I’ve been seeing Aoki No Chuuka pop up on Yelp’s “Hot and New” restaurants list and want to try it out. It is located in the old Tabento spot – sad Tabento is no longer, as it was one of the better Japanese restaurants in OC – and offers a menu focusing on Japanese style Chinese food.
We arrive early and hungry. Since it is our first time, we pored over the menu for quite a while before deciding. There is a specials menu on the wall which includes some good choices.
There is a lot we want. I see Yuzu Pepper Shio Ramen ($7.50) and it jumps out at me. I love yuzu, a Japanese citrus possessing an aroma that’s unrivaled. The broth is subtle, and I don’t detect much of the yuzu pepper base stated on the menu. The chicken and pork broth is nice though, and is light, perfect for when you’re feeling sick. There is menma (bamboo shoots), green onions, and bean sprouts, but only one piece of chashu (pork belly) which seems a bit stingy.
The Garlic Ramen ($8) uses the same chicken and pork broth, but we ask if we could add miso to the shoyu base. We also ask to make it spicy ($1 additional). This ramen comes with pork and seasonal vegetables stir fry and lots of garlic mixed in with the ramen. It turns out to be absolutely fantastic. The flavor is robust and so addicting on our palates we couldn’t get enough of it.
We want to try the Mabo Tofu ($8) a very popular Chinese dish. The Japanese version is less spicy with cubes of tofu and ground pork. Rice and soup are add-ons, so you’ll be looking at $10 for this dish if you’re wanting to eat it with your tofu.
Curry Omumeshi ($8.50) sounds interesting, so we order that as well. It is omurice which is fried rice wrapped with omelette. This is highly popular in Japan, but I’ve never had it with curry fried rice before. The result is pretty good, although I’m never sure about the sweet sauce usually drizzled over Japanese dishes. The curry is not overpowering, but unlike other curry flavors you’ve ever had.
The last two dishes are off the specials board. Cold Noodles ($8.50) is an ample dish of cold noodles topped with kelp, egg, pork, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, among others. We toss the noodles with the ingredients mixing them together with the ponzu-like sauce sitting on the bottom of the shallow bowl.
Our last item is Grilled Seabass ($12), a perfectly executed tender, moist piece of fish which we fought amongst us. On our next visit, we must order a serving each.
The meal is good, but especially the garlic which we haven’t stopped thinking about. There are 14 noodles choices including a yakisoba. I can’t wait to come back and try them all!
Aoki No Chuuka
1525 Mesa Verde Drive East
Costa Mesa, CA 92626