Macapuno Ice Cream at Mel's Cafe, Merced
I've been here in Merced for two years, and had yet to try Mel's Cafe and Ice Cream, in the same shopping center as Raley's, even though I've passed it many times...
Really, I had no excuse: in Merced, ice cream places (as distinguished from frozen yogurt shops, which are much more common) in this town are limited. I know of Mel's and a few unmentionable chains (Coldstone. enough said) and that's it.
You can get Straus vanilla at Raley's, but sometimes one gets tired of vanilla. Indeed, for a while, they had stopped carrying even that, though it showed up again after I complained. Sometimes I think they stock it just for me.
So, was craving ice cream Friday, and it was time to try Mel's. They also serve boba drinks, halo halo (may have to try that soon), fast food asian choices, sandwiches, and have free wifi. There are perhaps four tables inside the no-frills shop and a few tables outside with a view of the Raley's parking lot.
Perhaps fifteen or twenty flavors of ice cream, three sizes of servings available. The small is small, but it is only $1.50. I appreciate that option.
I was very pleased to see they had macapuno, and of course I had to try it. On my first bite, I was transported back to San Francisco and Mitchell's, and even wondered for a moment if Mitchell's was their supplier, but no, this was creamier, and had big chunks of macapuno, bigger that I remember from my old neighborhood spot.
I asked the friendly server, an older woman who I think may also be a co-owner, where the ice cream was made, and her answer implied that at least some of the flavors are made in house (though I doubt that is actually the case); she said, 'oh, that's a special order, we get it from San Jose'. Hmm...could it be Marianne's (which I think is actually based in Santa Cruz)?
Hubby's pistachio was fine but nothing special, but I'll go back for the macapuno. Don't know what took me so long.
but then, as long as I am trying new places, I hear rumors of a paleta place in South Merced. Actually have tried to find it twice with no luck, and the coworker who tipped me off knows it only by location, not name. Obviously, it wasn't a hot summer and I haven't searched hard enough...
Update: Mel's has expanded their menu and are doing Taiwanese specialties at lunch and dinner. A colleague reports that the beef noodle soup made her homesick for Taiwan, and son's girlfriend says that there is Taiwanese fried chicken!
Fried chicken AND good ice cream....this is big news in the small town....I hope to get there before the week is out, and hope to hear other reports as well.
Finally made it back to Mel's tonight to get some takeout for dinner...walked in and realized that the word is out about this place: it was quite busy with (mostly Asian) college students enjoying the food. Took a closer look at the menu: quite a bit more than ice cream and fast food now; including a number of steamed and fried dumplings, some sweet dumplings, a number of soups and noodle dishes, and rice plates.
However, (sigh), at 5:30 pm they were already out of the Taiwanese beef noodle soup and boba. There were also two groups lined up to order, and when it finally got to be my turn I was warned by the friendly woman at the counter it would be a twenty minute wait...
turned out it was more like 15, and worth the wait. I ordered:
green onion pancake: average on a bay area scale, but I don't know of any other place to get these in Merced...
Taiwanese fried chicken: even hubby, who is ordinarily the fried chicken hater (go figure), ate his share of these, which were crispy, not at all greasy, and nicely spiced. These really hit the spot. yum. Again, I am fairly sure this is the only place in town to get this dish, but this version would hold its own even in the big city.
pot stickers (called gyoza on the menu): my least favorite item, though they were browned nicely. Actually, the filling was tasty, but not as juicy as I prefer my pot stickers to be. Might have suffered a bit from take out.
won ton soup: deep, satisfying broth, a bit of green onion, and delicious won tons with a a very flavorful pork filling. Can't wait to try more of the soups based upon this first try.
stewed beef with rice: chunks of flavorful but a bit fatty beef, with some cabbage, onions, and five spice flavor. ok, more rice than beef and vegetables.
It is easy to see why students love this place. Total cost with tax for the above was $23. Portions aren't huge, but were about the right amount for two hungry people; an excellent value.
I will be back. Soon. Next time I am going at lunch, before the soup noodles are gone.
re: Stephanie Wong
The fried chicken is little pieces, smaller than tenders, I suspect (from the flavor) probably mostly cut from thigh meat with some breast.
You could definitely eat it while driving. However, it is quite a ways off the freeway heading down to Fresno, particularly right now since the most direct route, down G street, is closed for about a year or two to build a railway undercrossing (something that google maps doesn't tell you). It could easily add 30 to 40 minutes onto your trip. Not sure it would be worth it coming from the bay area since you can get the dish as good at home....I'd save my time and Chinese food cravings for Hunan instead. However, for those of us who live around here, it is definitely worth a detour....(I am lucky enough to live only a few blocks away).
But if you do decide to detour,email me:-)
Edited to add: fried chicken was about $2.75. I'd guess maybe twenty five (very) small pieces in the order (?). You certainly can't beat the prices here.
Ate here today for lunch.
Ordered beef noodle soup, pot stickers, onion pancake, and 'pop corn' fried chicken, washed down with boba tea.
The soup was pretty good, very tasty broth , but the noodles were somewhat bland.
The potstickers were average.
The onion pancake was excellent.
Fried 'popcorn' chicken was ok, it tasted a little old.
Boba tea was pretty good, but they should use crushed ice.
Overall the food was a little inconsistent, but I will go back to try some other things on the menu.
It was very reasonably priced.
They only serve the food in to-go styrofoam containers making eating the soup difficult.
The service seems a little indifferent, but the food is a bargain.
The soup with boba tea was $8.00
Next time I want to try the 'house chow mein'.
stopped in last night for takeout, and did a double take: six thirty on a Friday night, and the place was empty. WT? not a good sign, as it has been crowded every other time I've been. Second thing I noticed is that the large menu is gone, there are just a few savory items available. No Taiwanese fried chicken, no onion pancake. The only noodles available were udon and some packages of ramen. They were out of curry chicken with rice. I ended up with a teriyaki chicken bowl, which wasn't bad but nothing special either. Also noticed that a sign said they were closed Saturdays until further notice. My guess is that the prior chef isn't there anymore, for whatever reason...Sigh. I'd still recommend their ice cream, but wouldn't consider it a Taiwanese Cafe any more...
you beat me to posting...saw this yesterday. Sure wish it was something other than, well, mediocre sushi....(if the same folks). Edited to add: can't say I am surprised..since it had definitely gone downhill. I will miss the ice cream, however. What this town needs next is a truly good ice cream place (and no, yogurt shops definitely don't count!).
after re-reading my original post I had to reply to self to note that you can now get Straus Chocolate and Mint Chip at the Merced Raley's. (as well as their milk and yogurt, both non-fat and whole milk.) Someone must be buying it besides me, but still, it is a sad state of affairs when the best ice cream in a college town that gets hot in the summer is at the grocery store! (feeling sorry for myself today, even though it isn't ice cream weather...)