Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange County Food Fix

People always ask me what my favorite things to eat are.  They assume because I am a chef that I will say something exotic or pretentious like terrine of foie gras or sous vide lamb. To be perfectly honest, I like crappy food.  Not crappy in that it is made poorly, but crappy in that it is bad for you and will cause you to lose years on your life through continuous eating of said food.  I am a huge fan of cheeseburgers, french fries, tater tots, tacos, nachos, anything with pump cheese, macaroni and cheese, cheese (especially the unpasteurized kind) pork products especially bacon, ramen, oh glorious ramen.  These are just a few of my favorite things.  Don't get me wrong, I love vegetables and I am growing quite the vegetable garden but when faced with the choice of an In N Out cheeseburger with animal fries or an heirloom tomato salad, I'm going to pick the cheeseburger and fries. Although I would rather and most likely eat all three.

I was lucky enough to visit Orange County for the last two weeks of July.  One of those weeks was for work but my last week there was all about catching up on the friends and food that I don't get to see when I'm living in the sticks.  I was also very fortunate to be visiting while the OC Fair was in town.  If you read my blog, you will know I LOVE THE FAIR.

One week isn't enough to hit up all the food I wanted to eat, so it took some strategic planning.  I try not to repeat meals so that I can get in as much variety as possible but my disdain for traffic kept me within a 5 mile radius of the coast.  (I always think I miss living in the city but then I drive and I am grateful I live in a town that is 4 square miles).  I ended up breaking my no-repeat rule.  I ate In' N Out and ramen twice.

Here are some of the places I have to eat while I'm in Orange County.  This is the Costa Mesa edition as I was too lazy to drive anywhere.

1. In N Out (duh)
Any Southern California native will tell you In N Out burger is one of the best things about living in So Cal.  It is my first stop as soon as I hit "Southern California," which in my case would be Lancaster.  I almost always drive through Mojave because the In N Out is closer than when driving through Adelanto. (The Lancaster one is 4 hours from my house instead the one on the 15 which is an extra 45 minutes) Yes that is how I pick my driving route: Which route will take me the closest and fastest to In N Out. In fact, I time my drive so that I will arrive at In N Out around 1:30PM, my ideal lunch time.

2. Mitsuwa food court
I love eating at the Mitsuwa food court.  My visit in July was the first time I've been in over a year.  There were two new restaurants since I visited last.  I think one was a bento box place and the other was a Hawaiian place.  I'm not sure because as soon as I entered the food court, I made a bee-line to the ramen.  If you don't know which was is the ramen place at Mitsuwa, it's the place with the longest line.  Instead of my usual salt ramen with char sui pork, I ordered the new special, Pork Ramen.  You can pick the ramen broth; I chose salt.  I'm not sure how it differs from my usual order.  The only difference I could see was that instead of putting the pork in the broth, it came on the side.  Either way, it was a bowl of deliciousness.  I went back once more, making it my last stop before driving home, breaking my rule of never repeating meals.

3. Pupeseria San Sivar
If you have never had a pupusa, I suggest you drop everything you are doing and head down to 1940 Harbor Blvd and try one.  Pupusas are Salvadoran food.  It is a thick corn tortilla (quite similar to a gordita but it isn't fried) that is stuffed with cheese and other good stuff. They are cooked on the flat top and I love how the cheese oozes and creates a crunchy cheese skirt.  I always order a plain cheese and a bean and cheese. If I want to be healthy, I order squash and cheese. They serve the pupusas with pickled vegetables and a red sauce that is more tangy than spicy.  You put the pickled vegetables on top with a dousing of the red sauce, fold it up like a taco and enjoy.  They serve other Salvadoran food as well as some Mexican food but I almost always get the pupusas.  The sweet corn tamales are another treat to try.  They mostly speak Spanish there and the pupusas are a bit slow to come out but I take it as a sign of authenticity!

San Sivar is on the corner of Harbor Blvd. and 19th St. in that small weird little strip mall across the street from Weinersnitzel. You know, the one with the German deli, which by the way is another great place for some cheap eats. 1940 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa 92627

4. Del Taco
OK I know it is weird to put Del Taco on this list especially when there are at least 5 taquerias within walking distance of where I stayed.  It's just that Del Taco has a special place in my heart since we used to forge notes in high school to allow us to eat off-campus.  We would always eat at Del Taco because that was the closest fast food place to my high school.  And there's something to be said about chicken soft tacos and nacho fries at 2 AM after an all-night dance party at Mutant HQ.

Honorable Mentions (places I couldn't go to but are just as worthy)

5. Taco Mesa
So I wasn't able to hit up Taco Mesa while I was visiting but when I lived on the Westside, I ate at Taco Mesa at least once a week. Taco Mesa is a popular family-owned chain in Orange County so I won't bother explaining what it is.  My favorite things are the Tacos al Pastor, the lobster bisque and the agua frescas.

Taco Mesa is located across the street from the Costa Mesa DMV.  647 W. 19th St, Costa Mesa 92627

6. Taqueria Granjenal
I lived in the neighborhood across the street from this humble little taco stand which won "Best Taco" in 2004 by OC Weekly as well as "Best Meal You Can Pay For With Couch Change" in 2010.  Regardless of the titles, I ate there a lot.  The beans are some of the best and are a perfect vehicle for the smoky dark-red salsa that accompanies every order along with a bag of pickled carrots.  It is less greasy and sketchy than the other taqueria that most people are familiar with (Alejandros) My usual order from Granjenal was the vegetarian tostada, a crunchy tortilla loaded with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and avocados, an order of beans, chips and loads of salsa.  I think the whole order cost less than $5.

Taqueria Granjenal is located on the corner of 19th St and Monrovia in Costa Mesa 889 W. 19th St, Costa Mesa 92627

7. TK Burger formerly Johnny G's
When I first moved in the neighborhood, TK Burger used to be Johnny G's.  It was our hangover spot because most of the usual places (Plum's, Haute Cakes, Cappy's) had waits that were just unbearable when you are hung over.  The breakfast burrito was my favorite but the cheeseburgers were just as good. And they had chili fries!  TK Burger took over and thankfully they kept the breakfast burritos although no more chili fries (or burgers) This TK Burger has more seating than the other TK Burgers plus an extended menu so it's my favorite TK.  I miss Johnny G's and its chili fries but TK is doing a great job filling Johnny G's shoes.

8. El Toro Bravo
I almost forgot to include this little hidden gem on my list.  It would be blasphemous if I didn't include this hole-in-the-wall tortillaria/taqueria.  Tucked in the corner by Smart n Final on 19th St, El Toro Bravo makes corn tortillas on-site.  They make the BEST tortilla chips.  They are perfect for chilaquiles. Especially with the house made salsa sold there.  I love the salsa fresca as well as the blended.  I could drink it.  Along with the best corn tortillas, they sell carne asada and carnitas both prepared or marinated for you to take home and cook.  So you can get tacos or a burrito to go or pick up some tortillas, meat and salsa for your next BBQ.  There is always a line and they only take cash. But it is totally worth it for the fresh tortillas.

El Toro Bravo is located on 19th St in Costa Mesa by the Smart n' Final.  It is tucked away in the corner by Jugos Acapulco. 745 W. 19th St, Costa Mesa 92627.

Did I leave any places out?  What are some of your places to eat in Costa Mesa or Orange County?
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