First of all, for those unframiliar, here's my quick intro to Chiu Chow noodles. It's a noodle dish similar to Pho. They actually remind me quite a bit of the simple soup noodle dishes you get from stands in Thailand. It's made with a pork broth base and contains rice noodles, bits of ground pork, pieces of chicken, duck, pork, fish balls, slices of fish cake, and shrimp. Also has bits of peanuts and green onions in it. Oh, and a slice of liver. =) The noodles are usually the thick wide rice noodles that you find in Chinese or some Thai noodle dishes. You can also get thin white noodles(like Pho noodles) or yellow Chinese egg noodles.
A quick note, Chiu Chow = Chao Zhou = Teo Chew = Trieu Chau. Same word, different dialects/languages. A large number of the Chiu Chow immigrants in OC are actually immigrants from Vietnam. A lot of the Chinese population of Vietnam left the country when the North took over.
From my own experience and through discussions with other Asian noodle lovers in OC, the undisputed champ of Chiu Chow noodles is Trieu Chau in Santa Ana. There's a newer New Trieu Chau in Garden Grove, but it's unclear to me how they're related. The billboard even looks the same, but the recipe is slightly different. New Trieu Chau has signs inside for Noodle Avenue, a newish place in Tustin, so I'm going to assume those 2 are explicitly related.
Address: 4401 West 1st St, Santa Ana, 92703
Directions: Corner of Newhope and 1st in Santa Ana. Northeast corner in the same lot as the Golden Lion. Big sign with the name.
Parking: Parking here is ATROCIOUS. Don't even think about coming here on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon unless you are willing to fight for a spot in the small-ish parking lot. Not so bad for lunch during the week.
Ambience/Service: This is the oldest of the 3 and the most crowded. Not unusual to see a line waiting for tables outside, though it moves pretty fast. Like many Little Saigon restaurants, there's really no atmosphere here. Service is a brisk "What do you want?" and you'll probably have to flag down a busy waiter to get a water refill. Those carts they push around with all the dirty dishes and stuff they clean off the tables might turn off some people.
Noodles: But we're not here for ambience, we're here for noodles! The places has the best Chiu Chow noodles I've ever had. Fresh ingredients, rich broth, what more could you ask for? It can get a little messy since you'll probably get a whole duck drumstick(Chiu Chow style "oily" duck) in your bowl. The noodles here are also very good for take out. They keep the soup in a seperate container and there's a soy sauce/oil mixture they use to flavor the noodles which keeps them seperate. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT get the small white noodles if you're getting take out. They clump after refrigeration and you just get a big starchy mess when you try to reheat them later.
Hours: They close pretty early, like 5pm or 6pm so it's mostly a lunch place.
**New Trieu Chau**
Address: 9902 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, 92683
Directions: On the Southwest corner of Westminster and Brookhurst. In the middle of the large parking lot. Directly across Westminster from Lee's Sandwiches.
Parking: Amply parking, huge lot.
Ambience/Service: Less hole-in-the-wallish than TC, but your typical Little Saigon restaurant. Since it's usually less hectic, it doesn't feel as rushed.
Noodles: Similar to TC, but not as good, in my opinion. You can tell if you get take out that they don't use the soy sauce/oil mixture so the soup turns out less oily, but also less flavorful. That means the noodles are also more prone to clumping when you heat them up at home. Other little differences are slice of chicken instead of a chopped piece and a slice of roast pork instead of plain pork. Overall, still very good, but missing the punch of the TC version.
Hours: I believe they close early as well.
Address: 13816 Red Hill avenue, Tustin, 92780
Directions: Off Red Hill just north of the 5. Long strip mall to the east and it's near the Del Taco end of the strip.
Parking: Lots of spaces, shouldn't be a problem parking here.
Ambience/Service: This place is a little weird. There's a big posted menu and you order at a counter and take a number to your table. It feels fast food-ish.
Noodles: Almost exactly the same as NTC. Not surprising as they appear to be owned or operated by the same people.
Hours: They're open till 9pm unlike the other 2.
Misc: TC and NTC also have lots of other Chiu Chow dishes on their menu worth trying. Lots of versions of fried rice and fried noodle dishes. Chiu Chow porridge is very similar to the noodles. And the fresh young coconut juice at these places reminds me of Southeast Asia. :)
Summary: Even though I do consider NTC and NA below TC in quality, any of these 3 have better Chiu Chow noodles than anywhere else I've ever had them. Granted, I've not done any extensive searches for these noodles in other cities, but the ones I've come across do not compare. Noodle Avenue is still better than the versions I've had in LA Chinatown. I recommend TC for the good stuff, but because it's always so crowded and parking can be such a pain sometimes, the other 2 are viable alternatives. Noodle Avenue is great for those in Irvine who don't want to drive to Little Saigon. I hope this little post was helpful for those who might be inclined to try these noodles and I would definitely welcome suggestions for other places I can compare them with.