Saturday, August 2, 2008

Paupau's Kitchen

Paupau’s Kitchen
9751 N. Government Way, Hayden,
762-0169.

Bright White Lights and the Black Leather Pants

“Okay. See you there. 2:30 tomorrow.” My phone snapped closed in my hand. I was sitting in the lobby of my dentist trying to distract myself from the agony of a satanic toothache by flipping through the pages of the latest In Touch magazine when my thigh vibrated. 


It was M. “Let’s do Chinese tomorrow. I need something cheap and greasy, and I don’t mean my ex.” Hayden’s hidden gem Paupau’s Kitchen entered my mind and we agreed to meet there the next day. “Alrighty, see you around 2:30...” she said and hung up. 

“Perfect time, really...” I thought to myself, “tooth hurty.” It was the punch line to a really dumb, borderline racist joke I remembered from 2nd Grade (the set up: "When is Chinese dental time?"), but for me it was also an excruciating reality. I was just turning my attention back to the amazing miracle birth of little Vivienne and Knox Jolie-Pitt when the hygienist called my name.

Nearly twenty-four hours later, I was discussing the amazing miracle birth of little Vivienne and Knox Jolie-Pitt with M. over a relaxing late lunch. “You think she got those kids the old fashioned way? Can you say ‘In-vitro’?” she ranted as June cleared our dishes, nodding and smiling disinterestedly, too polite to react. 


I’d tried to engage Paupau’s overseer June in a conversation, asking “How long have you been in business now?” “Thirteen years” she said and with that she flitted away like a hummingbird and went back to intensely scrubbing a huge sink with a brillo pad, an activity she spent the entirety of our visit doing in between trips to our table. Glimpses into the kitchen area reveal a woman obsessed with old-fashioned cleanliness. Everything is sparkling, pristine white and stainless steel, an aesthetic which actually carries over into the main dining room as well.

Fluorescent overh
ead lighting, personality-free gray carpet and black banquet chairs combine to give the Paupau’s Kitchen dining room an ambiance that’s like a cross between trigonometry class and the urgent care waiting room. The wooden tables add a tiny spec of faux nature and the 1980’s travel-agent posters of Hong Kong provide fleeting moments of color on otherwise pristine white walls. 

It matters not. June would probably never lay claim to being an interior decorator, she just wanted a simple place where she could offer her unique take on Chinese cuisine, prepared in the style of her grandmother, a woman they called Paupau.

My first Paupau’s experience was around ten years ago and I remember being put off by the fact they didn’t automatically serve a cup of egg flower soup with the lunch combos. “That’s Un-American! That’s just not right.” I must have been so beside myself with angst that it overshadowed the rest of my lunch, as I have no memory of anything else about it. Later, I lived up in the neighborhood of Paupau’s for a little while and this is when love began to blossom with stops for take-out at least once every new moon.

Like the interior scheme, the menu itself is stripped down to the bare essentials, each dish a simple easy-to-do math problem. Vegetable plus meat equals entrĂ©e. Broccoli chicken, celery chicken, onion chicken, mushroom chicken, Mandarin chicken. Mandarin isn’t technically a vegetable but you get the idea. 

The same formula works for beef and shrimp as well, simply a stir-fried combo of this thing and that thing. Menu items asterisked for spiciness include Szechuan, Kung Pao and Curry varieties of Beef, Chicken and Shrimp. The trademark dish is Paupau’s Kitchen Special Stir Fried Noodles, which includes all meats along with celery, onions and other veggies. 

Also simmering on the stove is a phenomenal homemade Hot and Sour Soup, and although they still don’t serve Egg Flower as an intro to the individual combos it is served as part of the massive family-style dinners. Most excitingly, Paupau’s is one of few proud establishments around who choose to forgo the dualistic trauma of the cola wars and offer RC products on tap. I like to root for the underdog, and there’s nothing as rare and refreshing as an ice cold Royal Crown Cola.

I was a little stunned when M. ordered something as health conscious as the Green Pepper Chicken with Garlic Black Beans. “I’ve got to watch my gut, I’ve got a date on Friday and I need to squeeze into my leather pants.” 


Despite the mental image her comment evoked, my appetite remained strong. I told June to bring Combination Dinner #C, the assortment of dishes it presents are essential and consistently fantastic. A scoop of excellent fried rice provides the base. The Chicken Chow Mein is comprised of soft noodles, celery and bok choy and is basic, but noticeably fresh and very flavorful. The pale gravy on the Almond chicken isn’t really almond-y at all to me, more like a rich coconut-milk glaze, and the crunchy golden-brown shell surrounding the chicken breast is light like tempura. 

Similarly battered is the Sweet and Sour Pork, a dish that normally conjures nightmare images of dark chewy mystery meat, but Paupau’s uses only prime white chops and the pink glaze is light and tangy. In fact, it was super tender; I could even eat it without risking pain and suffering as a result of my freshly pulled tooth.

“Ah, we don’t take credit card. Sorry.” I looked at M. and could tell she was about to succinctly remind poor June exactly what century it was, but I told her “Cool it chickie, I’ve got cash.” 


The freshness and quality of Paupau’s cuisine makes it stand out although it shares more in common with fast-Chinese joints like Panda Express or Safeway Deli than it does with the legends of old Chinatown. The atmosphere might be a little sterile and the customer service won’t blow your silk pajamas off, but there’s something alluring about June’s homespun food that will put the crave in you and keep you coming back to that dusty little strip mall hiding in plain sight out in Hayden.

18 comments:

Kendra said...

Okay, I live near Paupau's, too- but when we have a hankering for all foods Chinese, it's all about the Golden Dragon in Post Falls, baby!
Everything there is superb, IMO- in fact, when I was pregnant with my son I became addicted to their "American grilled cheese sandwiches". For the paltry sum of two bucks and some change, I could wolf down the yummiest grilled cheese and golden, fat, lightly greasy fries- at a Chinese restaurant!
Well, I don't want to comment on and on about another establishment on Paupau's review; but OTV, why don't you go and review the Dragon? I doubt they need any additional good publicity, as they seem pretty well-established by now, but hey, at least it'd be another treat for your taste buds!

OrangeTV said...

Thanks, Kendra. I haven't been to the Golden Dragon in a few years, but I recall it being pretty good. It's on my list of places to do, for sure. Actually, I think it's the very last Chinese place I haven't covered except for the one in Sandpoint. I'll probably tackle it in a few months.

Meanwhile, Anonymous, I'm pretty sure she's not intentionally rude, although I will say she isn't exactly a dazzling conversationalist, true. I have a hunch the issue is that English is not really her strong point. Also, the food is bland? Ask for some hot cock sauce (Sriracha) and get over it.

Angela said...

Gosh, I've been going there since it opened, years ago, and I love their food!

OrangeTV said...

From Huckleberries Online:

Question: Any other fans of Paupau's Kitchen out there?
Posted by DFO | 1 Aug 11:45 PM

June has create a truly unique dining experience.Paupau's has the best Chinese food in the area,dine in or take out.If you've missed this one,TREAT yourself.
Posted by Patrick Wheeler | 2 Aug 7:46 AM

PauPau's takeout has become a New Year's Eve tradition. It's always fresh and always good.
Posted by MamaJD | 2 Aug 8:26 AM

I love PauPaus - and June too!
Posted by Me | 2 Aug 10:28 AM

PauPau's is the best! I don't get up there much anymore though.
Posted by Angela | 4 Aug 10:47 AM

Best Chinese food in North Idaho! The lunch menu used to have 4 combination dishes labeled A, B, C and D. June would say, "C for Cat, D for Dog." I never asked what A and B stood for. I didn't care... the food was too good. Now, the lunch menu has combo's K1, K2, K3 and K4.
Posted by Machiavelli | 4 Aug 3:38 PM

Anonymous said...

June is one of the best ladies one could ever meet. She has taken the time to learn english and she did it very quickly.

Paupau's is part of our community and I will always choose her food over all the others. If you need more spice all you have to do is ask and its done.

I have seen some of the other kitchens and Junes place is spotless. Go eat somewhere else and good luck with the upset tummy.

Anonymous said...

i love PAUPAU'S kitchen. and i love PAUPAU. i know her. in fact, I have been to Hong Kong with her. the garden chow mein is amazing! i had it for my baby shower.

Anonymous said...

What the first guy or gal said. A very rude lady. Her English is no excuse. Rude and acting like you could care less if a customer pays you money for your food is rude in any language.

The food is average at best.

Anonymous said...

i totally don't agree on what the first guy or gal said that June is very rude. she's like the best lady that i could every met in my life. she is just soooooooooo nice. and paupau's is the best restaurant in North Idaho. I would choose PauPau's over all the other restaurant in the world. PauPau's is just the BEST chinese restaurant EVER!!!!!!!! For those of you who haven't been to PauPau's, i would recommand you to go and try out their food. It is delicious, YUM YUM YUM........

Anonymous said...

I Love PauPau's is the BEST restaurant EVER! And the best part about the restaurant is of course because of the food, but also because of June. She is just the nicest lady that you could ever met. And her restaurant is so clean is like every single thing in her restaurant is sparkling and dazzling compare to the other restaurants. June's restaurant is the Best restaurant that i have ever been to.

Anonymous said...

I love PauPau's! The food there is the BEST!

Kelly Christine said...

love paupaus. how could u not love june. i have been going there since the late 90's. fresh and delish. i love that i know what i am eating, each veggie tastes like it is supposed to, not a pile of mush. june always comes around the counter and gives my son a hug, and asks how he is when i dont bring him along. she is as sweet as can be.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal on rude or not rude.

The lady plays favorites plain and simple. If you are "in" with her she will take care of you while totally ignoring someone who is there before you and she does not know.

Its happened to me and I have observed this bizarre customer service foopah from her on several occasions.

The food is pretty much flavorless.

Anonymous said...

i love paupas..you could say that thir food is just the best in the whole NORTH IDAHO!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been studying Mandarin for the last two years and I don't think it is fair to assess whether the lady is rude or not. She is succinct and honest, but if you knew anything about Chinese culture, she is behaving in a perfectly respectable manner according to her own culture. I know some might argue that she should figure it out if she lives here, but as a transplant from Idaho to Hawaii, I can attest that it is not easy to let go of one's native culture.

Shortstuff said...

I can remember going to Paupau's before they had a dining room and were strictly take-out and it is still my favorite chinese place. We have a lot of connections to June and her family (her bro-in-law was my dads rheumy, June shops at the grocery store my mom works at and my bro & I went to school with June's kids and niece) so we are obviously acquainted with June. That combined with the fact I haven't changed my order in years (Almond chicken & pork fried rice!) means June recognizes when I call and doesn't bother to offer a menu when I come in.
June can be blunt but I chalk it up to cultural differences. She's quite the "little mother" in that she chastises me about the amount of sugar I put in my tea and when my dad was put on a low-sodium diet, she would remove the soy sauce from the table whenever we arrived.
I always think I can only have so much Paupaus in a week before I get bored with it but then I pop that first bite of Almond chicken in my mouth and just melt.
FYI: All their fried rice is fantastic and everything else is made with super fresh and an abundance of veggies.

Anonymous said...

I just love paupau's . i mean could you not. there food is just the best!

Anonymous said...

I love PauPau's Kitchen! The food is the best I've had in the area. The people there are very sweet and June has a priceless sense of humor!! It didn't take long for her to recognize my entourage and she was never rude before she got to know us. If we want Chinese, that's where we go. Simple as that.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the owner since we did takeout, and I wasn't the one who went to the restaurant to pick up our order. But I can comment about the food. The ingredients used seemed very fresh, and were well cooked in most ways. But the food, although not bland to the point of having no flavor, was a bit bland. I usually only add soy sauce to steamed rice, but I had to add soy sauce to both my fried rice and chow mein (I had combo C, the same as the one in the blog). The sweet and sour sauce wasn't all that strong tasting either, and I have to agree with the blog's writer that the almond chicken gravy wasn't strong in almond taste.

So it wasn't a bad experience, but I have to admit I like Wah Hing in Rathdrum a bit more. I may try Golden Dragon in Post Falls after Thanksgiving and see how it compares though. I'm somewhat curious about Canton over in CDA as well.

I also did order a side of egg foo yung, that actually was tasty overall. Out of everything I had, that was probably the best. The gravy on the egg foo yung was different from her almond boneless chicken gravy as an aside, and had more flavor.

Or the tl;dr: I liked her food, but Wah Hing's seemed to have a bit more flavor, Paupau's is a bit bland in comparison. I can see why people are fans of this place, but IMO there is better in this area.