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Sep 9, 2009 09:45 PM

hot pot with pork belly and sauerkraut at New Asia in Merced: big thumbs up!

Hubby and I were looking for a quick and inexpensive dinner in downtown (Merced) before a Costco run. My original plan was to try Rice Bowl, a Vietnamese place I still haven't made it to, but alas it was closed, and had that look of a place that may be closed for good. Does anyone know if it is permanently closed? I hope not: I know of no other Vietnamese restaurant in town and I feel bad I haven't made it there.

I am glad to say that the bad news ended there. As an alternative, we headed to New Asia at the end of Main St. I've reported on New Asia before:

and it has been our go-to for take out since. However, I haven't dined there since that last report. After our meal tonight, I am going to have to correct that, and soon!

It turns out, per our conversation with our friendly server, that the chef owner has decided to start serving more 'traditional' Chinese dishes, particularly Szechuan specialties. We were given a seperate specials menu along with the more Americanized menu that we've ordered from for takeout; there were also a number of specials posted on sheets around the room. Many of the specials were dishes I've never seen on a menu in a Chinese restaurant in Merced: braised tripe, various hot pots, and oysters among them.

We settled on a special hot pot with pork and sauerkraut from the specials menu. I love sauerkraut, and then our server said, 'the pork is pork belly, is that ok?" Um, yeah! anyway, when the dish came it was a huge portion, easily enough for a filling dinner for two on its own, at a very reasonable price of about $8. The hot pot had lots of thin strips of braised pork belly, tofu and delicious sauerkraut in a broth heavily flavored with star anise, topped with cilantro. It was delicious. Indeed, it was probably the best single dish I've eaten at a restaurant in Merced. Best of all, we loved it despite the 90 degree heat: I can't wait to go back and eat it again on a foggy night this winter...

the rest of our meal was more typical of the type of dishes we've gotten from takeout: potstickers (plump and fresh, nicely done), cumin lamb (ok but nothing to write home about), dry-cooked string beans (good) and steamed rice. We ended up with enough leftovers for another meal.

Sadly, the place was basically empty the entire time we were there. A few folks wandered in to get takeout, but for the most part we were the only diners. If any hounds are reading this, please consider going to check out the specials: I'd hate to have New Asia conclude that only the same stuff you can get elsewhere will sell.....

In any event, I think I've found my new favorite low end place to dine in Merced.....

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  1. I should mention that I also saw braised pork shoulder and cold spicy chicken advertised as specials: if someone tries them before I do, please report...

    1. I've been slow to see this. Thanks for highlighting New Asia again. I've been visited repeatedly to try the dishes on the more traditional menu. Tofu skin wrapped pork with fresh veggies and the pan fried pork buns are comfort food at their best, in my opinion. I discovered also on the last visit that they sometimes serve gai lan/choy sum...traditional Chinese greens which puts the restaurant yet another notch up in my book. Every time I go though, there are very few patrons, with primarily take out. Their prices are so reasonable, and the food one of if not the best Chinese option in Merced...I hope they stick around.

      3 Replies
      1. re: marmotsm

        wanted to update this report to say that I recently had two very good lunches here, and both times it has been busier than it was previously at dinner. Perhaps the location makes sense for a lunch crowd from the surrounding businesses. In any case, I think New Asia keeps getting better.

        1. re: susancinsf

          Good to know. I'll bookmark this place for the next time I'm passing through Merced around noon.
          I told Janet that you guys should get the cumin lamb at China Village.

          1. re: SteveTimko

            Steve, next time, call me! Always good to get out of the office for an hour or so....

      2. Wanted to bump this up based on a few recent dinners at New Asia, which has become my 'go to' place for Chinese food in Merced (though I noticed yesterday that the previously horrible China Chef on G Street has a new sign and possibly a new name, so I intend to go by to see if ownership or chef has changed...)

        But anyway, back to New Asia:

        They also have a few Shanghainese items. No xlb though. Perhaps I will ask one of these days to see if they could pull it off. That would be something.

        They do have what they call a 'housemade steamed pork bun' on the menu which is more like a dry cooked soup bun, with a delicious ground pork filling. Three to an order for $3.95, or something like that.

        I also have tried the cold spicy chicken: chicken steamed in ginger and rice wine, chopped off the bone, and topped with red chiles, an excellent starter; though I tend to pick off the chicken skin, since I dislike the texture (whereas hubby eats the whole thing).

        The only dish I've had off the specials menu that I don't like is the hot braised scallops: the scallops are battered and deep fried, and the sauce is thick and gloppy. They don't stint on the heat, and the scallops taste fresh even under all that sauce, I will give them credit for that. OTOH, I loved the spicy squid dish (forget the exact name, but they serve the squid whole, in a sauce with their ink, on the specialties menu).

        Also wanted to add that the word is clearly getting out, and they've become much busier at dinner. Last time we went on a weekend night the place was pretty much full with a mix of students and town types. They deserve the success.