Monday, June 13, 2005

Sam Woo Takeout - Irvine

There are days when you find yourself with absolutely no cash in your wallet, and no desire to rack up bucks on your plastic for just a workday lunch. I found myself in this very situation last Friday, and serendipitously, I had a load of recyclables in the trunk that I needed to get rid of. Plastic water bottles, to be exact.

Plastic bottles = cash = food

Call it an experiment if you will.

What can I get to eat in Irvine with the money from recycling my spent water bottles?

So there I was, behind the 99 Ranch on Culver in Irvine, holding two garbage bags of empty water bottles, standing in line to get cash for 'em. Had I been in L.A., I'd be the odd man out in this line, with my Gap shirt and khakis. But nope, this was Irvine; land of the yuppie, poster-child of urban masterplanning. In line with me was this regal white gentleman who could pass for my CEO and an Asian soccer mom.

I doubt that recycling meant sustenance to these two. A sense of civic duty perhaps, but not lunch.

So my turn was up and lo and behold! $4.75! Not too bad for two garbage bag fulls of trash.

With cash in hand, I made a beeline towards Sam Woo BBQ's Takeout area. There's a row of steam tables full of goodies to choose from. Salt and Pepper Shrimp? Nah. Fish in Black Bean Sauce? No, had that a few weeks ago. Ahh. Kung Pao Chicken? No way. Too bourgeois.

Ahh. Shredded Pork with Pressed Bean Curd. Haven't tried that yet. With steamed white rice please. $3.18? Comes with egg drop soup? Done. Chang-ching!

Rachel Ray, you got nothin' on me!

Okay, so it's not the same as eating in the restaurant. The few scoops of rice dumped into sytrofoam container and the mound of the pork dish I pointed to is unceremoniously served up by a sullen, unshaven Chinese man with a greasy apron. But hey, it's a steal! And for a buck more, I could've even gotten another entree added, like the glistening and crisp green beans.

I took my meal back to the office and ate it. The pork dish had a subtle flavor, not as spicy as I had anticipated. But the tofu, meaty and chewy, had absorbed the essense of the sauce nicely, with the thin strips of pork playing up the back beat. The stray green onion strand added an herby accent.

The soup my lunch came with had cooled enough by the time I got back that it congealed into a gloppy goo. I could've nuked it to bring it back to life, but my growling stomach didn't allow it.

With my hunger abated, I finally realized the slight irony; I did use plastic to feed myself after all.

Sam Woo Restaurant
(949) 262-0688
(949) 262-0888
15333 Culver Dr
Irvine, CA 92604


At 10:32 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

Haha...I can totally relate to your post! Sam Woo BBQ (except for me it's the Chinatown branch) is my ULTIMATE poor man's food. Two rice plates (e.g. Bok Choy and chicken over rice) costs us under ten bucks and lasts us two meals. So much better (and cheaper!) than fast food!

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Xericx said...

Is this the "express"? I think they have one in Costa Mesa across from South Coast Plaza....anyways, I like their honey walnut shrimp (13 bucks though) or their house special chow mein, crispy fried noodles!

At 2:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Actually it's not the "Express" per se (although they *might* call it that).

Sam Woo in Irvine is actually two restaurants.

One side is called Sam Woo Seafood. This is the fancier of the two. They offer seafood dishes, lunch specials, and dim sum. White tablecloths and uniformed waiters here.

The other side is called Sam Woo BBQ. This is the more casual side. They specialize in noodle and rice dishes with BBQ pork, etc. This restaurant is, itself, split into two. There is the dining room on one side, and in the other, the takeout counter. In the dining room, you'd order from a waiter and a menu. On the takeout counter, you can pick to-go items from steam trays or order from the menu. The bargain's the steam tray. The offer is one item combo at $2.95; Two at $3.95; and Three at $4.95.

Pretty good stuff for the price, but understandbly, the steam tray selection is pretty limited - and you have to be careful you don't order something that looks like it's been sitting there too long. I sometimes order a noodle dish from the menu for takeout if the steam tray's not looking good.

I haven't tried the Sam Woo in South Coast though.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

I haven't tried it, but I've heard that the Sam Woo Express near South Coast isn't that good. Maybe you can just try it and let us know...

How weird! I ate dinner at the Irvine Sam Woo today (the cheaper side). It was pretty good even though I asked them not to put MSG in it.

Last month, I tried that pork and pressed tofu dish and I didn't really like the tofu. It tasted like some kind of herbal medicine.

Since we're on the topic of Chinese food, have you ever eaten at Jamillah Garden on Walnut near Jamboree? It's a Chinese-Muslim restaurant and it's take on Chinese food is quite nice. It's pretty good, but it was much better 2-3 years ago before it was under new ownership.

At 7:05 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

I heard the same thing about that Sam Woo in South Coast. One of these days I'm probably going to try it, if not just for curiosity.

I haven't tried Jamillah Garden though. I have heard good things about it, but it's a matter of dragging my friends to it, who don't like lamb and Chinese food as much as I do. It's good to know it's there though...the only other Chinese-Muslim place I know of is in Monterey Park.

At 1:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gave the takeout a try this week. Was not very good. Tried a beef selection that was way too salty and the chicken in the Kung Pao Chicken was way over cooked, tasted like rubber. I must say the portions are huge! Have had better luck with pick up stix in newport

At 2:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

OH MAN...I just had the worst take-out meal from Sam Woo Express in Irvine. I take back what I said about it being a good value.

The Orange Peel Chicken was so dry it felt like I was gnawing on a dog's leather chew toy.

The Tofu and Pork dish was no better. The fried tofu had the texture of an old, used sponge. And I normally love tofu! The chunks of roast pork was slightly better, but the gloopy sauce was like soy slime.

The Chow Mein was flavorless and cold.

I should've heeded my own warning of ordering a noodle dish when the steam-trays look bad.

At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Sam Woo! I usually go to the one in Cerritos on South Street. I can make a 3 item combo last for an entire week (Mr. Bachelor Lifestyle). The safe bets are the green beans, tofu, and eggplants.

You should try their YING YANG Fried Rice at the regular Sam Woo. It's a ketchup lovers dream!

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i usually order from the menu for to go... i don't order from the steam trays cause i had experiences from it before... like the chow mein looks so flavorful but it's actually bland... the fried rice just absorbed the soy sauce... and the others...well... they're just lying there all day long.

safest bet is for you to order those that hang with the peking duck... (roast pork... soy chicken... or the bbq pork swimming in it's marinade)

the yang chow fried rice is also good if you have it cooked to order. and their beef pan fried noodles is the bomb!

even with the soaring prices of rice... their prices in the menu hasn't changed much.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you recycler. I love that recycling place because you've described it perfectly. I've stood in line with other people who are just as middle class as the next and they are there to do the same thing...recycle their bottles. I started having my 7 year old son recycle last year and it's one of his regular chores. He makes out great from anywhere from 9-27.00. Not bad for a youngster.

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Try S&W (related to Sam Woo somehow) by the Nice Time Deli and 99 Ranch in Irvine. Love love their food. My fave is the octopus appetizer.

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Viagra online without prescription said...

I never taste this people food, but when I'm short of money I went to chinese markets in china town because I can find cheap and delicious stuff specially vegetables.


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