The tiny café —12 seats in the fast casual front area and 28 seats in The Bow Room—featuring Sanrio character-themed treats is instantly the most Instagrammable restaurant in Irvine.
The front of the restaurant is pretty enough. It’s where one can order macarons decorated with the Hello Kitty character that kids and adults seemingly can’t get enough of, as well as hand-size pies, sugar cookies, mini donuts cooked hot to order, and tiny cakes modeled after Hello Kitty characters. Parents looking for a healthy snack will go wanting. This is a place for sweet treats. The beverage menu at the counter is also limited in its kid-friendliness.
There are espresso drinks and several kinds of iced tea and lemonade. The Strawberry Dream smoothie seems like it would be a favorite, but the elementary school kids we saw order it took a sip and no more. The counter service was suspect as well, as the server stopped mid-mix on our smoothie to take a coffee order, while two other employees were busily texting.
But perhaps that’s the secret to the café: despite the characters and the sweets, its audience isn’t really kids and families.
The real draw to the Hello Kitty fans is the area hidden behind a simple white door with a small handle shaped like a bow. Those with reservations (required, and hard to get currently) for afternoon tea service or nightly cocktails knock on the door with the bow, and gain entrance to a pink and passionate fever dream of a place known as The Bow Room.
It’s as pretty in pink of a place as one can imagine, with pink walls and pink booths and a pink bar in the middle.
Afternoon tea runs $55 per person and is available Wednesdays through Sundays. A three-level serving stand is brought to the table bursting with small bites. There’s plenty of fresh fruit, and tea sandwiches, including egg salad, cucumber and smoked salmon varieties. Sweets including scones, mini cupcakes, macarons and chocolate cake. Many items look like Hello Kitty, down to the sugar cubes that come with the tea. That selection includes black, green, oolong, a special Birthday Tea blend, and caffeine-free tea. Those looking for the heightened sense of service, formality and specific etiquette of Japanese tea service will not find it here, but that’s OK. This is about fun more than authenticity.
At night, The Bow Room is for the 21-and-over nightlife crowd. Open Wednesday–Sunday and again by reservation only, the cocktail list offers creative and colorful choices—the drinks and the names they’re given. These are serious examples of the art of cocktail creation, as interpreted through the muse of Hello Kitty by well-respected mixologist Emily Delicce.
Choices include the Aloha Kitty (vodka, pineapple, yellow chartreuse and lime), Matcha Matcha (Japanese whiskey, yogurt, matcha, yuzu) and You Had Me At Hello (cachaca, aperol, lemon, sherry and pineapple). The best might be one of the simpler choices: called simply 1974, it’s a choice between an Old Fashioned or Negroni served with a signature Hello Kitty ice cube.
It’s October so the new Hello Kitty Grand Café isn’t the only place to enjoy Sanrio characters in Irvine. The incredibly popular—and also Instagram-friendly—Tanaka Farms Pumpkin Patch is now open through Oct. 31. Hello Kitty, Keroppi, Chococat, My Melody and Pochacco characters (or wooden facsimiles of same) are available for photo ops throughout the farm. Attendees can purchase admissions for the pumpkin patch, wagon rides around the farm, petting zoo, and the Corn Maze or pick vegetables in the U-Pick veggie garden.
As visitors and nearby residents may remember from last year, the event is incredibly popular and parking is at a premium (and restricted in local neighborhoods), so plan ahead accordingly. Parking passes are required in advance for weekend visits.