Northern Cafe opens at University Center

Prepare to upgrade your dumpling and noodle game. Legendary Northern Cafe is freshly open in University Town Center.

Prepare to upgrade your dumpling and noodle game. Legendary Northern Cafe is freshly open in University Town Center. Long-acclaimed throughout L.A. County, the popular eatery chose Irvine for its OC debut.

Northern Cafe’s stellar reputation will attract initial interest, but the kitchen’s proven performance is what turns first-timers into regulars. The epic menu is a deep and wide selection of northern Chinese classics. Hot and cold. Soups and snacks. Noodles of every size drenched in rich broths or pan-sizzled. And, of course, hand-crimped dumplings plump with fresh, intricate and complex fillings, including the much-loved juicy pork.

Owners Lei Li, Yong Chuan and Bin Qias bring northern Chinese classics to University Center.

So many appetizers

The glossy, new 75-seat venue makes it tempting to explore with abandon. Where to start? Consider the wildly popular items that are winners with fans. Notable appetizers include a cilantro-spiked beef roll, sliced for easy sharing. Pudgy potstickers, six to an order, hold together for dunking in a sauce you customize with vinegars, chili oil and soy sauce. Wedges of green onion packages are crispy and delicate. Spicy pork wontons are soulful bites worth a second round, but do save room for those luscious dumplings. In addition to Juicy Pork Dumplings, standouts include Lamb Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplings and Shrimp, Pork, Egg & Chive Dumplings, steamed or pan fried.

Hand-pulled noodles

Noodle enthusiasts will find their new heaven here. Thick, thin, round or flat, it’s your call. Hand-pulled noodles get a lot of love in the always popular Dan Dan Noodles, a swirl of fresh, bouncy noodles topped with an umami-rich ground pork sauce. Another bestseller, House Special Beef Noodle Soup, is a deeply savory winner well suited to the approaching cooler weather.

House specialties are a varied lot and suitable for sharing; many include rice. This is where you’ll find braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and cumin-rubbed lamb sizzling with curls of fresh onion. Unfussy and swirling with savory aromas, the surroundings buzz with upbeat staffers taking orders and hustling dishes to tables. There’s also a sunlit patio for slurping cold noodles on a warm afternoon.