Every time I go home to Irvine to visit my parents, we almost always go to Chef Chen for lunch. Located in a nondescript strip mall off Jeffrey Road and Walnut Avenue that has become a hub for Asian (mostly Chinese) food, it’s easy to miss. But if you’re in the area or even if you’re just passing through — it’s really close to the 5 freeway — check out Chef Chen for a satisfying meal of Taiwanese and Shanghaiese cuisines.
The menu here ranges from clay pots to northern Chinese dim sum, and it’s a big menu. There is still so much more I need to try, but here are some of the dishes I have liked so far.
The lunch specials come with hot and sour soup and a salad you can ignore (it’s really just lettuce and sesame seeds. The soup is good, though — sufficiently spicy and flavorful as hot and sour soup should be.
The pork with dried bean curd is one of my favorite dishes in general, as is pork with bamboo shoots. Chef Chen’s version with bean curd is a good one.
I love Chef Chen’s scallion pancakes. They’re thin, crispy and have lots of scallions. I can’t stand when there aren’t enough scallions!
The Chinese Style Roast Beef Sandwich is made with the same kind of dough as the pancakes but without the scallions. Pieces of beef are rolled up with cilantro, scallions and hoisin sauce in the bread and sliced like a wrap, creating cute pinwheels of beefy and herby goodness.
The steamed soup dumplings are pretty darn good here, too. The dumpling wrapper isn’t too thick, and the inside soup and meat are nice. The portions inside aren’t stingy, either.
A few other dishes that are notable: salt and pepper squid, which is kind of like the Chinese version of fried calamari; shrimp with scrambled egg and scallions; and eggplant with basil. I hear the beef soup with knife-cut noodles is good, so I’ll have to try it next time. I had that dish at JTYH, and I wasn’t impressed with the flavor of the soup, which I found lacking, so I’m on the lookout for one I’ll like better.
My mom and boyfriend really like the fish fillet in hot bean sauce, but I’m not a fan of the flavor of this sauce. The fish is good and it’s sufficiently spicy (look at all that red!), but the distinct soy bean flavor of the sauce just isn’t my thing. Chef Chen also uses this sauce for its mabo tofu.
The service here is above average, too. I find the servers to be friendlier than in most Chinese restaurants, and there are certain servers who remember us, too. It’s also quick, so no waiting around for your food.