If you’ve ever had the spicy beef noodle soup or the beef-and-scallion pancake at 101 Noodle Express in Irvine, you probably enjoyed them. Or at least you should have, because they are very good. But if you are anything like me, you didn’t really like the experience of dining at 101 Noodle Express, which has developed a cult following of sometimes rowdy college kids. It’s a bit like dining at the mall food court, but without the mall. Well, something interesting just happened. The space next door became available, so the owner of 101 Noodle Express took it over and opened a restaurant called Royal.
They didn’t change anything about the previous tenant’s decor, which is slightly nicer and less cramped than their original noodle house next door. The menu at Royal is almost identical to the menu at 101 Noodle Express, right down to the numbers next to each item.
My favorite is No. 51, the spicy beef noodle soup. The broth is rich and beefy, with added umami coaxed from kelp sheets and some sort of finely shaved omelet. You can get it with thin noodles or thick, the latter of which are made in-house. The table is set with various condiments and chili sauces, but this soup needs absolutely no tinkering.
The kitchen also makes xiao long bao…