When you step into the Laughing Buddha Cafe, the first thing that hits you is the aroma of Asian food. Dumplings. Pickled turnips, cabbages and carrots. Spring and summer rolls. Noodles. Rice. Stir-fries. Weaving through these delicious scents are the magical fragrances of Chinese teas—jasmine, chrysanthemum, Oolong. Or Joe’s favorite: Longjing green tea.
The eating establishment has always had a special place in fantasy. And why wouldn’t it? Characters in fantasy novels often take long and arduous journeys, which they break in faraway inns and taverns. There is food there, warmth, strong drink, companionship, comfort, and rest for the weary.
The restaurant, inn or teahouse is especially important in Asian fantasy. The rule in period kung fu movies is that at least one of the sword- or hand-to-hand fights must take place in an eating establishment.
In modern fantasy, the watering hole, cafe or restaurant also has a special place. Think of McAnally’s Pub in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Or Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes, where Viv’s coffee shop is the heart of the novel.
When I created the eatery that sits below Joe and Junie’s office and apartment, I wanted a safe space that could serve as their second office. It also gave me a chance to write about Chinese food, which is such a strong component of the culture.
The dining experience at the Laughing Buddha is fast casual, somewhere between P. F. Chang’s and Noodles and Company or Panda Express. The place is larger than it looks from the outside, given that it occupies the first and second floors of the building.
The cafe has booths and tables. The tables are covered with white tablecloths, and each table and booth is set with porcelain soup spoons and Chinese teacups. There are disposable wooden chopsticks. Western silverware is available on request.
The staff is young and energetic. The line at the counter is long for bubble tea and lunch/dinner takeout. If you’re lucky, you’ll be served by cute cafe manager Noah Redmond himself.