other noodle shops around town and the tenderness and chew is unbelievable. We tried the top three beef noodle dishes: Braised Beef Shank with Noodles in Soup; Beef Brisket with Noodles in Clear Soup; and Beef Brisket with Noodles in Tomato Soup.
All of these bowls of noodle, beef and vegetables were unbelievable. Bring a bib and get your slurp on.
You would do yourself an injustice if you didn't end the meal with a warm and crunchy Mashed Red Bean Cake. You've probably seen these at your local dim sum eatery but the ones at Chef Hung are tasty and crispy, making you want to eat a whole order on your own.
Urban Seoul spins Korean food in the best way possible
I'm a huge fan of Korean food and barbecue and Urban Seoul has been on my list for months. Owner Bronnie Lee mixes his Korean heritage with his SoCal upbringing on the menu with items like Bulgogi Sliders, Kimchi Pancake Quesadillas, Chorizo Kimchi Fried Rice and more. The menu is divided into two parts: Urban Food offers tapas and small plates influenced by Mexico, America, Korea and Japan, while Seoul Food takes a more whimsical approach to traditional Korean cuisine.
Bronnie brought out his favorites from his menu including the seasonal Pozole with udon noodles, pork belly, pickled cabbage, hominy and Mexican spices. A trio of appetizers was next and included Tteokbokki, a puffed rice cake; Elote, grilled corn drizzled with mayo, paprika, cotija cheese, Korean chili flakes, cilantro and lime; and Japchae Mari, stir fried glass noodles wrapped in seaweed, battered and fried.
For a taste of the Bronnie's urban side, we tried the Pork Belly Taco dressed with lettuce, kimchi, queso fresco and hot sauce. We also tried the newest menu item, the Smoked Tri-Tip Chimichanga drizzled with hot sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. And if that wasn't enough, we tried the Urban 3b, a bibimbap (or mixed rice), topped with bulgogi, spicy pork, romaine lettuce, red cabbage, radish, carrots, fried onion, poached egg and purple rice. To finish, the Mexican Bread Pudding soaked in Soju was perfect.
The bakery cases at 85C Bakery in Irvine are constantly full.
For years, I've been preaching to friends that 85°C Bakery is one of the best Asian bakeries in town. With influences from Taiwan, Europe and Japan, 85°C Bakery serves up freshly baked bread, pastries, cakes and so much more along with its full café menu. The Irvine Jamboree location was the first US location to open six years ago and offers 50+ pastries and 50 different kinds of drinks. Their top sellers are the brioche and marble taro but I usually load up on all of the savory items. The café is also known for its salted ice coffees so make sure you order one to go along with your baked good haul.
Bakery items are baked fresh all day long, usually from 6am to 8pm or later, depending on the day. These breads will stay fresh a couple days after you buy them so load up when you visit. I can't ever leave without at least two bags full of breads and pastries and at around $1.50 per item, you can't go wrong.
Irvine Jamboree is a place that you have to experience on your own. Even if you're not an adventurous eater or have no idea how to order sushi, ramen, bibimbap, or beef noodles at a restaurant, these business owners welcome everyone to taste a bit of their culture, heritage and history. For more information, visit www.Diamond-Jamboree.com.