UTC’s Finest Eateries
Asia Noodle Cafe
Craving Asian food? Well, look no further than right across the street from campus at the University Town Center’s (UTC) very own Asia Noodle Café. The simple name does no justice to the delicious taste and impeccable consistency of this cozy restaurant. They offer a wide range of noodles and entrees from all across Southeast Asia.
From sautéed vegetables to elaborate seafood dishes their entrees are made to order, so if you’re craving something especially unique, they’ll alter their recipes and ingredients in order to cater to your needs without compromising the quality or taste. Their selections, which are predominantly Chinese, also include recipes from every country in the East Pacific rim of Asia, including Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.
The restaurant’s friendly staff is always around to help and their incredible customer service is one of the many reasons that customers find themselves choosing Asia Noodle Cafe over the many other nearby options. You’ll actually find yourself wanting to support their business because of the warm atmosphere that the owner and his staff create.
Although it is difficult to locate at first – between the newly-opened Yogurtland and Kinkos on the south side of UTC – once you find this hidden gem, you’ll frequently find yourself craving their food. While their choices embody the quality of an upscale restaurant, they are all moderately priced with generous portions. Their fast and efficient service proves especially beneficial during lunchtime when you’re on a time crunch for work or school.
For the last 15 years, they have been able to uphold their quality and taste. So the next time you’re in the area, stop by and try their Mongolian Chicken or a simple bowl of noodles. After all, remember that when midterms or finals roll around, you’ll want to satisfy your taste buds.
Say you’re hungry, but not for something overly fancy; you don’t want to drive all over Orange County looking for epicurean delights, and you find yourself in the parking lot of Jack in the Box, about to punish your belly with fast food. Don’t do it. Step away from the crackly-voiced siren of the drive-through beckoning you to soggy fries and grade-D beef. Just a few steps away, the hearty wonder of filling vegetarian — actually, vegan — brilliance, the Veggie Grill, calls you home.
There are various iterations on the vegetarian restaurant in the OC, and thankfully the Veggie Grill is of the “not-trying-too-hard-to-be-healthy” variety. They focus more on flavor than on convincing you of the nutritional correctness of your meal.
While some veggie places highlight their tofu and carrots, Veggie Grill augments their sandwiches with thick, rich sauces and dips, and encourages you to replace that boring coleslaw that comes with the meal with the more decadent Sweetheart Fries — some of the best sweet potato French fries in the area. Dunk the crispy, flavorful fries in the chipotle mayo and forget all about ketchup and Yukon Gold potatoes.
Full flavor is the guiding principle behind their sandwiches as well, as their blended veggie-protein creations are crammed with marinades and spices, and come off tasting like, well, chicken and pork and beef and all the good things you think eating vegan takes away from you. The sandwich options are consistently tasty and are a better option than the salads, which are a bit more pedestrian (it is hard to marinate a salad). If you’re hanging around for dessert, stay away from the carrot cake, which is too dense and heavy, and go straight to the chocolate pudding — yet another culinary wonder. At Veggie Grill, you can’t go wrong – as long as you don’t accidentally wander over to Jack in the Box.
Le Diplomate Cafe
Sometimes referred to as “Le Dip” by the more frequent customers, this sandwich bistro can be considered the fancier alternative to Lee’s Sandwiches. Although the sandwiches cost a little more here – $2.99 for a 4-inch sandwich, and $4.50 for a filling 9-inch — the quality is worth the price. Le Diplomate has all the classics, like tuna or turkey & cheese, as well as some unique sandwiches such as a hummus veggie sandwich or my personal favorite, Chicken Garlic. They also have a great selection of Vietnamese sandwiches, for which they offer a mysterious red sauce (Sriracha) that a lot of students put on any kind of sandwich they get.
Want it toasted? They will toast it for you. Want it on a croissant? They can do that, too. No matter what your choice of bread is, it is guaranteed freshly baked, soft and crispy in all the right places. If you have a love affair with breads, you can get a whole baguette, sans sandwich fillings, for only $1.25 or a big one for $3. And if you want your order ready sooner, call ahead of time since lines tend to run long, especially in between classes.
Although many students are raving about the new additions of Yogurtland and Jamba Juice near UC Irvine, Le Diplomate offers their own handmade smoothies in many delightful combinations. With just a handful of fruit and a tub of yogurt, they can create 17 different smoothies, a great companion to a spicy sandwich and refreshing on a sweltering afternoon.
Not to say that this is entirely an endorsement of the Le Diplomate Cafe. I have to admit, their gyros are pretty bad; in fact, I would not trust the majority of their Mediterranean menu items. Still, with so many other delicious choices, why complain?
So if you have some cash to burn and a hankering for bread stuffed with fresh ingredients, try out this sweet little “café.”
Kochee Kabob House
Ever tried Persian food prepared by Afghans? I hadn’t either, until I visited the delicious Kochee Kabob House restaurant. They’ve got savory beef and chicken kabobs, and they are both prepared moist and spicy, perfect on a bed of fluffy white and yellow rice. Yet, when I say spicy, I don’t mean Indian spicy where you’ve got to keep a glass of cool water next to your plate to put out the flames in your mouth. No, this is spiced mildly to perfection, and you can (and should) sprinkle sumac – the little bottle of maroon flakes – over your meat.
Since Irvine eateries are always a little pricey, I recommend going with Menu Item #4 – Koobideh Kabob, chicken or beef. You can ask for a half-and-half plate, so that you get one beef kabob and one chicken kabob, charbroiled and served over a bed of rice with a nice, tangy salad.
And you cannot forget the secret sauce – a white mixture that I usually generously heap over my entire plate; it is simply amazing. Trust me, you will never be able to eat kabobs without it ever again. You usually have to ask for it at the counter, as they don’t have it out in the restaurant – hence the “secret” label.
Kochee also offers grilled salmon, which is a favorite with many connoisseurs of said fish. The grilled eggplant is very good, spiced well to go with rice or salad.
However, the dish that I would highly recommend if you’re really looking for something unique is Mantu, an Afghan specialty. This dish is extremely difficult to find anywhere else. Mantu is not on the normal menu, but it is offered regularly (you can check out their new dishes by looking at the flyers posted on their windows) and is like an Afghan version of dumplings stuffed with meat in a savory sauce.
For those of you who prescribe to halal eating practices – the Islamic equivalent of kosher meat – and are looking for a place close by campus, Kochee is the alternative restaurant for you.
Finally, with the recent remodeling, the Kabob house now offers a cozy spot for you and your friends to grab a bite. I would recommend getting a large group together in the evening, heading over, staking out the tables next to the fountain and having Persian food under the stars.