Edit 08/25/2013: New Shanghai had closed.)
Where do you go in Irvine when you're looking for something to eat after 11:00 pm? Judging from the hysterical laughter, I'd say most of you know what a culinary wasteland Irvine is for late night eats. You're pretty much stuck with fast food joints, Lee's Sandwiches, Denny's, and New Shanghai.
"Wait, what's New Shanghai?" you ask.
For those of you who are always a little late to the party, New Shanghai is my favorite place for Shanghai cuisine and the only decent restaurant in Irvine open past 11:00 pm. They also serve a few Sichuan and Hunan dishes. You can tell just by looking at this picture that the food is gonna be good. Those seats aren't "San Gabriel sticky", but they're pretty damn close.
(Nothing special about this tea. I just wanted you to admire the picture.)
Cat and I were working really late one cold Winter night, which happens disturbingly often, and decided to eat out afterwards. Since it was 11:00 pm when we got back to Irvine, we headed straight to New Shanghai. Ahhh... A hot cup of tea to chase away the chill night air.
(Oh! It burns!)
Chasing away the night chill is all well and good, but nothing kicks its ass like a blazing pot of Sa Guo Yu Tou (Fish Head Stew). Half a large fish head is deep fried, then slowly simmered in a spicy both with tofu and wide glass noodles. With its bold aroma and fiery seasonings, this savory soup lit a fire in our bellies that warmed us from head to toe.
(If you're looking for zucchini, go to Panda Express.)
Once you've got Old Man Winter reeling, you take him down with Cat's favorite Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken), a classic Sichuan dish laced with more piquant punch. New Shanghai's rendition is all dark chicken meat, peanuts, and dried chilies. Not a single crappy filler vegetable to be seen. Get this dish in China and it'll be pretty damn close to what you see here.
(Yes. It's shaped like a cow. The beef is cooking in the cow. It's just wrong, yet oh-so-right.)
What? You feel sorry for the poor bastard? This is why you Southerners can't take cold weather. I don't care if he's crying for his mommy, you suck it up and finish the job! The Sha Cha Tie Ban Niu (Sizzling Satay Beef) will hit him harder than a diamond-studded two-by-four swung by a midget on speed. Tender strips of marinated beef and chunks of onion are stir-fried together in a savory and sweet Chinese satay sauce, then served on a smoking hot cast iron pan.
(Man's real best friend.)
No one will blame you if you want to get a few more licks in. How about this Jiao Yen Pai Gu (Salt & Pepper Pork Chops)? Deep-fried pork chops seasoned with salt and spicy peppers will take the last bit of fight out of him. It's like eating juicy potato chips made from pork. Addicting and terribly bad for you in all the right ways.
(Nope. No real point to a picture of rice. Just go, "Oooh," dammit.)
'Course, you'll need some fluffy rice to go with all that meaty goodness. Luckily, rice is all you can eat at New Shanghai for no additional charge.
(It's a house specialty for a reason.)
Okay. Now that you've beaten the fight out of him, call Mr. Chill a cab and send him home. He won't be bothering you no more. Time to take a swig of your tea and start really living it up with an order of Bai Ye Jiu Huang Xia (Stir-fried Shrimp with Leeks and Tofu Skin). The delicate sauce enveloping the plump shrimp and chewy tofu skin will really calm you down, while the sweet gentleness of the leeks will embrace your tongue like a lover on a cold night.
(I wish my swim instructors had looked this hot.)
Every man needs a stiff drink after a good fight. Go one better with a plate of Zhao Liu Yu Pian (Fish Filets in Wine Sauce). Strips of moist, flakey catfish swimming in a pool of wine sauce with bamboo shoot kickboards and wood ear mushroom floaties all around. Don't let a single drop of that golden ambrosia go to waste. It's the best part of this traditional Shanghai dish.
I like to finish on a sweet note. This Dou Sa Guo Bing (Bean Paste Fried Pan Bread) makes all the right sounds with its crispy outer layer, firm wrapper, and toothsome bean paste filling. There are donuts that will grow stale and die without ever fulfilling a fried sugar craving the way this stuff does.
You might also want to take out a little extra insurance with these Zhi Ma Tang Yuan (Sesame Dumplings), just in case you run into any of Old Man Winter’s pals once you step back outside. Sweet sesame paste wrapped in rice flour dumplings that pop in your mouth like honeyed balloons. Let's see Winter beat that.
New Shanghai - When you want good food in Irvine late. Bring cash, since they only take credit cards for amounts over $30.
Every item covered above cost $7.25 or less. It's a damn good deal.
5408 Walnut Ave # B
Irvine, CA 92604
(Open until midnight every night.)
(A little extra service for those of you who still don't want to get back to work. Just be careful. Don't want the boss to catch you looking at food porn while you're on the clock. Vacationitis is a real bitch and a half sometimes.)
In addition to great late night eats, New Shanghai also offers a selection of traditional Chinese breakfast items on the weekends for under five dollars.
At the top of the list, and thankfully available at any time, is their Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodle Soup). This is one of Shanghai cuisine's two signature dishes. New Shanghai offers the best bowl of niu rou mian in Irvine, hands down. Don't believe me? I've eaten niu rou mian at every Chinese place in Irvine that serves it. I know whereof I speak. The only contenders that are close are A&J across the street, their's is too oily and thick, and Chinatown next to UCI. Chinatown has closed, leaving New Shanghai the undisputed champion. Their broth is rich, light, and not oily at all. The noodles are al dente, not mushy, and the beef is both tender and plentiful. Try this if you wanna eat good in my neighborhood.
The second signature Shanghai cuisine dish that they offer is Xiao Long Bao (Little Steamer Dumplings). This is the only time I'll say this about a dish at New Shanghai. Avoid it. The wrappers are too thick on top and too thin on the bottom. The dumplings tend to come out overcooked, dry, and broken open. The best xiao long bao in Irvine are actually found across the street, at the Red Onion Cafe, and are "Oh My God!" good.
Far better are New Shanghai's Shang Hai Cun Juan (Shanghai Spring Rolls), with their crispy wrappers and juicy fillings of cabbage, celery, garlic, celery, and shitake mushrooms. They're perfect. The flavors are spot-on delicious, and they're fried so skillfully that you can leave them on the plate for hours and they'll still be crispy and good when you finally eat them. 'Course, I usually clear the plate within minutes of serving.
I'm also partial to these Sheng Jian Bao (Fried Dumplings), with their crispy, potsticker-like wrappers and savory pork filling. Think of gyoza shaped like giant xiao long bao. These aren't the best I've ever had, but they're tasty and satisfying.
Ready to go back to work now?
-=Addendum March 27, 2007 at 2:51am=-
Unfortunately, New Shanghai has closed.
To read my farewell to New Shanghai, click here.
All of New Shanghai's dishes are being offered at Hsin Hsin Shao May Deli, which is owned by the same family. Hsin Hsin Shao May is located in the same shopping center New Shanghai was located in. To read my review of Hsin Hsin Shao May, click here.