Getting Busy With Chinese Cuisine
By Andy Cheng
Do you love Panda Express? If you do, get outta here! You haven’t tasted authentic Chinese cuisine—a rarity in the Inland Empire, it seems, probably attributable to the scarcity of Asians in the area. You might be wondering, “Where can I find real Chinese food like ching chongs and yip yaps (which by the way aren’t genuine Chinese words)?” Look no further, peng you’s (friends), as Busy Café in the University Village is where the kung pow meets the chow fun.
As Americanized as I am in culture, I haven’t lost my proclivity for authentic Chinese food, and this medium-sized family restaurant is the best in its business. Next to the University of California, Riverside, Busy Café is situated within a plaza that harbors a plethora of good eats—none more alluring than the delectable dishes of this diner. From the outside (and its strategic location next to a university of predominantly Asian students), one would assume that Busy Café targets students with a craving for traditional Chinese fare in a city desolate and deprived of delicious Chinese cuisine, and she would be correct—the bulk of its business derives sustenance from the student population. That’s precisely what makes it so enticing: it’s decently priced, the menu is expansive and Yelp reviewers gave it four stars (that’s, like, the highest possible).
Busy Café has everything one could ask for in a Chinese diner. Bright lights, plainly juxtaposed wall colors, waiters and waitresses that speak heavily-accented English and (of course) a smorgasbord of cultural dishes from Beijing-style to Hong Kong. This being a traditional diner, food is served on large plates in the center of tables for the family or party to share. Groups of four are seated at booths, while larger groups are given the large circular tables, which really invoke the spirit of the family-style ambiance that this restaurant is unique for in the area.
Following our food orders, the manager/waitress Wendy Lee serves each of us our choice of soup (egg flower or hot-and-sour) in individual bowls . . . and the best part is it’s free, which undeniably makes it taste so much better than it already does. Lee recommended a number of dishes to us that customers tend to enjoy, so we tried out the Twice-Cooked Pork, Three-Cups Chicken and the Salt and Pepper Fish. Though we frequent this restaurant, the aforementioned dishes were wholly unknown to us and, boy, did they pack a flavorful punch. The succulent pork tenderloins are simmered flawlessly and drenched in a mild sauce along with cabbage. The chicken contains a savory amalgamation of chopped chicken bits, basil leaves, garlic and the three renown sauces that constitute the name and much of Chinese cuisine (sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine), giving it the rich, delicious sauce to mix with a bowl of steamed rice. The fish is deep-fried and topped with a dash of salt and pepper (derp), chopped green onions and sliced peppers that really enhance the flavor beyond a simple deep-fry.
Also on the recommended list were Beef Chow Fun (beef fried rice) and Boba Milk Tea. However, the Boba Milk Tea is a bit bland with a prevalent tea flavor—not typical of milk tea. Speaking of personal suggestions, I’m a stalwart supporter of their Kung Pow Chicken and Szechuan Spicy Chicken—the sauces are to die for. The water chestnuts, however, are an irksome nuisance.
Busy Café is one of those restaurants that are hybridized for friends and family. A social environment that’s neither high-class nor a heat-lamp travesty; it’s perfect for its ambience of togetherness. It certainly offers a unique dining experience unseen in the immediate area. Oh, you get a fortune cookie at the end of your meal, too!
Busy Café, 1201 University Ave. #110A, Riverside, (951) 683-2228. Sun-Fri, 11AM-10PM. M, V.