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Birmingham Red Pearl update; RIP Taqueria La Reyna

A couple of discoveries on a cold, damp Saturday wandering around the Valley Avenue area:
Red Peal, the restaurant inside the Asian market on West Valley, has closed temporarily as part of amajor renovation in the store overall. The restaurant part will move across the building, on your right as you go in the door. Longtime Red Pearl fans will recall that's where they originally had seating.
They've turned the aisles around in the market itself, moved around the refrigerators and fish tanks (live choices included bull frog, dungeness and blue crab, lobster, carp, tilapia, catfish and eel in still-crowded, but much cleaner tanks.) You can see into the kitchen from behind the fish tanks.
They market still sells pork and other butchered meat, but I did not see the cooked ducks. The freezers have been reorganized. Vegetable area remains the same (with the best prices in town for packages of those tiny beech mushrooms.) The area where they sell gifts and kitchen items has exanded to where the restaurant once was.
They said the restaurant may reopen this week (it'll take a lot of work, from what I saw). We'll see if the menu remains the same; they change menus like Madonna changes costumes during a show.
Sadly, Taqueria La Reyna has closed, and apparently awhile back. The neon sign on the now-closed restaurant said Royal Taco, and a hand-lettered sign on a window said Taco Loco is to open there soon.
It's shame that La Reyna couldn't make it. It was always clean and the hand-made tortilla and other masa products rocked. They had nice people working there. The meat fillings weren't consistently the best, but it was still a good place, especially for those adverse to divey places.

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  1. I was back at the Super Oriental Market on West Valley on Friday to buy live crab and shrimp for a Super Bowl gumbo. Looks like is may be awhile before Red Pearl restaurant reopens.
    The girl at the counter said they need to knock out a wall and do something else fairly major that now escapes me. ANd once that's done they'll have to deal with city inspectors. Anyone who has dealt with the City of Birmingham knows that is an odyssey in itself.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Big Daddy

      What kind of crab did you purchase to put into your gumbo? Also, are you doing the old fashioned roux of oil/flour, or do you go for the okra base?

      When Red Pearl re-opens, we're going to make a point to get over there for lunch or dinner. Wonder if they're also changing up their menu?

      1. re: Jannae

        Blue crab. Also put in oysters and shrimp. This recipe, from Brennan's called for both roux and okra. It's New Orleans creole style rather than classic Cajun.

        1. re: Big Daddy

          I can't believe we have a place in town for live blue crabs! Thank you so much for posting about your trip to the market. I know now where to go for my gumbo ingredients. I thought I'd have to wait till I made the trip down to visit relatives on the gulf coast to get the blue crab that fresh!

          1. re: Jannae

            Don't they have blue crab meat at the Fish Market downtown? They get most of their stuff from the gulf, and blue crabs abound down there, I believe.

            1. re: Jannae

              Snapper Grabbers has lump crab meat available too which I prefer for a gumbo. But yeah I was at Red Pearl yesterday for lunch and saw the live blue crabs (they had a lot) and a few dungeness (cooked). The restaurant side is a little larger than the prior one and it's nice to have the kitchen so close to the dining room but otherwise I noticed no major changes (to menu or prep).

              1. re: Dax

                I'm glad to hear the restaurant side is back open. I need to head out that way soon for lunch.

                1. re: Dax

                  Thanks for the update Dax! The hubby and I will have to plan a lunch there soon.

                  1. re: Dax

                    Note to self: For best texture, beef tendon is best served cold. I actually like it closer to room temp. Do not nuke unless you like yours the texture and consistency of beef napalm

                    1. re: Dax

                      Note to self: Beef tendon at any temperature sounds disgusting. Then again, I love scrapple.

                      1. re: curej

                        I admit it sounds disgusting but it can be good. Better than the sliced pork ear anyway (at Chen's). No more disgusting than pig or chicken feet. I introduced someone to the tendon this weekend and she seemed to like it.

                        Has anyone bought eggs at Super Oriental? A woman in line in front of me was buying about a dozen (not in a carton) and they looked fairly farm fresh.

                        1. re: Dax

                          The last time I tried the tendon (or, as they call it, "beef tender") at Red Pearl, it was akin to the way they serve it at Chen's, rather than the more gelatinous style we had at the Red Pearl Chowdown. Which style was it this weekend?
                          And, from what I'm reading between the lines here, you hate the smell of beef napalm in the morning.

                          1. re: Big Daddy

                            No, I hate the feel of beef napalm burning the roof of my mouth.

                            It was sliced super thin like when we had it there before. Lots of it, with the peanuts, scallions, fish (?) sauce/paste, etc.

                            1. re: Dax

                              I went to Red Pearl for lunch today. The new dining room is a considerable improvement. I like the photo "menu" they're adding to the wall, showing pictures of individual dishes, their names in English and Chinese and prices.
                              One nice addition to the new restaurant area is a new chef, who makes what has been my favorite version so far of the beef
                              tendon. Clear, super-thin slices like you described, Dax, but a much hotter marinade than before. The woman told me it's a combination of both red pepper and Szechuan pepper oil, the latter of which provides a slightly astringent, extra-spicy and lip-numbing quality that I had not noticed in the dish before.
                              I also had the conch with lilly bulb, which was fantastic. The conch was crunchy and slightly sweet, balanced by the slightly garlicky white sauce. The lilly bulb,which looked like little slices of onion, were crunchy with a flavor that reminded me of fresh water chestnut.
                              We had lilly bulb with a dish at the Red Pearl chowdown last fall, but the flavor and texture stood out more for me in this preparation.
                              Last of all, longtime Red Pearl fans will be glad to know that the bathroom, where people once feared to tread, is now much nicer, including fresh tile.

                              1. re: Big Daddy

                                Did not seem any hotter to me. I love some ma la though!

                                1. re: Dax

                                  Mr. Chen's remains my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. But there are some things you only can get at Red Pearl, which continues to run neck-and-neck with Chen's.
                                  Sauteed snails, fish-head soup and dungeness crab are on that only-at-Red Pearl list.
                                  Dishes with lilly bulbs also top that list. I've now had three vastly different versions, including the shrimp with lilly bulbs I ordered last night. These are actual lilly bulbs -- in the packages they sell in the adjoining market, it looks like you could plant them and wait for the flowers to grow.
                                  Cut up for cooking, they look like small white onion pieces, but they have the texture of steamed artichoke heart (only a little more toothsome) and a unique, slightly sweet vegetal flavor. The shrimp version of this dish was with a red sauce (possibly sweet and sour).
                                  Even better was what was described on the menu as "manlia clam fried rice cake." I expected some kind of rice patty with clams cooked in. I was pleasantly wrong.
                                  Steamed whole clams were chowed with oyster sauce, onions, some other kind of vegetable, fresh bamboo shoots. The rice cake actually was ovals of compressed rice, like an oblong coin-sized pasta made of rice. The rice cake soaked up the yummy sauce in this dish filled with umami. Dang that was good -- and quickly gone.
                                  Red Pearl now has a Web site (with the adjoining Super Oriental Market, which continues to make improvements since its recent renovation). The main menu page also includes photographs of some of their dishes (like those on the wall in the restuarant.) Red Pearl is closed on Mondays, but open 10-9:30 on the other days.
                                  http://superorientalmarket.com/restau...

                                  -----
                                  Oriental Market
                                  126 Coliseum Blvd, Montgomery, AL 36109

                                  1. re: Big Daddy

                                    Last time I went they did not have the photos on the wall anymore?

                                    1. re: Dax

                                      When did you last go? They were up in late June/early July.

                                      1. re: Dax

                                        I was there on July 8, 2010 and they were up then.

                                        1. re: mahalan

                                          Weird, I went there on the 4th (a Sunday) for lunch and did not see them in the back part of the new restaurant section?

                                          1. re: Dax

                                            Yes, as you walk into the restaurant area, they're on the wall to the right, just past the restrooms.
                                            I stopped in Friday for some lunch and to pick up supplies for a Thai-themed dinner I cooked for guests Sunday night.
                                            I had, without a doubt, the best hot and sour soup I've ever tasted. Great balance of the hot and the sour, and full of minced pork, tofu, bamboo shoots, egg ribbon, etc. Substantial and incredibly flavorful.
                                            I, for some reason, had not ordered it before. I won't repeat that oversight again.