|veg pork with bean curd|
**version of this article also in OC Register**
I really have my friend Florance to thank for telling me about Happy Family. She told me she’s been here many times now with her fiance and they both love eating here. I would never have found it otherwise even though it was just down the road from my hair salon. I’ve been to its sister location in Rowland Heights before and enjoyed our meals there immensely, but it’s a 40-minute drive I’m not willing to make on a regular basis.
Situated in Costa Mesa across the street from Inka Grill and right next door to the Travelodge on Bristol Street, Happy Family has only been open less than three months and it was obvious that like me, a lot of people have not found it yet.The signs are not big, the only thing giving it away are the lanterns outside the building suggesting it may be an Asian restaurant of some sort.
Happy Family serves Chinese vegetarian food, which, while quite abundant in the San Gabriel Valley, is hard to come by in Orange County. The majority of Chinese restaurants serve vegetarian dishes on their menus, but there isn’t a really good restaurant which dedicates itself completely to this type of cuisine.
|eggplant tofu pot|
I am no vegetarian, but I love vegetarian food. The only thing I don’t quite understand when it comes to Chinese style vegetarian food is why there are fake meats to replace the real ones. The only reason I can come up with is perhaps Buddhists are required to follow a vegetarian diet — maybe not by choice — so this was a way to feel that they’re not missing out on the experience.
When I was growing up, a friend of my mom’s was a strict Buddhist who followed this vegetarian diet. Back then, she would invites us to the Buddhist temple on special ceremonial occasions to partake in these vegetarian meals prepared by the Buddhist nuns.
I used to dread these outings because I remembered the tasteless, mushy, soggy foods I was forced to eat. My mom went out of obligation — this friend was older and was like mother-figure to her — and my brother and I, well we had no choice but to follow my mom. I remembered having to be polite and swallowed everything that was place in front of us on the plate.
As an adult, I tried to stay away from Chinese vegetarian food as much as I could, but while living in Hong Kong, one of the restaurants I had to review was a vegetarian one and I had no choice but to go eat there. That experience changed my preconceived notions of Chinese vegetarian food. I was introduced to some really innovative vegetarian cuisine, fresh, flavorful, not soggy, mushy or tasteless in any way. After that, I was hooked!
|vermecelli with spicy sauce|
The menu at Happy Family is abundant with more than 100 dishes listed. Lunch specials run 7 days a week and offer good selections from the a la carte menu — not just some cheap items to appease those looking for a lunch time bargain. Even some Chef’s Suggestions can be found on the specials. Complimentary soup and your choice of bread (steamed or fried) and rice (brown or white) is included.
I ordered the eggplant and tofu pot, stir fried bean curd and ‘pork’, ‘chicken’ nuggets with basil, ma yi shang shu (spicy glass noodles). The specials run between $6.95 and $7.95, portions are slightly smaller than a la carte (by about 25%) but still, generous.
Tofu and eggplant are two things I cook regularly at home, however, I’ve never cooked them together. To find these two items in one dish was awesome because I didn’t need to order two separate dishes! This soy based dish is so rich in flavor and basil leaves enhanced it further by elevating its aroma. The sauce was perfect for dipping the bread into or drizzling on top of rice. The tofu was lightly fried and then braised with the eggplant to form this very delicious dish.
|veg chicken nuggets|
“Chicken” nuggets is popular with both kids and grown ups alike and these gluten nuggets are deep fried with basil leaves and slices of chili to give them an added kick. Ask for the chili soy sauce to dip these tasty morsels in.
Stir fried bean curd and “pork” is my son’s favorite Chinese dish and I order this for him whenever it is on the menu. Here, the “pork” is a pork substitute made from gluten and although the texture isn’t exactly like pork, the delicious seasonings doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing anything.
Spicy glass noodles traditionally uses dried shrimp and ground pork but here, it is just glass noodles with finely diced bits of mushrooms and other vegetables. I could taste the ginger in this dish as well — very nice. It was a tad bland for me but nothing a dash of soy sauce can’t fix.
Even though I’ve only tried four items off the menu, I know this is a place I would come back to over and over again. Having a Chinese vegetarian option so close to home, and one so tasty, is a blessing for me. Instead of battling a 40-minute drive to Rowland Heights, I now only need to drive 15 minutes up the 405 and a highly satisfying meal is waiting for me at Happy Family. Service is good, food is delicious and hearty, and prices reasonable. Even if you’re not vegetarian you can’t help but love the food here.Happy Family, 1400 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Tel: 714-668-928. (The restaurant is right next to the Travelodge)