Yu's Garden - Irvine
You're probably already aware of Yu's Garden. Me, I'm just getting acquainted. Although it is next door to Tapioca Express, Liang's Kitchen, Kaju Soft Tofu, Chef Chen's, J. Sweet Bakery and 101 Noodle Express, I have not, until recently, stepped into Yu's.
In fact, I've been every single one of those other restaurants, some of them more than a few times. Others I even reviewed for The Weekly. But Yu's Garden was, for all intents and purposes, invisible. I ignored it, shunned it, never even considered it an option.
Boy, was I missing out. I finally tried it after a co-worker mentioned it was his regular takeout place. This alone did not convince me. It was only when he said Yu's levies about $7 for a three item combo with massive amounts of well-prepared food that I stopped ignoring and became a kind of regular myself.
He was right. For exactly $7.08 Yu's will pack on a movable feast into groaning foam containers. The place is about instant gratification and not paying much for it. Most everything you want to eat is ready-made, but all of it fresh, and with that mom-cooked flavor and character. The cold dishes are presented in deep platters; the hot ones in chafing trays.
This is not Panda Express. There is no Orange Chicken or even Kung Pao. Instead there is chicken mousse wrapped in deep fried tofu skin. There is bone-in basil chicken in sauce-lacquered pieces you have to navigate carefully with your teeth to eat. And soy-simmered minced pork, the kind that you top rice with. And mapo tofu that harbors stinging hot peppers hiding between the custardy curds.
When I ordered the latter, I almost thought they were making a mistake. They ladled the stuff into a quart-sized container until it was practically full. Any place else would have slopped it on into the same foam container as the rice. Not here. They are intent on giving you more than you expected and paid for. (The non-soupy items do get put into the same box container your other items).
I've returned a few more times since, especially for the stir fried veggies. I like their hearty stalks of Chinese broccoli; the invigorating bittermelon; and the simplicity of stir fried spinach and mustard greens.
But most of all, I come back because of the value. In a town without a lack of cheap Chinese food, Yu's isn't just the cheapest, but probably the best of the cheapest.
5408 Walnut Ave. Ste. H
Irvine, CA 92604
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Mil Jugos - Santa Ana