Red Pearl: A Hidden Treasure on West Valley
West Valley Avenue is somewhat of a hidden gem when it comes to the food scene in Birmingham. Naji’s Pita Gourmet, the Taco Truck, and (a new personal favorite) Red Pearl. My dear sweet fellow foodie husband has been asking if we could please please please do Chinese takeout for the last three Sundays in a row. I have been reluctant for two reasons 1) the lack of healthy options available at many run-of-the-mill takeout spots and 2) an overall sense of loyalty to the currently-closed-for-renovations Great Wall. (Here’s a quick aside about Great Wall: It was our all-time favorite Chinese restaurant and the site of many dates during our courtship throughout my senior year of UAB. The duck was so good that it makes me simultaneously cry and salivate knowing I can no longer purchase it.) I had recently heard about Red Pearl from trustworthy sources who said it was both authentic and delicious. On this particular Sunday, with no desire to cook and even less desire to put on real clothes required to dine out, Red Pearl seemed the optimal choice for a lazy end-of-the-weekend night.
If Thomas was excited that I had finally relented to his request for Chinese takeout, one might say he was downright delighted to see what the array of menu offerings on Red Pearl’s website. There is little that Red Pearl doesn’t have. From blue crab to sautéed snails, bok choy to spicy tofu, and pork belly to jalapeno beef, this Chinese restaurant is anything but average in their selection. The restaurant is attached to an Asian food store called Super Oriental Market (a fascinating, trance-inducing grocery with items that I’d never heard of but desperately want to try next time I stop in). The aroma of spices and sizzling meat hit us immediately as we entered the restaurant/market. It was evident that Sunday night was a busy time for Red Pearl with nearly every spot in the parking lot filled. People of different races, ages, and backgrounds inhabited the booths and tables, while others wandered the aisles of the market filling baskets and buggies with colorful vegetables and cans covered in Chinese symbols. We ordered the sautéed sliced pork belly ($7.99), the Szechwan-style pork intestine ($8.49), and sautéed sweat pea leaves ($7.99). Ready in just under 20 minutes, the food came out steaming and each takeout container was filled to the brim.
We ordered the pork intestine spicy (Thomas’ favorite way to eat anything). Over time, it has become my personal belief that the measure of a restaurant is often enhanced by its ability to create a spicy-as-Hades-dish without overpowering the flavor of the food. Red Pearl did just that. The pork intestine’s texture and flavor sparkled alongside the sizzling heat of added fresh red pepper and jalapeno. The sautéed sliced pork belly can only be likened to a delicious cross between boneless pork chop and soft-cooked bacon. Decadent and not-too-salty, this dish was decorated with chunks of sliced onion and a light brown sauce that enhanced the flavor and complemented the texture of the chewy pork. My favorite aspect of the meal, however, was without a doubt the sautéed sweet pea leaves. These leaves have a flavor reminiscent of the snow peas/sweet peas themselves with a delicate sweetness that pairs well with garlic. The sautéed sweet pea leaves from Red Pearl tasted incredibly fresh and just felt healthy (particularly in comparison to the pork party in which we were indulging otherwise). The entire meal was satisfying without being ridiculously greasy or heavy and came to just under $25.00.
In short, Red Pearl is not to be missed, especially on a Sunday night when cooking is out of the question! I’m looking forward to exploring both the market and the menu further. For more information about Red Pearl and Super Oriental Market, visit superorientalmkt.com.