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Three weeks ago I had a chance to check out the newish Royal in Irvine. My friend stores his wine nearby and had been curious about what inspired the throngs of people lining up to eat here.
Royal is next door to 101 Noodle Express. https://www.chowhound.com/post/101-no... We would soon learn from our waiter that it shares common ownership and has the same menu and pricing. In fact he gave us the 101 Noodle Express menu to check out the photos of each dish.
#78 Xiao long bao stuffed with fatty pork and shrimp roe were delicious and generously filled with soup. The wrappers were too thick, but on the plus side, none of them broke to lose their precious payload. The top knot was kind of dry and tough.
#54 Beef and beef tendon noodle soup, upgraded with the wide, irregular hand torn pasta, was aromatic with fresh cilantro and sweet spices. Our waiter had steered us away from ordering the spicy version, explaining that the hot sauce condiment on the table was identical to what the kitchen would use and we could just add to our own taste. The pieces of stewed meat were tender and velvety, not at all stringy as can happen too often. Toothsome tendon hit the perfect texture for me too, not too soft nor too firm. The stock was a bit too salty and not as deeply meaty as the best, but adding the hot chili oil rounded out the flavors and toned down the salt influence.
Though the first two dishes were more than enjoyable, the best bite of the night was #70, Beef roll. I don't know that I've ever had a better version. The pancake wrapper was airy and flaky with a minimum of grease. Juicy and tender beef slices poached in five-spice could shine through with a minimum of condiment. Again, cilantro applied with a heavy hand, but I liked how the extra greenery lightened what is often too heavy of a starter.
Never having been to any branch of 101 Noodle Express, tasting the repertoire at Royal confirms why it is such a popular local chain. Peeking into the one next door, Royal seemed cleaner with more spacious seating. I would probably choose the new spot over the original for the added comfort.
5408 Walnut Ave
Irvine, CA 92618
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