Coffee Shop With a World of Choice


At U2 Cafe and B.B.Q., you can get anything from a Spam and egg sandwich to chicken a la king to clams with black bean sauce. Not only do the cooks turn out a wild assortment of Western and Asian food, but this Alhambra restaurant is open 19 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. (The name, by the way, simply means "You too," as in the reply to "Have a nice day.")

At breakfast, you can have eggs scrambled, fried ... or preserved (they're served in congee with pork). Lunch could be anything from a tuna sandwich to baked seafood on fried rice, accompanied by soup, rice or spaghetti. Afternoon snacks (3 to 5:30 p.m.) include an egg sandwich Hong Kong style: a fried egg slapped bare between two slices of crustless white bread.

Dinner is served from 4 to 10 p.m., but deluxe combination meals are available most of the day. Late-night snacks include French toast, teriyaki chicken sandwich, congee and chicken wings with spicy salt.

The restaurant has two entrances: one for U2 Cafe, the other for U2 B.B.Q., which is set up for take-out as well as dining. It doesn't matter where you sit, though. And the menu is so long that deciding what to order can take half your lunch hour.

Some of the food is very good. Some is, well, coffee-shop style: floury soups, overcooked salmon, starchy combos like baked spaghetti Bolognese with French fries. I found one of the "deluxe" meals almost too much to eat: grilled salmon with garlic sauce, half a deep-fried Cornish hen, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and a big side of spaghetti, following a salad of diced apples and melons and butterflied shrimp.

On the Chinese side, stir-fried shrimp and scallops is a marvelous plate of lightly cooked, ginger-seasoned seafood combined with Chinese leeks, green onions, straw mushrooms and sliced lettuce.

Garlic chicken hot pot didn't come off as well. The chicken was actually stir-fried with whole garlic cloves, not simmered in the pot, and came out dry. The garlic was subdued by long cooking.

Chicken wings with XO garlic sauce more than made up for it. These are top-notch wings, crisp and spicy--I'd come here just for them.

XO sauce is a Hong Kong specialty, made with dried scallops, shrimp and ham, and U2 uses it on lamb chops and seafood fried rice too. The rice also contains a jolt of sliced red jalapenos.

You can sample several of the barbecued meats in a combination plate, or try the pork with bean curd on rice.

Hearty dishes typical of Hong Kong coffee shops include baked Portuguese chicken: chicken in a coconut-milk sauce with bell pepper and taro. The lamb curry is pleasant enough, in the Japanese rather than the Indian style.

Hainan chicken rice, virtually a national dish in Singapore, doesn't include the customary bowl of chicken broth, and the traditional three sauces are reduced to two, one of them a salty green sauce unlike any that I've tasted in Singapore. But that's OK. Coffee shops are entitled to take shortcuts. Good noodle dishes include udon with sizzling seafood (fish, squid, shrimp and scallops) and vegetables. But I couldn't resist pan-fried Spam with instant noodle (how often do you find Spam in a restaurant?), a sort of Spam chow mein made with ramen.

Desserts range from baked Alaska to a taro sundae--mauve-gray taro ice cream topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and candy sprinkles. Banana-stuffed crepes are light and pretty, decorated with whipped cream and toasted almonds. They have an astonishing garnish: slices of tomato and cucumber.

U2 has lots of unusual drinks, like chrysanthemum tea with honey, avocado milk shake and other fancy concoctions, but I'm hooked on Hong Kong-style coffee tea--yes, both in the same cup, smoothed out with condensed milk. It's a brisk, mellow drink that will make you the life of the party ... for hours to come.

* U2 Cafe and U2 B.B.Q., 1200 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 282-1800. Open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. No alcohol. Parking lot. Visa and MasterCard. Dinner for two, $22 to $40; lunch specials $3.95 to $6.95.

* What to Get: stir-fried shrimp and scallops, chicken wings with XO garlic sauce, baked Portuguese chicken, lamb curry, barbecued pork, pan-fried Spam with instant noodle, udon with sizzling seafood, cream crepes with almond and banana, Hong Kong-style coffee tea.

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