Skip The Chains: 9 Overlooked Restaurant Gems Along The Orange Curtain Between LA County And The OC
Picture this: You’re driving back from a day of sunbathing at the Long Beach shore or just leaving Knotts Berry Farm and you’re feeling famished. Instead of popping into a chain restaurant or ordering something off an app, perhaps drive a little further and patronize a lesser, but locally known spot for some satisfying sustenance.
Whether you are in the mood for spicy cheeseburgers that will make lava come out your ears, Soviet-inspired beet borscht, Korean-style donuts or a choconana milkshake, this stretch of LA/OC has everything and then some when it comes to quality bites.
In Seal Beach
The Crema Cafe
A blend of business acumen, restaurant experience and appetite for travel was the combination that led Tarit Tanjasiri to create his ode to European cafes along Seal Beach’s main thoroughfare in 2006.
Plating hearty breakfasts and lunches for the surrounding neighborhood, Tanjasiri realized the bread he was using wasn’t to his standards, and took it upon himself to learn the ins and outs of breadmaking – thus expanding Crema’s cafe operation to include a stellar in-house bakery program.
Crema’s semi-secluded al fresco dining — a patio set in from the sidewalk — gives off cocktail party vibes as groups congregate under the shade of umbrellas.
Its interior experienced a refresh in 2017, offering a dedicated line away from indoor seating. It also consolidated the bakery side with the dining room, making for a roomier space overall. Eclectic morning selections such as strawberry nutella crepes, chilaquiles and fried egg sandos on brioche keep you coming back to explore the menu further, and a comprehensive pastry program runs the gamut from classy kouign-amanns and sweet-tasting canelles, to rich-tasting almond croissants.
Address: 322 Main St., Seal Beach
Hours: Open every day, 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.
In Buena Park
The Source OC
From the exterior, this concrete complex down the street from Knott’s Berry Farm may not appear inviting. However, if you place your trust in this unusually tall Buena Park structure, you’re in for a treat. Retail goods marketed towards Asian tastes and a top level full of dining options (plus a CGV movie theater) await. Korean culture dominates the structure, especially when it comes to food.
Venture to street level for a duo of daytime favorites starting with the original location of Flippoly, an egg sandwich specialist. Gently toasted brioche pockets serve as the vessel for freshly scrambled eats alongside bulgogi, kimchi, hash brown or good ol’ gooey mozzarella.
A bevy of drink options ranging from dalgona coffee to fresh watermelon juice are ready to quench one’s thirst. And while you wait, take selfies the old-fashioned way inside one of its photo booths, to adorn your refrigerator door with memories of a good time.
Around the corner from Flippoly is the first U.S. location of Old Ferry Donut, Korea’s first premium donut brand. Focusing on glazed and filled sweets, the signature OFD flavor is creme brulee featuring a torched glaze and cream custard filling. These densely decadent delights are ideal for hearty appetites; check out a cream cheese version for a savory driving companion. Nutty fans will want the butterscotch glazed round filled with pistachio cream (filling is upon request) known as butter pistachio.
Address: 6940 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
Hours: Flippoly: open every day, 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. and Old Ferry Donut: open every day, 10:30 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Yoko: House of Donkatsu
Donkatsu, with its golden exterior and satisfying crunch, is the Korean equivalent of all-American fried chicken. Tucked into one end of an unassuming strip mall (blink and you’ll pass it) is Yoko, a modest operation featuring deep-fried happiness in many forms: pork, chicken, beef, even shrimp. Jot your name on the list outside, but know that this efficient dining room cycles through small parties relatively quickly; meet your large gathering elsewhere.
If you’re feeling rather peckish, steer toward a combo set that includes miso soup and your choice of sushi roll, udon or soba noodles. Alongside the shredded cabbage drizzled with umami dressing are little bowls of kimchi radish cubes and soy-sauced jalapeños to help one’s palate balance out the richly prepared proteins. Yoko’s clean digs, and consistent cuisine (perfectly tender, succulent chicken wraps around an order of cheese donkatsu) is the reason why locals have been signing in for decades.
Address: 46566 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday, 12-9:30 p.m.
In La Habra
This Peruvian gem with Japanese influences is a modern twist on beloved cuisine. Higo Chicken’s poultry-centric menu manages to divide diner opinion between being a rice regular or noodle worshiper. Of course, you could be neither and select pollo a la brasa, i.e. rotisserie birds with sides — but where’s the fun in that?
Prime your taste buds by beginning with a bowl of perennial fave aguadito de pollo — this cozy chicken cilantro soup takes the edge off when temperatures are brisk. First-timers will be inclined to go the saltado route by way of tomatoes, red onion, rice and fries before selecting lomo (beef) as the desired protein.
Switch up the saltado by exchanging rice with spaghetti then removing onions and you’ve got tallerin. Take a gander over where the magic happens and gawk at the cooks expertly wok to their own rhythm, doling out generous servings of well-seasoned eats like arroz chaufa, combining scrambled egg, green onions and bell peppers into fried rice. Request a dish of pickled vegetables before drizzling that bottle of aji verde over your meal and dig in.
Address: 722 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra
Hours: Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m., Closed Monday
In the ongoing conversation about the best banh mi sandwiches in Orange County, this tiny, to-go-only spot tucked away in a strip mall adjacent to Cypress College, has been dishing up the classic Vietnamese sandwich for the better part of a decade. With generous amounts of spicy paté, mayo, cut-the-roof-of-your-mouth french style baguettes, sliced ham, jalapeños, and pickled veggies, it's the house special sandwich that has kept locals and those in the know coming back after all this time.
A cascade of flavors and textures hit your palate with the first bite when the spicy meets the saltiness of the meats along with the crunchy veggies, creamy mayo and the pate smeared on the inside of the bread. Another bonus is that it saves driving further down the 22 to go to Little Saigon if you don’t want to mess with that traffic. Enjoy a cup of delicious iced Jasmine tea to go with every order or an iced cup of cafe su da (Vietnamese coffee). Calling ahead is recommended.
Address: 9187 Valley View St, Cypress
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (714) 828-9998
In Los Alamitos
About a half mile before the on-ramp to the 605 Freeway lies a section of seemingly run-down strip mall along Katella Avenue. The paint of the exterior is faded and there are no front-facing parking lots. It’s in this little section of Los Alamitos, however, that one of the city’s hidden gems resides. Pasty Kitchen specializes in English meat pies: Savory, hearty pockets of dough stuffed with beef or chicken, carrots, cubed potatoes, and onions. There are fewer things that warm the soul more thoroughly than a meat pie dunked in warm chicken gravy. Watch out for special menu items, such as their corned beef and cabbage pasty. And yes, get an apple or peach turnover to go, trust us.
Address: 3641 Katella Ave, Los Alamitos
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
If you find yourself in the area of Los Alamitos and are in need of a burger, but don’t want to bow down to the corporate fast food gods, Volcano Burger is the spot for you. A Los Al staple, Volcano Burger is a hole-in-the-wall spot just off Cerritos Boulevard. Ideally, you’re meant to order at the drive-thru and drive right out, as backing out of the parking lot can be a bit arduous when it’s busy. Looking to eat there? Parking on the street is recommended. A personal favorite at Volcano is the double lava burger: two patties, jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato — truly one of the better burger bites you can get from a throwback burger spot in Orange County.
For the non-spicy inclined, the avocado burger and the bacon cheeseburgers are recommended, as is getting the former as a double. An unlikely favorite: the tuna salad. It comes served with heaps of tuna, egg, cheese, iceberg lettuce, and a slice of warm pita bread, and has been known to serve as lunch for two, or one if you’re extremely hungry. Also, a big shout-out for having a banana shake on the menu, which means combining the chocolate and banana flavors for a choconana shake.
Address: 3652 Cerritos Blvd, Los Alamitos
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
A Soviet-Armenian restaurant is about as common as a Clippers championship, but in Los Alamitos, that’s where you can find one. The house specialty, appropriately, is beet borscht: hearty, beefy, beet soup that’s eaten best with a dollop of sour cream. Also on the menu, combo burrito-sized cabbage rolls stuffed with ground beef, rice, onion, and tomato puree. Lebanese and Armenian dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) are made with rice and glazed with a pomegranate sauce. Delicious piroshkis come either traditional — which look like a cross between a football and a corn dog — or the pocket size that most probably associate with piroshkis.
Borsh Deli is truly one of the more unique restaurants in the area, and it just so happens to call this little area of Orange County home. Don’t forget to buy some frozen pelmeni to take home.
Address: 10897 Los Alamitos Blvd, Los Alamitos
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday,11 a.m. -7 p.m. and Sunday- 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sourcing his coffee directly from the Philippines, owner Ronald Dizon is on a mission to draw more attention to Filipino coffee while also giving back to Filipino coffee production. At Teofilo, one of Los Angeles’ and Orange County’s only Filipino-run coffee shops, the Liberica bean is highlighted, the type of coffee bean most prevalently grown in the Philippines. Trying to keep his costs at a minimum, Dizon buys his beans unsorted and spends mornings sorting through bins of coffee beans.
The coffee shop offers Filipino Americans, especially older generations, a taste of home. Liberica, or kaepeng barako, is a smoother, less bitter blend of coffee — non-black coffee lovers rejoice, you can drink this straight up.
For Dizon, it’s not just coffee, it’s a culture that he’s on a mission to uplift, and the journey is never over. For you, that journey starts with a cup of kaepeng barako or a nidolatte and a longanisa breakfast sandwich.
Address: 10525 Los Alamitos Blvd, Los Alamitos
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-5 p.m,
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