Just go to Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center in Irvine (above). There, within a few feet of each other, you'll find three places where you can explore Taiwanese cuisine from soup to desserts and baked goods.
You can have green or black teas, but choose instead cold sweet winter melon tea, which comes plain or with such additions as lemon juice, herbal jelly, taro balls or milk.
As is typical of Chinese desserts, nothing is overly sweet and cloying. Even the herbal jelly bowl seems light despite its many components. This means you won't be too full to enjoy the next stop.
Meet Fresh, Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center, 2710 Alton Parkway, #105, Irvine, CA 92606. (949) 955-9236.
Stop 2. Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle. Chef Hung is a perpetual champion in Taipei's International Beef Noodle Soup Festival. Three of his champion soups are on the menu at this Irvine restaurant (above), which is the only Chef Hung restaurant in the United States.
The chef owns restaurants in Taiwan but sells the rights to the overseas stores, along with his recipes. He comes to Irvine once a year to consult.
The three champion beef noodle soups you can try include the traditional style, with a dark, strongly flavored broth. A second soup has light, clear broth in order to focus on the flavor of the meat. And the third has a touch of tomato in the broth, a newer concept that has become very popular in Taiwan. You can see all three in the photo above.
The noodles are handmade for the restaurant, and all the soups are made with beef bone stock that cooks at least 15 hours.
Although beef noodle soup is the top draw, you should also try the restaurant's wonton soup (above). The wontons are small, and the wrappers are so sheer that it takes a fine hand to work with them.
Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle, Daimond Jamboree Shopping Center, 2710 Alton Parkway, #117, Irvine, CA 92606. (949) 756-0088.
Interestingly, Taiwanese say the baked goods here are better than at 85°C in Taiwan, because American butter and milk are superior.
The Chinese egg tarts with their flaky, crisp shells are irresistible. One is partially hidden by the four segments of brioche in the photo above. Other top sellers, starting from bottom left, are a chocolate chip bowl, a milk bread with powdered sugar on top, a milk pudding bun filled with custard and a berrytale bun with blueberries peeking out the top. Not everything is sweet. A ham and cheese bun is at top left.
Black calamari breads colored with squid ink and lined with garlic spread (above right) might not appeal as much as sweet buns, but they're very popular too. For breakfast, you'll definitely want the chewy multigrain bread with raisins at left.
The name 85°C refers to the ideal temperature for serving hot coffee, but the famous coffee at this bakery isn't hot. it's cold, sweet sea salt coffee, made from Guatemalan beans and topped with thick, salted whipped cream and a sprinkle of cocoa.
85°C Bakery Cafe, Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center, 2700 Alton Parkway, #123, Irvine, CA 92606. (949) 553-8585.