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Jul 20, 2011 07:05 PM

Cafe de Lulu, your friendly Boston 茶餐廳

茶餐廳 is cha chaan teng, a Hong Kong-style diner. Much like traditional US diners, they serve a variety of sweet and savory breakfast items alongside hearty, simple food you might associate more with lunch and dinner. Typical items for a cha chaan teng are toast with a sweet topping; noodle soups (often made with instant noodles) containing spam, chicken wings or hot dogs; fried noodle dishes; stir-fried or deep-fried dishes served over rice; and Western-style food like spaghetti with meat sauce and meat in cheesy or creamy sauces.

Cafe de Lulu got some posts here when it first opened last year, but I never made it down there- something about eating in a windowless basement seemed unappealing even when I wanted to check out the food. I finally made it there recently and it's the most charming basement diner I can imagine. A very friendly proprietress will chat with you in English, Cantonese or Mandarin and the semi-open kitchen allows the short-order stirfry chef to wander around and say hello. The decor is ikea-style and it's easy to forget you can't actually see outside. Several flat panels show Chinese (Mandarin) TV.

Aside from it being one of the few places anywhere in Boston to get the full selection of traditional short-order breakfast all day items, the notable feature is 3 dishes with rice and (basic watery) soup for $22. You select from about 75 items ranging from sweet and sour pork (HK style, not the puffy American kind, and the best version I've had in the US) to a delicately flavored homestyle eggplant and fish filet stir-fry, to salt and pepper deep-fried shrimp, to various combinations of mushroom and vegetable.

The room maybe isn't dirty enough and the service isn't gruff enough... but otherwise this is as authentic of a Hong Kong diner experience as I suspect you'll find most places in the US.

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  1. Thanks for the reminder on this place Luther. I've not tried them for dinner but had a couple of breakfasts (congee, soy sauce noodles) and enjoyed them. I recall that they also had silver thread noodles (the wormy rice noodle that Gitlo's had) and these were also good. I agree that this reminds me of Hong Kong snack shops and because the nice hostess is from Hong Kong, she is quite fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gourmaniac

      Oops rechecked my previous post. Silver thread noodles were overcooked. I recall a good Wok Heh taste to the noodles with bean sprouts. RE Congee Great taste may be as good. I just had a bowl for $1.80 from the bakery side and that is good value.

      1. re: gourmaniac

        I appreciate the reminder as well. When I lived around the corner I would stop in for Congee and Condensed Milk Toast pretty regularly. Its a shame I haven't been back recently. Really comforting food.

      2. Any peanut butter stuffed french toast? That's gotta be the weirdest thing I've tried in HK but it was good :-)

        7 Replies
        1. re: Spike

          I don't think they have the PB one, but I would love to be wrong about that !

          I keep telling myself to check this place out when I'm in C'town on a solo mission. I'd only grabbed an egg & beef sandwich from them once not long after they opened. I had a good feeling about their congee seeing it on a coupla tables, glad to hear affirmation from gourmaniac.

          Thanks for the scoop, Luther.

                1. re: peregrine

                  Portugese sauce is a staple of Macanese cuisine, also popular in HK cha chaan teng.

                  You can buy the sauce in supermarkets in Chinatown. I usu get the Lee Kum Kee brand.

              1. re: Nab

                the congee i had there was a bit more watery than say Hong Kong Eatery but ok. enjoyed the simple shrimp w/ scrambled egg, very fluffy/puffy. skip the pork belly w/ tofu. pork (cutlet) w/ portuguese sauce was a bit bland and the cutlet was not quite as crispy as it could have been. have to go back and try more items!

              2. re: Spike

                it's not on the menu but they will make it for you

              3. Thanks so much for posting this, Luther - first I've heard of it. Sounds like the kind of of place I really love discovering. I'm planning a sort of chow-hunt w/a friend this wknd - only wish that it wasn't going to be so d#mn hot and, of course, there's the problem w/parking (hooray for a/c in cars!)... hate to say it, but we may have to compromise for food because of this heat wave. Doubt that places like this have a/c, too - do you know?

                3 Replies
                1. re: threedogs

                  I'm about 75% certain, Cafe de Lulu has AC.

                  1. re: threedogs

                    They have AC... or at least it's rather cool down there

                    1. re: Luther

                      Thanks! Realized I could call them, but I was out all day (ugh - heat). We might have to stick close to home - asthma is really kicking up.


                  2. Wow, this place does sound interesting.

                    I have a dilemma. The rest of the family has at least a couple of things they like about Americanese food (crabragoons, lo mein, Gen. Gau's, etc). Number One son hates all of it. Chinese food to him is sweet, gloppy and salty, in that order.

                    He has a fairly adventurous palate. He is the only one in the family (besides me) who likes "dead fish" (aka anchovies) on his pizza. He adores escargot bourgiougnion (sp?). He likes many Indian dishes and will eat them "medium spicy" so long as he has a glass of milk or a lassi to drink.

                    Long story short, what should we order to get him out of his "I hate Chinese" mindset.?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: sablemerle

                      Have him try the " deepfried fish filet in garlic sauce" there. Tender flaky fish, lightly dusted w/ flour to give a hint of crispiness, a rich dark three-cups-chicken type of sauce well balanced between salt, heat and sweet.

                      1. re: sablemerle

                        Easy, take him to a proper Sichuan restaurant and don't order any of the American crap. Nothing sweet or gloppy there.

                        1. re: Luther

                          I second Luther's suggestion. While the most consistent and uniformly good Sichuan cooking is at Lao Sichuan (Sichuan Gourmet) they don't segregate their menu, so you may accidentally order Americanese dishes. Both "Thailand Cafe" and "Chilli Garden" have clearly marked Sichuan sections (a separate menu in the case of TC) and do very solid work. CG is more nuanced and creative with their dishes; TC caters to Chinese people and doesn't seem to care if you like it, so they don't pull any punches.

                          1. re: KWagle

                            Any idea why Thailand Cafe provides such mediocre rice and tea along with such terrific Szechuan food?

                            1. re: owades

                              It seems to fit with the overall technical quality of the cooking there, which is generally poor. I really do wish they had better rice. Actually, relevant to this thread, Cafe de Lulu has pretty bad rice too.

                      2. Interesting and semi related from todays 'Times dining section: