Monday, June 13, 2011

Chef Chen - Irvine

A pang of sadness hit me when I heard that Nice Time Deli in Irvine closed. It wasn't because I was particularly attached to it. To be honest, it had been ages since I last visited. But the fact that it would no longer be there was again a reminder that nothing lasts forever and a lesson that we often take everything for granted until its gone.

The dish that I will miss most is their pai gu fan, better known as pork chop rice--a simple cut of pork, pounded into thin, flat fingers that spanned an area as big as my face. Beneath was an unglamorous plate of rice soaked with soy-sauce cooked ground pork, a humble piece of tofu and a simmered egg.

The dish was comfort food. No bones about it. It's the kind of meal that doesn't aim for anything but sustenance; but one that you come back to, again and again, because of how warm it made you feel.

Pai gu fan is almost a commodity in Irvine. In fact, just next door I found a worthy and close enough replacement. Chef Chen's pork chop comes as a swooping, grand gesture of pig, flattened to a pamphlet's thinness and cooked crisp under its own brand of a sweet golden batter. The requisite rice mound below is moistened with a corn-starch thickened oyster-sauce gravy with bits of ground pork and bok choy.

Like me, other fans of pai gu fan have a Nice Time Deli surrogate in Chef Chen, and it is good.

Chef Chen's Restaurant
5408 Walnut Avenue # B
Irvine, CA 92604
(949) 786-8898

Delius Restaurant - Signal Hill


At 12:21 PM, Blogger Greg Hao said...

Actually, despite my hatred of the place (not to mention the redesigned shite parking lot), the best 排骨飯 (pai gu fan) in Irvine IMO is at Tea Station. At least for me, it's what I remember eating as a child in Taiwan. All the new fangled ones, including the one at Chef Chen all tend to be a bit on the sweet side for me.

One other note of caution however, It's also more expensive. But then so are the tapioca drinks at tea station.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger joanh said...

awww, that is sad that Nice Time Deli closed.. i used to get the squid vermicelli there. good to know that there's more to eat in that plaza.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I like Tea Station's pai gu fan, too. It seems a different style than Nice Time Deli, and it goes well with the fried egg they used to include. Here's my earlier post on Tea Station.


Yes, gone gone gone. And not only that replaced! There is now a Shandong-style dumpling joint in its place!

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were recently shut down for a day for some pretty disgusting violations:

Cockroach Infestation/Activity in Critical Area

Improper Sanitizer Concentration/Method

Improper Food Storage/Receiving

Improper Holding Temp of PHF (60F-120F), (50F-59F)

Improper Holding Temperatures of PHF

Lack of/Unsanitary/Condition Walls/Floors/Ceilings

Inadequate Hygiene (Hair/Clothing/Eating/Drinking)

Change Room Improper Use/Lack of

Unsanitary Equipment/Utensil/Linen/Plumbing

Unapproved Pesticides/Chemicals/Labeling

Lack of Food Protection Manager Certificate

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

I can't tell if you are talking about Nice Time's pork chop or Chef Chen's pork chop in the various paragraphs in this article. I also can not determine if you like Chef Chen's version or if you like it or what you like/dislike about it? I guess I am glad that you showed us where to get it though.

Diamond Dog - Censored by the OC Weekly

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous JB said...

I had my [Chinese] New Year's Day feast at Chef Chen back in February. 'Twas...ok. The vaunted Lion's Head Meatballs desperately needed some hot sauce. Our New Year dumplings were satisfactory. The niu rou shao bing was the best thing on our table.

I thought Irvine was a Taiwanese nexus? Looking forward to the day when we won't have to drive to the SGV.....

At 8:51 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yes there are hits and misses here (the xiao long bao is passable), but the pork chop is great. Better than Nice Time's? Can't say, but even Nice Time had its ups and downs. Too bad I can't do a side-by-side comparison anymore.


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