Utopia Cafe lies in the heart of Chinatown, down the alley-like Waverly Place, lined with painted balconies, temples, colorful buildings and Buddha statues.
It's a longtime local favorite that's bein...g discovered by those outside the neighborhood.
Even first-timers receive kind greetings and welcoming smiles. The restaurant is simple, with more of the typical round tables for family-style meals and fewer tables for couples. A large downstairs dining area easily accommodates large groups.
Start your meal with Utopia's salt-and-pepper fried bean curd or deep-fried bean cake. Turtle soup with herb is good for the more adventurous.
Utopia specializes in clay-pot cuisine, where the smoking-hot, sizzling pots give slow-cooked rice a crunchy crust. Go for chicken with mushroom rice in clay pot for a more smoky flavor, sparerib with black bean sauce rice in clay pot or frog rice in clay pot.
For something on the subtle side, try curry chicken in clay pot with tender chicken, green peppers and onions.
Utopia's noodle dishes are also worth ordering. Thin braised noodles in a ginger and scallion broth can be a meal in itself, especially paired with crunchy egg rolls. Other dishes, such as noodles with shredded roast duck and seaweed with pine-nut fried rice are good picks.
The cafe offers a happy-hour menu from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., but you'll need to have a Chinese reader in your group to figure out the specials.