Well that was fast. Two weeks ago, Nice Time Deli, Irvine's decades-old Taiwanese stalwart for pork chop rice and other comfort food standards closed. Now, its replacement is already packing them in. Good-luck plants crowd one corner and red paper lanterns dangle outside as a hastily hung tarp with the new name partially blots out the old one.
Translated, it says Lu Wei Ju, but they are in fact part of a restaurant chain called 101 Noodle Express, which began in Alhambra and has branches in Arcadia and City of Industry.
Despite what the name suggests, 101 Noodle Express is a dumplings specialist, both boiled (shuijiao) and fried like potstickers. There are at least twenty varieties, most of them pork-filled and paired with vegetables like leeks, bok boy, sour Chinese pickled cabbage, even pumpkin. There are some stuffed with fish, lamb, shrimp, which is either combined with more pork, vegetable matter, or every conceivable permutation thereof. Ten dumplings come to a serving.
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The SGV branches of the restaurants are also well-regarded for their De Zhou chicken, a famous dish named after the city in Shandong province from where it originated--half a bird deep-fried, braised in a flavorful liquid, and hacked into segments before service.
On the noodle front, dan dan noodles, ox tail noodles, noodle bowls with beef tendon and pig's feet feature prominently. And of course, they do the Shandong specialty of beef rolls called niu rou juan bing, those crispy jelly-roll-like logs that is to this plaza like pho is to Bolsa. LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold had this to say about the one he had at the Arcadia branch, " A meal at 101 Noodle without a beef roll is as unthinkable as a lunch at Langer's without pastrami."
This, by the way, is not a review, but a preview of what's being served. With so many dishes and so many dumplings, I'll need more time.