Koko Cafe

I have been a big fan of Koko Bakery on Payne Avenue for a while now. I would go there for their multitude of hot and room temperature savory and sweet buns (and to buy frozen steam buns to make at home), bubble tea, smoothies, shaved ice, and gorgeous desserts, but never really got around to ordering their hot entrees, which seemed like an afterthought in the small place with maybe 9 tables in the place. When the news broke that they were expanding next door to offer hot food in a larger sit-down restaurant that seats 40 I was excited.

The first time I went to check it out shortly after it opened I was supposed to meet a friend who forgot, so I ordered some dumplings and an entree to enjoy by myself. I loved the dumplings and wasn’t too excited by the entree. I love the dumplings so much that I keep ordering them. I was intrigued by the idea of pork and leek, and I really enjoy the combination so I keep ordering it. I prefer dumplings pan-fried over steamed, because I like a bit of toothsome bite to them. My entree that day was the Triple Mushrooms with Chicken. On paper it sounds awesome, and it would be without the American-style frozen vegetables they use. I was extremely off-put by the corn kernels, peas and carrots of it all. I am not used to Asian food with vegetables I grew up eating in TV dinners.

I then organized a dinner for my foodie friends, which allowed me to try a lot more from the menu. Needless to say I am now a fan.

They offer some interesting dim sum options, such as rice noodle rolls and steam buns. I am not a fan of rice noodle rolls. You either really like them or really dislike them. I don’t like the texture and find them bland; however, my friends who are huge fans of rice noodle rolls raved about them. They tried the shrimp and the dried radish rice noodle rolls and enjoyed them a lot.

Dried radish rice roll noodles

Cucumbers with chili sauce is always a must

Shrimp rice roll noodles

Steam buns

That was the day I ordered what has become my favorite dish there – the Singaporean Style Fried Vermicelli. It has a nice curry flavor that is not overpowering, and the vermicelli is a great consistency. They have a wide range of fried noodle and fried rice dishes on the menu that go beyond the usual chicken and shrimp offerings – including a Barbecue Pork Fried Rice, which sounds intriguing. If you like salted fish there is a Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice as well.

Koko Bakery is especially known for its bubble tea, so I suggested my Meetup tea group meet at the Cafe for bubble tea and a meal. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in the 1980s. Recipes contain tea of some kind, flavors (milk and non-milk, fruit and non-fruit) and sugar. Toppings, such as chewy tapioca balls, popping boba, fruit jelly, grass jelly, agar jelly, and puddings are often added.

Thai Iced Tea Bubble Tea

Iced Hong Kong Milk Tea

My go-to bubble tea is melon with fruit jellies instead of boba

This might be mango – I love the contrast of black boba and yellow tea

We had a range of diners – from a very picky/non-Asian food fan to someone with some major dietary issues/needs. Both were happy with their choices. The picky eater ordered the Sesame Chicken and was very pleased with it. She raved about how moist and flavorful the chicken was. She shared a bite with me, and I liked it so much I ordered it the next time I went. The vegan/no-oil diner ordered a soup and was absolutely thrilled with the quality and the variety of vegetables in the soup. Everyone else enjoyed their meals as well. I just didn’t know them well enough to ask to photograph their food :-).

Special order vegetable soup – no noodles, no oil

Sesame chicken

They have a great online ordering system as well. I was craving several different entrees at once one night, so I ordered online and drove to pick it up. My meal was waiting for me as I walked in, and I was able to turn around and drive home. Most gratifying was the fact that nothing had been left out – including all the accoutrements that I had specified they could leave out when I ordered it (soy, mustard and duck sauce packets for the egg rolls).

Koko Cafe is a welcome addition to the Asia Town neighborhood. There is something here for everyone – from basic Chinese-American dishes to more intriguing choices we haven’t seen anywhere else. It is also super-affordable. The soups, congees and dumplings are all around $8, the rice noodle rolls are $3, steam buns are $3.50, and most entrees range between $10-13.

I just wish someone would create a separate Yelp page for the Cafe, because the cafe reviews/photos co-mingle with the bakery.

Contact info:

Koko Cafe
3710 Payne Avenue, # 104
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 881-7602

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