Photo by Amy TheligAmong Orange County's many restaurant casualties over the years, the loss of Asian Deli stings the most. It operated for years from a hectic Orange strip mall, a spotless Indonesian dive where patrons happily munched on vast rice dishes that resembled hail flurries along with satay skewers of sweet, spicy and smoky savors. Business boomed throughout the late 1990s, and the rent was always on time. Nevertheless, Asian Deli's landlord inexplicably kicked out the county's only Indonesian eatery in 2001, giving little notice to the owners and replacing them with a plumbing store. Insert your own joke about the circle of life—as well as the human digestive system.
Asian Deli's owners wanted to stay in Orange County and searched vainly for a new building. But astronomical rent rates forced them up the 57 freeway toward Diamond Bar, where they reopened Asian Deli next to a Montessori school and creepy sports bar. Business isn't as lucrative as before, but customers still stream in, all quickly validating their fond memories of the original Orange location with any of Asian Deli's 82 entrées.
For such a tiny operation, Asian Deli saunters through the Indonesian cookbook—one of the world's most deliciously anarchic due to the country's archipelagic nature and position between various trade routes—as if bankrolled by President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Almost all meals arrive with a miniature version of gado-gado, the focus of most Indonesian restaurants but merely an indulgent afterthought here. This salad simultaneously refreshes you with cabbage and bean sprouts and sticks to the roof of your mouth thanks to a goopy peanut sauce ladled over the roughage. Lying next to the gado-gado are a couple of empings, a bitter, crispy chip that looks like an albino pork rind and of which Asian Deli sells out by the bagful. Those empings crunch best after a dunk in a sultry soy sauce spiked with blazing green chiles and fresh tomatoes, so remember to ask for this off-menu garnish.
You can divvy up a year at Asian Deli by spending one week concentrating on its aforementioned juicy satays, another on the salty noodle dishes, and an eternity on a whole grilled snapper that's wrapped in a banana leaf and whose spiced scales constitute the tastiest epidermis since chicharrones. But save some time by feasting like Indonesians do and chow via the nasi rames smorgasbord method. Come lunchtime on a weekday, you pick any three entrées from the 82 available no matter what their singular cost. Accompanying your choices are sides of gado-gado, a scoop of white rice and a trio of empings. This buffet-on-a-plate is so criminally cheap at $4.25 that anyone who orders it without leaving a $5 tip will undoubtedly face burglary charges in the hereafter.
And regardless of you order, wash anything down with an es sirup and susu, a syrupy/creamy flamingo-pink libation so ferociously sweet you'll weep in disappointment whenever any other beverage touches your lips. With life expectancy in the United States around 77.4 years, that's going to be a lot of tears.
Asian Deli, 23545 Palomino Dr., Ste. F, Diamond Bar, (909) 861-1427.
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