Dish List: Eureka!

Say “nightlife” and “Irvine” in the same sentence, and most UCI students will scoff, slightly amused by your lack of knowledge of the local food and party scene. However, after a string of renovations and new openings at the University Town Center (or UTC), there is finally a place other than the Anthill Pub that locals can call home.

Known for its hype, burgers and killer craft beer selection, Eureka! has been making waves in SoCal ever since it opened its Claremont location. Catering to the young social media generation, Eureka! definitely has the vibe and décor to back its trendiness. As I strolled through UTC on opening night for dinner with a friend, I was immediately drawn to the stylish architecture. Upon entering, I was greeted by friendly servers and noticed a gigantic chalkboard filled with an extensive rotating beer selection as well as weekly events. With great mood, lighting, countless TVs and a big bar, the modern Americana ambiance was in full swing.

Courtesy of Alex Guardado

Courtesy of Alex Guardado

In order to satisfy our craving for burgers, my friend and I browsed through the menus for what seemed like an eternity, in awe of the descriptive and delicious-sounding food. Fortunately, our server noticed our dilemma and was extremely friendly in helping us pick her two favorite menu items and beers from a list of over 30 craft brews.

After ordering drinks and food, I sat attentively, surveying the architecture and marveling at what I saw. I gazed at the brightly lit patio, highlighted by a robust yet elegant stone feature of water and fire.

After a short wait, our food was ready. Opting to not choose the same food, I let my friend pick the meatier of the two burgers. His choice was the Cowboy Burger, a full-bodied bacon cheddar burger with house-made barbeque sauce and shoestring onion rings as toppings. I ordered the Catalina Bison Burger, a medium rare smoked mozzarella patty slathered with bacon-infused jalapeño jam. Both of us also substituted our sides for the pricier sweet potato fries.

As I looked at my plate and then again to the menu price, I was shocked by how little my portion was. I tried not to let it kill my mood, and hoped that the quality of the burger and fries were worth the hefty price. My first choice was the sweet potato fries. Savory yet a lot less salty than other fries I’ve tried, they were covered in an amazing sweet sauce; however, the fact that they came out so cold was a little disheartening.

Acknowledging that this was not a go-to place for fries, both of us tackled our burgers and tried each other’s as well. Although fresh and juicy-looking, my meal was less than impressive. Neither meaty nor tasty, my burger was definitely a let down for its almost $16 price tag. The slightly cheaper yet more full-bodied Cowboy Burger was the better of the two, as it trumped almost any other burger I have ever had. The mixture of sweet, crunchy and savory flavors was also enhanced by its absence of oiliness that often plagues such meaty burgers.

Not yet filled from my meal, I scoured the menu for a dessert and was more than willing to try the Americana Apple Crisp. It was an epic layered concoction of hot caramelized apples, pecans and vanilla bean ice cream. Crafted to perfection, it curbed my appetite and created the starkest contrast of a hot and cold, sweet and creamy treat. Unfortunately, even though my stomach was satisfied, my wallet was soon emptied from the pricy food experience and I questioned who the target audience was for this young adult-filled restaurant near a college campus.

I felt such apprehension about Eureka, yet I dared to come again. My second time there I did what most students on a budget do and went during happy hour. The relatively cheap appetizer prices and more college-like atmosphere made my second experience there so much better and easier on my bank account. This time around, my friends got nachos and I ordered corn dogs. My choice came out very stylish and paired well with the variety of sauces that accompanied it.The nachos hit the spot and for $7 you get a pretty filling chicken, jalapeno and guacamole filled nachos. The perfect pairing with any drink, these nachos are great and classic bar food.

Eureka stands somewhere in between a great atmosphere to hang out with friends, yet not as affordable as other nearby food options. The quality of the food is definitely better than places like Umami Burger, but it is not a place to frequent in the same way that In-N-Out is. If I come here again for meals, it will only be for special celebrations. Overall, Eureka is the best addition to the “dead” UCI nightlife and is better than anything similar UTC had before (Steelhead Brewing). An awesome place for appetizers and drinks, this is definitely a great change of pace from the atmosphere at the Anthill Pub and Irvine in general.