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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

Several years ago, I used to work in Downtown. Because I would often work through lunch, I had a certain place (Skew’s at Cal Plaza) that I would grab for takeout at every day. It was the combination of quality food (for a fast-casual place), large portions (necessary for someone that eats as much as I do), and healthy menu items (plain chicken breast, salad, brown rice) that continued to draw me back despite a plethora of other options in the area. And it wasn’t just that I went there every day, it was that I ordered the exact same thing every day (albeit getting a different sauce with the chicken). It’s not that I’m a total creature of habit; in fact, I love to try new things. But occasionally, I’ll find something that I enjoy so much that I don’t even bother to try anything else.

So about a year ago, I stumbled upon Fukada in Irvine. There are a ton of quality Japanese restaurants in the central Orange County area, so despite its lofty recommendations (it’s a Yelp favorite), I wasn’t expecting it to be that memorable. It was memorable. And even though I go back all the time and order the same Spicy Tuna Don on brown rice with sansai soba noodles (unless I order the Unagi Don), I never walk away feeling disappointed. Except for the absurdly long lines that often greet me (particularly during lunch).

Although Fukada has a full array of Japanese dishes, it is best known for its handmade noodles. The restaurant serves both udon, which are the thick wheat noodles, and soba, which are the thin buckwheat noodles, in both hot and cold form. The noodles are topped with any number of ingredients, including oroshi (Japanese radish), chikara (mochi), or kamonanban (cooked duck), and served in a soy-based broth. For the combination plate that I always order, your options are sansai (Japanese mountain vegetables) or tanuki (tempura). I love the sansai because of the lightness of the vegetables, which helps give the noodles a crispness (not to mention some color) for a wholly satisfying, but healthy dish.

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Besides the freshness of the food, dishes are extremely affordable considering the quality. I love me some $5 ramen at the numerous spots in Little Tokyo/Little Osaka, so Fukada's noodles are slightly more expensive, ranging in price from $6-$9, depending on your selection of toppings. Where the value comes in is the combination plate. The restaurant's special is a donburi (bowl of rice with your choice of protein) and an order of noodles, a full, well-rounded meal at a highly affordable price (lunch $9/dinner $11). As I mentioned earlier, I am highly partial to the Spicy Tuna Don on brown rice. The tuna is not overly loaded with mayonnaise or Japanese hot pepper as you may get at some sushi restaurants, helping to keep it lighter on the stomach. Fukada gives you a big glop on top of a nice bed of rice (gotta have brown rice, not only for the additional fiber and nutrients, but the slightly grainy taste and texture) and some nori (seaweed) flakes. Add a little wasabi and (low sodium) soy sauce and you get more yummy goodness. My fallback is the Unagi Don, which replaces the spicy tuna with a nice chunk of sliced freshwater eel, topped with kabayaki sauce. Either way, you really can't go wrong.

Fukada is a smallish restaurant seating maybe 50 people, which contributes to the crowdedness, though the wait staff cycles tables through relatively fast. The décor is minimalist, with long wooden tables and wooden benches in the middle, and individual tables on the side. Thus, you may not only get some great food, but also some great conversation with random strangers as you bump elbows in the cramped seating arrangements.

So I've probably been to Fukada at least 25 times and tried maybe five things on the menu. For all I know, the rest of its food could totally blow (I doubt it, but it's possible). I do know that I've never misfired on my tried and true, and that's what keeps me coming back. Over and over. And over. In fact, I'm getting a little hungry right now.

8683 Irvine Center Dr.
Irvine, CA 92718

Photo by Ryan Young for LAist

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