For the last 10 years, Diamond Jamboree Center has been an anchor of the Irvine community. Often called “Orange County’s international dining destination,” it’s home to a group of unique and delicious Asian restaurants that collectively make it a premiere culinary phenomenon for foodies everywhere. To celebrate Diamond Jamboree’s 10th anniversary this month, we’ve spotlighted a few signature dishes that simply can’t be missed.
About 15 years ago, Diamond Development Group (DDG) ran one of San Gabriel Valley’s most popular Asian centers: Diamond Plaza Shopping Center in Rowland Heights. Shortly thereafter, DDG set out to build a new shopping center to cater to the needs of Irvine’s growing Asian population. DDG’s board purchased the land where Diamond Jamboree currently sits, and by the time of its grand opening in fall of 2008, the center was almost fully leased. “Opening a new shopping center during the 2008 economic crisis, at a time when many retailers were closing their doors, was truly a feat,” says Suzie Won, marketing manager for Diamond Jamboree Center. “Diamond Jamboree boasts the largest selection of Asian dining spots under one roof. Our restaurants stay open later than most others in Irvine, so visitors can get a great meal just about any time of day.” It’s worth noting that while there are more than just restaurants in the center, a majority of them are purveyors of food.
Indeed, the city’s large Asian community was definitely an inspiration behind the center’s opening, as well as a driving force to keep it open. However, Won stressed that Diamond Jamboree has a very diverse crowd that frequents its restaurants. “Irvine’s high Asian population most certainly contributes to the success of Diamond Jamboree, but in recent years, our popularity has expanded beyond just the Asian community,” she says. “Thanks to the popularity of food as entertainment, customers’ appetites for exploring new cuisines and the rich, Southern California food landscape, Diamond Jamboree enjoys a diverse patronage. … Diamond Jamboree customers are foodies of all ages and backgrounds.”
So what are some of the best dishes offered at Diamond Jamboree? 85ºC Bakery Café, a bakery and coffee house from Taiwan, offers a mouth-watering sea salt coffee sealed with a plastic topping and, according to them, tastes best shaken. You can choose to enjoy it iced and sweetened with Americano coffee (espresso based) or topped with sea salt cream (cream whipped with sea salt). And in the fall only, patrons can order mooncakes; flaky pastries each filled with different flavors such as pork, mochi or red bean paste. If you’re in the mood for something more sweet, be sure to stop by Afters Ice Cream. The self-proclaimed “home of the milky bun” features donut-stuffed ice cream. Try unique flavors like Jasmine Milk Tea, Vietnamese Coffee or French Toast Churro.
Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, which offers Japanese street food, features a delicious Katsu set: crispy fried cutlets of meat or seafood made with breadcrumbs including chicken, pork and shrimp. In Japan, Coco Ichibanya is synonymous with Japanese-style curry. It’s a household name with locations on just about every corner. Ichibanya also lets its customers customize their curry, choosing the sauce, quantity of rice, spice level, toppings and add-ons like cheese, okra, tofu and egg.
HaiDiLao Chinese Hot Pot features a dish called Dancing Noodles in which staff literally dance with the long, stringy noodles in hand before serving so the noodles have the perfect texture. If pho is more your thing, try Pho Saigon Pearl. The restaurant, self-described as Irvine’s favorite pho spot, says that “fresh ingredients, generous portions and one of the best broths in the county have put Pho Saigon Pearl on the map.” Try the pho choice of three cuts, where you can choose from rare steak, well done brisket, well done flank, fatty flank, crunch flank, soft tendon, tripe, meatballs, white meat chicken breast or filet mignon. In case you’re with someone who doesn’t want pho, the restaurant also offers Banh Mi (baguette sandwiches) where you can get pork, beef, chicken or tofu. Finally, Urban Seoul, a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant, has Bibimbap (mixed rice) Our Way, offering numerous combinations, most served on a hot stone platter.
All of these signature dishes aren’t just brought to Irvine on a whim. Won explains that, “Diamond Jamboree staff travels the world for unique flavors that we think our customers will enjoy. [Additionally], a common theme at Diamond Jamboree is that some of our tenants opened their flagship U.S. locations in Diamond Jamboree [such as] 85ºC Bakery Café, Meet Fresh [and] Kura Revolving Sushi. The success of these stores’ Irvine locations have ushered in additional stores throughout the US,” she says. And if you’re not interested in any of the dishes mentioned, there are plenty of other options, with over 20 restaurants currently open for business. Among the “Asian comfort food” offered are Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese noodle soups, Chinese Hot Pot, dim sum, sushi, boba drinks, Korean soft tofu, fried chicken, Asian speciality desserts and bakery items, coffees and teas, Asian-Cajun seafood, Korean-Mexican fusion and pre-marinated Korean BBQ meats and ban chan (side dishes).
So what’s next for Diamond Jamboree? This winter, a brand new restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, will open to the public. Hong Kong’s Michelin-rated dim sum eatery boasts affordable prices and tasty food. Additionally, Won says that even more is planned for 2019. “Next spring, we will have the groundbreaking of Diamond Jamboree 2.0, which will be an additional 1.7 acres of retail adjacent to HMart featuring a 6-story parking structure with approximately 470 parking spaces and over 23,000 square feet of retail/restaurants. We hope to continue to excite patrons with new flavors from around the world,” she says.
No matter what part of the world the flavors come from, Won said that it’s the city of Irvine that has made Diamond Jamboree such a staple in the city. “Diamond Jamboree offers something for everyone,” she says. “When we realized that Diamond Jamboree is more than a shopping center, our marketing team derived the moniker ‘Orange County’s International Dining Destination.’ …[We are] part of the fabric of Irvine. We owe our success to the community of Irvine.”
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