Friday Lunch Edition: Red Pearl Restaurant

Woohoo it’s Friday! This week has just seemed to drag on and on and on. But it’s finally the weekend and nothing starts the weekend off right like another delicious Friday lunch. If you work around the Homewood area of Birmingham, you have got to put Red Pearl Restaurant in your regular lunch rotation.

Red Pearl is located inside Super Oriental Market off Valley Avenue and is arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Birmingham. The building doesn’t look like much from the outside, and you walk into what looks like just a small Asian market. There are tanks of fish and bullfrogs along one wall (yes, bullfrog is a specialty on the menu). But turn right to go into the restaurant and you’ll find a beautifully decorated and newly updated dining room.

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When we got there, there was a line to be seated due to the lunch rush, but it moved quickly and even after standing in line, sitting down and ordering, eating, and then walking around the market to purchase items, we were only there a few minutes past an hour. Service was quick but attentive.

At lunchtime during the week, you have the option to order off the lunch menu or the regular menu. Wesley ordered General Tso’s Chicken from the lunch menu and I opted for the Chicken with Garlic Sauce from the regular menu. Each dish came with white rice. We also got an order of Steamed Mini Pork Soup Buns to split. Since the food is meant to be served and shared family style, they bring the dishes out to you as they are ready. It’s nice to know that your food isn’t sitting in the back getting cold.

The Chicken with Garlic Sauce was our waiter’s favorite dish, and he definitely made a good recommendation. It was tossed in a slightly spicy sauce with large pieces of white meat chicken, bamboo shoots, onions, carrots, and peppers. Red Pearl will adjust spiciness to your preference so I had asked for mine to be just a little spicy, and it was the perfect amount. It added a little kick but didn’t overwhelm the other flavors. It was by far some of the best Chinese food I have ever had. I would definitely order this dish again.

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The General Tso’s Chicken was also really good. As you know, General Tso’s is breaded and fried, and tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. Again, the sauce had the perfect amount of kick to it. The breading was still crispy and you could tell it was freshly made. If this is your go-to Chinese takeout dish, give Red Pearl’s a try. It’s such an upgrade from the soggy kind that comes in a plastic to-go container. You know what I’m talking about.

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The soup dumplings are also worth trying. If you like regular pork dumplings, you will probably like soup dumplings. When you bite into them (and you must eat them whole in one bite), you get a rush of flavorful broth in your mouth. They were also the perfect mini size. I’ve had them at Mr. Chen’s in Hoover (another great Chinese restaurant) but they were a little larger and harder to eat in one bite there.

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After we finished our lunch, we walked around the market to see what kind of interesting products they had. You can find every type of Asian ingredient, sauce, or produce you could ever need there. I was delighted to find that they had some of my favorite Asian candies, as well as mochi ice cream, which I can’t find anywhere else. I picked up some mango ginger chews and red bean mochi ice cream. Commonly called red beans although they are Adzuki beans, these beans are normally eaten sweetened and made into red bean paste for use in traditional Asian desserts. Don’t be weirded out. They taste nothing like the beans you are thinking of, and red bean mochi and red bean mochi ice cream are both delicious.

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I can’t say enough about Red Pearl so you must go try it for yourself. The food is full of flavor, the market is authentic, the servers were all kind and helpful, and did I mention it’s cheap?! The lunch specials range from $5.99-7.99 and the main entrees are only $6.99-8.99 on average, and a little more for seafood ($9.99-11.99). And the portions are huge! I took some of my chicken home for leftovers. So next time you’re looking for a way to spice up your lunch routine (or dinner!), you can know that you’ll always get a good meal at Red Pearl. Now where are those leftovers….I’m ready to eat it all over again!

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